From Paper to Stage

Feb. 27, 2014

From Paper to Stage

ST. LOUIS, February 27, 2014 – Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts has brought to life “The House of the Spirits” playing now in the Emerson Studio Theatre of the Loretto Hilton Center. Caridad Svich, the playwright, was on campus to meet not only the students who are performing the piece but also students who hope to see their work performed on stage one day.

Both the College of Arts & Sciences and the Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts worked together to bring Svich on campus so that students in the Conservatory and the English department could meet with and learn from her.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for our students to see a play and also meet its author,” said Michael Erickson, associate professor in the English department. “For those students who have read Isabel Allende's novel, ‘The House of Spirits,’ it will be an opportunity to see how the adaptor transforms the story for stage.”

Adapted from Isabel Allende’s 1982 novel, La casa de los espíritus, “The House of the Spirits” vaguely follows the history of Chile from 1925 to 1973, including the devastating 1960 Valdivia earthquake (shifted to 1949 for the stage) as well as the 1970–73 presidency of Socialist leader Salvador Allende—Isabel Allende’s first cousin. Our present day is 1973, soon after the September 11th military coup orchestrated by armed forces and the national police that resulted in the destruction of the presidential palace and the death of President Allende.

Caridad Svich and class

“The House of Spirits is now a classic of Latin American literature and it's also a very long work with dozens of characters,” said Erickson. “Adapting it was no easy task. It is very beneficial to the students in the Master Workshop that they are able to gain ’s insight into the art and craft of writing for the stage.”

Svich received a 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in the theatre and the 2011 American Theatre Critics Association Primus Prize for “The House of the Spirits.” She has also been short-listed for the PEN Award in Drama four times.

And, it was Svich who recommended that the Conservatory secure Tamilla Woodard to serve as guest director of “The House of the Spirits” at Webster. Coincidentally, Woodard’s connections to the University date back more than a decade. In 2003, she performed in two Mainstage series productions at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in the University’s Loretto-Hilton Center.

A resident of New York City, Woodard is a graduate of the Yale Drama School, where she served as artistic director of the Yale Cabaret; an alumnus of The Lincoln Center Directors Lab; and founder of PopUP Theatrics, a partnership creating site-impacting theatrical events in collaboration with theatre artists worldwide. Her work has won best-of-festival awards, audience favorite awards, Top 10 Shows to See citations, New York Innovative Theatre nominations and critical acclaim in major publications around the world.

Woodard first saw The House of the Spirits in 2012, when she traveled to Denver to see three of her friends who were in the cast perform. “I was so glad that I saw the Denver production, and to experience how magical the play was to people in the audience who loved the novel,” Woodard said. “It was amazing to see how the actors managed to bring the reader-like intimacy of the book into the same experience on the stage.”

As director, Woodard has the daunting task of leadings a cast of 11 actors – seven women and four men – through 39 scenes covering five decades. “It’s wonderful to see these young actors being both the age of their characters and then growing older,” Woodard said.

In Woodard’s opinion, Webster’s Conservatory stands out because of the enormous amount of discipline shown not just by the actors, but the technical and design team as well. “Their level of commitment if so tremendous,” Woodard said. “They never stop thinking about the production.”  

Remaining performances of “The House of the Spirits” include Thursday, March 27, Friday, March 28 and Saturday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 2 at 2 p.m. For tickets to all Conservatory of Theatre Arts productions, call 314-968-7128.