Get Ready for a Wilde Time! Ted Dykstra Discusses Oscar Wilde and The Importance of Being Earnest

Ted Dykstra and the 2014-15 Ensemble © Andree Lanthier
Alex McCooeye and Christopher Morris © Andree Lanthier
Amy Matysio and Alex McCooeye help celebrate Oscar Wilde's 160th Birthday. © Andrew Alexander

With The Importance of Being Earnest soon to open the English Theatre’s 2014-15 Season, we sat down with director Ted Dykstra, whom English Theatre audiences will remember from the runaway hit, 2 Pianos 4 Hands.  During a break in rehearsal we talked with Ted about Oscar Wilde, why his play continues to delight audiences, and about working with the NAC 2014-15 Ensemble.

How does it feel to be back at the NAC?

It feels amazing. The NAC has the well-deserved reputation of being one of the best theatres in the country. The resources and support here don’t really exist, outside of the major festivals, in other parts of the country. It’s lovely to be back.

When looking at The Importance of Being Earnest as a director, what is it about this play you love?

There are so many things to admire. I think that the play continues to be one of the most produced works in the world due to its sparkling language, very complex levels of reality and unreality, and the idea of how one presents oneself vs. what’s really underneath.

There are so many layers to it that, you discover two-three weeks into rehearsals, you’re still finding another joke Wilde is making on top of a joke on top of a joke. The comedy of the situation itself, it’s an example of how, in every department, to write a great comedy. The characters are complicated and very rich, while at same time, larger than life.

Do you think that is why the play continues to resonate with audiences?

Yes, and it will continue to do so because we continue to see ourselves or someone we know in the play. Whether it’s an aunt that asks “Would you like to use a coaster?” when she really means “Use a coaster because that’s my best table!” or whether you yourself do something like that. As Canadians, we have that politeness that can actually be infuriating. I’m Dutch and my family is very straightforward, so if someone asked me that question about a coaster, I would say I’m fine and watch them implode because they wouldn’t know what to do. I’d rather they ask me the direct question, however there are still so many situations where we don’t say what we mean, and we try to act in the way society wants us to. None of that has changed and I don’t think it ever will.

In what way do you prepare differently as a director than you do as an actor or playwright?

I look at it as I’m playing the part of the play itself, so it’s my job to interpret the play. If I was an actor, it would be my job to represent the character, and fight the character’s battles, while as a director I represent the play, so I will fight the play’s battles. In that way, it’s similar to acting, as my role is the play.

Another thing I will do is to picture that I am sitting in the audience, having never seen, read, or heard anything about the play, and try to imagine what that experience would be like. That’s the person for whom I want to do the play, because if it is clear to them, we have really done our job.

You have been rehearsing with the 2014-15 Ensemble. How has that been?

Wonderful. Rehearsals have been very funny; it’s hard work, yet a lot of fun. The days are long, eight hours, six days a week, and can be quite a task actually, but it’s been invigorating and lots of joy. I love this Ensemble. They are amazing.

Is there a quality to Wilde’s writing that is more of a pleasure to do than some other works?

Certainly, he has more wit in his little finger than anyone that you or I have ever met. It’s very apparent in how clever the writing is. His incredible humour lives on to this day, and remains much admired and revered. If you were to look up “witty” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of him.

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