All in the family
OUT LOUD production of ‘King Lear’ is a family affair for director, lead actor.
“King Lear” is a tale about a father and his daughters. So what does that mean for a production directed by a daughter who cast her father in the title role?
It’s interesting, but unlike the play, the real-life aspect is not tragic. In fact, it seems only to reinforce the mutual admiration that exists between daughter and dad.
The play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous: the story of the Lear’s descent into madness after he divides his kingdom between his daughters, rewarding the two who flatter him the most and ignoring the one who loves him but speaks more truthfully. It ends tragically for all.
Not so for director Kira Hawkridge, founding artistic director of OUT LOUD Theatre, and her father, Alan F. Hawkridge, the actor playing King Lear. They couldn’t be more enthusiastic about their collaboration.
This isn’t the first time these Pawtucket residents have worked together. He’s directed her, she’s directed him, they’ve acted together. He was her teacher when she was an undergraduate theater major at the University of Rhode Island, where he is a lecturer and production manager.
Kira also has directed her mother, actor-director Patricia Hawkridge, who played Creon in Kira’s “gender fluid” production of “Antigone” a while back. Patricia currently is directing at Rhode Island College and teaching at Providence College and the Atlantis Charter School, Fall River.
Long story short, directing each other is nothing new for the family. What definitely is new, however, is Kira’s take on Shakespeare’s classic.
Her approach is rooted in OUT LOUD’s philosophy of movement-driven storytelling, and she always begins rehearsals with a practice she calls “movement improv.”
“During the first few weeks (of preparation), there’s no talking, just movement,” Alan explains. “It’s about finding the character before the lines.” The process is akin to performance art.
Kira is always thinking about “bodies in space,” be they actors on stage or, in the case of this production, the audience.
“As Lear loses his temper, things start to spin out of control,” Alan says. So does the audience, Kira adds. The audience is seated on moving banks, and the space is always reconfiguring around them.
If there’s confusion, that’s part of the plan as Kira tells the story from Lear’s perspective, so that “You feel the highs and lows of his character,” she explains.
Her metaphor for the workings of Lear’s deranged mind is a circus carnival – a carnival that devolves into a freak show.
“This is not your typical production of ‘King Lear,’” Kira acknowledges, but stands behind an inventive approach. “It’s important to explore the boundaries of the classics, to take pieces and put them under a microscope to experience something new.”
“Shakespeare is the most popular playwright in the world,” Alan interjects. “There is a production somewhere all the time. Do all of these have to be pure?” Productions at London’s Globe Theater are performed as they might have been in Shakespeare’s time, “and I love all that,” he says. “But we also can use Shakespeare as inspiration.”
That said, Kira leaves Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English dialogue intact, a choice that preserves a connection with the original play as well as her love of the language.
As for getting along, Alan says simply, “We respect one another’s work.
“That’s not to say there aren’t tense times,” he claims, and paraphrases actor-director-producer Mike Nichols’ words that as the director, he’s an adult; as an actor, he’s the child – an allusion to his and Kira’s positions on “King Lear.”
Kira, however, dismisses the claim, describing her father as “trusting of the process” and “always willing to jump in.”
Alan presses on, saying that despite his training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (he’s British born) and a roughly 40-year career in the theater, including as artistic director at the former NewGate Theatre, for a time he experienced stage fright.
“I was directing all that time. It was my wife and daughter who encouraged me to come back. I’ve learned profound lessons working with my daughter.”
OUT LOUD Theatre’s production of “King Lear” runs Nov. 10-Dec. 3, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8, at the Mathewson Street Theater, 134 Mathewson St., in downtown Providence. Tickets are $20 general admission. A pay-what-you-can performance is offered on Monday, Nov. 20. Theater goers also are invited to attend a free workshop/talk back presentations on Nov. 17, 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. For information, send email to boxofficeoutloudthe[email protected]
Alan F. Hawkridge as King Lear