As the curtain rises on King John
by Rubicon Theatre Company on Friday, July 15, 2011 at 8:34am
The Life & Death of King John
An Interview with Director and award-winning actor Joseph Fuqua
Murder, betrayal, war, political intrigue -- not the summer blockbuster, no - it’s the continuation of Rubicon’s Summer Outreach Acting Intensive, as King John comes to the main stage under the direction of RTC alum Joseph Fuqua. Perhaps Shakespeare’s least produced play, King John bows Friday night in what could well be its Ventura County premiere.
Director Joseph Fuqua shared some thoughts about the production before a late rehearsal this week:
RTC: You’re sinking your teeth into pretty ambitious material again this summer, ambitious not only for small theatre, but as a youth production.
JF: Shakespeare is a hard sell for many audiences, so making it accessible is very important - at graduate school at Yale it was important that we learned to adapt Shakespeare - we loved doing it pure, but a lot of times it was necessary to cut it, making it, as they say, “too short to suck;” cut out the fat, keep the lean, and honor the beautiful verse while making it audience friendly is what it’s about.
RTC: Too short to suck, huh? That’s catchy.
JF: Most of the plays, without cuts, are between two and three hours. So I come to it as an adaptation, preserving the iambic pentameter, combining some characters, beefing up some. We only have thirteen kids, where in the full cast there are twenty-five parts. As we adapt, we make the story a bit denser.
RTC: I understand you’re getting creative with period and costuming...
JF: For years people have been doing Julius Caesar in a banana-republic style, with Castro and his cigar - other people say “oh no, I prefer my Caesar with togas.” Well, in Shakespeare’s day - he did Julius Caesar in Elizabethan garb, so for them it was present day. All of his plays, even if in imagination it required togas, he did it in modern dress, and it was completely acceptable. So now we’re doing modern dress for this - it’s a little bit more iconic royal, but they’re not in long velvet robes, they’re in modern dress.
RTC: I covered a play a few years ago, with ordinary Gold Coast actors in ancient samurai garb - and they looked ridiculous. In some ways it felt like it bankrupted what could have been a splendid play. I thought, how cool would it have been to take a bit of creative license...
JF: Absolutely. What they did with La Boheme, the wonderful production by Baz Luhrmann, that took it and made it in 1950’s Paris, with leather jackets and fur coats. That wonderful post-war ebullience. It worked great; starving artists in every century. What I don’t like is the “school of cool,” where decisions are made simply because they seem cool, but can’t really be supported.
So we’re making some little changes, and calling it an adaptation. We’re presenting Shakespeare’s King John, and it’s adapted by me. It’s all about the story, and the story makes sense. I was drawn to this, though some people said, "oh wow, big story, big history, blah de blah" --- there was some concern about “will the audience like it, it’s not a famous one." But you know? The same number of people came to Macbeth as came to A Midsummer Night’s Dream; not a huge audience but good support, so I thought, "I don’t know that the famous plays are going to fill the house anyway. And this play has some great roles for women; not just two, but four great roles for women."
In a nutshell, it’s a soap opera; it turns into a mess -- it’s a story of dysfunctional royals, a story Americans are familiar with. So that’s where I was coming from, why not?
RTC: Last year it was bloody Macbeth, before that Bard On a Wire (Shakespeare Without a Net), before that, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Quite a repertoire you’re building with the Bard...
JF: This is part of the acting intensive and Brian (McDonald, Rubicon's Director of Education) wanted to do something that incorporated some pretty intensive training for four weeks, culminating in a performance. Since I had some chops with Shakespeare, it made sense to bring them together.
RTC: You have part of your Macbeth troupe back, yes?
JF: Many of these kids have been with me since the beginning -- this is our fourth year together with Shakespeare.
RTC: It’s a heady challenge, adapting one of the greatest writers ever.
JF: We’re making sure to really honor the text. The images are so important, because if they’re done right, even if the audience doesn’t know exactly what you’re saying, Shakespeare was such a genius, the image goes “bang” in your heart. You know what it means, even if you don’t follow all the words. For example: “Grief fills up the room of my absent child.” Right? You don’t need to say “My son has been kidnapped, and I’m sad.”
The poetry of the language is all-important, and it’s something (Rubicon founders) Karyl Lynn (Burns) and Jim (O'Neil) have committed to; they love Shakespeare, they think it’s important, so it’s work that we’re going to do. We have a following, and if there are people who are unsure, we hope they’ll come and maybe their minds will be changed about it. Being intimidated by it - I know I was, when I was younger I was intimidated by it; when you get familiar with it, and you get down to the story, there’s nothing like it.
RTC: What a great opportunity for young actors.
JF: With our Summer Outreach we’re giving kids a shot at musicals, straight drama, some Shakespeare -- did you see The Jungle Book Kids? It was wonderful. What Rubicon is offering to local youth is really important, and I know it’s part of Karyl Lynn and Jim’s mission with Rubicon.
My belief with theatre, the threatre arts, whether in high school, or a summer program; even if a kid doesn’t want to go on to a career in performing arts, to become an actor, drama and the art of acting, with voice, with diction, with appreciation of language, can give a kid a chance to explore their voice, their courage, even if nothing else, if they’re able to, for the rest of their lives, to be able to give a speech, or to sit still and have a strong voice in a job interview - to be able to stand and deliver, and speak from their heart, then that’s what it’s about too.
It’s also teaching them a sense of community; the develop into a troupe, a family; they make friendships, they bond; there really is something that a kid who might feel like an outsider can join and belong. I’m trying to instill in them the sense that acting is not necessarily about fame and fortune; it’s like painting, and if you love it you can do it for the rest of your life.
King John Sponsors:
Sponsored by The Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Charitable Foundation • Co-Sponsored by Loretta and Mike Merewether • Kiwanis Club of Ventura • Smith-Hobson Foundation • Sheeler Moving and Storage • Santa Barbara Bank & Trust
Akira Dann, Devin Dornbos, Dillon Francis, Franklin Hansen, Dara Holder, Dylan Horwitz, Rebecca Lawson, Tyler McLean, William Peterson, Jennifer Ridgway, Katherine Rollins, Joe Sartee and Toby Tropper.
* July 15 at 8pm
*July 16 at 8pm
*July 17 at 2pm
Save money and guarantee your seats by purchasing in advance.
Adults: $15 ($20 at door)
Kids 12 & under: $10 ($15 at door)
Tickets available online or through the Rubicon box office at (805) 667-2900