Supporting creative work by women
Valentina Fratti is a writer, director and producer. You could say she has theatre in her blood. As co-founder of the Miranda Theatre Company (now m2 productions), she produced and directed over 30 original plays. Her other credits include Ginna Carter’s Traffic School with Elaine Stritch; Open House at Six Figures’Artists of Tomorrow; Patriot Act at the Castillo Theatre and Jeff Daniels’ Apartment 3A. She is also the co-chair of the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Membership Committee.
Valentina has currently directed a new adaptation of R.U.R., Karel Capek’s 1920’s play that introduced the word “robot” to the world, for Resonance Ensemble in New York City. She spoke to Works by Women about her favorite robots, why R.U.R. is still relevant nearly 100 years later and why opportunities matter.
WORKS BY WOMEN: You are directing a new adaptation of one of the most seminal plays ever written. Cherished by science fiction lovers and acknowledged by theatermakers/goers, R.U.R. is a classic. What excited you about working on this play?
VALENTINA FRATTI: I was drawn to exploring a genre – science fiction – that we rarely see on stage. Its fantastical nature is so well suited to theatre, and I was curious about exploring how much we could achieve dramatically within the parameters of theatre.
WBW: How does Lee Eric Shackleford’s adaptation make the play modern? How did you create its world for today?
VALENTINA: Shackelford’s adaptation makes the play a little more accessible — more active and less expository. The original is quite polemic, and audiences today lose interest in theatre that is didactic or explains too much. A modern audience wants to figure things out for themselves. Our production sets the play in 2030. There’s a big difference in our perception of robots today than there was in 1920. We have incorporated robotics and advanced technology into our daily lives whereas when the play was written it was more of an imagined world so I think there are details that we can relate to that couldn’t have existed in the world of (Karel) Capek’s play or to his audiences.
WBW: What themes in R.U.R. still ring true today and why?
VALENTINA: Several. What do we lose as a society as technology advances? What is a soul and do we need to at a certain point imbue machines with “souls” so we can relate to them better? If we have robots that provides you with support, both practical and emotional, do we then project onto them souls and if we do so when do we start imagining that their souls exist independently of our manifestation of them? Does the robot “grow” its own soul? I would even take it a step further. What is a soul? Maybe we’re all versions of a machine that simply break down and die.
WBW: Who/what is your favorite robot – in the play or in pop culture – and why?
VALENTINA: I love all the robots equally….What is so fascinating is that even robots have distinctive personality! Have to say … Love Robbie the Robot but who doesn’t?
WBW: What play would like to direct next and/or what are you working on next?
VALENTINA: I am developing the true story of Jerrie Cobb one of the first American women astronauts with playwright Laurel Ollstein. They Promised Her the Moon examines both her fascinating personal story as well as the injustices faced by women at the time. Cobb passed all the tests to go up into space, even surpassing the Mercury 7 only to be eclipsed by John Glenn and other male astronauts. Her disappointment transforms her, and in a surprising twist she journeys to the Amazon.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theatre?
VALENTINA: Opportunity. But I am a great believer in creating your own opportunity.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theatre?
VALENTINA: The more women create their own work, the more the industry and audiences will expect women in the field. Therefore it is very much up to us to support each other, hire each other and not be afraid of self-promoting. If we are present we cannot be ignored.
R.U.R. continues through February 2nd at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Ave.). For tickets and additional information, visit Resonance Ensemble’s web site.