The Julie Cycle Program
Strindberg would hate the idea of a female directing Miss Julie, much less an adaptation that annihilates the original’s casual misogyny. In his eyes, a female director leading a room transgresses her nature and trespasses the male domain. He’d probably say that I am walking toward my own demise, like Julie, and that I should be confined to a room--much like how the Count confines his wife to her room in Miss Julie. The only room I’ll confine myself to is the rehearsal room, and it’s a joy. It’s a thrill to create with the artists and activists behind The Julie Cycle because our rehearsal room is one of radical questions, empathy, and collaboration.
When Chris and I began discussing the original play we talked about how Strindberg imprisoned the characters Jean, Julie, and Kristin. He caged them in a patriarchal system, and, ultimately, this play. In 2018 alone, a contemporary adaptation of Miss Julie was staged at the National Theatre in London and an opera adaptation premiered at the Cheltenham Music Festival. Each time it is staged these characters relive their imprisonment. We had to figure out how to set them free of the play.
The piece needed to crack open to transform into something new. As our team devised the last act, we asked, “What needs to change? How can these characters heal from the past? And how can they go after their own freedom, authenticity, and happiness?” It was essential to ritually bury the old paradigm in Miss Julie. The Julie Cycle shoves Strindberg’s themes deep into the soil to “sink down to the fiery core of the earth and become nothing but fuel, crushed and metamorphosed.” This makes way for a new paradigm to flourish--wherein life, love, and equality can triumph.
August Strindberg (1849-1912) wrote nearly sixty plays during his lifetime, gaining him a spot in the canon of Western theatre. In many ways, Miss Julie is his magnum opus; after Scandinavian audiences rebuffed early productions for portraying a sexual relationship between a noblewoman and her servant, theatre artists have resurrected the play on stages all around the world. Contemporary audiences recognized a nuanced conversation about power dynamics in the play—a conversation that still resonates. “Time and theatrical fashions change,” says a reviewer of a 2017 production of Miss Julie, “but some works endure.”
Miss Julie sits in the shifting politics of late nineteenth century Europe. Sweden, Strindberg’s home country, unseated its nobles in parliament, cowing their political influence. Across the continent, capitalist economies dismantled similar caste systems, but drove many into destitution. Governments worldwide banned the slave trade, and freed people fought legal doctrine that kept institutional racism alive. Women, still legally bound to men, fought for suffrage. This progress sparked new questions about social politics and welfare. Strindberg, the son of a merchant and his housekeeper, held particularly strong views about power dynamics between women and men. Theatre offers communities space to grapple with those big questions, and he largely interrogated this world on the stage.
In Strindberg’s era, realism was the most popular genre of theatre in Europe.. It remains popular for a good reason; characters exist in familiar settings, tackle salient societal issues, and rise up against their circumstances. Strindberg despised how the genre largely focused on the upper-class and argued that “time jumps” disrupted the reality. Instead, he championed naturalism: a form that aims to accurately depict every facet of real life and believes a person’s circumstances controlled their nature. Miss Julie was a testing ground; the play has repetitious dialogue to mimic real conversations, occurs in one real-time hour without intermissions, and its three characters fail to overcome the circumstances Strindberg inflicts upon them. This form allowed Strindberg to superimpose his assumptions about gender and class onto the play’s world—distorting reality.
The Julie Cycle questions whether Strindberg’s work should endure. In a preface to the play, he describes Julie as “synonymous with corruption.” Women who talk back to men “are a poor species” and “fortunately go under...because they cannot adapt to reality.” Western theatre still reveres the original text, but many criticize Strindberg for his perspectives on women. This adaptation structurally fights Strindberg’s reality and directly responds to discriminatory politics of the United States in the twenty-first century. What if Julie gets a chance to live? What if Jean confronts ingrained toxicity? Instead of standing in the background, what if Kristin shares her powerful voice and reveals the white patriarchal underbelly of Strindberg’s work? This adaptation requires an unshakable belief in the power of individuals to stand together and rise up against harmful systems. If Strindberg’s own characters can replace cynicism with hope—and give him a reason to roll around in his grave—then perhaps this story can instead endure to heal.
There are plenty of things I didn't know about 'Miss Julie' when Britt and I first began discussing this piece 4 years ago. I didn't know it had been produced every year since its debut in 1888. I hadn't read the openly misogynist preface in which Strindberg argues women who try to be more like men are destined to self-destruct and that men will always be superior to women. I didn't know much if anything about Strindberg's life. These were not things we studied in college acting classes that glorified the script for its ripe dramatic tension and layers of character development. The more I learned about the play itself, the more I read it over, the more I resented it to be fully honest. I resented this cornerstone in our culture that reinforced toxic ideals that continue to have tangible effects on our lives. Trans women are being murdered, white congressmen are vocally shaming Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for dancing in college, we still make jokes about Monica Lewinsky, the Me Too movement is just barely finding its feet, all of the women I know have been catcalled basically every day of their lives, and incel culture has led to mass shootings rooted in the ideology that women ought to be subservient to the sexual desires of men so that they may reach their full potential.
