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Archive for June, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

A Film of William Shakespeare’s Play

Adapted and Directed by Joss Whedon

MuchAdo

It’s Shakespeare at Joss Whedon’s house. That’s a big deal for a lot of fans of Whedon, Shakespeare, or both. Me, I’m in the second category. I’ve liked some of Whedon’s projects (The Avengers, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog), but despite my best efforts was never able to become a fan of perhaps his most famous work, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know, I know. Maybe I have to turn in my “geek card” right now, but still, I have a lot of respect for Whedon and I absolutely love Shakespeare, so I was very curious to see this adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a collaboration of one of the most prominent creative artists of today and one of the most celebrated writers of all time, and that’s exciting no matter what. I just hoped that the movie would live up to my very lofty expectations, and for the most part, it did.

Much Ado is one of Shakepeare’s most popular comedies, famously filmed before (excellently) by Kenneth Branagh in 1994.  The approach here, though, is different—updating the story to the present day and setting it in and around the grounds of one elegantly appointed house as opposed to the Italian villa of the play and previous film.  The story of soldiers Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Benedick (Alexis Denisof), Claudio (Fran Kranz ) and company has been styled with more of a celebrity flair, with paparazzi and news cameras recording the arrival of the “soldiers” from an undefined “war” that is presented as some kind of big business deal instead of actual combat.  The “warriors” arrive from “battle” to relax and mingle at Don Pedro’s tony mansion  and there the action ensues in the forms of assorted romances, battles of wits, extravagant dinner parties and attempted revenge.  Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick verbally spar and Claudio woos Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Don Pedro’s vengeful brother Don John (Sean Maher) plots to get even with his brother any way possible, and police constable Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and his crew of officers try in a hilariously bumbling fashion to maintain order. It’s a story full of comedy, genuine sentiment, romance, sexual tension, and simmering anger, all presented ideally in the modern setting by a strong cast containing many Whedon “regulars” who have been in several of his productions before, and it’s an excellent troupe.

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof work together exceptionally well as Beatrice and Benedick.  Acker brings all the depth to the role of Beatrice that is needed, bringing out the character’s pain and sadness as well as her sharp wit, and Denisof makes a suitably preening Benedick.  Their scenes together crackle with energy, and their animosity and eventual romance are both eminently believable. Reed Diamond is a stable presence as Don Pedro, and Kranz has all the earnestness mingled with self-doubt necessary to be an ideal Claudio.  His scenes with Morgese as Hero are alternately touching, infuriating, heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming.  Maher is a truly menacing Don John, and the added dynamic in this film of casting his crony Conrade as a woman (Riki Lindhome) adds a unique twist.  Fillion, in the clownish role of Dogberry, was also ideally cast, bringing both charm and ridiculousness to the role in equal measure. Overall, it was an extremely strong ensemble that brought out all the comedy and drama of the material with a sense of style and bravado that was matched perfectly by the filming.

This film was made on a reportedly very low budget,  but doesn’t look it. It was also filmed on location almost entirely at Whedon’s actual house, so in the hands of a lesser director this movie could easily end up looking like an elaborate real estate ad, and even though it doesn’t go that far, the house–along with its elaborate grounds–really is one of the major “stars” of this film. The black-and-white filming showcases the setting ideally, bringing out the details in every scene and adding a stylized air to the proceedings.  The audience is left to imagine the colors of the furniture, the greenery in the garden, the food in the kitchen, and for this reason these items are made to appear all the more colorful in the imagining. The excellent filming and sophisticated soundtrack sets an upcsale, classy atmosphere for these proceedings, helping in bringing Shakespeare’s text into the modern day and allowing the audience to approach the material in a fresh light.

There are so many great elements to this film, and the overall air is one of sophistication, intelligence and real wit.  It’s a Shakespeare adaptation for the 21st Century that manages to be both timeless and current at the same time. It reaffirms my love of Shakespeare and makes me want to check out more of Whedon’s work.  It’s a winning collaboration that I think will stand up even better on repeated viewings.  It looks like Joss Whedon not only invited Shakespeare to his house, but he lets his audience join in for the party, and the experience is more than worthwhile.

