Art Works Blog

Art Works Podcast: John Collins

This week's podcast goes backstage with John Collins, the director of Gatz. This remarkable play takes as its text F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic of and about The Jazz Age, The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby was also one of the first titles chosen for the NEA's Big Read program, which is just launching its seventh year. Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby is a short jewel of a novel, which many critics and readers believe is one of the great works of American fiction. It's frequently been adapted for film and stage, perhaps never as successfully as with Gatz.

The production was mounted by the experimental theater ensemble Elevator Repair Service, founded by Collins, and has become a worldwide runaway success. But Gatz is an ambitious undertaking: running for six-and-a-half hours, it is an enactment of The Great Gatsby in which every single word of the novel is spoken. As if that wasn't daring enough, the action of the play is governed by  a single unlikely premise. It opens in a shabby office of an unnamed, small business in the early 1990s. As he is waiting for his computer to boot up, an employee finds a copy of The Great Gatsby in the top drawer of his desk. He starts to read it out loud, tentatively in the beginning and then with growing passion. At first, his coworkers hardly notice, and then they begin to chime in with dialogue from book. Slowly, everyone onstage is transformed from office workers to the characters in The Great Gatsby. The play is a revelation. It's both a deeply moving theatrical experience and a profound meditation on the transformative power of reading.

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