Arts Alliance’s ‘Hedda Gabler’ presents a modern take on a classic play


Illustration by Emily Lichty

Hedda Gabler deals with complicated issues about power and choice.

Maya Slaughter, Reporter

Content warning: This article mentions suicide.

The play “Hedda Gabler” has been performed since 1891. However, Northwestern Arts Alliance’s version seeks to contextualize themes of power and choice through a modern lens. The piece is told from the perspective of college students. 

“Hedda Gabler” will be the last student theatre production of the year, with shows on June 2 and June 3 in Shanley Pavilion. The play follows Hedda, a newlywed whose dire circumstances drive her to make decisions that result in demise.

Director and Communication junior Haley Groth said she believes the piece is relevant today –– despite its age. 

“How special it is that people were putting on this play 100 years ago, struggling with some of the same things that we’re struggling with now,” Groth said.

Producer and Communication junior Heidi Hill echoed these sentiments. Hill and Groth’s motivations for choosing the play lay in its discussions of power, gender and choice, Hill said. She is also excited that the show features such complex characters. 

Hill emphasized Hedda’s cruelty is not a trait often seen in female characters. 

“The space Hedda Gabler inhabits is one where she’s trying to give herself power, but the world around her withholds that power,” Hill said.

Audiences will sympathize with Hedda because of the injustice she experiences, but recognize the way she reacts is immoral, Groth said. She added that it’s been an exciting challenge to try to understand characters’ actions, even if she and the actors might disagree with them.

Communication sophomore Rachel Rubin plays Mrs. Elvsted in the show. She shared that there are moments in the play where audiences enter Hedda’s imagination, so the lines between reality and her perception of the world become blurred.

“(The designers) are doing a lot of very specific things with light and sound to represent those,” Rubin said, “But there’s a really big, central moment at the end of the play that all of the designers have been hush-hush, super excited about so we’re really excited for that.”

Neither Rubin, Groth nor Hill dared to spoil these elements. However, Hill said the show provides space and flexibility for designers to explore what is possible in a retelling of a well-known play. 

Because this show is the last of the season, Hill said designers had an extended amount of time to prepare. They have been working since Fall Quarter. 

Design elements aid in the navigation of difficult topics in the show, which include suicide and attempted suicide. These moments are abstracted to avoid harming the audience.

The show’s themes demand increased care in the rehearsal room, Rubin said. Rubin said Groth had a helpful list of ways to check in and out of their characters. She said getting to know the other actors has allowed everyone to separate themselves from their characters and create a positive energy.

“I always look forward to going to rehearsal and I always feel good when I leave so it’s never taken a toll on my mental wellbeing,” Rubin said. 

Groth said she’s excited about the new discoveries the actors have been making in rehearsals, despite the fact that they’ve been rehearsing for almost five weeks.

After a year of preparation, both Groth and Hill said they hope the show is something their whole team can be proud of.

“It’s a great space to end the year, because it makes you think about who we are and how we inhabit the world,” Hill said.

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