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So, I went to the Fringe last weekend. The St. Lou Fringe, that is. It’s the biggest theatre festival in St. Louis, having just finished its second year under the direction of  Executive Director Em Piro and a large crew of staff and volunteers, involving many local theatre companies and some from around the country, as well as dance, live music, after parties, family activities and more.  There was a lot going on in Midtown, but I only managed to see a small portion of it. One of the thoughts I had after attending was that I wish it were bigger, and with all the creative energy and enthusiasm of all involved I’m sure it eventually will be. Still, for an event only two years into its life, it’s an impressive venture, with many different acts on a schedule spread out over four days in Midtown.

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I only managed to see five shows this year, but I was able to see such a variety of styles on display in just those few shows.  The quality of the performances and the overall atmosphere makes me want to see even more shows at the festival next year, and maybe attend a workshop or after party.  There’s so much to do at the Fringe for all ages, and it was fun to participate even in a small way.  Here are my thoughts on the shows I saw:

Total Nonsense

by Joey Puricelli and Zach Paule

Directed by Joey Puricelli

Grand High Productions

This production was the least polished of the shows I saw at the Fringe. The title is descriptive, as there was very little sense and a lot of rapid-fire jokes, some landing and some not.  That’s part of the nature of experimental theatre, though, and there were some interesting, funny things going on here.   The cast, led by co-author Joey Puricelli as Skitz O. Frenic, whose house and mind are the setting for the action, made a good effort and displayed a strong sense of enthusiasm, even though some volume and enunciation issues occasionally made some of the dialogue unintelligible (and this doesn’t count the intentional gibberish that is part of the performance). I especially liked the use of music in the scene breaks. Overall, it was an interesting performance with a plot that’s difficult to describe, but performed by an enthusiastic ensemble.

Underneath the Lintel

By Glen Berger

Pat O’Brien’s Vanity Theatrics

This performance, a one-man show performed by actor O’Brien with more energy than I could have imagined, was a delight from start to finish.  Well-written, perfectly paced, impeccably researched and organized, the production tells the story of as a socially awkward, Dutch librarian who undertakes a life-changing quest when he becomes obsessed with finding the person who turned in an extremely (100+ years) overdue library book. This remarkable play made excellent use of slides from around the world and recorded music to establish the mood and tone of the story.  Issues of relationship, love, religion and regret are dealt with along this fascinating journey, and I continue to be amazed at the sheer range of O’Brien’s remarkable performance.  This was a real treat.

No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying

By Ed Krystoek

Directed by Peter Connor

1up Productions

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I walked into the space for this performance as “ABC” by the Jackson 5 played over the sound system, in a bouncy instrumental version deliberately arranged to sound like it came from an  8-bit video game console.  The 8-bit video game-style music enhanced the performance and included various popular songs from Lady Gaga and others.  There was a clever set that resembled a giant Nintendo system that folded out to serve alternately as a couch, two chairs and a bed. This production told a compelling story that follows two childhood friends identified only as Player 1 (Charles Azkenaizer) and Player 2 (Gannon Reedy), who bond over video games, and Super Mario Bros. in particular.  The play follows the two players as they grow up, attend college, and encounter the various challenges of adult life, all the while constantly re-visiting their video game addiction while dealing life issues including religion, romance, jealousy, parenthood, responsibility and mortality. The performances were thoroughly believable and both actors displayed a genuine sense of friendship throughout the challenges presented in the show.  This was a truly heartwarming production that featured moments of real humor as well as some intense drama.

This is a Play

By Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Mark Kelley

R-S Theatrics

Hilarious, spot-on send-up of theatrical conventions, as three actors (Casey Boland, Beth Wickenhauser and Kirsten Wylder) put on an intentionally incomprehensible, derivative play about love, loss and lettuce while narrating their thoughts as actors. This truly hilarious production has a lot of appeal for theatre geeks like me, with its references to the dynamics of the actors’ relationships to each other, the creatives and the material itself, with mentions of such varied figures in performing arts as Tennessee Williams, Uta Hagen and Robert Pattinson. The production is spot-on in dealing with issues of differing acting styles, image and ego, technique, popularity, technical details and all aspects of producing a play. This was a delightful production with excellent comic work from all three players, and anyone who has ever been in a play would especially be able to relate.

