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January 2000, das boot presents
Elfin Frederick Vogel
directorNew Plays and Plays of the 20th Century | Classical Theatre | Opera Musical Theatre Cabaret | Artistic Director Producer | Other/Resume
A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare, 1989
|Elfin Frederick Vogel was born in Wuppertal, Germany. After high
school he left his native country to study violin and classical guitar in Switzerland,
interrupting his life there with extended stays in Italy and France. In 1978 he moved to
New York, where his focus shifted from music to theatre.
"I began acting, but my accent was terrible and I got only work as a mime, which was painful to someone who is so addicted to speaking and verbal expression as I am," he reports of his experience of that time. Directing became the place in theatre where he felt most at home. After working for several years as a stage- and production manager, literary associate and assistant director, all while directing small scale projects as his "apprentice" pieces, he decided in 1986 to dedicate himself fully to this art. "Directing is the all-encompassing, the most versatile, and in a strange way, anonymous art. The collaboration between all the artists often hides the director's intention, as much as the successful interplay of all the elements - acting, text, visual designs, choreography, timing all can reveal the presence of an inspired director's hand. The director is the most powerful and most helpless of creatures in the process. He will be blamed (and rightly so) for all that goes wrong with a production, because it is the directors first and foremost task to create against all odds, to overcome all weaknesses of every other element in the process, and rarely will he receive the full credit for what makes a project magical, and this is right too, because it is all the other artists whose contributions make the evening an enchantment rather than an embarrassment. But only the director will know to make a great moment from a shortcoming, to use the poverty of a situation and make it the strength of a production."
As the great influences on his development as a director, Elfin credits the theatre of Germany, directors like Peter Stein, who liberated his imagination through the highest level of ensemble performance in a space that was only there through the actors and for the actors; and film directors like Fellini, Robert Altman, and Cocteau. "My greatest teacher of course was my mother, who told from memory, or read to us out loud, hundreds of fairy tales and folk tales from around the world. She endowed me with an unfailing instinct for story telling, for pacing, for set-up and pay off in those countless hours from as early as I can remember; this cannot be replaced by any training. Her superb sense of humor, of irony, and her great facility to create worlds with spoken words only was my first course in theatre, and it lasted for a good thirteen, fourteen years. Ultimately of course directing cannot be taught. It is learned in a painful process of making mistake after mistake, of stripping like skins everything which is detrimental to one being a true artist. Many become thick-skinned, and their work boorish and repetitive. Other's, giant's like Bergman or Strehler continue this process, continue to be puzzled by what it is to be human, and they tell the story of this quest in always new and surprising ways."
Elfin has given equal focus in his stage projects to new plays and important plays of the 20th Century as to the classics. "Each decade we rediscover ourselves in Shakespeare's plays. Ten years ago, Iago was a video-camera sporting, voyeuristic psychopath, Othello an abusive husband, who's insulted machismo left him no choice but murder. Would I direct OTHELLO this way today? I cannot say, except that to direct the same Shakespearean play more than once as I have done with OTHELLO and with A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is the greatest challenge and most intensive road to discovery imaginable. By the same token, to work with a living playwright, to join forces to find a "definitive" shape for a play is a high point in a director's life. Both are necessary exercises, exhilarating experiences."
In several of his recent productions Elfin has also taken on the role of set-designer, and he invariably works closely with his design collaborators. "The balance of all elements is what allows the theatrical moment to transcend its invariably limited means - and the means are always limited, no matter how huge a budget might be - and so there is not a single element of the design which must not be closely examined for its potential to contribute or distract from this moment. The right color, the use of a single light bulb instead of a vast lighting plot, the choice of the perfect shape or texture, sometimes even the smells which are generated on stage can hugely work into the subconscious perception of a work. My designer friends may find this intrusive, but directing is, in a large way, designing an experience, and hands on or hands off, this experience is the director's creative work."
Elfin still plays the violin whenever he can. Recently in his first acting role in 20 years, in the part of Joseph, a violin-playing political prisoner in Kirt Gunn's THE AMERICAN.
Elfin's next project is DEWPOINT, a new play by Vincent Sessa, and his third collaboration (after MORAL AND POLITICAL LESSONS ON WYOMING and RECKLESS ABANDON) with this playwright. The play examines the destruction of a family through the powerful longings of each of its members. Longing for life and lust, desire for friendship, the hunger for recognition, the search for identity, the restlessness of youth and the folly of unfulfilled adulthood bring the characters in this play to adultery, the plotting of murder and the breaking up of lives which can no longer control the forces that drive them over the edge. This dark comedy play will open for a three week run on May 12, 2000 at the Hudson Guild Theatre on 26th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue.
Elfin Frederick Vogel's productions have been reviewed in the Village Voice, the New York Post, the New York Native, The Commercial Appeal, The Memphis Flyer, the Arkansas Gazette, the Berkshire Eagle, America Oggi and New York Theatre Wire, as well as WBRK and WAMC radio.
New Plays and Plays of the 20th Century | Classical Theatre | Opera Musical Theatre Cabaret | Artistic Director Producer | Other/Resume