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Tarell Alvin McCraney

He’s been called ‘the greatest new writer in American Theater at the height of his powers’. Tarell tells The American about his new staging of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra


grew up in Miami, and did a lot of theater from a very young age. When I was about thirteen I joined a charity group called The Village Improv in a rehabilitation center, they wanted to teach theater to kids whose parents were in AA programs, so those kids could go out and give other students a preventative drugs message every day after school. The remit to do that was exciting but daunting. We weren’t allowed to do shows in regular schools, or with students who came from ‘normal’ homes. We had to go talk to kids like us, who had parents who’d been touched by addiction, whose homes had been destroyed by addiction and kids who were already in addiction or rehab programs themselves. That was formidable training. I was learning theater in high school as well, Chekov, Shakespeare and Stanislavski, but here I was learning a much more guerilla-style of theater, something much more immediate, and it had to be accessible, a different type of theater because I had to do something on stage to compel these people to listen to me for a while. Most of that came from writings that we the students had created ourselves. That was the early days of creating pieces for the stage, both in school and in the program, learning from Chekov and so on, but also applying

34 November 2013

other ideas of ‘empty space’ techniques in front of captive audiences. You had to be pertinent to that audience or you’d lost them. Sadly I don’t think that The Village Improv is still going, as funding for things like that tend to get cut first. I was here for three years when I was Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, both in Stratford and in London, depending on where the company was at the time, what play we were working on and who’s rehearsal I was shadowing, or if I was in my own rehearsal. The highs of it were being around people reading and performing Shakespeare, and the many different projects that came out of it. In The Studio, artists who are working on Richard II, or King John might want to do a reworking of Romeo and Juliet. Watching those projects form was really interesting. And watching how people work, being a part of the advisory groups, and listening to the planning and programming meetings, was a sort of postgraduate education in how a large theater company works. I loved living in Britain, if I had a permanent job, I’d stay! I like the pace, it suits me better than some of the other larger cities I’ve lived in. I like the fact that trains go everywhere, although they break down sometimes! But all trains break down everywhere, here at least they

come! In New York you can wait on a platform for years. There’s enough of the inner city in London, but you can live in Zone 3 and feel that you’re part of things. I also love that London is so diverse, I can count how many languages I can hear on the train, people from everywhere. Sometimes I think I’m the only one in the carriage that only speaks one language. I missed 24-hour service when I was here, sometimes I’d get up at 3am in the morning and want a Starbucks and not be able to find one. I know that’s my American consumerism peeping through, and I would feel really ashamed of it but it’s true. I’d want to go eat dinner at midnight during the week, and that’s impossible. I don’t think it needs to change though, I think I just need to chill out and know that there are times to do things and times when you can’t. At the RSC I became immersed in how Shakespeare is a writer for the current day, even in his 400 year old language. The issues and the conversations are extraordinarily current and cosmopolitan, so relevant, so poignant. I try to ensure that when I’m working on Shakespeare I allow those issues to resound and play across the threshold. When approached to do Antony and Cleopatra, I wanted to talk about a relationship that was between two people of different

The American Issue 727 November 2013  

The American has been published for Americans in Britain since 1976. It's also for Brits who like American culture.

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