New blood

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  September 10, 2008

And what better place to ruminate than at the scene of her early inspiration? Paulus and I are speaking in the very room where, as a Harvard student in the 1980s, she interviewed Brustein for her thesis on the Living Theatre as a post-war experiment in political art. “There are just so many reasons why I’m thrilled to be here,” says Paulus. “One is, it was central to the reason I became a theater artist. For me, the ART represented the greatest possible American theater.” In that regard, she picked the right time to go to Harvard. It was when ART first mounted its two “signature” shows, Brustein’s eerie adaptation of Six Characters in Search of an Author and Carlo Gozzi’s magical The King Stag, directed by Andrei Serban, who became a Paulus mentor. It also coincided with the period during which Robert Wilson of Einstein on the Beach fame made ART an American base. Paulus still finds the company’s stated goal compatible. “I think the mission of the ART to examine the boundaries of theater, what theater can be,” she says, “is absolutely what I’ve been doing with my work as a director.”

It’s just that she’s been doing it in New York City parks and nightclubs and on opera stages. And if there’s a disconnect between the disco-fueled Donkey Show and Mozart, Paulus doesn’t see it. “What I love about opera,” she says, “is that it’s closer to a sport. I love opera audiences because they’re so passionate about the form. They’re passionate enough to boo if they don’t like it, which is so much more liberating than the theater audience that, if it’s dead and it’s not happening, what do you do? You don’t stand up and cry, ‘You’re killing the patient on the operating table! Stop!’ You just sort of fall asleep or start thinking about what you’re going to have for dessert when you get home.”

Trim and contained though she looks, Paulus is no fan of traditional theater etiquette. As much as she loves the Loeb, she has plans to break out of it with site-specific work that may appeal to new, refreshingly impolite audiences. “I don’t really think about, ‘Oh, we have to get a young audience versus an old audience,’ ” she says. “I just think about making the theater a place where young people want to go. The entire delivery system of theater, I think, needs to be questioned, because you have the next generation of audience who are used to operating and choosing cultural things in their life in a whole new way. So the culture has moved so much quicker than the theater has adapted. I think it’s time for us to catch up, and I will do everything it takes to make this theater feel like it’s not that thing that I should do, or culture that’s good for me. I think the idea that theater is fine art and it’s been segregated from pop culture is a mistake.”

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Related: Autumn garden, 2009: The year in theater, Disco ball, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Music, Peter DuBois,  More more >
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