A culminating presentation was not part of the original program when we commissioned 36 writers to translate 39 Shakespeare plays. But during the spring of 2017, I had been thinking about what I was going to do next after the Play on! program at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was completed at the end of 2018. And I thought, “Why not a reading series?”
This thought was immediately followed by “How?” The idea that presented itself instantly was to replicate a class that I set up at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Once a week, we would discuss a Shakespeare play. I choose the order of the plays to be chronological, as I am obsessed with the progress of Shakespeare as a writer. What if we read all the plays in chronological order? (I’ll talk about how I determined that order in another blog post.)
I have this theory about audiences 400 years ago carrying forward characters, themes, and conventions from one play to the next. (We might experience something similar if we had seen the August Wilson plays in the order the he wrote them.) And I wonder if there was a kind of shorthand between playwright and audience from play to play that we might not catch because we mostly see Shakespeare out of order and only periodically.
So I contacted the Hitz Foundation about this idea. They had funded the original Play! On program at OSF. I told them that it would cost approximately $1.5 million to produce the readings. (Where I came up with that figure, I have no idea. But, curiously, that is what the Festival will end up costing.) I also said that I wasn’t asking them for the money, exactly, but it would be great if they did agree to fund this. And in typical Hitz Foundation fashion, they instantly offered their support for the entire enterprise.
We have been producing workshops, closed readings, and public readings since the program began. So far, seven of the plays have been produced, with MACBETH about to go into its second production this summer. We have worked on the development of these translations with over 600 different actors and 30 different theaters and academic institutions in the United States, Canada, and western Europe.
Because so many of the writers live in NY or have associations with theaters and development centers in NY (HUGE shout-out here to The Lark!), we have done most of the work in the City. And so it seemed logical that we would also produce the Festival in NY.
(Cue music for John Doyle’s entrance.) I was expressing my dream of the Festival to lighting designer Jane Cox, and she said, “You should tell John Doyle. He’s one of my best friends. I’ll introduce you.” John had recently taken over as Artistic Director of the Classic Stage Company. I thought, “Oh, sure, but that isn’t how these things work.”
John graciously agreed to meet me, and over a cup of Earl Grey tea, I shared with him one page of Migdalia Cruz’s MACBETH. He hardly looked at it before he said, “I get it. I want your Festival.” I sputtered a bit, because I thought that perhaps I shouldn’t say “yes” to the first person who offered. He understood that I wanted to look into a few other options. So he patiently waited. It didn’t take long for me to realize what an amazing opportunity he had just given me. I guess things can work like that! John and CSC have been incredible and generous partners in this process and we are delighted to be a part of the storied history of the theater, whose mission is to “Reimagine the classics.”
Next up: The Rules of the Festival, or how (we think) it’s going to work
Previously in the Director’s Corner: Read Lue’s Welcome Letter to Audiences