Q & A with Director Elina de Santos

By Rose Desena

How Many Have You Slept With? 


One of my favorite directors in Los Angeles, Elina de Santos, seems limitless in her ability to take on and skillfully stage a wide range of plays…regardless of genre. Her most recent directorial venture “The Sexual Life of Savages” by Ian MacAllister-McDonald, opens this week at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, and asks, “how many have you slept with? It’s the latest world premiere play to emerge from the Skylight Theatre’s INKubator development program.



From her award winning work on many Arthur Miller and Clifford Odets classics to this “in the moment” social sexual relationship play about young singles, the director doesn’t flinch when it comes to steering a project from script to stage.


Last season, at Rogue Machine, Elina helmed the stunning West Coast Premiere of “Falling” by Deanna Jent. The piece explored the complicated dynamic of a family with an autistic 18 year old boy who had became an increasing threat to those closest to him. In addition to her sensitive and incisive direction, I was impressed with the way this director had guided the actors to use the entire stage.


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I am eager to see this new production, touting a noteworthy cast of players, and to find out how Elina has staged it. I was able to catch up with her during rehearsals, so I asked for some inside information about the play from the director’s POV.



Rose: Is this your first time working with Skylight Theatre? How did that come about?


Elina: No, and yes! I directed Rob Mersola’s “Dirty Filthy Love Story” at Rogue Machine and the Skylight Theatre’s Artistic Director, Gary Grossman invited us to move the show over there for an extended run. After that, we talked about a possible future project together…and this is it!


Rose: Like many projects you choose, this play can be considered controversial. It deals with sexuality, which is a heavy topic for some. Was that what attracted you?


Elina: Sex and controversy, yes that was part of it. But really, there were many other factors. Like the writing, it’s just so courageous, and surprising! Everything that’s brought up in this play opens up questions, and for me…things I hadn’t thought about in many years.


It encourages a new conversation, especially in this age of what seems like “stepping back” from sexual freedom. Many people entering their sexual prime now have more questions than the previous generation had when coming into that age. I love the way this play makes us look at all the different choices we have and how it ties into who we are. Specific questions like what is fun, what is responsibility when we’re having sex with someone and how we work it all out. That behavior is a very important part of us, and it is our sexuality. It also touches on how women are perceived for expressing their sexuality.


Rose: Did you have a directorial vision in mind before sitting down with the playwright?


Elina: My vision comes from feelings I have about the play. Then I work from the inside out, and that’s how the play gets built. It’s similar to when I meet new people, I may not remember names or how somebody looked exactly, but I always remember how they make me feel. That’s the way I think about a script. If it makes me feel something deeply, I want to put it on stage. It makes me want to pursue the thing that’s not tangible. It’s the same when deciding on casting, or when talking to designers. I usually know when they are going to be able to interpret my vision. It’s a rapport I can sense, and know that they’re going to bring me something that expands my vision and makes it into something much better. I always hope for that miracle of the whole of it! Of course it usually helps to be working with a living playwright, they get into the vision pretty quickly.


Rose: Do you think your audiences will find answers to their own relationship experiences from this production?


Elina: Like any good play it creates more questions, making a conversation possible. Maybe the answers are in that discussion. Personally, when I leave a play, or piece of “art,” sometimes I can’t talk about it but I can feel about it. I hope people leave this play knowing just a little bit more about themselves in light of these questions. Does it make you uncomfortable, GREAT!

If we can have people looking at themselves a little more deeply about what it means to be a human being, we’ve been successful.



THE SEXUAL LIFE OF SAVAGES opens July 6th and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm through August 16. 2014 at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 South Robertson Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA. Tickets are ($30 – $34). Reservations: 213-761-7061 or online at http://skylighttix.com  





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