Performed by award-winning troupe Elevator Repair Service, Gatz isn’t a reproduction, nor is it quite an adaptation.
Rather, this is a presentation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, read aloud in a sort of live version of how you might read a book in your head.
Totalling eight hours, it’s an epic experimental theatre piece that’s been lauded for its achievements since it debuted in 2005, and now it’s coming to The Arts Center at NYUAD as part of the university’s fourth season of performing arts.
But before you write this off because of its length, here are eight reasons why watching eight hours of theatre will be easier than you think…
It creates a relationship between audience and actor
Bridge of Spies actor Scott Shepherd, who’s also set to star in season three of True Detective and the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix, plays the main character, an office worker who finds a copy of the novel on his desk and begins to read out loud, word for word.
For Scott, who started off on the stage, such an intense performance is all about the actors’ relationship with the audience: “When I get done with the show and meet some of the audience members, they say they feel like they know me. And I feel that way too, just from being in that room for that long.”
The actors have the same trepidation
“At the beginning, the anticipation that everybody has in the room, I also have that myself getting ready to go on,” Scott admits. “But I also know that everyone who’s come, they have a certain level of excitement and a certain level of dread, and the room is charged in that way.
“The challenge for me and for the other performers is to not get ahead of that process of coming with that expectation – the challenge is to stay with the audience and with the progress of how that expectation develops into a fulfilment.”
The book may be nearly 100 years old, but it’s a classic
“What’s interesting about this book is that it was not a big success at the time,” Scott acknowledges.
“It would be like if we had a novel now about the Kardashians tweeting and taking selfies. Even if it was brilliantly written and captured the spirit of this time, we might not respond to it as an important work of literature.
“Somehow it was brought back to the American consciousness and we saw it for the symbolic power it had for the idea of reinventing yourself and being hooked forever on a dream of your youth.”
You’ll see the book in a new way
“One thing we found out while reading the book out loud is how funny it is and that’s one of the gifts of a performance that you don’t get when reading a book by yourself – you register that it’s funny but you don’t get a room full of people laughing.”
It’s nothing like the Hollywood film
“A complaint people often have about movies that are made from books is that they don’t match up to what they imagined. I think one thing our show does well is to let the audience have their imagination,” Scott reveals.
“The book is a famous depiction of glamorous runaway wealth from a certain age and John [Collins, director] has put it in a crummy office so that immediately sort of upends the expectations.
“We’re going to come at it from another angle; it’s going to be a bit funny and a bit off – it might even feel wrong at first. Then you start to realise that we’re going to engage our imaginations in a way that’s going to let the audience come to the novel rather than us delivering the picture of it that they’re supposed to have.”
It’s like binge watching on Netflix but better
Plus, the play is split into four sections and includes a dinner break and two intermissions,
so as Scott says, “It’s easier than you think”.
“Eat a good breakfast, drink some coffee and get ready for a long-form story.”
It’s about shared experiences
“A lot of times I’ve found that when I read a book that I love, I want to share it. It’s normally impossible: you can tell someone else to read it but you can’t have that experience with them. That’s what’s special about this show: You sit in a room full of people and you all experience this book together and it’s an incredible feeling when you get to the end.”
You’ll always remember that time you watched an eight-hour play
“This is one of the shows where I feel that [sense of bringing people together] the most. You just get a community feeling when you’re sitting next to someone for that long and you’re all going through such a significant experience together.”
Gatz shows on 21st, 22nd and 24th September at The Arts Center in NYUAD, Saadiyat Island. Limited tickets are still available. Visit: nyuad-artscenter.org