In The Theater and its Double, French playwright Antonin Artaud put forth a radical idea called “The Theater of Cruelty.” Describing mainstream theater as empty and apathetic to current events, Artaud sought to expose his audience to a whole new experience, in which stories and events challenged the false sense of “staged reality.”

Inflicted by the pain of the World War I and inspired by surrealism and ancient Greek drama, Artaud suggested a change in theater that by increasing its spectacle aspect, one would push its cathartic qualities to an extreme.

In a way, theater wouldn’t be an imitation of life. It would be life itself. Many believe that the evolution of this theory, through breaking the so called 4th wall, bringing the audience inside to experience the real, and interacting with the story and characters, gave birth to modern immersive theater.

In recent years, immersive theatre has found a nurturing home in New York City with big-name productions such as Sleep No More, Then She Fell, and Speakeasy Dollhouse drawing legions every month.

In a similar vein, albeit on a much smaller scale, an immersive theatre interpretation of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest kicked off last month, attracting a great audience during its sold out week-long run at the Shop Theatre in Greenwich Village.

The play had no curtain calls. It just started, and, before we knew it, we were all in with the beautiful Cuckoos. Deranged lunatics who had locked themselves in – voluntarily of course, because “society is too much sometimes.” Moody, elaborate, sometimes melodramatic, and ultimately tragic, this collaborative piece between Ryan Szelong [director], Ankita Raturi [producer], and Dale Wasserman [writer] breathed new life to Ken Kesey’s classic novel of the same name.

Scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Next, directed by Ryan Szelong.

Scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

Later, I sat down with Szelong, to discuss his debut in theater direction.

Souciant: What inspired you to do theater? Why did you choose this piece in particular for your debut?

Ryan Szelong: It has been a back and forth between film and theater. I do see myself working in film someday– but ultimately it is the classic “felt like I myself and felt most at home” in the theater– on the other hand, I couldn’t do sports well and finally felt like I was good at something. with this play, their design team approached ME about directing the show– which was a very backwards way. They are all sophomores so they weren’t allowed to direct a GAP [shows a that students run at the main stage] so they sought out someone and found me. I loved the source material, so I was on board.

Souciant: How do you feel about directing your first play?

RS: It was a lot of learning, especially in managing large groups of people and scenes with fifteen characters. I had a great crew, and we had only five weeks of rehearsals. I would have loved to continue, but I’m proud of what we got done in that time. It is strange, but a lot of my favorite moments were when no one was saying anything. The moments of transition and the looks exchanged between characters.

Hospital life

Hospital life

Souciant: Do you have a favorite section/quote/character from the book?

RS: Oh god, its hard to pick! I love the book as a whole but I think this quote sums it up pretty well:
“Like a cartoon world, where the figures are flat and outlined in black, jerking through some kind of goofy story that might be real funny…if it weren’t for the cartoon figures being real guys…”

I feel like it justifies a drug users perspective in that there can be a truth through a stretched non objective lens such that surreality is only surreal because it is so real — [pauses] if that makes sense?

Souciant: What’s the craziest thing you have done ?

RS: [laughs]  Too many to list ! I wore tiger and cow suits to school. I once dressed up in knickers and threw Eucharist – communion wafers I stole from the church I worked at – all over my private Catholic high school campus.

Souciant: What happened afterwards?

RS: I was suspended.

 

Photographs courtesy of the author