When most people talk about adapting a play, it comes from a place of admiration and respect. So how does one approach adapting a story that feels like a direct attack on your life and the lives of the people you love? My route was finding empathy, as I personally believe is the root of change in many antagonist relationships. Strindberg believed that in creating Jean he was creating an objective hero: the ideal of what a man could and should be. In doing so he created a character with no apparent weaknesses -- a hollow, unrelatable archetype. Strindberg believed that in creating Julie he was creating an objective tragic victim: the unfortunate cost of living outside your gendered ability. In doing so he created a character with flaws, ambitions, heartbreak, rage, and vast wells of pain -- a human being. Within them both are Strindberg. In Jean a Strindberg that struggles to emulate the toxic masculinity his father illustrated through the string of maids he married. In Julie a Strindberg caught in resentment and fascination with his ill mother, stunted by the belief that her womanhood owed him nurturing above all self-interest. In the ripples of their struggle are the roots of toxic masculinity. During our process, Giselle kept returning us to meditations of what takes young boys from tender creativity to men with calloused entitlement. How do we teach casually abusive men to unlearn years of reinforcement?
One answer possibly lies with Strindberg's last character, often overlooked and intentionally underwritten. Kristin has the potential to be the most vibrant character in the play and yet in Strindberg's original, she is reduced to a buffoonish caricature of subservient femininity. Under the surface of Kristin is the struggle of survival: compressed beneath interwoven layers of oppression she has to negotiate her private pain and the massive space occupied by the two clashing egos that she forcibly orbits. How does one change toxic masculinity? How does one lift any of the weight of eons of misogyny? How does a community take a play that no longer represents the world around it -- that from its misguided start has done more harm than help? Our route was finding empathy. Our route was refocusing the play, increment by increment. Rehearsal by rehearsal. Word by word. And hopefully together with effort, that change matters.
Giselle is a Bay-Area-based director. Recent credits include Rachel Bublitz’s For the Love of Little Lydia with SFShotz and comedic scenes with Oakland’s Running With Glitter sketch comedy group. Prior to that she directed a staged reading of Policarpa for 3Girls Theatre Company’s 2018-19 Salon Series. As an Artistic Direction Intern at Marin Theatre Company (MTC), she associate directed The Wolves (dir. Morgan Green), wherein she lead a high school cast of understudies to their own performance on MTC’s mainstage. While there, she also assistant directed Skeleton Crew (dir. Jade King Carroll) and Straight White Men (dir. Morgan Gould). Additional credits include Trifles (Pentameters Theatre, London) and 8 (Avery Schreiber Playhouse, Los Angeles). She was the Artistic Associate for Caesar Maximus with Bay Area site-integrated theatre company We Players and spent ten weeks with The Pasadena Playhouse’s Artistic Department as its Community Organizer Summer Intern. Giselle makes art to manifest moments of community, healing, and transcendence.
Brooke Jennings-Costume Designer
Brooke is an award-winning costume designer and educator thriving in the Bay Area. Her recent credits include Hairspray, Violet, Crazy For You, Hunchback of Notre Dame (Bay Area Musicals), You Mean To Do Me Harm, Barbecue (San Francisco Playhouse); Undiscovered Country, Caesar Maximus, Roman Women, Ondine (We Players), Arcadia (Shotgun Players), Phèdre (Cutting Ball Theater), A Lie of the Mind, Bad Jews (Magic Theatre, asst. designer), #bros, Where All Good Rabbits Go, Every 28 Hours, Maggie’s Riff (FaultLine Theater). She gives many, many thanks to her partner, Cole, for his unwavering support and love.
Chris Steele-CO-arTISTIC dIRECTOR, AdpatatioN, Jean
Chris is the Co-Artistic Director of Poltergeist Theatre Project and playwright of The Julie Cycle. A queer trans nonbinary theatre creator, makeup artist, and drag queen, Chris has worked in theatre as an actor, director, playwright, and fight choreographer. After studying theatre at Pepperdine University and The University of Oklahoma, they relocated to the Bay Area working with companies such as Summer Repertory Theater, Sierra Rep, Cutting Ball, Breadbox Theatre, New Conservatory Theater Center, Playwrights Center SF, Musical Café, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and We Players. As a drag queen, their persona Polly Amber Ross focuses on bringing theatrical performance theory to queer common spaces throughout the city. Chris seeks to deepen and uphold the rich history of queer/drag theatre in San Francisco, and to foster the development of an American Horror Theatre cannon.
Britt Lauer- Co-Artistic Director, Julie
Britt is an actor and theatre artist in the Bay Area. Much of her most recent work has been with We Players, the Bay Area’s premiere site-specific theatre company, where she serves as Associate Producer. Recent productions as an actor include Midsummer of Love, Roman Women at The Palace of Fine Arts, and Caesar Maximus at The Music Concourse.. Britt is thrilled to be embarking on the creative journey of Poltergeist as Co-Artistic Director, bringing queer theatre back to the Bay Area. Britt holds a BA in theatre from Willamette University and a credential from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
Cleo Blackketter- Stage Manager, Assitant Director
Cleo is a rising sophomore at Playwrights Horizons Theatre School at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, pursuing an MFA in drama with a focus on directing. She has been involved in local theater for years, including acting in, stage managing, and directing several shows with MoveAbout Theatre Company, and most recently in BATCO’s Athena. Cleo is thrilled to be working with Poltergeist Theatre Project on The Julie Cycle.
Stephanie Strick- Dramaturg
Stephanie Strick is a dramaturg based in the Bay Area and recently finished an internship in literary management/dramaturgy at Marin Theatre Company. While at MTC, she devised the dramaturg role for the Marin Young Playwright’s Festival and was the assistant dramaturg on Wink, the last show in the 2018-19 season. She majored in Women’s and Gender Studies and minored in Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College of California, where she also discovered a passion for queer feminism and the analytical side of theatre. She is honored to work on The Julie Cycle with this wonderful and superbly talented team!