Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with CHRISTOPHER MARINO
Christopher Marino is a lover of everything Shakespeare. He has taught at numerous universities and theatres in the US and England, including: The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington DC (where he taught Master Acting classes); Utah Shakespearean Festival; Baltimore Shakespeare Festival; Stella Adler, New York City; George Washington University; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Illinois State University. For the past six years he has been a guest lecturer at Rose Bruford Drama School in the UK teaching classical acting technique. As an actor he has a career that spans 20 years working regionally and at Shakespeare Festivals. Christopher also is a founding member of the Helen Hayes Award-winning Taffety Punk Theatre Company in Washington, DC. He is the former Artistic Director of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and the current Assistant Artistic Director at Piccolo Theatre. Christopher is a Certified Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework. He holds two graduate degrees from Shakespeare Theatre DC/GWU and Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, London. Visit his website at: http://union93.wix.com/coreshakespeare
Hi Chris! We would have loved to have met in person, but the stars didn’t align; however, we hope to in the near future! We are so excited to know more about your intriguing project Measure for Measure. We also are thrilled to help promote it as it has such an incredibly important message.
First and foremost, thank you so much for granting us this interview! We know you’ve been so busy with your project.
PT: If you don’t mind, please tell us about your background and when you became interested in the arts. Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to pursue it as a career?
CM: I don’t know if there’s a defining moment, but I’ve always been interested in theatre ever since I was little kid. From a very early age I was a little obsessed with creating spaces in my house that transported me and sparked my imagination. I remember adjusting lighting to create my world and delineating space and all sorts of other things. I was also slightly obsessed with the immersive quality of Disney World, and I think somehow that sneaked into my subconscious. When I go to the theatre I want to be transported and to see something that I can’t see in my everyday life. To me, great theater is like a magic trick, you might know how it’s done but you’re still transported and mystified.
PT: That’s really a beautiful way of looking at things! Obviously you were quite a precocious child!
CM: [As for] my background, I was always in some form of theatre from very early age, and when I went to Bard College I majored in theatre. I looked up to many of the actors from the UK theatrical tradition, so I went to drama school in England and have the same training as many of the actors that we see in films today. I have been directing Shakespeare for nearly twenty years and acting in it even longer than that. I also teach Shakespeare and the approaches to working with verse.
CM: A number of shows and experiences come to mind. I think the work that I was able to accomplish with the company that I created for the Baltimore Shakespeare festival was quite excellent. We had residencies in inner city schools in Baltimore taking Shakespeare to students who have, in some cases, never been to live theatre. In thirteen weeks they were in their own fully-produced productions of Shakespeare. We also did a really lovely production of Twelfth Night, and a lot of us still talk about the production even nearly twenty years on.
I’m proud of being a founding member of Taffety Punk Theatre Company in Washington, DC and that it continues to thrive. As recently I directed the The Duchess of Malfi in Chicago, and I think the production was really excellent as well. It had some of the best performances of the roles in the play that I have seen. The pride comes in when a number of collaborators are in the same room and we are able to create something unique and visceral.
PT: Those are some really wonderful accomplishments. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for this very unique presentation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure?
CM: I’ve always used Measure for Measure as an example of a play that has themes from four hundred years ago that are very pertinent to what’s going on in the climate of today. Hypocrisy from those that would enforce their morality on us is prevalent. I don’t have to do much to find current examples of political and religious figures who have been guilty of the things they charge of other people with. So I knew, this play was ripe territory for indicting unfair laws and practices. Recent examples of this course are Dennis Hastert, Ted Haggard, and the Stanford rape case.
And in actuality, when HB2 was passed, I was looking for a response which made sense. When everyone in the theatre was boycotting our state (and while I agree with the protest, just not the methodology) I thought that the music industry was great in that they were still playing shows here but donating profits to the LGBT groups. To me, that seems more in the spirit of the response that I’m attracted to. I wanted to engage in an artistic protest of the horrible HB2 law – since theatre is my art and Shakespeare is my specialty, it seemed to make the most sense to fight it with Measure for Measure.
