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Spring means Rep Season for the Academy for Classical Acting, STC’s intensive one-year MFA in Classical Acting program with George Washington University. See the Class of 2018 before they graduate in Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre and Julius Caesar. We sat down with Alec Wild, who is not only Director of the Academy but co-director of Pericles.
Tell us more about the ACA Repertory Season. What is it and what do the students get out of it?
The ACA is a unique program, in that we train intensively for only one full year — although we match the training hours of most two- and three-year MFA programs. The Reps are an opportunity for our actors to put their year-long training to work in a true rehearsal process — not necessarily to “show off” what they’ve learned, but to incorporate their new training into their rehearsal practices.
Why did you choose Pericles and Julius Caesar this year? How do the two Shakespeare plays work with each other?
Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about Shakespeare’s romances — Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest and Pericles. We’re seeing these plays produced a lot this year, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the themes of redemption, rebirth and finding what’s been lost are important to us in a time when many of us feel that our country is in crisis. I think we relate to Julius Caesar right now for the same reasons, albeit from a different perspective. Political ethics — the questions of how far we’ll go to achieve legislative ends, how much power one leader should have — these are the important questions of the day. Cameron Knight, the director of Caesar, has decided to gender-reverse the play, so that the women are the ones in power, the ones making the major political decisions. It’s an interesting (and contemporary) take on the play.
How are rehearsals for Pericles going? What’s it like to co-direct with Jef Awada?
Jef and I have worked together on nine or ten shows now, so for us it feels natural and fun. We never approach a play with an idea about how it should be done, but we always come up with a set of questions that we think need to be explored. We also try to stick with a set of theatrical “rules”: we use only live music and sound, performed by the cast; we try to honor the story of the play without sending it up; and we ask the audience to use their imaginations to help create the world of the play. Our way of working usually leads to something exciting and fresh — although we occasionally court disaster as well!
How are you, Jef and Cameron Knight incorporating music and movement into the plays?
Cameron’s Caesar is a contemporary production, complete with tweets and cell phones, contemporary clothes, music and weapons. Pericles is set in an imagined world, but one in which ships were the main form of intercontinental transportation, and letters were the only option for long-distance communication. So music and movement is very different in these shows. Our adaptation of Pericles includes several songs, and lots of music performed by the cast: we have two guitars, a violin, mandolin, cello, two drums and a set of handbells we borrowed from a local D.C. church. The original music is truly original. Caesar, on the other hand, relies on a more contemporary soundscape — although there is a guitar played for one live song!
What should STC’s audiences know about the ACA Rep?
I think it’s an opportunity for STC audiences to see Shakespeare in a much more intimate setting, and with a completely different aesthetic from the shows they’ll see at the Lansburgh and Harman. We approach these plays with the idea that all we’ve got are our actors, our imaginations and our collective resourcefulness. It makes for exciting theatre and for a very different experience for our audiences.