To acquire wisdom, one must observe

An interview with Susan Dibble, creator of ‘Five Doors One Room’

“Five Doors One Room,” an original dance production by Susan Dibble, took place at the Mainstage Theater of Spingold from March 10 to March 12. This show was three years in the making, with Dibble collecting music, gestures, objects and steps over the time span. The cast, composed of current students, alumni and faculty, were Nancy Armstrong (Calliope), Elliot Bachrach ’25 (Viktor), Shiela Bandyopadhy MFA’99 (Nandaa), J. B. Barricklo (Icaruso), Liam Delaney ’26 (Eldrid), Dibble (Elpis and Dr. Doom), Laya Fridman ’25 (Rhea), Delaine Gneco De La Cruz ’23 (Luna), Isabella Hammer ’23 (Thaia), Allison Luo ’23 (Eva Muse), Garrett Milinari ’26 (Hector), Maya Mondlak-Reuveni (Halia), Alaysia Penso ’23 (Kalinda), Vishni Samaraweera ’23 (Tara), Kieran Whitney ’23 (Locklan Kees, Keeper of the Keys) and Ryan Winkles (Guido Vitus). For a full list of cast bios and a digital program, please visit the university’s webpage.

After the show run ended, I had the opportunity to interview Susan Dibble about the show, its production and what happened behind the scenes. 

What is “Five Doors One Room” about?

This new piece is about one room where the “Keeper of the Keys” welcomes people to enter a place where they can feel free, surprised and live without fear or hardship—a place that invites hope—a desire for things to change for the better. For me it is a place that is somewhere embedded in our hearts. Chaos is not welcome in this room. The doors are objects that we all know about. The doors in this piece have an important role because they open into the room, rather than outside. The piece is about life at its fullest and the potential for change and reinvention. 

Were there any scenes that were cut before the final production; if so, why?  

No scenes were cut, but I did cut some of my ideas. For example: I had wanted to have shells placed on the floor in a spiral that the woman with a long [dress] train would move through, but it was too cumbersome placing the shells on the floor and would have distracted from the beauty of the train and Nan Armstrong’s singing. 

Who is your favorite character within the piece? 

 I don’t have a favorite, but I am glad Dr. Doom showed up. I also identify with Eva Muse who brings a bright and playful quality to the piece. I guess the Keeper of the Keys is me in my life. 

Which character’s story changed the most throughout production? 

I would say Ryan Winkle’s character Guido Vitus: (“The patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping”) was originally dressed in a more peasantlike/monk profit costume because he was designed after St. Vitus who wore an off white full length night shirt. I wanted to establish him as more of a rabble rouser, creator of high energy and skill and exciting dance so we changed his costume to a white tux that was in keeping with the role he had in the duet with Man who Falls Down A lot, and his role in creating the chaos early in the piece and the big dance of death at the end.  

Why was one of the doors so much smaller than the other four? 

I love miniature things and having a little door offset the normality of the lineup of traditional doors. I think it adds something magical to the overall picture and placement of the doors. The set and light designer Jeff Adelberg and I explored the Spingold building and found a few small doors up in the rafters that we were curious about based on our decision to have one small door. I just wanted something of a surprise. And it was intentionally designed that way to add asymmetry. I also love little things, so I wanted a little door for Eva Muse who was a magical and sprite-like character. I thought of Tinkerbell or Alice in Wonderland. 

 During the piece I added entrances through the little door by other members of the cast. When I first thought of having a small door I wanted it to represent what obstacles we have to get through in order to live a full life. 

I also have two granddaughters who love fairies. After the show they got to go through the little door. 

What inspired your music selection?

I love music that has a danceable rhythm and feeling that evokes celebration, sadness or humor. I chose a combination of pieces to support the kind of dances the people did in the room, or the movement and action of the characters’ activities. I discovered Vivaldi’s Summer piece later in the search process and was thrilled by Max Richter’s version. It was a perfect piece for the finale because it has a sense of danger, and beautiful heartfelt resolution that I needed to bring out in the end. The two arias that Nan Armstrong sang added another dimension. I wanted her to sing the beautiful Handel choices to bring the piece up into a more ethereal realm. 

And what inspired your costume choices?

I love the flow and colors in Paul Gaugin figure paintings, and I talked with Zane Kealy the costume designer about each character’s story and purpose in the piece. Zane designed the costumes using images I gave her, and she added her own sensibility of color, feeling, contrast and movement so that each person in the room stood out as an individual as well as part of the community. 

Some of the characters had specific descriptions based on mythological stories and some I invented. For example, the Keeper of the Keys was like a ring master or someone who’s (sic) job in life was to keep watch over the room on a daily basis and open the doors every day.  And A Mysterious Beautifully Dressed Man Who Falls Down A Lot turned out to be like a representation of Icarus so I named him Icaruso, and Zane gave him a tux which was perfect. I had designed Dr. Doom’s costume when I developed the character during the first weeks of the pandemic, and Zane added some bits of color (the red carnation in the hat and red scarf). I also had the idea that the red shoes (a nod to the story The Red Shoes) would give the character a new lease on life, less doomful. The Woman with a Long Train’s costume was designed based on the idea that she represented water and the ocean, so Zane designed the beautiful train and costume that Brooke Stanton built.  

Are there any other themes within the piece that stand out to you? 

Yes. Darkness and Light, How do we find hope in a time of dark chaos? What is heaven like, or is there a chance for heaven on earth? The courage it takes to have a Life with love and resilience when dealing with loss and grief. Curiosity and Surprise keep us alive and full of energy for positive movement on a daily basis. A search for joy while aware of the darkness that lurks. 

What was it like behind the scenes?

Behind the scenes on stage? Very organized and professional. Very safe backstage, and costume changes were planned exactly. In the Green Room, before places lots of fun chatter, warming up, lively music played at times. Behind the scenes in rehearsal: a lot of focus, fun, laughter and concentration on how to get the piece up to a high standard of storytelling.

And how did you go about casting for your production?

I had auditions for the show in late fall semester 2022. I chose the cast based on my plans for the individual characters, ensemble and spirit of the piece. I was pleased when so many people showed up for the audition. I cast the guest artists based on previous experience working on other shows I’d done with them, or an instinct I had that they would be great to work with on this piece.

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