Which plays are you directing in our 2014/15 Artistic Year?
To survive the economic downturn a few years back, we reduced the number of rehearsal days and guest directors we had been using to put up our shows. Since then, we've been slowly climbing back to levels that I think are more sustainable for the long haul. But it still means that I'm directing quite a few shows in our seventeen-play, twelve-month Artistic Year. This year, I'm directing:
- 2014 Summer Season: Macbeth and Cyrano de Bergerac
- 2014 Fall Season: Edward II and Pericles, Prince of Tyre
- 2014 Holiday Season: The Santaland Diaries, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, and A Christmas Carol
- 2014/15 Method in Madness Tour and 2015 Spring Season: Hamlet, Doctor Faustus, and Wittenberg
What's your approach to directing Macbeth? Cyrano?
- My approach to directing any/every show with the ASC starts with: how do we use/milk Shakespeare's Staging Conditions to bring a great story to life?
- Many directors think their job is to point the finger at themselves when they direct a play, show the world how clever they are, and make choices that titillate – even when those choices directly contradict the words. I think my job is to use everything Shakespeare gives us in his text, aided by re-creating the staging conditions for which he wrote these scripts, to allow the actors to tell the powerful, funny, human story the playwright gives us. I want to reveal the play, not slap a concept on it.
- A huge part of my approach to directing these shows is with the casting. As the Artistic Director of the ASC, I'm responsible for casting all the roles in our five-play Summer and Fall Seasons repertory, though I get a ton of help from ASC Associate Artistic Director and Casting Director Jay McClure.
- With Macbeth, Shakespeare gives us a cornucopia of challenges from staging the supernatural to multiple fights, torches, drums, trumpets, cauldrons, children, weïrd sisters, and blood. Very important, messy, amazing blood.
- I'm always thinking and saying: how can we be clear, clean, and punch the audience in the gut? (I probably think the gut part more than I say it!). We have a lot of technical elements in this show – which might be a surprise to folks thinking about how we stage early modern plays without light cues, electric fog machines, and big sets on revolves.
- I want all of these technical elements to contribute to the story-telling, to be smooth and integrated parts of the action.
- Above all, I want an audience to feel. And we allow them to do that by being language fanatics who milk all the rhetorical devices Shakespeare gives us, by working with all the stuff I said earlier with precision, and by creating characters who love each other truly, madly, deeply.
- Many of the things I've already said apply to Cyrano as well.
- We're using a 20th-century English translation of a French play written in the late 19th century about a character who lived in the late 17th century. Although the Burgess translation is in a form of blank verse (with some rhymes), we did not do tablework like we do for our early modern plays.
- Again, I think the different flavors of the deepest love and friendship are critical to the success of telling this story.
- My approach to directing this play has been just like directing all the Shakespeare we do: understand the language, find/milk everything these great words give us, find/milk the humor, the pain, the joy, the snark, and, above all: the love.
- One of the most fun aspects of approaching this play was/is directing the first act that takes place in a theatre. We usually don't come off the stage much in our Summer and Fall Seasons because we don't think Shakespeare's company did that. But I want the audience arriving for Cyrano to be the audience that has shown up to the Theatre Beaujolais to see the play Clorise starring the famous actor Montfleury (whom we find out later has been "banned" from performing for a month by Cyrano). So the first act of this play will take place all over the first floor of the Blackfriars.
- I could go on and on, but I should stop.
What will surprise audiences about the shows you're directing right now?
- In Macbeth, audiences may be surprised at how funny this dark tragedy is.
- With Cyrano de Bergerac, audiences may be surprised how deeply moving it can be.
- Both plays will use the physical space of the Blackfriars in ways that might surprise and delight.
- I think both shows stimulate the brain, tickle the funny bone, and rock the heart.
What does a typical day look like in rehearsal season for you?
- As most people answer this kind of question: nothing is really typical.
- During the weeks we've been rehearsing Macbeth and Cyrano: I wake my daughter up for school at 6:00am and hop on my laptop to answer e-mails, finish stuff I was working on the night before, and begin prep for the day.
- After I drop the kid off at school, I'm at the Blackfriars continuing that prep which can include: making rehearsal schedules, listening to the dozens of songs suggested by actors and staff for pre-show and interlude music, editing one of the other plays in our Fall or Tour/Spring Seasons, writing notes from the director for the programs, proofreading a million things for ASC publications, and the list goes on and on.
- The rehearsal chunks are usually 10:00am to 2:00pm and 3:00pm to 7:00pm six days a week. During those chunks we do: tablework for the early modern plays (line-by line paraphrasing/word substitution; on-our-feet scanning the verse; running each section with entrances/exits); scene work where we're building each moment, each scene, each arc of the play; music for a half-hour pre-show and a quarter-hour interlude of live, acoustic songs; fights trying to make thrilling and safe stage violence, and dance.
- At least once a week we have production meetings before rehearsals start to track the progress of props and costumes.
- After rehearsals, the Assistant Director/Stage Manager Glenn Schudel and I go over items to put in the daily rehearsal report – which documents all the stuff we did that day along with prop/costume questions, requests, and feedback.
- After I leave the theatre, I usually have to address the administrative stuff that I could not get done during the day, make sure I respond to anything in the rehearsal report that needs my input, read the performance/box office/labor reports for the shows performed by the other troupe that day to see what's happening in those areas, begin the prep for the next day.
- Sometimes my work day ends at 11:00pm, sometimes 1:00am, but usually around midnight.
- Then I wake up and get to do it all over again!
- The actors are off on Mondays, which is usually my day to catch up on all the stuff I couldn't finish before and after the 10:00am-7:00pm rehearsal chunks.
- On the one hand, it's a grueling grind for me, the actors, the production team.
- But when your "grind" is doing stuff that you love, creating productions of the greatest stories ever written that will shock/delight/inspire/move audiences for a six-month run, and working your butt off at "playing," it's a pretty great life.
What can people expect from the American Shakespeare Center this summer?
- We're going to blow people's minds this summer. The bloody and brutal world of Macbeth radiates with unbridled ambition that helps drive a hero to kill his King. The romance, humor, and heart-stretching-till-it-aches longing in Cyrano comes to in-your-lap life using the translation by Anthony Burgess and Shakespeare's staging conditions in the Blackfriars Playhouse.
- And, though we haven't started rehearsing it yet, The Comedy of Errors will be laugh-out-loud joy for the whole family with this amazing cast, directed by ASC Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Cohen.
Anything else we should know?
- If you think you might pass on seeing Macbeth because it's such a popular title and you've seen it many times: don't miss this show!! Weïrd Sisters like you've never seen, the smoldering chemistry of Sarah Fallon and James Keegan as the Scottish couple, riveting fight direction by former ASC actor Ben Curns, amazing movement and dance by ASC on Tour veteran Stephanie Holladay Earl, gorgeous costumes by Jenny McNee, as well as blood, gore, and special new staging twists by Properties Master Chris Moneymaker. Don't miss this show.
- Cyrano is one of those plays most people have heard of, but most have not seen it very often. This production of this great play is the one to see. Using Shakespeare's Staging Conditions that make the audience a part of the world of the play allows the actors to sling and share the rapier wit and epic love to/with the audience bathed in the same light. John Harrell as the title character will surprise and delight you with sharp, snarky wordplay while he also breaks your heart. ASC newcomer Sara Hymes as Roxane will charm the socks off you as well as ASC veteran Patrick Midgley as Christian. More amazing costumes by Jenny McNee. More fight choreography by Ben Curns. Think what I'm saying is hyperbole? Come see for yourself.
It's going to be a hot summer in the world's coolest Playhouse.