Firsthand: Director James Presson and Our Town at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery
Thornton Wilder's legendary drama comes to life at this historic burial ground.
One hundred years before Thornton Wilder penned his legendary drama Our Town, Green-Wood Cemetery came into existence in the borough of Brooklyn. Seventy-six years after Wilder put his pen down, the play has come to life among those tombstones under the night sky. It's a fitting location, considering Our Town's third act is actually set in a graveyard. Director James Presson took us on a tour of his staging Green-Wood Cemetery to describe his vision for this American classic. The production runs through June 28.
On the location: I spent about three months after signing on to do the project finding a location. The temptation is to find the flattest, easiest space to work in, but it seemed like such a shame to do that at Green-Wood. We found a really crazy space. It's full of stones and centers around a mausoleum. It's a naturally dynamic space.
On the design: The production employs basic poor theater techniques. The actors have a contemporary base costume, and they put on period costume pieces throughout.
On performing outdoors: We've been able to craft an evolving aesthetic that utilizes the most unpredictable and massive light source there is. For the majority of shows, we start at 7:30pm and over the course, the sun is setting. By the third act, it's really dark. Everything is matched with the sun setting. Sometimes, there's a really great moon, and sometimes there's not.
On performing shows late at night: We didn't know what to expect; we had never done the show before at 11:30pm and it was crazy. It's really quiet and very still. The skyline is all lit up, and it's a very unique, overwhelming experience. It's a crazy thing to do, Our Town that late at night, but people seem to really like it.
On performing under the stars: [It works because] it's so much about our place in the universe. There are certain moments of poetry in Wilder's text that seeing it set against this massive sky, you can't help but think that there's never been a more perfect location to experience it. It's exactly what he's talking about: this idea of being so small in such a colossal universe.