2009 Season Artist Profile: A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Aaron Posner

In the months leading up to our 2009 Main Stage season, we’ve been profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—Romeo and Juliet, Private Lives, Happy Days, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in our e-newsletters. For the March installment, we profiled director Aaron Posner, director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who you may remember from this blog entry a few months back. Posner is the Artistic Director at Two River Theatre Company in New Jersey, coproducer of Midsummer. What follows is the complete Q&A for that article. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

You’re currently in tech for Melissa Arctic at Two River; what are a few of your most recent projects before that, and one or two coming up?
My adaptation of My Name Is Asher Lev from the novel by Chaim Potok just closed at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia (of which Posner was a cofounder -ed.). I am very proud of it and am pleased it is going on to other productions around the country, including one in this area in the fall at the Marin Theatre Company. Actually, folks in this area will be able to see both my adaptations of Chaim Potok novels, because Theatreworks in Palo Alto is doing The Chosen next year as well. I have never worked in the Bay Area before, but next year I will be represented three times, which is great. I am looking forward to seeing all of them, and spending some time out here…

In the meantime, I am starting rehearsals in a few weeks for Arcadia by Tom Stopppard at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in DC, and next season I will also be working on a fabulous new adaptation of Euripides’ Orestes by Anne Washburn at the Folger and Two River, and also a new Cole Porter musical revue I am putting together. And more things on other burners as well. So lots of exciting stuff…

What has changed in your thinking and planning for the Cal Shakes’ production of Midsummer since you spoke to the staff here in January?
The core ideas are the same, though they continue to evolve and percolate. The show is very much with me now, in my consciousness all the time, so I see somebody wearing something in a coffee shop and I think “Oh, that could be very Puck” or I see a piece of art in a gallery and it gives me idea for the set. Both of those things have happened recently, by the way. I am just beginning the design process, so that work is really still to come. We shall see where it leads. The other major thing that is happening is that we are getting the show cast, as with each new cast member, I have new ideas. My whole idea of the mechanicals has totally evolved based on the folks I met here at Cal Shakes for the auditions. I was excited and inspired by some of your long time Associate Artists, and I think I am finding fun and playful ways to use them.

What are you looking forward to regarding working in the Bay Area in general, or with Cal Shakes or at the Bruns in particular? This will be the third time I have worked outside, so I am looking forward to that. Though I hear there are foxes and wolves and wild beasts in the area, so I am not so sure about that. I am from the west coast originally, from Eugene, Oregon, so it is always great to be back on the west coast. A lot of folks I grew up with and went to school with and did plays with in school and at the Oregon Repertory Theatre when I was in high school actually live in the area I am finding out (mostly via Facebook and from folks who have seen your season advertised) so that will be fun, too, to re-connect with some folks. And as I said above, I am very excited by the actors I have been meeting from the area, so I am looking forward to that, too. This cast will be a great combination of long-time collaborators that I am bringing with me and a lot of folks that are new to me, so that is usually a good and dynamic combination.

And finally, if you could have directed any play in history, what (and/or where, and/or with who) would it be?
Wow. This is absolutely a question I have never been asked and never really thought about. There are great actors now I would love to work with, and a million stories to tell. I am not sure I can think back that way. I can tell you I would give anything to have been in the audience of one of Shakespeare’s plays back in the day, when they were being advertised as World Premieres. It would just be so fascinating to know what they were really like and how they were viewed. I would love to really be able to see that.

The great thing is, of course, that if there are plays from the past that I love so deeply I would have wanted to do them back then, I can still do them now. That is one of the great gifts of this profession. The plays don’t get used up. Particularly the really great ones. There is always more to explore, more to delve into, and new things keep happening to you and to the world, so there are always new things to inform any production. So, that pretty much entirely dodges the question, but I think it is the best that I have.

Oh, and I would like to have directed the first production of Man and Superman. And Uncle Vanya. And Arcadia. And Orestes. And The Misanthrope. And…

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the capacity for wonder and amazement.

Last Friday, the Cal Shakes staff got to attend a brown-bag lunch with Aaron Posner, who was in town for, among other things, some Midsummer Night’s Dream auditions. Though Posner cut his teeth in the Northeast—cofounding Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company and serving, currently, as Artistic Director of New Jersey’s Two River Theater Company—he grew up in Eugene, OR, which helped him fit in rather quickly with the casual-yet-enthusiastic admin staff here at Cal Shakes. And despite the fact that Midsummer doesn’t open till September, he gave us some valuable insight into where his creative process currently stands.

The first thing Posner told us was that he played Oberon in a fourth-grade production of Midsummer, wearing green tights and the torn-up lining of his mother’s coat. Years later, he was inspired to mount the play at the Arden by a friend who told him she would soon be too old to portray Helena; that production was the inaugural show at the Arden’s larger theater and Posner says that he had “the best time of my life” directing that production.

He’s thinking that the Cal Shakes/Two River coproduction will be fairly simple, scenically speaking, with a set by Erik Flatmo (Uncle Vanya, Richard III, TheatreWorks’ Radio Golf), lighting by Russell H. Champa (Pericles, Man and Superman, Berkeley Rep’s The Pillowman), and—new to Cal Shakes—Serbian costume designer Olivera Gajic, who recently did Midsummer at the Prague Quadrennial.

Posner is adamant that, “more so than any other writer, Shakespeare got that every day and every scene needs to have the capacity for wonder and amazement.” He says that the line “Lord what fools these mortals be” is central to his thinking about the play. “Shakespeare must have been in a pretty good mood when he wrote Midsummer, as he’s looking at all of these very broken people, and just lovin’ them.”

“My intuition is to go straight at it; full of love, amazement, hope, and magic. Not to get too Obama about it, but there’s a sense of optimism around.”

There is darkness in Midsummer, of course, and Posner doesn’t want to shy away from that. He cites a production of the play he saw in 1970s Eugene wherein Puck was played as a devilish satyr: “Cute pucks have since driven me a little crazy”; Loki in Norse mythology and the coyote in Native American lore are more his kinds of Pucks. “Because the world gets screwed up, you have to have someone who’s responsible for that.”

As Posner likes the idea of mythology lurking around the corners of everyday life, he says that the fairies in our Midsummer might only be implied—tiny, invisible sprites interacting with the actors. He also likes the idea of Titania and Oberon’s relationship straddling the line between royalty and “regular” marriage. “When the leadership is at odds, everyone beneath it suffers.”

Since the fairies may only be implied, the music and sound are the biggest question, still. Since Posner is firm that (referring to the fairies’ song) “no one should really be allowed to speak the word ‘philomel,’” he is playing with the idea of a mystical version of Sirius satellite radio. If Titania and/or Oberon could call up whatever music they wanted, whenever, they could just as easily conjure “Dvorak, Aimee Mann, Sinatra, or ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’” from the air as they could a bunch of trilling sprites; they could also turn it down or off, or change it as they desire, just as a human couple might do in the heat of argument.

 

Posner is currently working on an adaptation of Cyrado de Bergerac, a work that he says, like Midsummer, “leaves you wanting to live your life more fully.” Ultimately, the director says, he’d like the audience to walk out of the Bruns suffused with “optimistic delight.”

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