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Posts Tagged ‘shake38’

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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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