The Unencumbered Freedom to Create

Apr 8, 2017 |

Cory Grabenstein (L) and Frank Benge (R) in rehearsal for BONHOEFFER’S COST. Photo by Rebecca Rosenberg.

We’ve now completed our first two weeks of rehearsals for Bonhoeffer’s Cost, meaning the foundation of staging and blocking has been laid.  We’re now free to do what I love best in the rehearsal process: explore and create.  It’s now that we breathe more life into the play by developing the look, feel, tone, and mood of the show.

It dawned on me on the way to rehearsal earlier this week that Bonhoeffer’s Cost is the first show that I’ve directed–or that Agape Theatre has produced–that no one in the cast or crew has seen before.

Until now, Agape Theatre has primarily produced established, published works that have been part of the American Theater cannon for years.  As such, there’s always been a film version, recorded stage production, or memorable live performance we could use as a reference point.  Even in the case of 2014’s Suffer the Long Night, the only non-published play we’ve staged thus far, I had seen a phenomenal production several years prior.  While the rest of the cast and crew saw the material through fresh eyes, I had the memory of the play’s World Premiere which helped us to navigate the many challenges of the script.

While we never have and never will copy another theater company’s production, it is somewhat comforting to have a reference point.  It can answer questions like, “What should this moment look like?” or “How do we make this character work?” or “How do we address the set requirements here?”  These reference productions can inspire us and point us and the show in the direction we need to go.

But we don’t have that luxury with Bonhoeffer’s Cost.  While there have been two full-scale productions of the play in Chicago and Philadelphia, none of us saw those productions, and all that we’ve seen of either are a handful of still images and a 30-second video montage from the Chicago production.

All we really have to guide us is the script.  We’re essentially going into Bonhoeffer’s Cost blind, and while that should be scary and intimidating, it’s oddly liberating.

The upside to producing to an established work is the roadmap laid out by prior productions.  They can tell you what to do (or what not to do) with the material.  But the downside in having that knowledge is that you’re constantly comparing your show and your performers to something else.  You may choose to do something not necessarily because it’s right for the material but rather because “it’s always been done that way.”  The pressure to live up to prior productions of the same play can prevent us from thinking creatively.  We often forget to tell the story the way we wish to tell it and instead deliver it the way it’s already been told.

That’s why my cast and I are realizing that ignorance is bliss.  All we have at our disposal are the 94 pages written by Mary Ruth Clarke and the documents written by and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In knowing nothing of the prior productions, we feel we’re able to approach the play in a fresh, new way.  All choices and decisions about the characters, the tone of the show, the pace, the look, and the mood all are coming organically from the discoveries we make in the text.  It’s forcing us to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in a deeper way.  Every decision has to be justified, and the justification is never “this is how it was done before.”

I truly wish more regional and community theaters would produce more original works for this very reason.  There’s an unencumbered freedom to create when working with a new text, and that freedom challenges and rewards artists in a unique and valuable way.

I also hope that future productions of Bonhoeffer’s Cost know little to nothing about our approach to the play.  Not knowing is a tremendous amount of fun.


Jeff Davis
Director, Bonhoeffer’s Cost

BONHOEFFER’S COST Plays The Sanctuary At Palm Valley Lutheran Church, Located At 2500 East Palm Valley Blvd, Round Rock, TX.  The Play Runs Thursday, May 11-Sunday, May 21, 2017.  Performances Are Thursdays – Saturdays At 7:30pm With Matinee Performances On Saturdays And Sundays At 2:30pm.  A Free Post-Show Reception Will Follow The Opening Night Performance On Thursday, May 11th.  A Post-Show Discussion With The Cast And Creative Team Will Follow The Performance On Friday, May 12th And The Evening Performance On Saturday, May 20th.

Tickets Are $12-20 With Discounts Available To Seniors, Students, Teachers/Educators And Current/Ex Military.  To Reserve Tickets, Please Visit Www.Ticketor.Com/Agapetheatre Or Call Us At 512-88-STAGE.

For More Information, Please Visit Http://Www.Agapetheatre.Org/Bonhoeffers-Cost.Html Or Call 512-88-STAGE.

BONHOEFFER’S COST Is Recommended For Audience Members Age 13 And Up.

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