I am My Own Militia, or Mea’s Unique Garage Sale

by Joel Henning Doty

Directed by Keaton Treece

JHD Productions

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This thought-provoking, funny, engaging piece about a young girl’s struggles to make sense of modern society made clever use of various interactive elements (props handed out, texting) to enhance the performance and add to the overall atmosphere.  It follows the story of Mea (Sofia Murillo), a teenage girl who feels outcast from society, on her quest to understand her world and figure out which path to follow and who to listen to. Audience members with cell phones were further immersed in the story through the use of text messages sent during the show, ostensibly from characters in the play.  These texts in particular helped advance the story in a compelling way. Slowly, the various characters act as influences on Mea’s life,  the plot develops and you eventually see what’s going on.  It was fascinating to watch and ultimately very moving, with strong performances all around, especially by Murillo, who held the stage admirably, portraying all the character’s conflicting emotions and loneliness, as well as her strong personality, and made the audience genuinely care about her situation.  It felt like a fully integrated 21st century presentation, and I was honored to experience it.

St. Lou Fringe Executive Director Em Piro

St. Lou Fringe Executive Director Em Piro

Overall, I would say the Fringe is more than an enjoyable weekend, and even the word “success” seems inadequate.  It’s more than a success. It’s a living, growing, vibrant work-in-progress that celebrates not only the arts, but the revitalization of Midtown St. Louis as well.  I look forward to seeing what’s in store for next year.

For more information about St. Lou Fringe, check out the link to their website in the sidebar of this blog. 

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Shrek the Musical
Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by John Tartaglia
Choreographed by Vince Pesce
The Muny, St. Louis
June 24, 2013

Shrek Muny

The Muny’s 2013 season got off to a promising start with last week’s rousing, hilarious production of Monty Python’s Spamalot. This week’s production of this adaptation of the popular Dreamworks film Shrek, however, was more of a mixed bag. Although I had been expecting a little more from the newly revitalized Muny, overall, I thought this production provided for an entertaining evening of theatre

The story here follows the plot of the film fairly closely, as Shrek the Ogre goes on an unlikely quest to rescue a princess and discover his true sense of worth, with a few extra elements (such as more backstory for Shrek and Princess Fiona) added to expand the story. I found the film pleasantly surprising and endearingly complex, but the musical kind of flattens the story out and has something of a “by-the-numbers” feel, and seems at least 20 minutes too long. Still, there were some great moments and some very good songs.

First, I will say that this production had a lot of good things going for it, most notably the fine cast. Stephen Wallem brings a lot of warmth to Shrek, and seems better with the serious moments of the show (such as the songs “When Words Fail” and “Build a Wall) than the comedic ones, although his comic skills are fine as well. He plays particularly well against Michael James Scott as Shrek’s unwelcome (at first) traveling companion Donkey, and Julia Murney as the disillusioned but stubbornly optimistic Princess Fiona. Scott in particular gives an impressive comic performance. The real stand-outs in this cast, however, are Rob McClure as the diminutive villain Lord Farquaad, who steals every scene he is in and impresses with the sheer physicality of his performance, and Natalie Venetia Belcon as the voice of the Dragon, displaying a powerful voice and lots of infectious attitude in the song “Forever” with Scott and a group of captured knights. This, to my mind, is the best scene in the whole show, with lots of spectacle and impressive performances all around.

Other highlights of this production included all the ensemble numbers in Farquaad’s Castle (“What’s Up, Duloc” is a gem), and the “dare to be different” anthem “Freak Flag”, sung by the outcast Fairy Tale characters. Murney as Fiona had some good moments with “I Know It’s Today” (sung as a trio with Maria Knasel and Allsion Broadhurst as two younger versions of the Princess) and “Morning Person”. The finale and curtain call performance of “I’m a Believer” were also a lot of fun.

