Dallas — Upon her first reading of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Gloria, Christie Vela stood up at her desk and announced to her co-workers around her, “If someone doesn’t stab these people in the neck, I’m going to throw this play out!”
“I hated these people. And right at that very moment, something very shocking happened.”
Vela was tasked with giving the play an initial read back in 2015 to see if it might be a good fit for the Dallas Theater Center. After that “shocking event” she ran to another co-worker and they sat discussing the play for over two hours.
Vela is a former member of DTC’s Brierley Resident Acting Company, and returns here as a guest artist to direct Gloria in the smartly transformed Sixth Floor Studio Theater at the Wyly Theatre. It is the first North Texas production of a play by the 2016 MacArthur Fellow Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon, Appropriate).
The play deals with six characters—played by Dallas actors Leah Spillman, Michael Federico, Drew Wall, Grace Montie and Ryan Woods, along with New York-based Satomi Blair—in the cutthroat world of magazine publishing. Vela doesn’t want you to have any idea of the shocks that the play brings, but you should probably be prepared for disturbing and graphic violence. It has been running in previews, and opens Wednesday, Dec. 14, continuing through Jan. 22.
“If I had my way, we wouldn’t say anything about this leading up to it,” she says. “The violence is a huge part of the play, but it’s not what the play is about. It is the catalyst for the action. Yes, it is graphic and loud, but this play is not about that act.”
Vela, in between working on the specifics of a very particular sound in the show (the sound is designed by her husband, John M. Flores), spoke with TheaterJones about why she hates trigger warnings, how she’s enjoying her new role as a director at DTC, and why the violence in the play stands for more than just a shock.
TheaterJones: You didn’t want any warnings on this play before people see it. Why?
Christie Vela: I don’t like to warn people that something might upset them. I’m a teacher and I tell my students, “Look, we are going to discuss some things in here that might be hard, but we’re going to do it together. If it’s too much for you, you can leave.” Life is tough! Obviously if someone had just experienced a tragedy I might warn them this play isn’t for them right now, but I don’t believe in blanket statements to protect people from something that might make them uncomfortable.
Once you got past the initial shock, what drew you to this play?
It was, “why do we do this to each other?” Why do we commodify tragedy?” The play is about four people who are stuck together and how they change as a result. I really like stories where people are kind of trapped and have to find their way out of it.
How do you see society commodifying tragedy?
It’s so much a part of social media. Every tragedy has someone’s personal story attached to it. It has to be about them somehow. There is a line in the play that just stuck with me: “Are people another excuse to think about ourselves?” People grieve in different ways, I understand the need to talk about it.
You’ve been directing all over the place. Are you enjoying it?
Yes. I will always be an actor, but being an actor was the best school to prepare me to be a director. Working here is so great, too. This creative team is amazing. They will work their fingers to the bone to get it just right. Directing gives me an opportunity to get out into the world. My kids are grown up and out of the house now. There are so many amazing women in this town. I directed ‘night, Mother at Echo Theatre and I just kept thinking I wanted to find a way to have all of these amazing women in a play somehow.
Your husband is the sound designer for this play. Do you guys talk about it at home?
We mostly leave it at the theater. We like to just hang out and watch Westworld when we’re home.
Do you lean towards darker material?
I do. I’m a horror movie fanatic, and I think those things can be funny at times too. I like when people are stuck together and have to figure out how to navigate through the world. I like that discomfort. And I think sometimes you need something to jolt you into seeing who you are going to be.