Ivan Talijancic is a theater director and co-founder of Brooklyn-based collective WaxFactory, with which he is working on a new piece "Pull Yourself Together! #soiree" Revealed as an ongoing series of work-in-progress presentations, it invites the audiences to take a behind the scenes peek at the process of shaping the characters for this quirky and highly medicalized modern-day version of Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” The upcoming presentation will take place this Thursday, August 17, 7:30 pm at the David Rubenstein Atrium at the Lincoln Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Ivan, who studied theater under Ann Bogart at Columbia University, wears many hats – apart from his directing and performing projects, he works with media, film, music, journalism, and fundraising. His work with WaxFactory has been lauded by critics and presented at many venues throughout the U.S. and worldwide. His debut feature film, “416 Minutes,” is currently in post-production.

Ivan recently discussed his new work and much more in an exclusive interview.

Plays, dreams, and Chekhov

Meagan Meehan (MM): What got you interested in a career in theater and how did you break in?

Ivan Talijancic (IT): I chalk it back to my childhood days in Croatia, and the neighbor who was a member of the permanent acting ensemble in the National Theatre in Split.

She would sneak me into the one of the boxes in the mezzanine during rehearsals. There was also an amazing summer festival, during which plays and operas were staged site-specifically around the old city center, which is built around an ancient Roman palace. While I did spend my high school years in Italy training to become a scientist, it was my arrival to the US where I initially moved to go to college that set me off on a career in theatre.

Upon arriving to the University of California, San Diego, I promptly undeclared my biochemistry major, and by the end of my freshman year I pretty much knew that making performances was what I was truly passionate about. While finishing my theatre studies at UCSD, I was accepted into the MFA Directing program at Columbia University here in New York, where I met Erika Latta – and that was the spark that started our company, WaxFactory.

And boom – here we are. Who would have thought nineteen years would go so fast!

MM: What draws you to "The Seagull" and how did you alter it for "PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER"?

IT: Chekhov's reputation precedes him – he was an astute observer of the human psyche and over a century later, his plays still strike a powerful chord. I hadn't been planning to work on "The Seagull" – I do consider myself lucky because the idea for “PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER” literally came to me in a dream. When I woke up one morning in 2006, with a very vivid recollection of a theater production I had just seen (in my dream) – it was unlike anything I had ever seen, quite physical and at times emotionally and physically intense, and I thought to myself: "OK, well, this must have been something I directed, but what was it?"

I furiously proceeded to write down as many details I could remember, and when I picked up apart, I realized that what I had seen had been a very particular, very messed up version of “The Seagull.” It was like my brain had peeled off the play's skin and exposed its raw flesh.

My take on the play transposes the action from 19th century Russia to the 21st century United States (The Hamptons, to be precise) – and the work that I have been doing with the company has very much to do with riffing on the original while at the same time discovering who these characters are here and now. That, and we are much more interested in the "id" to the play – all those deep, murky, and often treacherous undercurrents, rather than its rather polite veneer.

MM: What aspects of your play and the characters within it most interest you?

IT: I think what is interesting about this play is just how incredibly cruel these characters can be to each other. The violence towards themselves, and those who are near and dear to them is borne out of a vicious cycle of unrequited love – and as Chekhov drops hints one after another and pieces of the puzzle come together, one realizes that these cycles are perpetuated for generations – the implication being that they will forge a path of destruction for the years to come.

I find it fascinating and terrifying. The destructive nature of the play is also borne out of generous servings of unchecked egomania and hedonism, something that strikes me incredibly timely in our death-by-social-media me-me-me culture. In spite of their damage, they elicit an enormous amount of sympathy, I find.

MM: How did you get the play staged and what were the challenges of production?

IT: I should preface this answer by saying, I have not staged it yet, at least not fully. Our upcoming presentation at Lincoln Center is the sixth is a series of developmental showings we have done over the past three years. For me, the biggest challenge of bringing this show to life was (is, I should say) how massively ambitious it is, so I had to wrestle with myself for a few years before I managed to find a way to convince (or, rather, fool) my brain into accepting that it could be done.

I tricked myself into working on this piece by deciding that we just needed to get started, without a final deadline or world premiere date in mind. Instead, whenever a residency or a funding opportunity allowed, we engaged in a shorter, intensive rehearsal period geared towards discovering another character, or aspect of the piece. So, the work has grown very organically, as has its cast.

MM: How did you find the cast and what kinds of visuals can the audience expect?

IT: For some reason – a lot of it has to do with how this idea was "delivered" into my consciousness, through a dream – I was very particular about casting this work. It was impossible for me to wrap my brain around it all at once.

I had to start with what I feel I knew 100%, build on that, and wait for the rest to reveal itself to me. As I said before, the blessing of having an extended, unconventional rehearsal is that one has the luxury to process idea over time. With each actor who is currently involved (I would say about 80% of the roles have been cast so far, with a few characters still to be figured out) at some point or another, I had the "Eureka" moment, where I was absolutely convinced that they had to play that part. For this play, more than any other that I can remember, I somehow really needed that.

The presentation we will do in August at Lincoln Center is a very special showing that we are tailoring specifically for the site that is the David Rubenstein Atrium.

It is an extremely particular space – a public site, and not a theater – so I decided to adapt the material we have developed so far and create additional content that I think will work in concert with that site, as opposed to forcing itself upon it. In many ways, the work will blend into the Atrium's environment, but we are also taking advantage of their massive media wall by using live video feed, as well as an incredibly cinematic short film – which is, within the fiction of the piece, a trailer for the film that one of the characters is making. It will be shown there for the very first time.

Theater, movies, and more

MM: What prompted you to start WaxFactory and why did you choose that name?

IT: WaxFactory came about as a logical extension of a collaboration with Erika Latta that formed during our years as Master of Fine Arts students at the Columbia University School of the Arts' graduate theater program. When we graduated, we needed to give a name to the company, and after a great deal of brainstorming, we got the name by happenstance, from watching two adjacent old signs on an industrial warehouse. We discovered that the name was quite appropriate – as wax is a material that is malleable and highly transformable, and we are often referred to as "shapeshifters" as our projects can take widely different format from one to the next.

MM: What kind of works does WaxFactory produce and where do you get the scripts/content from?

IT: We are best known for producing originally devised theater work that is infused with media and technology, and that uses a cinematic approach in the context of live performance. Most of the times, the script is developed through a highly collaborative process where the performers are true co-creators of the work, and the thematic impetus comes either from a conceptual idea (for example, our production titled BLIND.NESS was dealing with the ephemeral nature of love) or from an existing source material that we are responding to with our own dramaturgy (e.g., our immersive, site-specific production, LADYFROMTHESEA, which was inspired by – you may have already guessed – Ibsen's “Lady From The Sea”).

On occasion, we stage extant plays – we did Sarah Kane's “Cleansed” and Heiner Müller's “Quartet” – it really just depends on the material we come across that we find inspiring at that particular juncture.

MM: You're working on a film called "416 Minutes,” so what is it about?

IT: Yes, it’s almost finished – it is in post-production at the moment, then we get to do the fun part of figuring out what happens to the work next and how, where, and when to distribute it. It is an art film with a distinctly surreal mood. It unfolds over a single night in New York City, with the action following six disparate characters who, one discovers, turn out to be intricately connected. It is hard to say much more about it because the film is really buoyed and propelled by tidal, atmospheric shifts.

I could say that, in a way, it is my love/hate poem to New York City. All the characters in the movie are pining for something, and in the end, no one gets what they desire, and it ends on a rather devastating note. Speaking of films, Erika has been developing a new cross-media play called “Strange Joy” which takes place on a film soundstage.