Technically, I found the production to be uneven. There were quite a few noticeable issues with the sound, with audible crackling of microphones and inadequate amplification in places. The costumes were very basic and had an amateurish feel, especially in terms of Shrek (his headpiece even came off at one point in the show) and the Fairy Tale characters. I thought Lord Farquaad’s costume was well done, though, and the colorful larger-than-life Dragon puppet was very impressive. The sets, designed by Steve Giliam, filled out the large Muny stage well, and I thought the electronic scenery wall was put to excellent use in setting the atmosphere, particularly in Shrek’s swamp and on his journey with Donkey and Fiona back to Farquaad’s castle.

I have one issue in regard to the audience and I realize this will be a bit of a rant, but it’s a very big deal to me. I think it is extremely rude to the actors onstage and the rest of the audience when large groups of people get up to leave during the finale. OK, so some people may have to drive a long way to get home, but if you come to a show, is it really too much of a hardship to stay for the whole performance? Do people even realize that the actors can see them? I don’t see this at the Muny every performance, but I’ve seen it a few times before and it always bothers me. I would advise people to think about whether they are able to stay for the whole performance and if they can’t, maybe they should just stay home. There is a page about “Theatre Etiquette” in every Muny program, but I wonder how many people actually read it.

OK, rant over. For the most part, I would say Shrek at the Muny is an entertaining performance of a somewhat underwhelming show that doesn’t quite live up to its source material. It’s an enjoyable evening with some excellent moments and good performances, but knowing what the Muny is capable of, I do find myself wishing it had been better.

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Monty Python’s Spamalot
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle, New Music by John du Prez and Eric Idle
Directed and Choreographed by Denis Jones
The Muny, St. Louis

June 17, 2013

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It’s June, and in St. Louis that means it’s Muny time again. A time-honored tradition in St. Louis, the Muny has become a highlight of the summer for me and my family, as well as many others around the area. Despite the early evening thunderstorms that delayed the opening night performance of Spamalot, the show went on, and proved to be a harbinger of what looks like it will be another excellent Muny season.

The musical, which according to the program has been “lovingly ripped-off” from the classic 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, follows the story of King Arthur and his Knights on the quest for the legendary cup. Many of the well-known elements from the film are here—such as the Knights Who Say “Ni” (cleverly interpreted here by the Muny Youth Ensemble), the Black Knight, the Killer Rabbit, and more, but the adaptation doesn’t stop there. The script, written by Python alum Eric Idle, also incorporates elements from other Monty Python films and many satirical jabs at pop culture in general and the medium of musical theatre in particular. The music is a combination of songs from Python films as well as new songs in various styles—from folk to traditional musical theatre to pop ballads to lounge to disco. It’s not a “deep” show by any means. It’s an unabashed farce which makes no claims to be anything else, and it’s an absolute laugh riot from start to finish.

John O’Hurley, who has played the role on Broadway, is ideally cast as King Arthur. He brings just the right balance of authority, charm and incredulity as well as displaying a strong singing voice, excellent stage presence and comic ability, and great chemistry with his fellow performers, most notably the equally winning David Hibbard as Arthur’s long-suffering servant, Patsy (their duet on “I’m All Alone” is a treat), and Michele Ragusa as the Lady of the Lake. Ragusa, who has given very strong performances in the past at the Muny in Titanic and Singin’ In the Rain, is in great form here as well, displaying a strong, versatile voice on songs like the hilarious “The Song That Goes Like This” and it’s lounge-y reprise, as well as “Find Your Grail” and the comic tour-de-force “Diva’s Lament”. Other standout performances include Kevin Cahoon in various roles, displaying a gorgeous singing voice especially as the young, misunderstood Prince Herbert, who plays a role in helping Sir Lancelot (Chris Hoch) discover his own destiny. All four main Knights of the Round Table (Hoch, John Scherer as Sir Robin, Ben Davis as Sir Dennis Galahad, and Tally Sessions as Sir Bedivere) also work together well to form a cohesive, hilarious ensemble. All four of these actors turn up in other roles throughout the show as well, showing off their versatility and adding to the side-splitting hilarity of the production.

