You started Eno River Players at age 14. What inspired that? 

I loved Shakespeare from a young age because my dad had introduced me and my twin brother to [his work]. [When I was 14] I wanted to do a production of Hamlet, and so I founded this community theater, the Eno River Players, and we did the first show with adults and students from Durham School of the Arts, where I went. We did the show at the Mosaic Church of Durham, on Club Boulevard, in 2016. From there we did a bunch more shows. We built a community of artists who are excited about doing classical theater, which is what I love, especially finding a way to make classical theater be text driven and also really new—and therefore accessible to new audiences, pushing people’s expectations of what they can see. I did that, and we did a few other shows. Then I went off to college, where I’ve been doing classical theater still, but recently I’ve been doing some Russian theater. And then this summer, with some friends of mine from Yale, we decided to put together a little tour of this play, Dead Souls, and we thought it’d be great to use the resources of the Eno River Players, use our name here and the resources we have from our previous shows, and just start here in Durham.

How did Dead Souls tie into the Eno River Players? 

Eno River Players is my theater company, so I guess [Dead Souls] is under the umbrella of the Eno River Players because it fits within our mission. We’re serving theater here in Durham, which is a really important thing and something that’s really lacking in our community—community-based, interesting classical theater—so I was hoping we could give something to Durham by doing this premiere here. 

I was studying Russian theater and I had a professor named David Chambers at Yale, and I was really interested in [the Russian novelist Nikolai] Gogol—I had done a production of The Government Inspector, the very famous full play that Gogol wrote, and then [Chambers] told me about this Dead Souls play. [My professor knew] a translator who did the first English translation of it, and I was interested in doing a production of it, and he said we could use it for free, which was incredibly generous. And then I got a little team together of only three actors.

What was your plan for having three actors playing 30+ characters?

The version we’re presenting is a slightly edited version of the original script, because we’re trying to build it in such a way that it can work for three actors to play multiple parts. I was excited because the whole play is about the artistic process, but this play is framed as Gogol writing the [novel], constructing it, and in that way it works with the vision that’s expressly imaginary and has elements of make-believe. You’re trusting the audience to use their imagination, you’re saying, “Hey, this is an imaginary world we’re building, this is the world from the mind of an author, and now you’re going to have to imagine these three actors playing all these different characters. We’re going to help you with basic, theatrical information like props and costumes. But your job is to use your imagination—that’s why you come to the theater.”

What reflection did you hope the audience would be left with?

The vision of so much of my work is to show what is unique about the theater as an art form and how it can create a sense of shared seeing between audiences and actors, that we can enter a space of imagination and make-believe together. That comes from experimenting with and using the form in a way that is unique to it. On a larger level, the play has its own message, too: it’s a play about avarice, greed, and about the way in which elite society destroys the dignity of the individual. This play is so interesting because that’s expressed through comedy, satire, and absurdity. But underlying that is real tragedy, about the way that we treat one another, that destroys [one’s] humanity. And then it’s also about how an artist restores that humanity, which in this case is about Gogol creating this work of art, kind of an exceptional thing. Or, even on a meta level, Bulgakov writing [the first stage adaptation of Dead Souls]—he [was a writer] during the Stalin era in Russia, and was begging Stalin to let him leave Russia—and then this is his first work after that. So the thing that captures my imagination the most is about the responsibility of the artist.

How did you feel approaching this summer’s tour, from Durham to New York to London?

I’m so grateful that we got to start here [in Durham], and that we got to kind of do it on a less high-pressure level here and could enjoy that before moving on.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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