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Welcome to the Arden Theatre Company blog, where we share behind-the-scenes stories and current happenings with you. You will hear from the Arden staff as well as actors and other visiting artists, and we hope to hear from you, too. If you have an idea for a topic, please post a comment about it. We can't wait to hear what you think!

By Angela DuRoss, Development Director

Freud’s Last Session opened on Thursday, November 1 to a packed house.  Members of the Sylvan Society joined together for a cocktail party at Gigi Restaurant prior to the performance.  Nearly 200 audience members enjoyed the opening night performance, which marked the directorial debut for Philadelphia artist Ian Merrill Peakes.  Guests enjoyed a reception following the show catered by JPM Catering with beer courtesy of Hatboro Beverages.

Thanks to Plate3Photography for photos of our post-show party!

By Chris Haig, Properties Master

In 1885, as a young researcher, Freud attended a dinner at the house of the illustrious Charcot in Paris.  A letter described the scene to his fiancée – the furniture, carpets, tapestries, Indian and Chinese antiques. It was ‘in short – a museum’. Here was a model the penniless student could only admire and envy. But by 1896 his earnings were increasing and in that year he mentioned decorating his study with plaster casts. In 1898 he wrote of buying a Roman figure, which his three-year-old daughter Anna called an “old child”. In August 1899, while writing The Interpretation of Dreams, he wrote of ‘old and grubby gods’ that took part in the work as paperweights. Two years later, he wrote that ‘a fragment of Pompeian wall with a centaur and a faun transports me to my longed-forItaly’. By 1909 a collection existed, but it was still in its initial stages. By 1939, however, Freud had amassed over 2000 objects and the collection encompassed items from the ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece, Rome and China, together with a sprinkling of objects which might be described as ethnographic.
– An excerpt from 20 Maresfield Gardens: A Guide to the Freud Museum London

Director Ian Merrill Peakes and set designer David P. Gordon decided very early on in the design process for Freud’s Last Session that they wanted to recreate Freud’s London study, where the play takes place, as accurately and as detailed as possible. So it was crucial for the props and set dressing to match the items found in photographs of the actual location.

Luckily, Freud’s office in London is now The Freud Museum. It remains in exactly the same arrangement as when Freud worked there. There are two wonderful books (one of which is quoted above) describing in great detail the artifacts, artwork, furniture and décor inside Freud’s home and office. These were critical to our work. We also contacted the curator of The Freud Museum for more detailed information and our Costume Designer, Katherine Fritz, actually had the chance to visit the museum in September and returned with wonderfully detailed and close-up photos from the room. We had a plethora of reference materials to work from while creating our set.

Having the play set in a place and time that actually existed had its benefits and challenges. A benefit was that from day one we knew exactly what we were looking for to recreate the study. We knew we needed a certain desk, couch, chairs, books, artifacts, rugs and curtains. The challenge was the same thing: finding exact replicas of all those things! We knew what we were looking for, just needed to find it. The carpet, for example, that lays over the infamous analysts couch is so specific that we couldn’t settle for one that wasn’t just right. We took a few liberties with the arrangement of furniture to accommodate the playing space, but for the most part, the audience enters into an almost exact replica of Freud’s office.

Freud had over 2000 antiquities in his collection at the time of our play, much kept in storage, but many in display cases and shelves in his study. During an Arden staff meeting in August, I let everyone know that I was on the hunt for artifacts for the set.Leigh Goldenberg, the Arden’s Marketing and PR Manager, is friends with the PR director at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,Pam Kosty, and thought they might be willing to loan us some things for the show. We were very lucky as the Penn Museum hosted a traveling exhibition of some of Freud’s artifacts several years ago and the museum staff had a working knowledge of what was in his collection. When we arrived for our initial meeting, Chrisso Boulis and Anne Brancati from the museum’s Registrar’s office had already pulled a number of items from their collection that were appropriate to the type of artifacts Freud collected. We took them all! A few weeks before opening we picked up the donated items from the museum and added them to the set.

There are over 200 “artifacts” on the stage of Freud’s Last Session at the Arden. Of those, 18 are from the Penn Museum. The largest bulk of the remaining artifacts were donated by members of the Arden’s Sylvan Society. During that August staff meeting when I asked for help, our Development Director, Angela DuRoss, suggested asking our donors if they would be interested in loaning items to Freud’s collection. We got an amazing response and eventually five Sylvan members loaned over 100 items from their personal collections. We could not have filled the set up without their generosity and faith in the company. The remaining artifacts were bought at flea markets, online and created in the prop shop by myself, our talented production interns, Alyssa Velazquez and Liz Nugent, and several Arden Professional Apprentices.

