Dallas — Adam Adolfo is the former Executive Artistic Director of Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts in Fort Worth and previously the Managing Artistic Director for The Living Opera in Richardson. He has worked as a stage director, choreographer, and producer having directed Shakespeare, musicals, opera, and staging several world premiere plays. Recently honored with a Fort Worth Weekly Visionary Award, for his outstanding contributions to the Artistic Community in Tarrant County, Adolfo is the first performing arts professional to receive this distinction. We had the opportunity to discuss his current project, Elemental: Nature's Rhapsody, opening this weekend in and around the reflecting pool in front of the Winspear Opera House, as part of the Elevator Project at AT&T Performing Arts Center.
TheaterJones: What is your philosophy as a director and theatre artist?
Adam Adolfo: As a director, I seek to celebrate theatre and its importance in our culture as a powerful device that reflects who we were, are, and will become. Theatre, opera, ballet are all, at their very core, storytelling. It is my chief duty as a director to sift through the actions and words in a script to find the story and make it live. My focus no matter the spectacle, is always with the small human moments that magnify our emotional selves. When a fierce commitment to staging style and a keen sense of actor development are unified with the design elements of the physical world, theatre not only lives, but thrives.
How did you get involved with the Elevator Project?
Honestly, I saw the call for applications and decided to take my own advice. For years as producer of theatre at Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts, I would tell young artists that if they weren’t getting the opportunities they wanted, they should make their own. SO it was time to take my own advice after years of not getting to work in Dallas. This production is my Dallas debut despite having directed throughout North Texas including Mesquite, Plano, Frisco, Addison, Grapevine, Fort Worth, Bedford, Arlington, and Grand Prairie. My submission process was no different than anyone else’s, I suppose. I was surprised, elated, and even shocked when David Denson, Director of Programming, gave me a call. It was the start of an exciting and scary proposition. Create a production celebrating the elements in the arts and do it on a pool of water.
Why did you use the reflecting pool as the setting for your piece?
I love Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphosis, which is meant to be staged in a pool of water. I love the iconic mythology of the show when married with the movement of water. I’ve always been a fan of “real” [elements] on stage. If I can put dirt, or water, or fire, on stage, I will. Why? Because these things are the perfect actors. They cannot be anything else than what they are. A stage becomes more “real” for an audience when you strike a match on it, or pour a glass of water, or “dig” in the dirt. These elements are so ingrained in us that they make the world around them on stage more real — so the thought of placing an entire production on stage that allowed performers to “walk on water” was exciting to me.
The production was always pitched to be staged on the Donor Reflecting Pool. It was conceived by me for the Elevator Project. I wanted to do something that had never been done before [although the last part of the Dallas Theater Center’s 2016 production of Electra happened in the same spot] and the initial idea was simply to create a sort of “salon” of pieces that featured the elements prominently. The hope was to create a show about the “living elements” adding to the beauty of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Sammons Park. The pool is not only our stage but it is a mirror and that reflection is just as interesting as the performers on stage. I may be a theatre director but I like to believe that I have the spirit of a musician and the heart of a dancer… I look at dance and music as important storytelling devices in the world of theatre. Gesture is dance. Tempo and cadence is music. These are the things that helped infuse Elemental. In many ways, this show is the culmination of my life as a director over the last 10 years. The production is a cornucopia of skills, ideas, dreams and inspirations unified in a night of performance that is “elementally me.”
Your show uses a wide array of music, text, and movement styles. What was the impetus for this decision?
The evening started as unified salon but has shaped strongly into an exploration of the fifth element, Aether — what I call the spark of creation — utilizing a central allegory of Mother Earth and how her beauty in the world around us (through water, fire, earth, and air) influences a Poet to create his masterpiece — all while featuring music from opera to pop, dance from contemporary to ballroom, and spoken word from Shakespeare to slam poetry.
Your cast is ethnically and culturally diverse. Can you talk a bit about the need for more even and accurate representation on our theatre stages?
I’m not a big fan of color-blind casting. I think that can be gimmicky. I AM a fan of color-conscious casting. I think a person’s ethnic makeup and cultural background can bring profound and exciting additions to a character. It was a conscious decision on my part to cast an African-American actress as “Mother Earth” in this production… it is an opportunity to embrace cultural diversity in casting. I am a fan of all types of diversity. I cast a young performer, Stephen Newton, as The Spirit, who is basically the spark of creation. It seems to be an unconventional casting choice, but generational diversity in casting can be just as exciting as ethnic casting, color-blind casting, and gender-neutral casting. I personally am a director who likes to take risks and taking them on performers is always a good bet in my book.
What do you want audiences to take away from this piece?
Elemental is more than just storytelling. In my mind, it will unfold itself to the audience like dreaming. The production I dreamt of while creating Elemental has clarity of form and economy of color, focused exclusively on artistry, and features the artistic work from not just the Western world but from around the world. It celebrates diversity in many ways including culturally, stylistically, and through many performing arts mediums. I set out to create intimacy on a grand spectacular scale and to appeal to archetypal emotions and imagery in order for this production to find its feet in a new storytelling motif that is part ceremony and part theatrics, [and] hopefully [it] speaks to the audience on a very emotional — and even spiritual — level.