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Area Voices: Actor interviews director to discuss 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'

Cast members of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? practicing their lines.
Bemidji Community Theater
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" cast members Andrew Dziengel, Shayley Jordan, Steven Mayer, and Julie Kaiser practicing their lines.

Director Derrick Houle joins "Area Voices" to discuss the upcoming Bemidji Community Theater production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with cast member Andrew Dziengel.

I am in this production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and playing the character George. I thought this interview with the director would give an interesting perspective where one of the actors gets a chance to learn the process of their director. - Andrew Dziengel

BEMIDJI — “It is about two wounded couples that are very dysfunctional and a night of mixing in with alcohol. You come to your own conclusion,” said Director Derrick Houle describing Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

“It deals with the raw realities of what married couples can go through ... the way that they've chosen to handle their wounds, their disappointment.”

Director Derrick Houle directing two actresses
Bemidji Community Theater
Derrick Houle directing Julie Kaiser and Shayley Jordan during play practice.

Bemidji Community Theater’s production of “Who’s Afraid of a Virginia Woolf?” begins this week with performances at 7 p.m. Feb. 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 and 2 p.m. Feb. 4 and 11 at the Bemidji Community Theater.

Choosing a Play

Houle said he enjoyed the 1966 film adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but it wasn’t something he thought of doing in Bemidji. It wasn’t until about five years ago that he started talking with some local actors about dramas they could perform, and this play came up.

“[It’s] what I would call an actors play, because that's where you can just become unhinged.”

Houle is used to doing farces, but he respected the actors wanting to do this play and thought if they could pull this off, it would be good. He would be willing to direct these actors who wanted to stretch themselves and be a character they’re normally not.

Houle said he has recognized over the years there’s an audience for more than one type of theater genre in this area. There is an audience for musicals, children’s plays, comedies and dramas. In 2023 Houle directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is a serious drama and audiences turned up for it.

“I think just because we've done better, the audience is growing and so there becomes a, I would say, a taste for different genres. I don't want to say meet that need, but at least give that option of hey, we can do this, too, and we can do it well.”

Since this is an “actor’s play,” there can be some difficulties directing it.

“I would say the challenge is picturing me as an audience member," Houle said. "How do I keep their interest? And so, the direction becomes more about what words to emphasize without micromanaging the actor ... what expression to have and just letting the actor develop that character and go.”

Intro to directing

Houle first got into directing when he was going to school in British Columbia. He put together a Reader’s Digest version of A Christmas Carol and they performed it at little towns around the area.

“I've had the fortune of working with some pretty talented people that I've picked up stuff and learned from in my late teens, early 20s.”

While he’s done things like acting and stage design, directing is his favorite thing to do.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has a lot of clever moments in its writing. Even the cast is still picking up new things after numerous rehearsals.

“I don't think you're going to pick up everything as an audience member seeing it for the first time," he said. " ... There's some things that will hit you, but there'll be a lot of other things that you just didn't pick up.”

Houle thinks there’s been growth in the last 10 years at Bemidji Community Theatre. He said he's "blown away by the talent that there is in this community ... whether it's music, writing, art, and theater, there is a lot of talent.

"And I just think giving a venue of where those people can exercise that skill... that's been part of the growth.”

For those considering attending, Houle says, “It's not a feel-good show. So come because I think you'll enjoy it, but you'll also go, ‘Why did I enjoy that?’... it's like a train wreck, but you can't keep your eyes off of it.”

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is recommended for mature audiences and tickets are available at Ken K. Thompson Jewelry, McKenzie Place, the Bemidji Community Theatre’s website, or at the door.

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Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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