Questions from Will Pomerantz, Associate Artistic Director of Bay Street Theater.

WP: Could you talk a bit about what drew you to this play?

JD: I’ve always liked the play. I did a production of it over 25 years ago, and I’ve often thought I would like to revisit it. When Scott Schwartz and I started talking about finding something to do together for our two theatres, it seemed like a good fit. We were both interested in finding a Shakespeare, but it had to be one that an audience would enjoy seeing in the summer months.

However, it’s fair to say that I am also drawn to the play because of its sense of the melancholy as well as the fun. It’s a comedy of great human depth with a somewhat autumnal view of love. There’s a cost to love for all the characters involved, and the four parallel love stories are imbued with joy, tenderness and even a little sadness.

WP: Do you approach your work on a play by Shakespeare differently than other writers? If so, what are the differences? If not, what are the consistent aspects of your approach to text?

JD: I find myself approaching the rehearsal room in the same way, regardless of the writer – with total fear! The older I get, the more seriously I take my responsibilities as a story-teller. In some of my younger “ages”, it seemed easier.

It’s my job to honor the playwright, to encourage bravery in the actor, and to find a way to present any project as if it were being told for the first time. Honoring this writer is easy – there is nobody finer. Building courage in the actor with this writer is vital – the language is beautiful and complex, but we don’t speak like that anymore! Approaching it afresh is challenging – there will always be somebody who will tell you how it “should” be done. One can only cherish the words, remember that the playwright was a man of the theatre not a scholar, and have fun!

WP: Why do you think this play has more songs than any other play by Shakespeare, and do you have any general thoughts regarding how music will function in your production?

JD: The songs add to the pastoral effect of the play. I’ve aimed to integrate music even more into the production than may sometimes be the case. I asked Stephen Schwartz if he could write some jazz-influenced songs to Shakespeare’s words. This he has done beautifully, and I have used the musical themes to build up a world for the Forest of Arden.

WP: How are you approaching the challenge of creating the very different worlds of court and the forest of Arden?

JD: Well, in many of the usual ways. The clothes people wear, how it looks, how it sounds. Though I haven’t necessarily done any of these in orthodox, or traditional ways. Also, I want the play to sound like it is being spoken by Americans – after all, it is!

My natural story-telling techniques lean toward the sparse and simple. I am more interested in an Arden that is psychological rather than leafy trees and romantic bowers. A place where music is part of the spirit, where contemplation and melancholy are valuable, and where the magical can happen.

WP: Can you talk about your approach to casting the show and how that connects to themes within the play?

JD: My first approach to casting is “who do I want to play with?” I have no interest in “type” and am much more interested in representing the humanity of our times on stage. Of course the way this is cast is very different to what Shakespeare would have expected. I wanted to do the play with ten performers. I wanted some of them to play live music. I wanted a range of ages, as I don’t believe love only belongs to the young. I wanted to more deeply explore the notion of women in what was a man’s world. I believe theater making should encourage a full suspension of disbelief. Theater can help us to see beyond the stereotype and can also ask us – to imagine!

Reprinted courtesy of Bay Street Theater.