Associate Artistic Director David Girard interviews 2017 Season Directors Wesley Broulik and Liz Carlson-Guerin on their approach and what they're looking forward to this summer.
DG: First question; do you have a favorite line from the play you’re directing? Why?
WB: Oh gosh, almost anything said by Helena or Hermia. I think Helena is one of my favorite characters in Shakespeare. She rhymes so much, and it’s beautiful. All of that rhyming is there for a specific purpose.
But if I had to pick ONE, it would be Helena’s line describing Hermia, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
I have often said the same thing about my own wife.
LCG: ‘Thou mett’st with things dying, I with things newborn’ (Act III, scene iii)
This line perfectly sums up the core of the play for me: It is a play about the dichotomies of human existence - that we live in a balance. Life cannot be without death, Spring does not come without Winter. Something must be lost in order for it to be found. This is a play about redemption and reconciliation and that cannot exist without destruction.
DG: Ok. I’m now I’m going to get to the nitty gritty:
What makes Shakespeare, and this play in particular, relevant today? How do you bridge the long span of history between his days in the theatre and now? Do you see any connections between that age and now?
WB: All of these plays have stood the test of time, in part, I think, because Shakespeare was writing things that needed to be popular and successful in order to make money. The Globe was one of the only theatres in the world at its time that wasn’t connected to a court. The yard (which in my opinion are the best seats) cost only 1 pence. In Shakespeare’s time the average daily wage was 9 pence. That meant if you could get off work (since most plays happened at 2 pm after the biggest meal of the day an 11 am supper) you could see theatre. The higher you went for a seat, you paid another pence. Shakespeare and his contemporaries in England were writing for everybody. And they toured extensively. Whereas in Europe or Japan, for the most part, it was theater for nobility or court-sponsored theatre.
That’s why I believe in SSC’s mission. It’s free. If you can afford to pay, then please donate at the end, and I guarantee you are still giving less than if you had bought a ticket for something indoors you enjoyed far less.
But getting back to the question, since Shakespeare was writing for so many people, the rich and the poor, he put something for everybody in these plays. They are universal. If they weren't people would stop doing them.
LCG: I think this play is enormously relevant to our present moment: the opening action sees a man of great power and influence so consumed by his own delusions and so certain of his own infallibility that he cannot hear the voices of reason around him. It leads him to destroy everything he holds dear and destabilize his kingdom. Sound familiar?
But this is not a political play. It is a play about a man who doesn’t know how to loose, so in the infinite wisdom of the universe, he must loose everything in order to regain his soul. Unlike some of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, there is no external force spurring Leontes to jealousy, rage, violence, revenge, instead it comes from forces within himself that he doesn’t understand and therefore can’t control. There is no evil plot of destruction that the characters are at the mercy of, instead they are at the mercy of their own human fallibility. I think this is especially telling in the mirroring of plots that Shakespeare employs in this play: Polixenes, the ‘blameless’ loyal friend of Leontes, is not immune to an untempered rage that might destroy his family and kingdom - it is not a fatal flaw in a specific character, but an undeniable symptom of the human condition: we each contain the dual ability to destroy and to restore.
Shakespeare’s later plays tow the line between Comedy and Tragedy: often called The Romances (this includes The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest among others) and show a playwright both at the height of his powers and wrestling with the big mysteries of life and death, of love and loss - what it means to be human. The Winter’s Tale is full of both tragic elements (** SPOILER ALERT** Mamillius really dies, so does Antigonus) and comedic (against the odds of reality, Perdita and Florizel meet, and fall in love) - just like the actual experience of living; most of us do not live in a comedy or a tragedy, we live in the fluid experience of both.
DG: For folks who’ve attended Saratoga Shakespeare Company Congress Park performances in the past, is there anything new they can look forward to with your particular production?
WB: I don’t want to give anything away, but we have some very skilled, and very talented performers and creatives this summer. I think, we are hopefully, going to build on the aesthetic David Girard started creating the last 5 seasons and push it even further. There are going to be elements to this production that our audience hasn’t seen us do before.
LCG: The title: The Winter’s Tale, references a long story one might tell to pass the time on a winter night and this is a fairy tale in a lot of ways, though there are no actual fairies (we’ll leave that to Wes and the Midsummer crew). This play is full of the mystical, the magical and the unexplainable - It will be full of fun and surprises for the audience!
DG: What are you hoping people will take away from MDSN/TWT after they’ve seen this production, in terms of the play itself, Shakespeare or classic theatre in general?
WB: First and foremost, people need to have fun and a good time; second this play is all about love and every kind of love imaginable, that there is magic in everything; and lastly, that it’s accessibility to everyone. I think it’s hard to hate A Midsummer Night's Dream.
LCG: I love when classic theatre feels like it seamlessly fits into our present reality, and I hope that our production channels that feeling - not that this play is an allegory for a specific socio-political event, but that in this play and these characters we recognize ourselves. It may be a play about kings and queens, bears and shepherds, but above all it is a play about human beings: our constant and complex searching for certainty, control, justice, revenge, love, acceptance, connection, meaning.
DG: As a director, I know each of us is unique in how and why we direct. What qualities do you find are essential as a director?
WB: Saying yes to others ideas, and surrounding yourself with incredibly talented people so you don’t have to have any ideas of your own, just use theirs.
LCG: I think the most important elements of my work are curiosity and collaboration: we make and see theatre to investigate questions together. I love working with wild, curious collaborative people, including audiences. What I hope to honor in this production is the idea that the audience is the final and most important collaborator in the work.
DG: Finally, what makes Saratoga great and what most, outside of working with Saratoga Shakes, are you looking forward to?
WB: The people. Not just Lary, Barbara, you, and Tim, but the audiences in the park. They are amazing and they want you to be successful, they are rooting for you. Everybody except the ducks, I don't know if they like theatre . . . or my jokes.
Also the theatre’s accessibility, it’s free. (But please give if you can, making theater does cost money.) And for some people this may be their first piece of live theatre or their first Shakespeare. That’s a huge responsibility. I grew up in a place that didn’t have anything like this. There was no art, at least not for miles, and miles, and hours and hours. Something like this that is open to everyone, everybody in the park (and the ducks) is pretty terrific and I love being able to come back and play in this beautiful place for this amazingly giving (and forgiving) audience. There is no place else I'd rather be in the summer than here with these people, making art for this audience.
LCG: I am a big fan of theatre that exists within and for a community, and that’s what I’m really excited for, coming to Saratoga for the first time: to get to be part of this community, to share a story together.