I thoroughly enjoyed the full-scale comic production numbers such as “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” (with the modified lyrics first used on the UK tour), an uproarious ode to celebrity stunt-casting in musicals, and the power-pop anthem “Find Your Grail”, which manages to be both uplifting and over-the-top ridiculous at the same time, and with a fun snow-capped mountain set piece to go with it. The finale, which is a reprise of “Find Your Grail” highlighting the various knights’ fates, is also a delight. There are too many great moments for me to be able to mention them all, but this production does a great job of capturing the spirit of the original film while adding enough musical theatre elements to make it its own unique entity.

Visually, the production made good use of the vast Muny stage, with a colorful set by Steve Gillam, including several clever movable set pieces like the aforementioned mountain, giant slot machines for the Vegas-style “Camelot” sequence, several castles and more. The new (as of last year) electonic scenery wall served as a great backdrop for the action and Monty Python’s trademark animations. Even though there was a small glitch with the wall the night I saw the show (sections of it were not functioning), it didn’t get in the way of the overall performance. Apparently, the cast and crew had no time for a final tech rehearsal due to the inclement weather, but that minor issue with the wall was the only noticeable issue. The rest of the production ran very smoothly with all the technical elements including the sets, lighting and sound.

This is (with the possible exception of last year’s Pirates!) the funniest show I have ever seen at the Muny. No punches are pulled and every possible joke is milked for all its worth, and there are some fun little nods to St. Louis and the Muny thrown into the show for good measure. The surprise appearance by Eric Idle after the curtain call, leading the audience in a sing-along, was an added bonus. This production was a true joy to experience, and it makes for an ideal introduction to another promising season at the Muny.

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I recently had the honor of interviewing Rick Dildine, the Executive Director of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and one of the most influential figures in the current St. Louis theatre scene.  SFSTL will be concluding its current production of Twelfth Night this weekend. We talked about how his views on Shakespeare, theatre in general, St. Louis as a cultural center, and more.  Here are the highlights:

Michelle: How did you get into theatre and, more specifically, how did you discover Shakespeare?

Rick Dildine: That’s kind of a timely question because I just was talking about this with someone the other day—actually, a teacher. It started with my 8th Grade English teacher, who suggested that over the holiday break, that I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then she said “I’ll give you bonus points if you put together the play with all the kids in the class. And I did it, and she said “you know, maybe you should consider doing this as a career someday”. And I’d never thought about that, but from that moment on I started doing theatre. So, it started with a teacher for me.

M: So you started doing theatre with Shakespeare?

RD: I did, and then I slowly went into mostly musical theatre and went to college, got an Acting degree and then got my Master’s in Acting from Brown. And then I kept getting pulled into doing large-scale theatre outdoors. I ran a large outdoor theatre in Kentucky for five years, and then I also did a lot of new plays in Chicago and Providence, but my real interest is really in big outdoor events. So that’s how I got pulled into coming to Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.

M: What are some things about Shakespeare that you like?

RD: It’s not ordinary. I mean, he didn’t write just like, a day at the mall.  [He wrote about] extraordinary moments that call for extraordinary language. And that’s what I love about it.  His language and stories are universal, and they’re timely. At almost any moment in our lives, we can find some type of moment or character or piece of the story that we can relate to as human beings.

M: What do you think about modernized Shakespeare vs. more traditional stagings? Do you think it helps make Shakespeare more accessible to the general public, to do modern dress?