PT: (Stephanie) There is such psychology behind that. Freud would have looked at it as the defense mechanisms of reaction formation (excessive, exaggerated behavior to cover true feelings) and projection (attributing one’s own unacceptable feelings and behaviors to others)! But I won’t dwell…
Tell us, what was it like pulling it all together?
CM: It was a bit daunting, but I knew it needed to be done and timing is everything with these types of issues. It took about six weeks to get everything together, that meant fundraising, finding the space, casting, cutting, and adapting the text, etc…We have really only been actively in rehearsals for three weeks. Fletcher McTaggart joined us two weeks ago, Fred Grandy joined us three days ago. So it has been very fast and furious.
CM: While the play is an indictment of a very serious issue it is still technically a comedy. I hope people recognize some of the archetypes in our version and understand what type of thinking we are attacking. While the LGBT characters are the victims in this play, they are also a part of the comedic structure. The night we opened, a number of people were crying at the end. I think this production has a good heart, and that’s what we really need right now is empathy. It’s an immersive experience with the audience walking into an LGBT club, and we see the club get shutdown. We see a clear abuse of power, and we [also] see an issue that most women face; a sense of powerlessness when they are the victims of sexual advances or attacks. It’s interesting how intermingled misogyny and attacks on people who are different are. They frequently come from the same types of people. The character that I play “Angelo” is very much that type of guy.
PT: Wow, just wow. We are SO sorry we can’t get out there to see it. We are so passionate about tolerance, inclusion, and acceptance of all people. And we really see why it is so very important to have this particular message – your message through Measure for Measure spread far and wide today.
CM: It came down to figuring out how this play could exist in a parallel to its original Elizabethan/Jacobean setting. Most of the changes I made have historical precedent. When the play was written there was a proclamation that was put out to tear down establishments that were built quickly and illegally. The law in the original is attacking sex out of wedlock – the law in our version is attacking the LGBT community specifically. I added a proclamation that dates back to the Tudor period outlawing homosexuality and equating it with bestiality. When I thought about the “world” of the play now, it made sense to steer it to shutting down LGBT clubs. Rather than saying this is a play that happens in our North Carolina of 2016, I decided to set it in a world where the next step beyond HB2 might exist. Today it’s denying the LGBT community rights, tomorrow it will be arresting them and closing down their clubs.
PT: Brilliant yet heartbreaking on so very many levels. Is it especially difficult to be performing it in North Carolina? And how far reaching do you hope your message to be?
CM: It is yet to be seen if it will be difficult performing in North Carolina, I have not received any resistance to my face. I’d be surprised if we don’t encounter something. With the recent events Orlando, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was concerned.
PT: We are concerned, too.
CM: It has given me a window into some of the issues that LGBT folks deal with every day. I’m from the North and for almost 25 years I’ve lived in pretty liberal places. The reality that one of our actors who is transgender has to face every day is truly shocking. Downtown we have to walk her to her car. On a good night she only gets comments from men on the street, on a bad night [she receives] threats to her physical safety. This is her everyday reality. I do hope the message of activism combined with art will move beyond just this production. It was one of the reasons why I produced the show, I felt like the national response from the theatre community was tepid at best. As Henry Rollins said in his article about HB2, we have to bring the fire, this is my attempt in my own way.
PT: We’ve had issues right here in our hometown (in CT) following HB2 and it’s beyond disheartening. But we’ve also seen very positive messages in the local theatre community as well as nationally at the Tonys with the incredible outpouring of support, especially after the horrific Orlando incident. Can you tell us more about the impact of Orlando has had on you and your troupe?
CM: The only cause of concern I’ve had is with the security. Sadly, I just had a nightmare about it a few nights ago. I kept dreaming about security protocols and how to secure our stairwell. I shouldn’t have to think about this in 2016. It saddens me greatly, but proves to me that the show was the right thing to do. There are some unintentional echoes of the events in Orlando that were in the show weeks before this horrible event happened. We have a club raid in our show, the lights turn off there are flashlights, people yelling, and smoke. The character I play, “Angelo,” uses a quote from the Bible to justify his attack of the LGBT community. A senator from Texas just the other day tweeted a Bible quote talking about “reaping what you sow” within hours of the Orlando attack.
