By Brian Scott Lipton
Although she’s not even 20 years old (at least until April 21), Tavi Gevinson has already accomplished more than most women three times her age, from authoring the influential fashion blog, Style Rookie (at age 15), to making her accomplished Broadway debut in last season’s well-received production of This Is Our Youth. Now, she’s gone one step further, making an indelible impression as the troubled teen Mary Warren in Ivo Van Hove’s stunning revival of Arthur Miller’s Tony Award-winning play The Crucible (officially opening on March 31 at the Walter Kerr Theatre) opposite Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okenedo, Ciaran Hinds, and Saorise Ronan. Theater Pizzazz recently chatted with Gevinson about this once-in-a-lifetime project.
BSL: In what ways do you identify with Mary Warren?
TG: Unlike Mary, I have a lot of freedom and choice in my life, so it’s fascinating to experience what she goes through every night. She’s mastered repression as a Puritan, dutiful servant, and the court’s pawn, but it can only end in hysteria. There’s probably something healthy about being reduced to a screaming child at the end of every show, countering the more structured aspects of this kind of job and schedule.
BSL How was working with Ivo Van Hove? And can you talk about the rehearsal process at all?
TG: On the first day he talked about his relationship to the show and did a visual presentation on the set, costumes, etc., which helped us feel let in on every aspect of the production and gave context for the people we’d be playing. We had to be memorized the next day and started blocking right away, so instead of doing tablework and then putting it on its feet, Ivo integrated the two. We looked at the text at the same time that we created the physical, visual language of the show. The Crucible is such a famous text with so many well-known lines, but it really opens up your brain to think in terms of what can’t be expressed in words, like the physical impulses another character might prompt in you, beyond normal conversational gestures.
Ivo really respects actors and encouraged us to share our ideas. Whenever I stopped in the middle of a sentence because I started to doubt what I was saying, he just stared at me and waited for me to finish, unless I could convince him my idea really was a dud. I like that attitude that every contribution can be valuable or lead somewhere new.
Even though we went word-by-word to understand certain scenes, we’d sometimes get to one moment and he’d go, “Here I want you to follow your instinct.” He could always find another solution if necessary, but it’s wonderful to take direction from someone who isn’t interested in control. There’s no ego. And there isn’t really time to bring your own ego to it either, because being liked is beside the point. I am so accustomed to a hyper-verbal, overly apologetic, obsessively articulated state of being. Working with Ivo has kindly quieted this compulsive need to manage everything, ever.
BSL: You are surrounded by some of the best actors in the world. What have you learned from them?
TG: I am learning more than I can say! Most of it just from being inspired by what everyone brings to their role every single night. But also: practical help on taking care of your voice and keeping up your physical health/stamina. And the importance of taking your needs seriously in order to do your best, eight times a week.
BSL: How do you think the play is relevant in 2016 (other than as great drama)?
Donald Trump has come up a lot the past couple of months. It wasn’t part of the rehearsal process or anything, but I think this play recalls the sort of fear that founded the America which Trump and his ilk intend to resurrect. The other day in the dressing room, listening to the final scene of the show led some of us to a discussion about xenophobia and fear of the unknown, which Puritans had in spades. History repeats itself, and I think audience members will find different parallels. The paranoia that drove the people of Salem to find logic in spectral evidence, or anyone targeted during McCarthyism to name names, is sort of timeless. So are the extremes these systems went to in order to protect those in power and cover up their failings. Even on smaller, less political scales, it’s a common human instinct to make oneself Good/Right simply by declaring someone else to be Bad/Wrong. I want Mary to be a real person and not just a stand-in for these ideas, so I continue to try to understand why actual humans, myself included, might cling to flawed logic instead of accepting ambiguity. It’s very exciting to do this show in the vacuum Ivo creates because we are not bound by any obligation to historical accuracy. Since the design elements of the show are not specific to any period or setting, it feels like it just takes place in a feeling of panic. Just like, some awful gray room where terrible ideologies come together to ruin people’s lives.
BSL: You must be completely exhausted when you’re not performing? How do you decompress?
TG: I just try to take care of myself, not go out or use my voice too much. I don’t really want to before or after a show anyways. I come home and read or watch a movie or listen to music. Since we’re in such a rigorous routine, I want to take in anything that keeps me feeling awake and alive and open to the possibilities of each performance being different from the last.