UCSB Welcomes Back Recent Graduate to Direct
by Elizabeth Schwyzer
It’s a busy season for Theatre UCSB. With its collaboration with
Lit Moon Theatre on a major production of Timon of Athens
just finished and five more productions scheduled before summer,
the department is operating at full tilt. Realizing they’d be
hard-pressed to direct the entire season on their own, the faculty
decided to call in support, inviting recent UCSB graduate Emily
Weisberg to direct the 1984 Lee Blessing drama,
Since graduating from the masters program in June, Weisberg has
based herself in Los Angeles, founding Push to Talk, a theater
company dedicated to producing new work by emerging playwrights.
Last week I called Weisberg at her L.A. office to talk about the
challenges and rewards of directing at her alma mater.
Independence is a play about a mother and her
three daughters. What does it tell us about women’s roles and their
relationships? I think it’s a fantastic play because it
provides four women with four amazing roles. It’s a beautifully
written piece — you don’t run across roles for women written like
this very often.
The play is about our relationships with family. It’s very
universal, accessible, and resonant. I don’t think there’s anything
alien about struggling to relate to your mother as a human being
rather than as a parent. It’s a topic that’s especially relevant
for college kids starting to define themselves outside the
What are the challenges involved in directing this play
at UCSB? The biggest challenge for the actresses was
getting them to stop thinking about it so much. You can get bogged
down in thinking a moment to death. The key is often not
to think about it, just to react. The only bad choice is no
Also, because it’s a naturalistic play, I want to avoid
stereotypes. I don’t want to let the mom become a caricature of a
mean, scary mom. That means the actresses needed to avoid judging
their characters so they can let the audience draw their own
How are you making artistic decisions as a director? On
what basis do you decide how a line should be played or how to
block a scene? I want the most realistic things in the
play to be the actresses, not the set. Our brilliant set designer,
Tal Sanders, is helping us create a set that’s like a suggestion of
a house — a memory.
In the script, there are blackouts all the time. As a director,
I’m trying to create a fluid experience. I want it to move, and
blackouts don’t work for me so I’ve taken them all out. In general,
I’ve put less emphasis on the passage of time. The realism exists
in who these women are, and not so much where or when they are.
Do you draw on personal experience to try to get at the
emotional realism of this play? How do you relate to the emotional
lives of the characters? I absolutely draw from my own
family experience. When I’m directing I tell a lot of personal
stories, but more importantly, I ask the actresses to turn to their
experiences. Especially for Liz Kelley, who plays the mother,
that’s a big challenge — she hasn’t been a mom. I asked the
actresses to connect with what they’re getting from their partner
onstage. Whatever comes from that place is appropriate.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?
This production is totally reliant on the cast — this is about the
actresses. It’s a big, scary challenge for them, but they’re
absolutely up to it.
For me, it has been a wonderful gift to have the faculty and
department say they believe in me and want to support me. This is
essentially my first paying gig! Teaching is a big part of who I
am, so being able to direct and teach simultaneously is a really
4•1•1 Independence runs Fri., Nov. 10
through Sat., Nov. 18 at UCSB’s Performing Arts Theatre. For more
information, visit www.dramadance.ucsb.edu. For
tickets, call 893-3535.