Q: What made you interested in starting a Shakespeare themed theater company?
A: As an actress I’ve always been interested in Shakespeare. The tradition inspires me, and I’ve always thought that if an actor can handle Shakespeare’s words, she can handle pretty much anything. It was sort of an accident that I started City Shakes withe Brooke Bishop – she’s a Shakespeare buff too, and we decided to produce ‘Taming of the Shrew’ last year. Then we realized we should probably have a name for our group… and it naturally evolved into a company.
Q: What is your background in theater?
A: I was an opera major/theater minor at Wellesley College, and I studied for a year at the National Theater Institute (NTI). With NTI, I traveled to Russia and England as part of the program and got a taste of theater making abroad. I’ve performed with The California Shakespeare Company, as well as Drive Theatre Company. I’m also a playwright and I’ve had work produced in New York and Los Angeles.
Q: How do your productions differ from other Shakespeare companies?
A: Our mission at City Shakes is to make Shakespeare more relatable to modern audiences. We feel that often, Shakespeare is perceived as boring because it’s performed in a presentational, unrealistic manner that’s confusing. People don’t flock to see work they don’t understand. We like to present the work in non-theater spaces as well. We’re working on ‘Macbeth’ at the moment, and that will be performed in a storage space behind an art gallery!
Q: Many people seem to think Shakespeare’s plays were really written by Francis Bacon; what do you think off this theory?
A: To be honest, I’m not really sure. It’s an interesting theory because there’s some great history there. But I’m not a Shakespeare historian. I just love his work.
Q: In 1971 Roman Polanski made a film version of MacBeth in which Lady MacBeth was portrayed as a very attractive young woman who influenced her husband with her sexuality. Before Polanski’s film they were always portrayed as a middle aged couple. How much influence do you think Polanski’s version of MacBeth had on all future productions of the play?
A: Well, I think Polanski had a great take on the Macbeths but I’m not sure it was entirely revolutionary. In fact, Sarah Bernhardt famously portrayed Lady M as a seductress in her 1899 performance of the role, so much that it’s said audiences were offended by her outright sexuality. I personally think it makes more sense that the Macbeths are a younger, and more vital, couple. I can understand that the couple has the energy, passion and recklessness to take such a huge risk when they’re younger.
Q: What is the key to making Shakespeare accessible?
A: The actors must understand every single word they are saying, or else they cannot communicate clearly the the audience. Also, the entire team – director, actors, stage manager, producers, etc. – has to be really clear on their intentions and goals with the production. How ever much the performers understand is just how much the observers will understand.
Q: How did you go about getting funding for the theater?
A: We have always been privately funded on donations. Our audiences that attended our last two show (which were free) have been very generous, making it possible for us to move forward. At this point, we have an angel donator, a well-known musician who happens to be an avid Shakespeare fan. We’re very excited to work with him.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that running a theater company in LA presents?
A: Since we don’t have an actual theater space (we find each space depending on what we feel the essence of the play calls for), one of our biggest challenges is finding space. It always seems to work out for the best, however, but the process of space hunting takes a lot of energy and focus. Also a lot of hearing the word “no.”
Q: What is your strangest back stage story?
A: This summer when we performed ‘As You Like It’ in Rustic Canyon Park, we had a couple strange issues with trees! Our “stage” was really just a grassy space grounded on each side with two big trees, so the playing space was well-defined. The day of our first performance, we arrived at the space and one of the trees had fallen down and was lying right in the middle of the stage. We were shocked to see the roots sticking up in the air. We had to work around it and be creative, which was sort of fun. Last in the run, another tree in the park fell over right in the middle of the performance. Luckily no one was hurt.
Q: What role do you play in The Lone Ranger?
A: I play the role of Jane, a woman who gets robbed on the train in ‘Lone Ranger.’ It was a lot of fun being on set and spending time with big names in film!
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)