The Six Gentlepersons Of Verona is going to be a remarkable show in many ways. The acting, the design, the costumes, the lighting, the music…it’s all pretty cool.
But for me, on the eve before opening, what is most remarkable is that Six Gents so perfectly sums up the reasons that I do theatre.
First, I got to muck around with Shakespeare. As most people know, my personal (and academic) interests are primarily in how the great classics of English and American drama fit within a broader literary framework. There is, in fact, very little new under the sun; each time I direct a show, I start with a period of personal dramaturgical work that involves a lot of research, the reading of dusty old books, of Sherlocking past performance histories and social/political contexts surrounding the work…all in the desperate attempt to find something…anything…that will spark my interest and the interests of our audiences.
Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona has a fascinating, engaging and unique literary history. I spent weeks turning over rocks and logs and leaves uncovering almost completely forgotten treatments of the script, learned about the performance history of the play from its inception, and fiddled and fuddled with no less than 3 different versions of Shakespeare’s tale of young love. I adored every minute of it, and am truly grateful that I have a job that lets me “read” and “wonder” as part of my job description.
Second, I got to work with a group of incredibly talented actors. These five women are…in a word…amazing. So generous, so thoughtful and smart, so focused and concerned about their craft. That isn’t always the case in all casts, but here, with these 5 women, it was not only the case, it was the expectation. To witness them working together, collaborating with each other and with me, giving of themselves so freely and without ego…all while trying their best to get where I wanted us to go…well, it just reminded me so clearly of why theatre has such a profound impact on the artists and craftspeople who give their lives to it. None of us are being paid what we are worth, but I found myself thinking about how rich my life has become since founding Bag&Baggage…rich with people, talent, and the gift of passion. It doesn’t pay the rent, but it makes life worth living.
Third, I have the most talented production team collaborators in the history of history. Period. Megan Wilkerson, Melissa Heller, Molly Stowe, Emily Trimble, Beth Willis, John Armour….these people are THE BOMB. Smart, sassy, sexy (especially in John’s case), deeply committed to excellence, and more talented than I will ever be. I was told once that the best skill a director can develop is to surround himself with people that make him good. If there is anything about my career that can be considered a success, it is because of the generous spirit of my production team. No question. You guys make me look like I know what the hell I’m doing, and that has got to be one of the hardest parts of what you do for us!
Fourth, I got to know Hanna Brumley. Hanna is a student at Hillsboro High School, my alma mater, and was one of the student actors in The Crucible. During that show, I was so impressed by Hanna’s keen intellect, her eye for detail, her intellectual curiosity, and her passion for excellence that I had to have a very hard conversation with her. It went something like this, “Hanna. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you aren’t an actor. I know, I know…You really really want to be, I know. But, unfortunately…and this is difficult for me to say…you are a director.”
And she is. Over the past few months, Hanna joined our team as my Assistant Director. At 18 years of age, Hanna has been holding her own with a group of incredibly well trained actors, sometimes overbearing designers, an Artistic Director with delusions of grandeur and a mouth like a sailor, and…through it all…Hanna has been the picture of grace and an equally eager student. I have no idea what I might have taught her that she wouldn’t be able to figure out, eventually, by herself…but I will say this: It has been a great honor for me to have Hanna with us on the team.
She is so talented, so bright, so gifted. It makes me remember what my life was like at that age…when theatre was a grand adventure devoid of fundraising and financial woes, a universe of possibility not hindered by rental contracts and malfunctioning light boards…when theatre was new, when theatre was about truth, about beauty, and about struggling every day to make art.
I sometimes forget that. Hanna reminded me.
The Six Gentlemen of Verona is a remarkable show in and of itself. What happens on stage tomorrow night, as we open, stands alone.
But for me, it has been the process that has been so powerfully rewarding.
Break a leg. You make me proud.