We had the chance to sit down with the Gerald Vanderwoude, director of the UBC Theatre and Film’s production of Happy Days by Samuel Beckett to get a behind-the-scenes take on the show.
Gerald currently serves as the Assistant Dean, H.R. and Facilities for the Faculty of Arts. During his time at UBC, he has directed over 25 Beckett productions. In this production, he directs his wife, a UBC alumna, Beverly Bardal, and UBC alumnus, Joe Procyk.
Q: So, why did you choose to do this play?
A: Because I bought this book 20 years ago – it’s Happy Days: The Production Notebook of Samuel Beckett, edited by James Knowlson. I knew I would direct it with my wife in it and it seemed like a good time last year, so we pitched it, and here we are.
Q: Is Happy Days a comedy or tragedy?
A: I would say both and more. There’s humour, tragedy, comedy, and terror. They are all aspects in this play.
Q: What’s the play about?
A: I think this play really is about people seeking out other people. Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters ‑ seeking each other or seeking religion and god. I mean this is the existential soup that is Beckett.
Q: What can someone expect when they go see Happy Days?
A: It’s not so much what someone should expect going into it but rather it’s about being open to having an experience. Each person will take from it something different and that’s the beauty and joy of it.
Q: How are you making this Samuel Beckett piece your own?
A: Ohh…I’m just a passenger on this journey. My stamp on it is to get out of the way and make sure the performers have all that they need to handle these mammoth roles.
I mean, Beckett, he’s not your average playwright. He’s a master chessman. He’s always 45 to 50 moves ahead of you and if you think you can out-Beckett Beckett, forget it. There are some purists out there who say you can’t change anything, but the truth of it is that you change as little as possible and when you do change something, you have to understand exactly why you did it because it will impact the play. The best you can do is try to leave the play as open as possible and try to be as true as you can to Beckett’s poetic expression. That’s what’s going to resonate with the audience.
Q: How has it been working with the cast?
A: It’s been great! I get to work with my wife, Bev, and Joe Procyk. Joe works in the UBC Library and I’ve known him for years. We’re like a jazz ensemble. We all know shorthand with each other. Even the staff here – I wouldn’t even call them that – they’re more like co-collaborators. I’ve known them since I was the administrator of the theatre department. The level of commitment and expertise from the department is great. We do it because students get to be a part of the production and we get to give something back to the theatre department and to the Peter Loeffler Scholarship.
Q: Any memorable moments directing this production so far?
A: Yeah, I would say personally for me, I don’t often get moved to tears in rehearsal. Usually, as a director, you’ll see the play as an amalgamation of parts. It’s about putting the pieces together with the actors who are also working through a process. Rarely do you see a flash of the whole show where it all lines up and you say “wow, I didn’t anticipate that”. I didn’t see the symphony of it at first, but I’ve seen the moments all come together a couple of times with this play, and that’s just surprising to me.
Q: What has been one challenge you faced directing this production?
A: (Laughs) Trying to figure out how to light an umbrella on fire without a disaster happening or without burning the actress. I can say it’s safe and it’s quite an effect but that was one of the trickier things I didn’t see coming!
Q: What have you enjoyed most about directing this play?
A: I’ve enjoyed working with the text because it’s so layered and has such depth to it. I’ve had to really work out how small or large or terrifying to make each moment.
Q: Any last comments?
A: This might be dangerous to say, but this is either the best thing I’ve done or the worst thing I’ve done, but it’s nowhere in the middle. I have a funny feeling that it’s the best thing I’ve done. That’s my gut instinct on it.
Happy Days will be on at the Frederic Wood Theatre from September 27 – 30, 2017. Get your tickets soon.