Commonweal's last Ibsen fest

"We’re not saying we’re never doing Ibsen again," said Hal Cropp, executive director of the Commonweal Theatre Company, where the 20th and final Ibsen Fest will be held April 21-23.

For now though, the Commonweal and the Norwegian playwright, Henrick Ibsen, who have been joined at the theatrical hip for two decades, are going their separate ways. This year’s production of "When We Dead Awaken" will be it for Ibsen at the Commonweal, for at least a while.

And it’s been a good run. The association with Ibsen brought the Commonweal the kind of international attention a professional theater in a small town could only dream about. "It helped set us apart from other theater companies," Cropp said. The Commonweal was honored by the Norwegian government in 2008 for their Ibsen productions. 

"When We Dead Awaken" also happens to be the last play written by Ibsen, who died in 1906, so it’s a fitting work to bring the Ibsen Fest to a close. Cropp, who plays the story’s central character, Arnold Rubek, talked about this play, Ibsen, and the Commonweal.

Is this a bittersweet time, or maybe a relief to be wrapping up Ibsen?


I would say there is a bittersweet feeling, to be looking at the last commitment to doing Ibsen.

This was Ibsen’s last play. Is it a summing up in some ways?

It does have a valedictory tone to it. He said this piece was written to wrap up the period of work that started with "A Doll’s House." He didn’t see it as the last play he would write. But there is speculation that he was aware he was losing his physical power.

Coming later in his career, is it a weaker play?

Not at all. It’s shorter, but much denser than many of his earlier works. It feels very personal, because the central figure is an artist struggling to recapture the magic.

Do you feel, in playing Rubek, that you’re Ibsen’s alter ego in a way?

I do feel a strong connection to Ibsen through portraying this character, certainly more so than in most others. Rubek really comes closest to aligning himself to Ibsen.

Does this play resonate today like some of his others?


As is true of all great literature, the issues Ibsen was struggling with haven’t left us. They’re still our issues. 

So what now for the Commonweal and you? You have all this expertise on Ibsen. 

We carry it forward into the rest of our work. He’s the father of modern drama. There are lessons that any theater practitioner can use.

What did Ibsen do for you individually?

It made me a better actor. It made members of the company better actors.

What will fit into your schedule in the place normally held by Ibsen? Will it be replaced by equally serious drama?

I believe it’s going to open up the opportunity to think about plays we might not have thought about doing. This does free us up a bit.

Did the Ibsen plays draw a good audience?


They outdrew our expectations. I remember 20 years ago saying, "If we get 25 people a night, we’re golden." Well, that first year we averaged 68 at performances. So it’s been beyond our expectations.

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