Feature: Wingspan Theatre Company on Beckett, creative process, and inspiration
Updated: Jan 16
Wingspan Theatre Company, one of Dallas’ beloved independent theatres, is celebrating its 22nd season with the upcoming production of Two by Beckett – Footfalls and Not I. Wingspan Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Susan Sargeant is directing Footfalls and starring in Not I. Local actress Jennifer Kuenzer will perform Footfalls. I spoke with them about the fun and the challenges of producing Samuel Beckett, why Wingspan Theatre Company produces so much “Theatre of the Absurd," and what keeps each of them connected to their own creative spark.
In Two by Beckett – Footfalls and Not I, each one-act is a solo performance by a female actor. It's a perfect choice for Wingspan, a theatre company committed to producing plays by and about women. It's also a perfect fit because Samuel Beckett is an Absurdist – a theatrical genre with which Wingspan Theatre Company has a rich history.
Throughout their tenure, Wingspan has produced the works of Absurdist playwrights Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, Sarah Kane, and the more obscure works of Tennessee Williams. When I asked her why, Sargeant shared, “I love the Absurdist movement - “Theatre of the Absurd” - because of the language and provocative thinking that [it] invites and invokes…with Beckett…his plays are both comforting and cathartic. Beckett’s plays deal with the themes of isolation and the journey to self…[and] grab an audience’s attention through his unique approach exploring the human condition.”
Sargeant is no stranger to Beckett’s work. Past productions for Wingspan include Happy Days (2013) and Play (FIT Festival, 2016). She shared that having those experiences as a Director has “informed and enlightened me…on how to illuminate Beckett’s plays. Trust and stay true to what Beckett has laid out for you.”
This time, Sargeant is directing Footfalls and performing in Not I. Harnessing what she learned from her experiences directing Beckett has also helped create a map for her approach to the work as an actress. She said, “The fun and challenge of Samuel Beckett, in the staging department, is the precision with which the staging needs to be executed. Beckett gives you a very specific blueprint…Beckett gives you a great framework. When you approach Beckett like a piece of music, the world unfolds for you.”
In Not I, Sargeant plays a disembodied voice which speaks of itself in third person. In true Beckett form, the language is circular, even disjointed, and relies on a specific rhythm and pitch set out by the playwright. Because she wears two hats in this production – Director and Actress - Sargeant can see the challenges from both sides. She admits “the requirements for any actor rendering Beckett are quite demanding. It is a layered process due to the stream of consciousness/non-linear language, the physical constraints of these particular plays, and the arrival at the right pitch and tone.”
Jennifer Kuenzer will perform Footfalls. While this is not her first time working with Wingspan – she played the role of Fanny Cranberry in Wingspan’s 2018 production of On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning by Eric Overmyer – this is her first foyer into Beckett as an actress.
In Footfalls, a woman paces up and down a corridor outside her mother’s sickroom to the rhythmic beat of her own pacing footsteps. It has been noted that Beckett described the pacing as, "the walking should be like a metronome. One length must be measured in exactly nine seconds."
I asked her how she plans to approach the role. She shared: “Beckett has such a careful and specific structure, but also a lot of freedom within that…I try to stay totally open and not lock myself into anything that isn’t a line, a pause, or a 9-step pace. Easy, right?”
Both women acknowledge that it’s actually not easy, but that’s the fun of creating within the world of Samuel Beckett.
For Kuenzer, the process of working on Beckett has been enriching and educational. She told me, “truly, everything about this process is fun. Even when it’s difficult – especially when it’s difficult. I have never done a one-woman piece before and I must say I love getting down into the grit of it with Susan…. Staging mine especially is interesting because the movement is a very specific part of the play itself.”
She went on to share that she is inspired to work on this project because “these particular pieces are haunting and heart-breaking, but also funny and identifiable in ways theatergoers will find surprising. Because it doesn’t necessarily seem to be so on the surface.”
Outside of this project, both women are prolific artists. Last year, Wingspan produced the World Premiere of Jo & Louisa by Isabella Russell-Ides, which was recently honored as an outstanding new play for 2018-19 by the Dallas/Ft. Worth Theater Crtitics Forum Awards. Kuenzer was recognized for outstanding performance by an Actress for her performance in In The Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) with Imprint Theatreworks.
But even with well-earned awards and accolades, being a creative artist isn’t always easy. I asked each of them how they stay connected to their creative spark and maintain inspiration.
Sargeant shared that her theatrical work with Wingspan is what keeps her creative fire burning. Her theatre company has been dedicated to finding and producing the “rare gems” of well-known playwrights and bringing those to the Dallas stage. The theatre company also develops new works in their Staged Reading Series and as part of Dallas’ Festival of Independent Theatres. Sargeant expanded on it, saying “the other facet of what keeps my creative spark igniting is developing New Plays both in my Staged Reading Series and also through The Festival of Independent Theatres/FIT. WingSpan Theatre Company has brought seven (7) World Premieres to the Dallas stage…WingSpan Theatre Company is a Founding Company of FIT and the only Founding Company to participate in all 21 years of FIT. All of these World Premiere plays were written by local female playwrights.”
To maintain creative inspiration, Kuenzer answered, “I go after things that scare me. I prefer not to play it safe, if I can help it. I try to be mindful of when I need to take a break or a breath. I spend time with my family. And I paint.”
Two by Beckett – Footfalls and Not I will have a preview performance on Thursday, October 3, 2019 with Opening Night on Friday, October 4, 2019. The production plays through Saturday, October 19, 2019.
Performances are Thursday -Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. There will be post show talkbacks on Friday, October 11th and Friday, October 18th.
All performances will be held at The Bath House Cultural Arts Center, 521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, TX 75218.
For further information or reservations call the box office at (214) 675-6573 or visit www.wingspantheatre.com.