Celebrated stage designer/director Robert Wilson brings his new production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt to BAM as part of their spring season, April 13-16, in a co-production of The National Theatre of Bergen, Norway and The Norwegian Theatre of Oslo, Norway. Ellen Lampert-Gréaux touches base with Wilson to get his take on the stylized design aspects of his décor and lighting.
LD: What is the overall design concept for Peer Gynt?
RW: The production is an alternation of open and closed spaces, of passages and axes of collection. Peer Gynt passes through these different rooms of his life that change constantly, just like his life is always changing.
LD: Is it meant to be set in a specific period in the past?
RW: Peer Gynt is not tied to any particular period. It is not timeless, but rather full of time. It suggests the passing of time in a more universal manner. That is why an audience can relate to it in a very deep way: It exemplifies biographical time in the span of one evening. This is common to all human beings, regardless of the time of their birth and death. Peer Gynt on one level is about time as a universal experience, it is not a period piece.
LD: How does the light "inform" or interact with the set and the actors?
RW: In my approach to staging a work, light is the most important element because it helps us to se and listen better. The light in my productions is like an actor. It is an active force connecting all things on stage – a character, a chair, text, music, movement. When I go to the theater or the opera as a spectator, I am often distracted because the lighting draws me to something on the stage that is not genuinely important. Light levels are very important. I cannot help to focus on the brightest object on stage, for example a white tablecloth in the background. At the same time, the protagonist’s face is inadvertently cast in shadow. That makes it hard for me to hear the actor. It is confusing my experience. In contrast, my lighting makes the stage simpler. It aims to have only one connected thing on stage.
LD: Please describe one or two of the visual "pictures" seen on stage.
RW: I cannot really describe single scenes or images. To me, this would destroy the flow between them. They are not isolated in that way. I see them as part of the larger context that is the whole play.