RD: I have a pretty firm stance on this. I believe that you should always start with story, and then from story a director can layer in concepts or, perhaps framing it in a different time period, as long as it’s supporting the story—Shakespeare’s story. That’s what I like. As far as modernizing it or changing the story, we have an initiative called Shake38 where we encourage people to take Shakespeare’s text and perform it and live in it anyway they see fit. So, I’m all for good storytelling. As a director, I land in a place of wanting to take Shakespeare’s text and make as lively and as crackling as possible. I’m always a proponent of having Shakespeare evolve—having his stories mean something different for a new generation, because we’re in a generation now where young people get their information and create in an instant. They can create photography, video, music in an instant, text in an instant. So I’m all for letting him evolve.

M: What’s the most unusual full-length concept for a Shakespeare production you’ve seen?

RD: I did see a production of the Scottish Play [Macbeth] done entirely in Japanese, as a Japanese action film, with subtitles and the actors performing in Japanese, but someone was speaking English over it.

M: Where was that?

It was at a regional theatre in Oregon. It was pretty stunning. I mean, it totally made the play… you really listened to the language and you really listened to the story. So that’s definitely a memorable one. I’m trying to think of any other ones that have really blown my mind.  I saw a six person Comedy of Errors that I thought was going to impossible to perform, but was the best production of The Comedy of Errors I have ever seen. That was at the Court Theatre in Chicago.

M: What made you decide to take the job at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis?

RD: The experience. I initially did not think I wanted the job, and so I snuck down here one night from Chicago. I bought a ticket on my own and got on a train and came down and I saw 4,000 people watching The Merry Wives of Windsor for free, and from that moment I was sold. The high quality of the work and the accessibility was what sold me on it.

M: About Twelfth Night specifically—it’s the first SFSTL production you’re directing.  Did you decide to direct because of the play that was chosen, or did you choose the play because you wanted to direct?  

RD: As the leader of the institution, I’m also the one picking the shows and planning them out. I had initially not planned on directing, but when the slot came open and looking at the availability of directors that we use and other directors that I want to use, it just became apparent at one moment, I think about this time a year ago, that this was the best moment for me to direct. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play.  I love how music can help tell stories, and Twelfth Night uses music more than any other Shakespeare play. So with all these things lining up, it seemed like the best moment, and my staff and board were incredibly encouraging, so I jumped into it and did it. I won’t be directing every year, though (laughs).

M: It does seem like it takes a whole year to put together a production, and I was wondering about the process. How do you pick the plays, and what is the timeline like for getting a show ready to do?

RD: Well, I’m fairly certain of the plays that I’m going to be doing for the next three years, so that’s about as far out as I’ll schedule. And what it takes is, it’s like you’re putting together a really big dinner party, and you’ve got to make sure that all the people that you want at that party are available when you need them. So it takes a long time to get the director—the director is always the first thing that I start with, and then from there working on the design team that he or she wants to work with, and then actors. Shakespeare is a pretty demanding type of performance, and demands an experienced director who can handle text. Our audiences love really high quality text performances.  So, getting all those things lined up takes a few years. We’re working about two to three years out at a time.

As far as selecting them, Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, so not all of them are A+ plays. There are A plays, there are B-level plays and there are some C-level plays. So what I try to do is make sure that we’re doing plays that are going to attract people, interest people, but also give them the full scope of Shakespeare’s writing, from comedy to tragedy to history to romance—from his incredibly well-written plays like Twefth Night to some of his B-level plays. I’m trying to give a full breadth and scope of his work.

M: Are you still alternating? You were doing a tragedy or history one year, and then a comedy the next year…?

RD: I describe it as light and dark. Shakespeare wrote many more darker plays than he did lighter plays, so we do tend to do that—light, dark [alternating]. Doing comedy, tragedy—I’m eventually going to run out of comedies because he wrote a lot more tragedy and history. So yeah—light, dark is what I try to do.

M: What’s your favorite Shakespeare play that SFSTL hasn’t already done?

RD: Well, three immediately jump to mind. I really love Cymbeline.

M: I like Cymbeline. It’s a really interesting one.

RD: Yeah, I love the romance in Cymbeline. Henry V because I love the courage and the bravery of the king in that one. And then one that I don’t think we’ll be doing on the main stage anytime soon, but I do love Titus Andronicus, because I love the dynamic of family in that play, and how these people play out through their emotions and their actions and how they destroy each other. I think it’s fascinating. Now I do not plan on doing Titus Andronicus on the main stage anytime soon. I think on average there’s an act of violence something like every fifty lines in Titus Andronicus.