The Arden’s production of Freud’s Last Session is breathtaking in its detail, from Jorge Cousineau’s authentic 1939 recordings playing on the radio to the wood grain on the display cases recreated in exacting detail by scenic artist Kristina Chadwick. Our intention was never to impress the audience with the artistry it took to recreate this place and time in history so accurately, but to allow them to step inside the inner sanctum of Sigmund Freud and breath the air (however, cigar-smoke-filled it may have been) that he did; to take a seat on his couch and share in the brilliant (however fictional) conversation between himself and C.S. Lewis.

The psychoanalyst like the archaeologist in his excavations must uncover layer after layer of the patient’s psyche before coming to the deepest most valuable treasures.
–Sigmund Freud

Photos from The Freud Museum of Freud’s actual study:

Set Design sketch by David Gordon:

The Arcadia Stage before any set dressing, lighting, or final painting was complete:

The final set with complete stage lighting and dressing. (Photo by Mark Garvin):

By Katherine Fritz, >medical Costume Designer for Freud’s Last Session

Let’s start off with a confession: I heard the plot synopsis for Freud’s Last Session and I thought “…. meh.”

Don’t get me wrong. When the Arden called to ask if I was interested in designing the costumes, I walked around with a giant grin on my face for a week and couldn’t stop hugging everyone who works there, because I’m just so excited to be back. I was an APA during the 2008/09 season, and the Arden was my first introduction to Philly. To design a show at the Arden was a pipe dream of mine that entire year; I still do a little happy dance before every design meeting. But the show itself? Two dudes sitting in a room talking philosophy and religion? ….. Meh.

But then I read the script.

It’s… not boring. It’s fascinating. I had somehow forgotten that the two dudes in question, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, are arguably two of the people you would most want to hear grapple with the meaning of life, God, sex, mortality, and humanity. It’s heavy stuff, but heartfelt, deeply touching, and at times incredibly funny.

As fate would have it, I was already scheduled to be in London for a few days this September. What I didn’t realize before booking those plane tickets was that the entire Freud house – right down to the study where our play takes place, including that infamous couch – is completely preserved as a museum and open to the public. If I thought I had come around to the play while I was still in Philadelphia, that was nothing compared to getting off the Tube, hiking up a steep hill through a quiet residential neighborhood, and suddenly finding myself at the robin’s-egg-blue front door through which such visitors as Salvador Dali, Virginia Woolf, and H.G. Wells had passed.

Katherine's picture of Freud's infamous couch

In our first design meeting, David Gordon, our set designer, flipped through photo after photo of the house interior, the large collection of antiquities, his large bookshelves, the oriental rugs, the curiosities and leather chairs. It’s nothing compared to walking through the door, turning a slight right, and staring down the famous couch where psychoanalysis was born. It’s a large room, but so filled with comfortable rugs and soft lighting that you feel immediately warm and cozy. It’s almost possible to forget that you are in a museum – despite the velvet rope cordoning off the main area of the study, you are free to wander about the house, discovering Dali sketches of Freud framed on the stair landing; peeking through the bedroom of his daughter Anna; sitting in the room that Freud once slept in, which now is host to a video projector showing some rare home movie footage of the Freuds at leisure. French doors open onto a beautiful garden, with nearly all of the plants the same ones, meticulously cared for, that Sigmund and Anna planted when they arrived at the house in 1938, fleeing from Naxi annexation of Vienna with all their personal effects in tow.

Katherine at Freud's house. Her aunt took this photo, as she was sure some marketing person would use it. She was right!

I spent about two hours there, soaking in everything, taking the occasional picture to bring back to the team who is working on recreating it in the Arcadia Theatre. I wish I could have stayed longer. Although I had spent days wandering through Kensington Palace and the Tower of London, this tiny house tucked on a quiet side street was the place I will remember most. I’m sure it’s just a product of me feeling incredibly fortunate – that I was able to step into a beautifully preserved historical site and then come back to work later that week, helping to recreate it for a Philadelphia audience.

I hope you get the chance to come around to Freud, like I did, and I hope you only have to travel as far as the Arden to do so. (Although if you ever are in London, I highly recommend taking the time to visit – the staff is super nice and helpful, and there are great restaurants and bookshops just a brief walk away). Taking that trip made me feel like I have the coolest job in the world. Nothing at all “meh” about that.




©2009 Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19106. For tickets, call 215.922.1122.
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