Trinity Shakespeare 2011: Bard’s Battalion

When the ghost of William Shakespeare softly rose from the cold ashes of Ft. Worth’s Shakespeare in the Park in 2009 and blessed his new performance incarnation like the proverbial phoenix, Trinity Shakespeare Festival at TCU, who knew what to expect?
With Harry Parker as Managing Director and TJ Walsh as Artistic Director, the festival would mount two plays each year, casting and staffing both with a mix of TCU students, fine regional talent and national professionals.  A TCU Vision in Action Grant financed the first two seasons’ productions and put the endeavor on solid footing. Year One was a creative delight (Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet)Year Two was a critical triumph, drew in audiences from across the United States and added nationally respected Shakespearean scholar and director Stephen Fried to its artistic team (Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing). In Year Three, Fried returns to direct Macbeth; TJ Walsh directs As You Like It. Positive buzz around the festival bubbles up like Old Faithful at Yellowstone. Directors Walsh and Fried took time away from their hectic rehearsal schedules to describe the processes of creating a viable festival. Four cast members shared their perspectives as well. Read here:
TJ WALSH, Artistic Director/ director of As You Like It:

It’s Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s 3rd year. How is it going?

TSF has been a success artistically and has developed an audience that is drawn to our work.  We’re developing a style, an aesthetic sense of whom we are and how we like to present Shakespeare.

What has surprised you about response to TSF?

It’s the number of people, audiences, who seek out Shakespeare.  At TSF we have had international visitors come, some from around the country who will arrange a vacation around it. It is fascinating to learn how strong a following Shakespeare has, which may explain why there are a great number of theatres devoted to Shakespeare.

With our frighteningly tight economy, how do you keep funding TSF?

This is our first year without the TCU Vision in Action Grant that supported our initial two-year start up.  Through the hard work of our Dean of Fine Arts, Scott Sullivan, and the Chair of our department, Harry Parker, multiple donors have arisen to help finance the festival. Because we have generated good houses, tickets sales also are a significant part of our budget. We always seek new income sources.

How many production staff members does it take to pull it off?

Close to sixty people work on TSF this summer: local actors, designers and technicians as well as student interns.

“Doing good Shakespeare with the best directors, designers, and actors is like nothing else. It’s euphoric. Every season I’m awestruck by the designs and talent….” TRISHA MILLER (3rd year with TSF, national award-winning Equity Actor)

You produce one comedy and one drama each year. Why is that, and how do you choose them?

The idea of the Trinity Shakespeare Festival was to make it a true repertory festival: two revolving shows, alternate night performances, the same actors in both shows. Thursday night you can see “As You Like It” and on Friday night “Macbeth”, each using the same actors. Audiences have responded well to seeing the versatility this requires of the actors. It is rarely done — it is very difficult to cast, hire, organize and execute.  It takes a group of people committed to the vision.  We’ve worked hard to find those folks.

How did you find Stephen Fried, back to direct this year?

Steve came to my attention through a series of recommendations. Steve had worked at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. and at the New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre and others.  I want to bring into the festival expertise on Shakespeare, to produce Shakespeare at a high artistic and professional level.  Steve met that threshold with his production of “Much Ado About Nothing” last year. I wanted to see what it would be like to bring back a director who has directed at the festival – that would make the experience more productive since he understands the flow of the how we work.

“I hadn’t played in Shakespeare since college (1982). This is part of what I trained to do as an actor and have not had an opportunity to use those particular “muscles” in my career. As long as I am able to learn my parts, and have the opportunity, I will be involved with TSF.” DAVID COFFEE  (3rd year with TSF, nationally acclaimed award-winning Equity actor)

Do you audition locally exclusively? Are you getting a larger, more diverse turnout each year? All our auditions are open auditions, held at TCU.  Every year we have had a larger response from our local actors.  With the guest director, together we cast the company.  We use a combination of local professional actors, TCU student actors and occasionally TCU alum that works in the professional world as an example for our students.  The professional actors and designers mentor our students. Our student intern actors and technicians get to work around talented professionals, in a professional environment, where the bar is set very high.  It has added tremendously to our effectiveness at TCU’s Department of Theatre for our students to have this experience.

