In our first installment of Behind the Scenes with Shakespearemachine, Halee Shutt and Nick Tash, co-directors, sit down with Minelli Manoukian (Coriolanus) to discuss the show.
Is there anything about the show that made you super excited? Like set design, or the cast?
Nick Tash: The set probably. The idea of what we're going to do with the it and the staging and the timeliness of it all, out of all the shows we could have done. We do like to do shows in audience configurations that don’t get done a lot here. I think it’s interesting, and I think it ends up creating challenges that are more creatively satisfying.
You talk in your mission statement about audience immersion—do you think the staging helps with that?
NT: Yeah, we’re getting there slowly I think. A lot of that has to do with how developed we are, so the further along we get the more versatile we can be. But I think, cause I think people see Shakespeare around here in a proscenium, that the more the audience can surround the action the more engaged they are in it. In the actual Globe Theatre it was set up like a modern thrust stage where the audience got to surround it about 3/4 of the way around and I think we get closer to that when we play with our audience arrangements. This one seemed appropriate for an alleyway because you have two opposing sides so we have two opposing entrances. I think that the opposition has a nice tension for the audience. And another important part of [our decision to stage the show this way] was that the audience will also be able to see other audience members—like the audience themselves serve as a background to the action—cause it’s a play that’s about the public and this way they’ll feel like they’re involved in the action too.
What’s been your favorite rehearsal or moment so far in this process?
NT: Well the read through was nice, finally having everyone together. It’s hard to pick just one moment; I’ll have to think on it.
Halee Shutt: Gosh, I don’t know, probably one of two things. I always love when we introduce mask work to people who haven’t worked with masks before. I personally find that to be one of the most thrilling things that we do as a company, watching people just let go of their inhibitions and play. I think that watching it free people up from the outside looking in is wonderful. So the rehearsal process as a whole so far that’s my favorite thing.
NT: Actually I think I can answer now. I feel that tonight was my favorite night because we actually had everybody there and it felt there was a crowd energy that was getting there and you could feel the rumblings of it. It made me very excited.
HS: I was going to say that too. I think our opening is gonna be pretty cool.
NT: Yeah I agree with you overall. Blocking wise tonight was my favorite and then the mask stuff, I wasn’t even thinking of any of that before. But the masks are a fun part.
You’ve spoken before about the themes of the show and how relevant they are, but for the people aren’t familiar with Coriolanus, what are some of those themes that people can look forward to finding inklings of throughout the performance?
HS: I think there’s definitely a sense of general unrest and political unrest that weaves through this entire thing. This is a time of war for the Romans, it’s a time of tension overall both in the political sphere and for the common people because they are up against basically a war on hunger. There’s poverty for, I would wager in the way we’ve set it up, a good portion of the Roman citizens. Most of them are living in poverty when we begin the show.
NT: It’s a class war. It’s Plebeians versus Patricians and I think that’s still the case today in a way. A lot of people see the play either as an argument for Democracy or against it. I think that we come down on the side “for”. But it’s more complicated than that because of some of the characters and their actions.
HS: Yes, so that for one. And then, I suppose another is the title character of Coriolanus and his journey from being a good soldier, and just a patriotic soldier and citizen, into the political sphere and how that kind of causes turmoil for him, his family and the people of Rome. I think that it’s an interesting journey to watch.
So if you could play a character in the show, who would you want to be?
HS: I don’t know. I actually think a lot of people that are familiar with the show find Coriolanus to be revolting, but I admittedly find him interesting. I don’t know if it’s because I find mean characters interesting? [laughs] Him and Menenius are almost polar opposites but they’re probably my two favorite characters in the show.
Are there any other challenges that you’re looking forward to challenging from now until the end of the show?
HS: I think something about our approach, which I find intriguing but will be challenging once we put it all together, is the constant presence of the common people. We have taken a stance as far as our approach to this show where truly there is always some kind of commoner onlooker, and I’m interested to see how keeping that thread woven through the show pans out when we’re putting it all together as a whole. The other thing is, because we’re doing some of the combat literally and some not at all, I think that our interpretation of it on stage has already proved challenging. But I truly think that [in the direction] we’re heading, it’s going to be pretty cool. So that all is most definitely a challenge but I think will also make an interesting statement.