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Ascending Mt. Bard

On directing Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

Steve Froehlich and Kym Pappas in Taming of the Shrew
Steve Froehlich and Kym Pappas in Taming of the Shrew

Carla Nell, artistic director of InnerMission Productions, directed Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, performed last month. It was her initial attempt at the Bard. I asked her how it feels to climb that mountain for the first time.

“Shakespeare is not as scary as I thought. For years, if asked, I would embarrassingly admit that I don’t really ‘get into’ Shakespeare. I have seen two productions over the years that stood out: an all-female Hamlet at UC Irvine in a black box with no props. The actors wore all black and it blew my mind on many levels. Most of all, it was so simple and pared down. I sympathized with Hamlet as a woman. It really worked!

Carla Nell

"The Merchant of Venice at the American Repertory Theatre was the other end of the spectrum. It was a huge budget with Broadway actors and it was BIG. But no one forced one moment. The actors had such a command of the language and the story, I was drawn in by the collaboration of all the elements. Other than those two, I often sit in a daze wondering why they talk so much.

"That said, I wanted to direct Shakespeare because I direct plays and he wrote plays.

"Shakespeare wants you to succeed. The universality of the work speaks for itself. I don’t know if he had a crystal ball, but somehow what he wrote transcends centuries and still resonates. The idea that you can take the material and create so many different worlds from it is a testament to his genius.

"Shakespeare doesn’t always make sense and wasn’t the authority on a well-written play until later in his career. I am still trying to justify Kate’s famous monologue, where she surrenders her will to her husband’s, in contrast to the journey she takes. I’m sorry, Shakespeare: could you have her say a few words about the man’s responsibility in a relationship? My cast and I struggled with this.

"In the end, I took the advice of a sage — a certain Mr. Smith — who asked me to share my experience and I quit trying to fix it. I’ve always known that casting is half the battle. Never does it apply more than when you take on Shakespeare. Cast actors who are willing to do the homework, willing to look up every word, willing to learn a new way of communicating on stage, and willing to risk failure until they find the moment of comprehension when they match with what the text demands. Cast amazing people.

"I wasn't the only one afraid of Shakespeare. I did months of research and preparation yet somehow questions still came up in rehearsals that I did not have the answers to. (Please refer back to casting.) Cast actors who don’t expect you to have all the answers and are willing to take some risks in the process to answer the questions together. They are scared, too.

"I will only ever regret the risks I don’t take. I took this challenge issued to me by my co-artistic director Kym Pappas, and I ran with it. Was it perfect? Of course not. Nothing is. In the end I am really proud of the work we created, and the collaborative efforts of my team paid off. I directed Shakespeare and I wasn’t publicly humiliated and I didn’t die! Do the thing you think you can’t do. You can.”

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Steve Froehlich and Kym Pappas in Taming of the Shrew
Steve Froehlich and Kym Pappas in Taming of the Shrew

Carla Nell, artistic director of InnerMission Productions, directed Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, performed last month. It was her initial attempt at the Bard. I asked her how it feels to climb that mountain for the first time.

“Shakespeare is not as scary as I thought. For years, if asked, I would embarrassingly admit that I don’t really ‘get into’ Shakespeare. I have seen two productions over the years that stood out: an all-female Hamlet at UC Irvine in a black box with no props. The actors wore all black and it blew my mind on many levels. Most of all, it was so simple and pared down. I sympathized with Hamlet as a woman. It really worked!

Carla Nell

"The Merchant of Venice at the American Repertory Theatre was the other end of the spectrum. It was a huge budget with Broadway actors and it was BIG. But no one forced one moment. The actors had such a command of the language and the story, I was drawn in by the collaboration of all the elements. Other than those two, I often sit in a daze wondering why they talk so much.

"That said, I wanted to direct Shakespeare because I direct plays and he wrote plays.

"Shakespeare wants you to succeed. The universality of the work speaks for itself. I don’t know if he had a crystal ball, but somehow what he wrote transcends centuries and still resonates. The idea that you can take the material and create so many different worlds from it is a testament to his genius.

"Shakespeare doesn’t always make sense and wasn’t the authority on a well-written play until later in his career. I am still trying to justify Kate’s famous monologue, where she surrenders her will to her husband’s, in contrast to the journey she takes. I’m sorry, Shakespeare: could you have her say a few words about the man’s responsibility in a relationship? My cast and I struggled with this.

"In the end, I took the advice of a sage — a certain Mr. Smith — who asked me to share my experience and I quit trying to fix it. I’ve always known that casting is half the battle. Never does it apply more than when you take on Shakespeare. Cast actors who are willing to do the homework, willing to look up every word, willing to learn a new way of communicating on stage, and willing to risk failure until they find the moment of comprehension when they match with what the text demands. Cast amazing people.

"I wasn't the only one afraid of Shakespeare. I did months of research and preparation yet somehow questions still came up in rehearsals that I did not have the answers to. (Please refer back to casting.) Cast actors who don’t expect you to have all the answers and are willing to take some risks in the process to answer the questions together. They are scared, too.

"I will only ever regret the risks I don’t take. I took this challenge issued to me by my co-artistic director Kym Pappas, and I ran with it. Was it perfect? Of course not. Nothing is. In the end I am really proud of the work we created, and the collaborative efforts of my team paid off. I directed Shakespeare and I wasn’t publicly humiliated and I didn’t die! Do the thing you think you can’t do. You can.”

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