M: Yeah, I guess you have to pick plays based to a certain degree on how accessible they are for the general audience. (RD nods, smiles). How many people do you get every year?  Do you have a projected attendance?

RD: You know, because it’s outdoors and it’s free we don’t do any type of ticket sales or advance tickets, [but] we do count the site. We have a really great counting system. We have been getting over 60,000 people a year. We have been attracting very large audiences. Our average audience size is 3,000 people. Last year at Othello, 66,000 people was our total. So we tend to have about 60,000 + come see the show.

M: What are some of the most interesting comments you’ve heard from audience members at Twelfth Night?

RD: Well, I don’t know if it’s so much interesting as encouraging. [People] love the use of live music to tell the story. They love our appreciation for clarity of language, clarity of story. Like I said, I’m not a director who likes to layer in a lot of directing choices. I like to keep my Shakespeare clear, concise, so that that people can follow the story, not watch my interesting choices (laughs). But the thing that I’m most happy with is that people walk away saying “I understood what was going on. The story is clear. It’s concise”. That’s a huge compliment.

M: What are your impressions of the St. Louis theatre scene in general? Obviously it’s not as big as New York or London or Chicago, but what do you think of what we have in terms of theatre in St. Louis?

RD: The theatrical energy of this town is enviable for a lot of other cities. I mean, there is a breadth of work that’s going on in the dozens of theatres.  I’m so impressed that on any given night you can go see a play, a musical, a Shakespeare play.  You can go see just about anything on any given night, in almost any pocket of the city, too. I was incredibly impressed when I arrived here from Chicago, to see how much theatre was going on.

M: What are some of your favorite things about St. Louis in general?

RD: Well, I love the city in that there are so many accessible things to do. You know, we walk the Botanical Garden every single week. There are a lot of jewels here: Forest Park, the Botanical Garden, the Zoo, the Art Museum. I’ve lived in a lot of cities, and the accessibility of art and culture is top-notch in this city. That’s what I appreciate the most.

M: Now in terms of the future—there are a lot of things that SFSTL does, like Shake38, the main stage play, the school program. Are there any other projects in the pipeline?

RD: Well, next up for us is in September, we’ll be doing Shakespeare in the Streets. We spend a year in a neighborhood creating an original play about that neighborhood, inspired by a Shakespeare play. So September 19th through the 23rd will be Shakespeare in the Streets: Grove Edition. So we’ll be in the Grove, over around the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, and shutting down a city street and doing an original play.  That’s up next.  And looking beyond 2013, we have some ambitious ideas of how we can make Shakespeare accessible to as many people as possible, but to also enrich the cultural and artistic life of our city so that it’s competitive with a Chicago, a San Francisco, a New York, and Austin, Texas, that we can compete on that level with arts and culture.

M:  This is something I’ve heard a lot, and I was wondering how you would answer it. If someone says “Oh, Shakespeare-that’s boring,” what would you say to that?

RD:  Well, I would say Shakespeare didn’t write about the boring moments in our lives. He wrote about moments that we all can relate to. He wrote about first love. He wrote about obsession.  He wrote about revenge.  He wrote about jealousy. All of these things are not boring moments in our lives.  Every single one of us has had an experience in one of those areas. So when I [hear] “Shakespeare is boring”—when you sit in a room and watch and hear good Shakespeare, it will change your life.  It’s like seeing great opera. If you see a great performance of opera, it changes your life.

M: What are some things that you would like people to most remember about SFTSTL?

RD:  I think most importantly what I would like for them to remember is that Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is something that contributes in an incredible way to the quality of life in our city. It is part of the annual cultural calendar, and it contributes to the cultural fabric of who we are as a city.

For more information about Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, please check out their official website, linked in the sidebar of this blog. Thanks so much to Rick Dildine for this interview. 

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