PT: Chilling.We found out about you and your Measure for Measure through an interview we did with Fred Grandy about another project he was doing here in CT. Can you tell us about Fred and the rest of the cast?
CM: I was ecstatic that Fred agreed to be part of the show – I knew Fred was in Charlotte which is about three hours away from us. Fred had attended the same master’s degree program all of my out-of-town actors attended with the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC. He was right for the role in many ways but specifically because of his experience in the political system. He helped me tremendously with the realities of political world in regard to this issue. We also cast Fletcher McTaggart who is in from New York City – he was on Broadway in Leap of Faith. Esther Williamson is a company member with Taffety Punk. Ashley Strand is an actor and stand-up comedian currently living in Florida. We have a number of people from the local LGBT community in the show – there is a lot of gender-swapping of roles, including Josie Sanchez, a trans-identified performer who is playing Mistress Overdone, a drag queen. Hannah Elizabeth Smith is playing Lucio as a woman who identifies as male. What’s exciting about it is that audiences get to see characters very much in the mode of how companies [in general] are experimenting with Shakespeare today. Mark Rylance was just on Broadway with an all-male version of Twelfth Night and Richard the Third, and an all-female production of Henry the Fourth came to the United States from the Donmar Warehouse in the UK. Many companies are following suit producing all-female shows. In our production you get a bit of both.PT: What a great group! So ultimately, what do you hope to achieve with this production?
CM: I hope to achieve awareness, increased conversation, and to be very honest about it, change in the North Carolina government. These same people are attacking our schools, have killed the film industry here, and have made North Carolina – which was once the hope for southern progressive thinking – a national disgrace.
I’ve also never changed Shakespeare this much – most of my productions honor the text but I’ve taken some big risks in restructuring the ending. I won’t give anything away, but it’s very different from the original.
PT: We hope you do! What has the reaction been thus far? Have there been any surprises?
CM: The only reaction we have encountered has been positive. It’s still early days in the run, so we’ll see if there are any surprises.
PT: Fabulous – we hope only the best for you and the production!
Can you tell us more about the venue?
CM: I wanted to set the tavern scenes in an LGBT club. I was hunting for venues and luckily Sputnik is empty at the moment. I think immersive theatre lends something in the sense that it makes it a place where you can go and be completely transported from the moment you walk into a space. Playing up close is much more akin to the venues that Shakespeare wrote for. Modern theatres lend themselves to more passivity in viewing. Shakespeare is anything but passive – it needs a space that is alive as the text is. When I go to a theatre I want to be surprised and I don’t want to see something I can see every day. Immersive experiences offer that.
PT: What else is on your future agenda both with regard to the project as well as other projects or career moves?
CM: I think it would be great to continue to mount this production in other cities in North Carolina. I think it would also be an interesting show to see in other parts of the country because we’ve been very careful to create parallels between the characters and people who are very familiar to North Carolinians. I want to continue my work with Shakespeare and other writers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. And I would like to have a professional theatre here in Wilmington North Carolina, I think they need it and can support it. I would also like to increase my international reputation for my work with Shakespeare. I’ve never been terribly good at getting my name out there. I would love to remount The Duchess of Malfi with a decent budget. I find that I always have to compromise on the ambitiousness of my vision for most projects. If I had adequate funds, I could do some really interesting stuff.
PT: Those really are some fabulously impressive plans! We’d love to see all of that come to fruition (and any help we can offer, we’d be happy to promote your work)!
So, it has become something of a signature question – we always ask this as the end, but we’ve modified it somewhat to fit this particular interview. If you could sum up your experience with regard to this project in one word, what would it be?
PT: We can totally see that. This project is so affecting and we are thrilled to help spread the word! Thank you so much for speaking with us and we wish you the very best of luck and hope to have the opportunity to speak with you again about it very soon!