An interview with director Elizabeth Huffman about “Oedipus el Rey”

An interview with director Elizabeth Huffman about “Oedipus el Rey”

After performing two dress rehearsals of Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus el Rey, directed by Elizabeth Huffman, this past weekend, the buzz is getting louder and audiences are raving. Opening this Friday May 4th on Miracle’s MainStage, Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus el Rey audaciously transports the classic Greek play to the streets of Los Angeles where power, greed, love, and ambition tragically collide in this riveting adaptation. We caught up with the woman behind one of Miracle’s most arresting productions this season to talk about Oedipus, her most memorable theatre experiences, her gypsy traveler spirit, and her busy schedule!

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and grew up in a very small steel town. Like my dad, I worked in the steel mill to pay for college, (I was a boilermaker helper, if you can imagine that!)  However, after two years, I left college and went to New York. I was a dancer and somehow I found myself in Ringling Brothers & BB Circus, (I rode an elephant named Jilda!) and never stopped working professionally after that.  After a year in the circus touring the west coast, I came back to NYC, trained classically in London and went back to NYC to start a theatre company called The Beacon Project. We produced for five years and then I moved to L.A. in 1990.  In Los Angeles, I ran two classical companies over the 19 years I spent there, and then moved to Portland in 2009 to work as Artistic Director for Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon, which I did for a year, directing Trojan Women and Oedipus the King with them.

This is your second time working on the story of Oedipus. Can you tell us a little about the differences and similarities between your work on previous productions and Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus el Rey?
Well, my first Oedipus, a beautiful translation of Sophocles play, was set in ancient Japan and had an all-male cast. It was a huge outdoor production, with Kabuki, Noh and Butoh choreography, singing and dancing, mask work, not to mention working in and around a 25 foot gravel zen garden, so it required a huge amount of research and collaboration with many theatre artists who were involved in order to bring that world and original myth to life. But so did this production. This is equally challenging; we have here a fantastic and mythical world that is also rooted in a very real contemporary culture so the work that goes into creating a show like Oedipus El Rey is just as time consuming, just as detailed and it requires a very highly skilled cast and creative team to pull it off.

What has been the biggest challenge on tis production?
The tattoos! Very challenging to get them right, get them made, and figuring out how to apply so many every night.

What have you enjoyed the most?
Rehearsals. They have been a total blast and I will really miss the creative explorations we all did together. Everyone worked very hard but we laughed a lot and we grew so close during this process.  Together we went deep into our research of gangs, prison life, tai chi and the East L.A. Chicano culture. Because everyone took so seriously their part in the story, every day of rehearsal I learned from each member of the cast. I have to say: I really, really love my cast and I have also been blessed with one of the best creative teams I have ever worked with. EVERYONE working on this created this show…not just me. All of this I will truly cherish as one of the happiest experiences in my career.

What have been your other most memorable theatre experiences and why?
I’ll give you five experiences: Seeing Trojan Women in Greece at the great theatre of Epidaurus, seeing the Grand Kabuki in Tokyo, watching Mark Rylance at the Globe Theatre in London, Derek Jacobi in Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway and meeting Judi Dench after seeing her work in Hamlet. Memorable because these are the ultimate theatre artists and art forms that I respect the most.

What are you most inspired by?
Peter Brooke’s work with his international company. Always sublime, always fascinating and inspiring. Having my own international company of professional actors is truly my heart’s desire.

Tell us something we might not know about you, a love outside the theatre world.
I am a traveler, a gypsy. My bags always seem to be packed! I love to soak up other cultures, visit other countries and learn about their history. I am a voracious reader so I want to see and experience the places I read about and I travel as often as I can. I want to go to every country in the world and collaborate with theatres artists in every culture!

Finally can you tell us a little about future projects you are working on.  Anything else you would like to add.
I am about to perform a new one-woman play that is being written for me called You Belong to Me by LA playwright Steven Wolfson.  I will play for two performances here in Portland (this is a work in progress so please come and see it and give me your feedback!) at the 1 Festival at Headwaters Theatre on June 1 & 2 and then will I be taking it to L.A., N.Y., and also to four cities in Germany including my first visit to East Berlin! I hope to take this show worldwide. Also I begin directing a truly hilarious David Mamet play, November, in a few weeks, which opens June 21 at Theatre/ Theatre here in Portland. After that…no idea!

1 Comment

  1. Very inspiring, enlightening and entertaining. Thank you for this. It definitely enhances one's experience of the production. We are very fortunate to have access to such great talent, experience and creativity.