CMU alumna directs new play The Electric Baby

“It’s new every day. As a director you’re watching the same thing day after day, but you have to start fresh each day as if you don’t know anything at all. This helps you to look at it in the perspective of the audience.”

This is director Daniella Topol’s personal philosophy when it comes to directing. Topol received her Bachelor of Fine Arts and Masters of Fine Arts in directing from Carnegie Mellon and is known for her contemporary work. She has gained critical acclaim worldwide and has recently been working with Quantum Theatre in Pittsburgh on the world premiere of playwright Stefanie Zadravec’s The Electric Baby.

The production features a number of Carnegie Mellon alumni in addition to Topol. Actor Nick Lehane, who received his Bachelor of Fine Arts, and lighting director C. Todd Brown, a current faculty member in the School of Drama, both make an appearance.

The Electric Baby tells the tale of a baby born to a Nigerian father and a Romanian mother who now lives in Pittsburgh. The play is a heart-wrenching personal story integrated with Romanian folktales. Zadravec described it as “an earnest, heartfelt play” that she wrote during a trying period of her life. Her trials and tribulations in struggling with her own son’s illness were an inspiration for the story. Given the personal nature of the story, Topol admitted that this play was a step out of every cast member’s comfort zone.

The world premiere of The Electric Baby was last Friday. The production is a joint venture with Quantum Theatre, a theater that has found unique footing in Pittsburgh. “We are a company that explores the language of theatre and how theatre communicates,” said producer Karla Boos. Keeping this idea in mind, Quantum Theatre has lent the play a new perspective by using unconventional spaces to stage the environment. The audience is part of the setting and by virtue a part of the play. In this manner, Quantum Theatre has successfully transformed the role of the audience by drawing them into a colorful, sensory experience.

The cast came from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of experiences, and each cast member brought something unique to the play. Talking about the biggest challenge for each cast member, Topol said, “People always go through an internal struggle in producing their best work.”

Topol’s personal philosophy on directing has helped her achieve personal fulfillment and success in her career. She aims to make each piece of theater an educational experience. Topol, Boos, and Zadravec also came to campus last week to speak to dramaturgy students about their personal experiences in the field of theater. Their presence and Topol’s personal success were an inspiration to the students in the School of Drama.