Directing Endgame – Economy

October 18, 2012

We’ve asked the Arden’s Associate Artistic Director Edward Sobel, who will be directing Endgame this season, to document some of his process. Here is his first entry.

Preparing to direct Endgame is walking a long way to find the shortest possible path.

Having read and loved this play since I was nineteen, I feel I’ve been working toward this production for more than 20 years. Beckett himself directed the play twice. Once in Germany (in his own German translation) in 1967, and again in England (in English) in 1980. He kept notebooks during preparation and rehearsal for both productions, and I’ve spent the last few months studying them, seeking out clues they offer. Why did he change “hash of the crotch” to “botch of the crotch” or “but you can walk” to “but you can move”. Why did he cut one of my favorite lines from the original printed version? (For those keeping score at home, its Clov’s line, having turned a telescope to look out at the audience, “I see a multitude in transports of joy. That’s what I call a magnifier.”)

Two pages of Beckett's notes on Endgame, in his own handwriting

Two important ideas have come clear, which if I’m lucky and good, will inform our production. First, Beckett, while a giant in the library, was also a deeply savvy practitioner in the theater. His refinements of the play over more than 20 years seem most motivated by making the play more playable — a more effective piece of stage-craft, giving vitality and responsiveness to aural and visual rhythms and patterns, promoting the immediacy of the live actor occupying the same time and space as the audience, and providing the actors with a stronger template upon which to base their work. I know our production, to do the play well, will need to be visceral, funny and as far from an arid academic exercise as Beckett might have wished.

Second, in initial drafts of the play Beckett was explicit about the time and place in which it is set. He gradually removed these details, but they are the foundation of the relationships, the setting, and ultimately the work’s meaning. The relative obscurity of the play on its surface is not Beckett being deliberately abstruse (though he may well have taken a rueful pleasure when that was the result) but instead his attempt to be as concise as possible. One of my favorite drawings by Picasso may, literally, illustrate.

Shown above in its entirety, it is entitled “Femme”. With four succinct lines, Picasso captures what he saw as essential, just as Beckett distills both the action of his own play and his vision of our lives with two succinct lines “What is happening?” “Something is taking its course.”

As we move into the design process, I am using these two combined principles as my compass: vital economy.

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