As I’m getting ready to remount (August 24! at the Rose!) my 2018 production of Antony and Cleopatra at Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, I have been thinking about my first time directing it, back in 2003.
The whole thing sounds crazy to me, when I think about it. My undergrad theater department, which I had always loved for its culture of “yes, AND,” outdid itself by offering me the opportunity to direct some Shakespeare for the spring mainstage production my junior year. I picked Antony and Cleopatra because I thought that I might only ever get to direct one Shakespeare play in my life, so I had to choose the one I couldn’t imagine living without (this was before I had read Winter’s Tale). I loved the language, Cleopatra’s character in all her infinite variety, the piles of antithesis shimmering through the text. The whole play is an impossible choice.
The previous summer, I had done an internship at the American Shakespeare Center, in their newly constructed Blackfriars Playhouse. Rick Hyde, my mentor and department head, asked me to try to reproduce the style I had learned from them. Ellen Summers, my favorite professor in the English department, agreed to teach a research seminar on Shakespeare’s Roman plays…if I agreed to cast her as Enobarbus. An easy choice.
I turned 20 during the rehearsal process. I think my understanding of Octavius, even now, is thoroughly influenced by being very young to be taking on something so big. I understood how he feels, just trying to do the right thing and keep up with people who are older and more experienced than he is, and who constantly remind him of this. “He calls me ‘boy’,” Octavius spat, and I felt it in my gut. His feelings about Antony are those of a worshipful boy suddenly seeing his hero in the harsh light of reality.
One thing I remember very clearly was how supportive my cast was. They knew I was trying something too big for any of us, and they took me seriously, completely, perfectly. I didn’t have to ask for respect or try to control the room. They offered themselves, not commenting when I got it wrong or poking fun at my over-serious nature. It was my first experience of having the deep trust of an ensemble, and I cannot ever express my gratitude for that kindness enough.
I recently found the transcript of my peer postmortem on that project, and I was impressed with the clarity and specificity of their responses. Now on the other side of the academic table, I think how proud I would be of my students if their reflections on a play were that clear and specific.
Returning to the same script last year was like seeing a palimpsest of my own work–I remembered details about that experience that I hadn’t thought of in many years, as I heard the words over again. I could measure my own growth, but also have some grace for the director I was back then. I didn’t know at the time what an incredible accomplishment it was. I remember saying to Rick that I was a bit disappointed–it was good, but in my imagination, all I could see was the cast from the ASC, and it obviously wasn’t that. He told me, “If I had directed that production, I would be pleased with myself. But you don’t ever just feel good about your work. A girl’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Returning to A&C showed me how far I still have to reach, and how much I grasp now that I didn’t back then.
I want to come back to it in another 15 years, and see how it feels then. I think this is a play I’ll be growing into for my whole life.
Thanks to Clay and Kohei, who were both doing some photojournalism, I have a wealth of pictures from that production.
The actors featured are:
Joey Copsey as Antony.
Lenny Latkovich as Agrippa and Mardian
Noah Phillips as Dolabella, and several messengers and soldiers. He also provided the drumbeats for the battle.
Easton Agnew as, among other roles, the unfortunate messenger who must bring Cleopatra the news of Antony’s marriage.
Dan Brusich as Caesar.
Caitlin Cook (now Bradley) as Cleopatra.
Abbey Kos as Lepidus and Alexas.
Medina Demeter as many messengers and soldiers, and Iras. She also stage-managed, as well as working on the set crew.
Ayako Nakamura began as a rehearsal assistant, but soon joined the cast in several roles and worked as the fight captain.
Kat Tully was the co-designer (along with me) for the costumes and played Menas, Charmian, and some messengers.
Ellen Summers played Enobarbus and served as dramaturg.
Morgan Kempthorne as Octavia, the Soothsayer, and several soldiers.
Robert Moeller designed the set and lighting.