It’s not often that you manage to steal a few moments to speak with two of Sri Lanka’s foremost directors in English theatre.I considered myself lucky to find them both free for a chat amidst much planning and practicing for “Antony and Cleopatra”, the tragic love story chosen for this year’s edition of “Shakespeare in the Park”, presented by the Workshop Players (WSP).
Here’s what Jerome L. de Silva and Tracy Holsinger, the Producer and Director respectively, had to say about bringing this epic story to life:
Q. Jerome, as a Director and a Producer, what do you love most about Shakespeare?
Jerome: Shakespeare is my favourite, favourite, favourite playwright of all time, after Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. I have a deep love for Shakespeare, and that’s what I teach most in schools. I think Shakespeare is the best form of study for any student of literature or drama – if you crack Shakespeare, you’ve done it all!
Q. Why did you bring the concept of “Shakespeare in the Park” (or SITP) to Colombo?
Jerome: SITP has been running in New York for decades; I had always wanted to go, but always missed it. Ever since Shanuki de Alwis, one of WSP’s Artistic Directors, shared her experience of watching it in 2014 and expressed the value of the concept, it was on my mind. It just so happened that 2016 coincided with the 400th death anniversary of the Bard, with festivals held all over the world. The British Council, the local celebrant/representative of the global festival, partnered WSP that same year, which is how it all began. We did “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello” in 2016, which were all on the O-Level and A-Level syllabuses.
The first edition was an unexpected success, averaging 700 people a night, despite the rain. Following this success, we brought it back in 2017, with “The Tempest” and “Macbeth”. Since then the Workshop Players have made it a commitment to make this an annual event. The festival serves mainly has an educational purpose. Therefore, students have a lot to gain from it!
Q. What future do you see for SITP or Shakespearean Theatre in general in Sri Lanka?
Jerome: There is a huge resurgence of Shakespearean theatre in Sri Lanka. Recently, I watched a Townhall Theatre Foundation production of ‘Hamlet’, which they performed on their three-storey premises, atrium lobby, and balconies – it was wonderful. There is a lot of interest in the work of Shakespeare in Sinhala and Tamil literature, and in various other forms - Ravibandu’s dance troupe has performed ballets based on Shakespearean text, for instance.
English theatre has been moving towards more modern writers and musical theatre, but with SITP, the Inter-school Shakespeare Competitions and an increase in students of literature and drama, the future is great for Shakespeare! The more audiences are exposed to it, the more they understand it and garner an interest.
Q. Why ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ this year?
Jerome: ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is on the London A-Level syllabus. This year, we thought we’d just do one play, and I chose this as it is one of the most complex and mature of Bard’s plays. This time, we thought we’d do a big one, an epic one!
Q. Why was Tracy your choice to direct it?
Jerome: I decided a few years ago to build and nurture others with potential as Directors of WSP, while I would continue to oversee productions. Tracy is a very well-recognised director with her own theatre company and is also a Workshop Player. A mature and complex play of this nature needs a director like Tracy on board, who knows her Shakespeare and is able to tackle its intricacies without a problem. Her approach is a very Globe Theatre-style concept, in an open-air setting, without elaborate sets and lighting. SITP has continued to be minimalistic and intimate; it is the performance that has to be tremendous. That is what excites me most – seeing this without the tapestries and frills you’d normally see in a production.
Q. Tracy, how did you feel about taking on ‘Antony and Cleopatra’?
Tracy: Jerome said he wanted to stage this because it is an A-Level text, and I leapt at it, because it’s been a while since I directed a full-length Shakespearean play. It is a beautiful, magical and very messy play, and I’m totally in love with it. It’s so interesting because it reflects a clash of cultures between very correct, decorous and proper Rome, and what they viewed as the licentious and decadent Egypt.
Q. What has it been like to work with the Workshop Players once again?
Tracy: I worked with them once before in 1999 in the “Middle of Silence”. And it’s been great to be back. The committee has been very supportive, which has been amazing. I’m really very grateful to Jerome for giving me this opportunity; we share a very long-standing association, having directed each other and been around each other’s lives for as long as I can remember! I’m just so excited to be doing this!
Q. With respect to the play itself, who is your favourite character?
Jerome: This isn’t a very big character in the play, but Dollabella. In fact, I would have loved to play the role, but didn’t audition! Not to mention I would have been a little too old for the cast! The other one I like is Enobarbus. Tracy and I agreed on being very particular on who would play those two parts, particularly Dollabella – it is a very controlled role and needs to underplayed to perfection for accuracy.
Tracy: I really love Enobarbus. He links the audience to the action because he constantly talks to them. He’s honest, loyal and got great comic lines, because he’s this big guy with no social courtesies! And he’s a great example of how loyalty can die from a leader not being a leader. Enobarbus was Antony’s right hand man, but he sees Antony’s decline and eventually leaves him to join Caesar. Of course, Antony and Cleopatra are both beautiful as well.
Q. If you had to describe the play with three words, what would you choose?
Jerome: I’ll do it in four – “a great love story”.
Tracy: Intimate. Sensual. All-consuming. It really is – I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I dream about the play and the characters!
Q. Why do you feel it’s important for people to come and watch this show?
Jerome: Having watched a rehearsal, all the ingredients of Shakespeare’s writing – the poetry, the rhythms – are all coming through very strongly, which is very beautiful. Don’t miss this, because it isn’t often that full-length Shakespeare is performed in Colombo. It’s a great opportunity to see the Master’s work in its best form.
Tracy: If you’re studying it for A-Levels, you should come and watch it! If you want to experience Shakespeare in an open-air theatre and see lots of up-and-coming actors, who aren’t your usual bunch, you must come watch.
Read more: http://https://goo.gl/2cGwsT
“Shakespeare in the Park – Antony and Cleopatra”, directed by Tracy Holsinger and produced by Jerome L. de Silva, will be staged on the 7th and 8th of April 2018 at the Viharamahadevi Open Air Theatre at 7.30 p.m.