Interview
 
Jeff Goldberg Interview
Jeff Goldberg's production of JULIUS CAESAR was about to open in Mumbai, when Covid19 struck, and all venues were shut down.


 By Deepa Gahlot


For two years, he had to wait patiently for normalcy to return and then start almost from scratch. If he had read history and Greek mythology before, to understand the society of that period, he spent the days of the pandemic reading poetry, "and that," he says, "nurtured my understanding of Shakespeare. Now when I listen to the language of Shakespeare, I don't have to actively pay attention to it. When you work with a script that's an old classic, you have to find some adaptation point to try to make it your own. You take small brush strokes because you don't want to mess with it. This time, when we revisited the script, I thought, I don't care, I get this, I get the language. I get the story, but I live in the 21st century and I spent a lot of time thinking about the audience. Some would have read Shakespeare and know every line; some would just be there to enjoy the show. JULIUS CAESAR is a long play, so I had to take out a bit, especially from the fourth and fifth acts and changed a bit. I have a few curveballs, but I know the text, and I can sit down with a Shakespeare scholar and answer any questions about why I made those choices.

"Also when Shakespeare was writing, it was for people in the front row and the back row for an audience that did not have the visual literacy that we do today; they were not used to transitions, lights, sounds, music like we are today, so we have to direct that way.

"In our Studio, we are not classical actors, so iambic does not work for us. I told them, there are stages to Shakespeare; one is reading and saying, ‘what the heck was that?' And then ‘Woo hoo! I know this.' And most actors get stuck there. They forget that people spoke like that, so you internalize it, and make it sound like you speak. That's what I tried to do. If you remember Baz Luhrmann's Romeo And Juliet, you had to have eyes to understand it, but if you had a deeper understanding of the text, it is great, but you can appreciate it just by watching. That's what I tried to achieve. And my actors loved it, and they stumped me with little things.

"Shakespeare himself would have been shocked by how his texts are treated and taught, because they weren't meant to be read by school kids across the world, they were meant to be performed. Kids are learning Shakespeare because it's in their course curriculum. But when you teach them what the play is really saying, it is powerful and moving, because he is speaking a language they get."

Responding to why every stage and film director wants to attempt a work by Shakespeare at least one, Goldberg says, "I you are a swimmer, you want to think about the Channel; if you are a runner, you think about running a marathon. It's just that high bar that you want to see if you can get yourself across; actors and directors want to put that notch on their belt. I have been working from the space where I get to be a part of something that is bigger than me; I get to be a part of the brotherhood and sisterhood of actors and directors who have worked on one of these pieces, and I am happy to be a part of that. There is a great line in the play, "How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport..." Think about how many times that great scene has been acted out across the world, and it's exciting to be part of that. I enjoy that.

"Every once in a while a Shakespeare play is done by Hollywood too, and I am glad they are doing it because the allegories that are part of Shakespeare's plays are important and artistes are trying to say something that's meaningful to them through these allegories and narrative structures. I wish the audience would listen to them more. As for me, JULIUS CAESAR speaks to me, because I love political narrative. In this play is how a very small clique of individuals extract a very high price of history and the people. That's one of the lesser explored, but more important themes. The act of war, the act of hubris-- because the world is populated by those in the middle and the bottom, but they pay the price."

He feels that the pandemic has altered society in many ways "Right now," he says, "it's not the world I was born in; this is not the morality that I grew up with. Things feel out of sync and I don't know what is going to happen. My job is not to be a philosopher or a politician or protestor. My job is that of a theatre maker but it is also very important for me to say what I see and put out there for people to see and JULIUS CAESAR has given me the opportunity to do that."

Goldberg observes the changes in the theatre scene that he has been part of for over a decade. "The landscape has altered so much in the last two years. Even before the pandemic, Netflix, Amazon and others were chipping away at the audience. Now they own the audience and that's a real paradigm shift. The economics of theatre here are so upside down, at so many of the venues, there is no way of making any money, so the shows are often just puff pieces, a way to feature yourself for publicity. Venues here have no skin in the game. In other countries, the venues want the shows to do well and have a share in the ticket sales, the beverage sales and other ancillaries. There is none of that here, so no one is incentivized to improve theatre and that's really terrible. You pay for six-hour slots when you should also get time for rehearsals and tech and a full run through with the price of the show. They are just venues for hire and should not position themselves as cultural centres, unless they have sweat in the game. We as theatre makers are not moving the needle, we are just in this echo chamber of ourselves, and that is really sad, because we are not a talentless group."

So far the choice of plays that he has produced at his Studio have been a mix of Indian, American and European classics, as well as some freshly written plays. "I have a huge amount of interests," he says."If there was a word to describe me, it would be curiosity. I love jumping around and love figuring things out. What interests me is people. I love the societal, the economical, contextual parts of the piece, but for me, I need to have someone in it that I am curious about. It's the only thing that connects my work. If I was in the 1980s, I would have been a protestor, you know, Chicago 7; if I was born in the 1920s, I would have been out there with the women in the suffragette movement. For me art is protest. If I can find something to say in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, or DAVID COLEMAN HEADLEY, that needs to be said, about the world that needs a little bit of improvement, that interests me. So there's the human side and the protest side in my work and I am very happy with that. I keep pushing myself and I am excited about that. I don't want to stay in one place too long ever. Mumbai is a really weird place, you find the best and the worst, the brightest and the dimmest, the most interesting and the most boring all in the same compound. There are a lot of like minded people here. That's what kept me here and long as I have, and kept me going. I am creatively, emotionally, intellectually very satisfied here. I have lived here for 12 years now and as a foreign person in India, you never know what you are going to get, so it's always fun and it's never ever done and dusted, and I have enjoyed that."

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on deepagahlot.com)




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