Artist Spotlight: Interview with Lana Russell, The War of the Roses assistant director

Philippa Kelly: I notice that your middle name is Rosalind. Is that a conscious Shakespearean choice on your parents’ part?

Lana Russell: No, it is actually my family name going back through 4 generations—I wish I could have Shakespeare take credit for it!

PK: It’s great to have you here, with your intimate knowledge of the tetralogy. Can you tell me a little about that?

LR: I’ve worked on these plays twice, the first time in grad school [The New School in New York, with 4 people, the cast composed of 3 men and 1 woman] and the second in a new adaptation made for the company I’ve just started called the regroup (this production being 4 women and 1 man). So I’ve seen Richard played by a very tall white man, and also by a 5 foot-tall black woman. We did explore Richard’s disability in different ways, for example, on one half of the body, but truly I love Eric’s vision that the disability is about otherness, however that manifests.

My deep love for examining Richard III comes from his being the first Shakespearean character I discovered in middle school. I was flipping through a Shakespeare Complete Works on my own and discovered the longest soliloquy in all of Shakespeare (the famous 2nd last line being, “Can I do all of this and cannot get a crown?”) and I learned it. I felt, even at that age, that I had an incredible ambition but not yet a voice to express it. Then I delivered and delivered that monologue over the years every time I auditioned. The reason that this particular monologue still really holds true for me is that in everything I do, I’m interested in seeking out why the most evil people do the things they do, and how and why they are still human.

By the way, people thought I was absolutely insane giving this psychopathic monologue, so occasionally I would switch to giving a Margaret monologue from Richard III… And truly, I’ve spent so much time on Richard that the thing I’m most excited about is diving deeper into Margaret’s story. I was really thrilled and am inspired by is Eric’s commitment to keeping the women’s voices and storylines in this play so dynamic and vivid.

PK: Oh yes, a lovely curse from Margaret—works every time. But actually it’s intriguing that Shakespeare really understood and played with the limitations of women in his time – he puts Margaret on the battlefield and then, when she’s taken off it, he has her curse—which is one of the “worst” (or most socially challenging) things a woman in his time could do besides speaking at length at all. BTW, speaking of women speaking, our audiences will want to know how you landed with us for this production.

LR: I thought this was the most exciting season, so (I was living in New York at the time) I got in touch with Eric to tell him so. I contacted a few of my friends who know Eric (Octavio Solis being one), and they made an introduction.

PK: …and the rest is history! Well, to be more accurate, a history play.

LR And being born and raised in the Bay Area, this is a fabulous homecoming. I’m staying with my parents, and my mom tried to make lunch for me and I did not allow it…

PK: Well, Queen Margaret would understand the impulse.

LR: But she would never make it herself.

The War of the Roses plays through September 15. Get tickets here!

Lana is a director, producer, teacher, activist and founder of the [re]group. She has developed plays at The Lark, Primary Stages, New Georges and Naked Angels. She is a producer and resident director for Goldfish Memory Productions. She is  lead teaching artist with The Other Side which is a global drama exchange organization for young women. She was a producing fellow at Naked Angels and Cape Cod Theatre Project and the Literary Associate at Primary Stages. Member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. MFA, Directing New School. Lanarrussell.com.

More about Lana’s company, the [re]group: The [re]group is an artistic collective and social impact organization dedicated to the empowerment of public spirit and communal healing. Our mission is to provide art that is innovative, accessible and audience-driven. The adaptation of Henry VI 3 and III was the company’s first production, called “[re]consider,” which focused on the privilege, power and opportunity of choice: making the audience complicit in the question: is free will really free?

The [re]group toured the [re]consider adaptation to both traditional and non-traditional theatre spaces alike. The most meaningful performance was for veteran transition home, Samaritan Village, in midtown Manhattan. With only chalk, a chalkboard, three flashlights, five actors, and the most important prop, snacks, we joined their weekly meeting to share our performance and stay for questions, conversation and ideas about future action. It was the most powerful theatrical and human experience of my life. Our audience cheered out loud, cried, chanted. Their spirit filled the room and there was no gap between audience and actor, a truly communal experience.

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