The Middlebury Campus got a chance to talk with Paula Bogutyn ’14, director and producer, as well as Jordan Ashleigh Jones ’13, costume designer, of The Igloo Settlement, a student-produced play written by Daniel Sauermilch ’13. Inspired by the Occupy movement, the play explored notions of American identity and class warfare. The play was a semi-finalist for the 2012 Princess Grace Foundation Playwriting Grant and was recently developed at the Kennedy Center’s MFA Playwrights’ Workshop. Bogutyn and Jones push back the curtains to reveal the ups and downs of the production.
The Middlebury Campus: What did you seek to do in producing The Igloo Settlement?
Paula Bogutyn: I was interested in it because of the strong resonance of social and political issues The Igloo Settlement includes, such as the idea of an occupational movement and the issues of social class. To me, this play is very much about class warfare. I am also a political science major and writing my senior work precisely about contemporary social movements and concepts surrounding them. I think that through a lens of uncensored and healthy non-PC humor Igloo shines a light on contemporary social issues that have grown even stronger, particularly due to the haunting consequences of the financial crisis.
Jordan Ashleigh Jones: I set out to create costumes that spoke honestly to each character’s story and to illuminate the play to both the actors and the audience, to help guide and inform the experience of the story through those costumes — I felt as though I arrived there but more importantly, I hope that the actors and audiences did too.
MC: What was it like working with so many characters and bodies?
PB: It was different than my previous works where there have consistently been less characters. It was very interesting but, especially at the beginning, required a lot of organization in the rehearsal room and making sure that everyone stays focused. Igloo has eight very different characters, each deeply ingrained in a particular type, so making connections at the beginning felt like approaching a huge piece of work, extending so far that its ends are invisible. But soon it became much more human and “graspable”.
JJ: It was very exciting, because, often, student shows have tiny casts and as a costume designer I particularly enjoyed the challenge of having so many characters — and characters coming from such different backgrounds — to costume and explore.
MC: What does being a real American mean to you? How does it compare to what the U.S. stands for now?
PB: Well, I am not American, so it’s hard to [address American identity] without being accused of self-righteousness and critical. I am uncomfortable with the level of consumption and the strong social hypocrisy that exists in the United States — hypocrisy that deals with class, ethnicity and gender. Americans don’t like to perceive these labels as divisions of different social groups, while in reality this is exactly what they are. I believe that differences should be celebrated and pretending we are the same serves no purpose. The ideas of land, ownership and the right to possession are also largely discussed concepts in The Igloo Settlement, as they are huge foundations of an American consciousness. In scene one, we hear Brenda say that “there is little land left for good people.” Completely not true, given how huge this country is. But the idea of private property is as essential to this nation as founded by its fathers.
MC: What was the biggest challenge in directing the play?
PB: Other than having a birth on stage, a burning house and a Ukrainian strapped to a tree — all of that in a blizzard and five feet of snow? It was a piece of cake.
JJ: For me personally, the biggest challenge was making sure that the costumes immediately and dramatically showed the differences in class and status among the various characters. It was difficult to place them in the narrative and provide the audience with a clear understanding of the situation in the play from the get-go.
MC: What the most exciting part of production?
PB: All of it, especially the challenges! One thing I am in a way most proud of is having created what I could call a true theatre ensemble. I wanted for everyone to enjoy working on this production and I really think that I succeeded. Other than that, making a good piece of theatre! I had a great cast and production team to work with, and that really made a big part of our success.
MC: What did you learn from the process?
JJ: I learned a lot of practical realities about how to manage time, budget and stock as a designer in order to make a vision come to life. But I imagine the nitty-gritty would be pretty boring to someone who isn’t a designer.
MC: How has your vision of The Igloo Settlement changed from the start?
JJ: My vision has remained remarkably constant since I first read Daniel’s script but I certainly found some of the humor in the play again once we finally had audiences in the space with us. Somewhere in the middle of the process it’s really easy to lose sight of what’s funny and enjoyable and wonderful about a script and our week of shows brought that back to me.