Michael Sexton, artistic director of The Shakespeare Society, originally proposed working on Richard III. Personally, I love the character of Richard of Gloucester. Although Richard is one of the most famous disabled characters in all of Western literature, he is just one character. In my new role as artistic director of The Apothetae, I was looking for a play that could support the casting of several actors with physical disabilities. The Fairy world of Midsummer, consisting primarily of Oberon, Titania, Puck and the First Fairy interested me the most. These are characters which are “other” or non-human whom possessed magical, fantastical powers. Casting these actors as people who might move differently with non-normative bodies within an ensemble of able-bodied Athenians was intriguing to me. I suggested, and we settled on, Midsummer.
For several days last September, we were fortunate enough to have the time and space to explore A Midsummer Night's Dream with an incredible group of talented actors and artistic advisers including: acclaimed vocal coach, Krisitn Linklater, actor, Jay O. Sanders and professor, Richard McCoy. The residency culminated in a sold out presentation at The Public Theater.
During the residency we had lengthy, in-depth discussions about the three distinct worlds (Athenians, Fairies, Rude Mechanicals), and the themes of war, chaos and otherness in the play. This August, The Apothetae will be presenting the next phase of this process; “Spirits of Another Sort,” a developmental workshop featuring selections from Midsummer, with an integrated cast of able-bodied, physically disabled and intellectually disabled actors.
The decision to cast the Rude Mechanicals as actors with intellectual disabilities came up during discussions about the residency. Sara Buffamanti, my longtime partner, collaborator and sounding board for all things Theatre was the first to actually suggest it. We are very excited about the integration of this diverse ensemble into this next phase of the project.
The Apothetae, is collaborating with Performance Lab 115, an actor-driven experimental theater company dedicated to creating works that explore the depth and fragility of human connection and independent producer, Becky Leifman, who is Executive Director of CO/LAB, a New York City based non-profit organization that exists to offer individuals with developmental disabilities a creative and social outlet through theater arts.
Each collaborator has been responsible for casting the three distinct worlds. The Apothetae would provide the Fairies, PL 115, the Athenians and Ms. Leifman, along with assistance from David Harrell and Christine Bruno at the Alliance for the Inclusion in the Arts helped us secure our Rude Mechanicals.
This is the first of many posts over the next month or so that I hope will serve to make our process visible to the general public and the larger Theatre community. Working with three different producing entities and three distinct populations is very exciting and bears challenges that require flexibility and adaptations that may not exist in a more traditional rehearsal process.
For the next three weeks, we are working with the Rude Mechanicals using an exploratory curriculum created by Ms. Buffamanti and Ms Leifman. Our objective is to give these actors with intellectual disabilities exposure to techniques and practices that will prepare them to enter into and thrive in a rigorous, professional rehearsal atmosphere with all the demands of working on Shakespearian text.
Our next post will detail our search for a director, the rude mechanical auditions and the nature and insights into these initial rehearsals. Stay tuned!
Gregg Mozgala, Artistic Director