Inside Look at Making “The Pillowman”

By Anna Mayes and Caitlyn Maltese
Elm Staff Writer and Student Life Editor

The week after “The Pillowman” premiered, Brian Klose was still able to pull out his copy of the script from his backpack.
“I’m still in denial,” he said. Klose directed the play for his senior thesis, and after selecting it in the fall of 2015, it became his life. He first read the play in Dr. Michele Volansky’s special topics course that focused on modern plays written in the post 9/11 world.
“The Pillowman” follows the story of two brothers who are under investigation for a series of gruesome child murders. The two live in a totalitarian state, and must fight in order to clear their names.
“The first time I read it, I loved everything about it,” said Klose. “One of the most impressive things about this play is how it can make such a heavy thing funny.”
“The dry, dark humor was some of the best I’ve ever read in a play,” he said. “I was generally entertained by everything that happened in the play, so I wanted to make sure that feeling would be shared by everyone watching it.”

Pillowman
Washington College Drama Department production of The Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh. A Directing SCE from Brian Klose. Photo by Paul W. Gillespie

Klose went into drama draft without having any prior clear cut ideas about who he wanted to cast, after callbacks, he knew exactly who he wanted. He chose his actors based on how they approached the dark script, and how quickly they were able to catch on to the comedic aspects of the play.
“From the first read through, I knew I had the perfect cast because they just go at it—it didn’t take them long to understand that this was a comedy. They caught on to the parts that were supposed to be funny and ran with it really well,” he said.
The actors wanted to learn as much as they could and gain experience.
Dr. Courtney Rydel said, “The actors’ ability to make the play comedic through timing and action was astoundingly sophisticated.”
“The first thing that I told the cast, before we started the first read through, was that at its foundation, this play is a comedy and this play is a murder mystery,” Klose said.
“The only way you know how to direct after being involved in a thesis show in the past is how you got directed. It took me a while to find my own style and how to approach stuff,” he said. His directing style ended up being different than he thought it would be. He ended up giving the actors a lot of space to take their own liberties. He made sure that the actors had some input in order to open his eyes to things that he may not have thought of and make the play the best that it could be.
“He’s been very supportive of everyone’s creative input and ideas, so it has been awesome working with him,” said Maddie Morton, costume designer for the show. She said she had a lot of freedom to design the costumes.
She said the process of being a designer is a lot different from acting, and that she never realized how much work goes on behind the scenes.

Pillowman
“The Pillowman” was the directing senior capstone experience of Brian Klose that ran from Nov. 4-5. The play is written by Martin McDonagh, and was first performed in 2003.

Chris Hanna, who played Michal Katurian, was allowed to explore what he could do as an actor. “Because of his moral gray area, Michal is a very different character than I’m used to playing,” said Hanna.
Mark Christie who played Detective Ariel. He walked into each rehearsal with a mindset to learn. “I took deep notes from my director, tried new creative movements, and different things onstage until I found the character that I wanted to be,” said Christie.
“There’s not really a clear cut good guy or bad guy thing going on in the play. You are not forced to make the characters have these ethical expectations—because they are assholes you are fine with them saying the things you have to say because they are just not good people,” Klose said.
According to Klose, the first six weeks of rehearsals went smoothly. “None of our issues started until this week,” he said of tech week.
Conor Maloney who played the main character Katurian. He said that, during their load in on Sunday, a lot of lighting cues had to be changed.
Monday before it premiered, the theatre professors attended “Prof’s Night” and gave feedback before opening night. According to Klose, one of their main suggestions was to emphasize the silhouettes against the fabric screen. This was a concept established early in the design process, but with some additional staging, they were able to make it really striking.

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