On Monday afternoon, approximately 700 members of the Yale and New Haven community packed into the University Theater to hear renowned playwright Tom Stoppard.
Stoppard, whose play “Arcadia” will be performed by the Yale Repertory Theatre this fall, is a British playwright whose other works include “The Coast of Utopia” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” The winner of an Academy Award and four Tony Awards, Stoppard is known for his wit, wordplay and focus on social and political themes such as censorship, justice and human rights.
Stoppard began his lecture by describing his creative process.
Though academics tend to analyze his characters closely, Stoppard said he does not focus too much on the minutiae. Instead, he lets the characters build themselves.
“I don’t ask myself about a character’s psychological motivations,” he said. “I consider that to be a given which comes free if you’ve been thinking about the play in the right way.”
Furthermore, he said he believes a large component of the characters is left up to an actor’s interpretation.
He added that there is no particular quality that he looks for in an actor.
“I tend to disappoint people when they ask, ‘What do you look for in an actor?’ and I respond with, ‘Clarity of utterance,’” he said, eliciting laughs from the audience.
Stoppard talked about his first professional play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”
He said he learned from hearing other people’s interpretations of his play that there was not one definitive answer to the question of its meaning.
“One learns that the subjective response to a piece of art has its own validity,” he said.
Stoppard said the plot of “Rosencrantz” is simple: Nobody tells the two main characters what is going on, and they end up dead.
In some ways, he said, the plot could be interpreted to have larger implications for the human condition.
“Nobody tells us what’s going on and we end up dead. In some ways, it’s about us,” he said. “[Still,] I don’t have a hidden agenda, my plays are about what they seem to be about.”
When asked if he learned anything about his own play “Arcadia” from watching current rehearsals at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Stoppard said the experience was more of a reminder of the complex relationship between playwright and actor. He added that he is “constantly amazed” by the new interpretations he sees of his plays.
After Stoppard’s lecture, audience members had the opportunity to ask questions. When one audience member asked about the wit and humor in his playwriting, Stoppard mentioned that most foreign translations of his work do not receive as much laughter, and that he always found this oddly gratifying because it indicated that there is some nuance in his writing that cannot be easily translated.
Stoppard’s lecture, which lasted about an hour, elicited laughter and enthusiasm from audience members throughout.
“I loved that there were four generations of folks enjoying the same playwright,” said Diane Komp, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “I’ve known his work since the ’70s — look around, and you have all these different people, and they all get it. It’s amazing.”
Claire Criscuolo, a New Haven resident, summed up the lecture when she said the audience “proved tonight that live theater can still pack a house.”
Marina Horiates ’15 said she thought the talk was excellent.
“I’m so happy my friends and I managed to get into the theater and hear him speak,” she said.
Stoppard’s most recent work, “The Hard Problem,” will debut at the National Theatre in London in January.