Constance Swain plays Emily Webb in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (above photos by Lindsey Walters and Michael Bailey), one of our four Spring Season shows. See what she has to say about pairing this classic play with Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions.
You play Emily in Our Town. How does Thornton Wilder’s classic play compare to the Shakespeare titles you’re doing this season? How is it different?
You said it right, Our Town is a classic, an American treasure. This play works wonderfully with both Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. These plays are chock full of lessons we’ve either learned, need to learn, or need to be reminded of. Lessons like the power of forgiveness, the beauty of friendship, and the importance of a hearty laugh.
While Our Town shares several characteristics with these Shakespeare titles, there’s something special about its simplicity. This play doesn’t have period dances or fancy sword fights. There’s something familiar about the straightforwardness of Our Town. If Shakespeare’s plays are desserts, Our Town is the meat and potatoes.
What is your favorite line/lines in the play? Why?
EMILY: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?
STAGE MANAGER: No. Saints and poets, maybe they do some . . .
Being an actor is a lot like being a poet, it is my hope that I realize and inspire others to realize life while they live it. Every. Every. Minute.
Do you have a favorite audience moment from either your time on the road or at the Blackfriars?
There are so many beautiful moments we share with the audience in this play. We’re on a journey, a mission, to spark the imagination of our audience. Our Town, in particular, calls for the audience to stretch their imagination. We encourage them to give themselves over to Grovers Corners, to take this ride with us, feeling every loop and twist along the way.
I love watching the audience turn their heads or sit up to see the house on the hill, or Mr. Morgan’s drug store, or the graves of fallen soldiers. The stage manager simply points to these “places” and the audience, both young and old, turn to get a better view. None of these places are tangible, we can’t go up and touch them. The audience knows this. It’s no secret. This is a play. But they still believe in magic. For an evening they abandon all logic and play.
How does Our Town fit into the current cultural moment? What do you think audiences might walk away with watching this play in 2017?
This play is a classic because it is timeless. No matter if the year is 2017 or 3017, this play will be relevant. Human beings will live, and eat, and love, and die. This play is a reminder to breathe in those moments. Hopefully, after seeing this play, audiences hug their loved ones a little tighter before bed.
Does performing Our Town with Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions impact the way audiences respond to the play?
Absolutely! This play is captivating on its own; adding Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions only enhances its charm. Our staging conditions (keeping the lights on, directly addressing the audience) remind people that they matter, that they are just as important to this story as any of us.