God and Fish Puppets: Interview with Cassie Hartnett, Director of Passion Play

by Alexandra Ley

Tomorrow through Saturday, Columbia University Players bring you Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, a play demonstrating different communities attempting to put on religious pageants throughout historyWe reached out to the director Cassie Hartnett BC ’14 to talk about the play, her directing process, and her life here at Barnard.

Nine Ways of Knowing: What inspired you to direct this show?
Cassie Harnett: I’m a double major in theatre and religion, so there was always that interest in the intersection between the two—how theatre can be religious, and religion can be a form of performance. Passion plays in general are sort of an extension of that. One night last spring I was sitting in my friend’s room, talking about theater as usual (miss you, Naomi!) and she said “I think you should read this play.” The rest, as they say, is history. It’s a gorgeous play, it’s got love stories and people wondering about God; it’s got everything I love about theatre.

9WK: Have you had any experience directing theatre in the past? If so, how did that inform your process this time around?
CH: I took a directing class in the fall of my sophomore year, and as anyone else who’s tried to cast a scene from Death of a Salesman when all the male actors on campus are already busy can tell you, directing is really, really hard. I was prepared for that aspect of itthe organizational mayhem, the constant worry that you’re doing something wrong. But this was still a hugely new undertaking for me, and I’m happy to say that I have a fabulous team helping me and teaching me every day.

9WK: What’s been the most challenging part of this process?
CH: I guess I sort of already hinted at thatjust the organizational part of the job. As a director, you can have a lot of great ideas up in your head, but making them a reality is another process entirely. Trying to coordinate eleven actors and various crew members and designers who all have busy, high-powered lives and get them all in a room together to make theatre is no small task. And remembering all the little things that need to get done! I can be a bit scatterbrained, but luckily, like I said, I have a lot of help.

9WK: How did you get started in theatre? What else have you done here at Columbia?
CH: When I was seven, I auditioned for the high school production of The Sound of Music but got so nervous watching all the older girls at callbacks that I burst into tears before it was my turn. Luckily, the director gave me a second chance the next day, and I got the part. And now here I am! At Columbia, I’ve worked on a few department shows (Silence, Las Meninas and The Blind), I did a scene for CMTS’ Stages and I once assistant produced for CUP.

9WK: What else do you do on campus?
CH: I’m an RA for Barnard first-years, which means I never leave the Quad. Hooray! I’m also the president of the Columbia Lutherans (check us out, we’re really chill!) and I always go to interfaith events with the chaplain’s office when I can. Also, Orchesis is such a blast.

9WK: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have three CDs with you, what would they be?
CH: The first two would be Fearless and Red by Taylor Swift. I will love her forever, no matter what the haters say. And the last one, I’m going to cheat and say it would be a mix CD. In my defense, I still make tons of mixes because my car is ancient. But anyway, it would have a combination of my favorite songs and some of the songs my dad always plays on Saturday morning while he makes pancakes.

9WK: If you could go back in time and meet anyone, who would it be and why?
CH: I’ve always been weirdly fascinated by Joan of Arc. There’s this absolutely incredible painting of her at the Met that I could stand in front of forever. She’s the ultimate bad-ass/virginal martyr combo, so it’d be fun to hang out with her and talk about religious visions and the glory of France and all that.

9WK: Describe Passion Play in five words.
CH: God, love, theatre, fish puppets.

9WK: Most importantly, how can students get tickets to Passion Play?
CH: Go to the TIC in Lerner Hall and buy them for only $5! Or go online to the TIC website and get them from the comfort of your room! You don’t even have to put on pants!

Alexandra Ley is a senior at Barnard and Contributing Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of CU Players.

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