DAVID CATLIN - MOBY DICK at LOOKINGGLASS THEATRE
In case you were wondering, David Catlin actually grew up in Pittsburgh. At last report, no whales have been sighted in the Ohio River, but that did not deter Catlin’s lifelong fascination with water, the ocean, or, otherwise affect his extraordinary gift for storytelling, all of which intersect in the Lookingglass Theatre’s magnificent production of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
The company’s co-founder, ensemble member, director and actor, first appeared in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Stage Company production of Waiting for Godot as an eighth grader and played a variety of roles on and off stage through high school. That ensemble experience convinced him to set his sights on Carnegie Mellon where some of the company members had attended. All that changed when he arrived at Northwestern University, joining a unique theatre study program that would become the model for everything that has followed.
The rest, as they say, is history. A rich, rewarding one when you consider that Lookingglass has produced 64 world premieres, earned 143 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations and received the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.
Lookingglass Theatre Company was founded in 1988 by eight Northwestern University students and moved to their historic Water Tower Water Works home in 2003. Catlin, who has appeared in, directed, or written and directed dozens of productions, served as the company's first co-artistic director (with David Kersnar) and more recently as artistic director from 2003 to 2010. His directing credits include Lookingglass Alice and The Little Prince along with regional credits at McCarter Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, New Victory and Syracuse Stage, among others. Catlin currently serves as a faculty member in the theatre department at Northwestern.
Returning to close the 29th Season after a national tour is Catlin’s dazzling, high flying, 2015 production of Moby Dick, playing now through September 3rd. As we discovered in our conversation on June 27th, the visual imagery and aerial artistry at the heart of this classic story comes from the collaboration of highly-trained artists who tell an exciting story of adventure. Along the way, we explore Catlin’s storytelling technique, the creative process involved in bringing his adaptation to life and how this superb Chicago theatre company continues to evolve and grow.
To study theater … “I walked into this big freshman class called ‘Theater in Context’ and the acting teacher, David Downs, was standing in front of the room and said, ‘to study theater is to seek to understand what it is to be human’ and that was profound for me. For an idealistic 18-year-old wannabe actor/artist … that was utterly compelling. That a life could be spent trying to understand who we are and why we behave the way that we do … Not a two-year or four-year program but a lifelong curiosity that we are ever seeking to understand.”
The storytelling approach at Northwestern … “We do not ask our actors to be the best actor they can be. We ask the question instead ‘what actor do I need to be to serve the play to serve the character and circumstances of the play?” … The actor now is not at the center. The actor is in service of the story … That was really important and has become fundamental to Lookingglass and how we approach theater … The very first question on every proposal is why does this story need to be told? What is also important is why do I need to tell it? The passion is not just about making the world better, which is good, but also the personal connection to it that makes it better.
Water’s gravitational pull … “There is a good reason we all live near this big body of shark-less water … I believe it exerts a gravitational pull on us. When we find ourselves filled with angst or as Ishmael says … ‘whenever I feel myself filled with spleen’ … or ‘want to walk into a crowded street and knock somebody’s hat’ … or ‘when it is a damp drizzly November in my soul’ ... He talks about being drawn to the water’s edge … We stand in front of Lake Michigan or if we live on a salt sea somewhere, we stand in front of it and feel our scale in the universe. We feel both calmed because we see how kind of small we are compared to everything, but then it is also stirring ... because beneath the beautiful technicolor surface … there lurks unknown creatures … both in a real and psychological way … There is something powerful about going to search for a ‘monster’ that you can barely see.”
Real-life sensations in Lookingglass Theatre’s Moby Dick …“One of my favorite things about Lookingglass is that our audience for this production is on risers. There is open space beneath and we are able to give the audience the sensation of being in a whale boat and to have an 80-ton whale come up from beneath you and THUMP the boat.”
To be an actor … “I am going to paraphrase actor Robert Prosky here … ‘To be an actor you need to have the courage and audacity of a lion, the hide of a rhinoceros and the fragility of an egg’ and that is a tall order. You can have two of those but three is tough. What I try to instill in students is that maybe do not wait for the phone to ring. Maybe go out and make work that is important to you … I believe that somebody with passion … who needs to tell a story … something we need to hear and something they need to tell … I think there’s room.”
Water Tower Water Works
821 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611