STEPHEN FRIED, director of Macbeth:

How did you get involved last year, and what makes you want to return this year? Last year, another director referred me to TJ; the world of Shakespeare directors is a relatively small one.  After my experience directing Much Ado last season, I was eager to return. TSF is one of those rare places where there’s an incredible amount of support and enthusiasm, where I’m able to direct exactly the show I want to.  In addition to being an outstanding director, TJ is a phenomenal producer.  He manages to keep everything on track while still giving you the space and artistic freedom to craft exactly the show you envision.  The staff here is amazing.  Working at theatres around the country, I’ve often encountered people whose first impulse is to say ‘no’ to things that seem challenging or that they don’t know how to do. At TSF, challenges excite people. When ideas come up that seem impossible, the staff seems eager to make them happen, a thrilling environment for an artist to work in.

What do you expect the actors to be able to do at the first rehearsal? Because the rehearsal process is a fairly quick one, we ask that the actors come to first rehearsal off book.  This enables us to get the shows up in the time we have.  This year, the acting company has a lot of veterans in it who know how quickly we need to work. I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised at how much preparation the actors have done beforehand.

“For me, it’s been an exercise in fearlessness and trust…the atmosphere in the rehearsal room is electric; all of us bringing in the work done at home and ready to play around until we find what really works.” MORGAN MCCLURE (1st year with TSF, SMU MFA in Acting, Equity candidate)

Do you direct your own stage combat scenes or do you bring in a fight choreographer? TSF is lucky enough to have Eric Domuret choreographing the fights.  Fight choreography is really an art in and of itself. Eric brings phenomenal creativity, vision, and also an awareness of how to train actors in complicated combat sequences.

Share about the actor playing Macbeth. Last summer Richard Haratine played Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing.  From his first audition, it was very clear to us that Richie is a very special actor. It’s exciting to work on Macbeth with him.  In addition to his incredible skill in speaking Shakespeare’s language, Rich has an inherent humanity about him that is important for Macbeth. Audiences will be able to connect to and sympathize with him, which makes this story much more powerful.  I’m not interested in showing a Macbeth who just reads as an ambitious tyrant.  I want audiences to understand Macbeth as an inherently good man who, for reasons that we all can sympathize with, goes down a very bad road. This production has introduced me to a spectacular actress, Elizabeth Mason, for Lady Macbeth.  When I first met Elizabeth, I was struck by the powerful and unusual combination of delicacy, ambition, and intense human desire that she brought.  She and Richie are both truly unique and thrilling artists to work with. It will be a real treat for Trinity’s audiences to see them onstage together.

“I learn something new each time we have a rehearsal. Steve and Dr. Walsh are both geniuses. I’m excited to see the reaction to our take on both pieces—“Macbeth” especially… “Macbeth” is a dark play but ours will be so wonderfully dark! It’s going to be so beautiful.” GABE WHITEHURST: (1st year with TSF, TCU undergraduate)

Why do you think people still want to watch Shakespeare today? We come back to these plays because they continue to tell us about who we are, and illuminate our understandings of ourselves.  Shakespeare’s plays examine the universal aspects of humanity with a rigor, depth, and beauty that, to my knowledge, has not been surpassed in the history of the theatre.

As You Like It directed by T.J. Walsh 6/7/2011 – 6/26/2011

Jerita Foley Buschman Theatre at Texas Christian University

Macbeth directed by Stephen Fried 6/8/2011 – 6/26/2011

Marlene and Spencer Hays Theatre at Texas Christian University

Evening curtain: 7:30pm, matinee: 2:30pm

Trinity Shakespeare Festival Mission: Our hope is to produce the work of Shakespeare with clarity, creativity and conscience.  To allow the stories of Shakespeare to play out on the stage with a joy in the story telling, a beauty in the execution and a respect for the tradition of Shakespeare’s enduring plays.

Shot from Much Ado About Nothing in 2010’s Trinity Shakespeare Festival

(l-r) Justin Rapp, David Fluitt, David Coffee, James Crawford

Article as published in June 2011 Arts & Culture DFW Magazine

One thought on “Trinity Shakespeare 2011: Bard’s Battalion

  1. Pingback: Friday Morning Roundup | Art&Seek | Arts, Music, Culture for North Texas

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