All posts by Brandon Vernon

Who’s Who: The Cast of She Stoops to Conquer



Mr. Hardcastle … Ron Heneghan*+

Mrs. Hardcastle, Tony Lumpkin and Mr. Hardcastle



Mrs. Hardcastle … Lesley Malin+


Tony Lumpkin  … Elliott Kashner+

Kate Hardcastle and Constance Neville



Kate Hardcastle … Anna DiGiovanni


Constance Neville … Elana Michelle+

Mr. Hardcastle, Hastings and Marlow



George Hastings … Gerrad Alex Taylor*+

Marlow … Brendan Edward Kennedy

Tony Lumpkin and Stingo

Sir Charles Marlow and Stingo, the landlord … Brendan Murray


Maggie, a maid and Molly, a barkeep … Abigail Funk


Tony Lumpkin and Drinking buddies

Jack Slang, a drinking buddy and Diggory, a servant … Gregory Atkin



Roger, a servant and Dick Muggins, a drinking buddy … Tim Neil


Fiddler and ensemble … Carol Spring


Musicians: Carol Spring (fiddle), Tim Neil (guitar), Brendan Murray (mandolin), Gregory Atkin (tambourine)

+ CSC Company Member
* Actors’ Equity Member
All show photos by C. Stanley Photography.
Constance Neville photo and Group Cast Photo by K. Rudgers.


Click here for tickets and details about our production of She Stoops to Conquer.

A Letter from Oliver Goldsmith

She Stoops to Conquer was originally rejected by both Covent Garden and Drury Lane theaters because it didn’t conform to the theatrical fashion (for sentimental comedy and melodrama) of the times. Covent Garden Theatre’s manager, George Coleman, was persuaded by Goldsmith’s creditable friend Samuel Johnson (the poet and playwright). Below is a copy of the thank you letter Goldsmith wrote to Samuel Johnson.


Click here for tickets and details about our production of She Stoops to Conquer.

Five Fun Facts about She Stoops to Conquer

Five Fun Facts about She Stoops to Conquer

1. INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS She Stoops To Conquer
may be based on playwright Oliver Goldsmith’s personal life experience. According to a letter written by his sister, on his way home from college, Goldsmith stumbled into a bar and demanded a man tell him directions to “the best inn in the neighborhood.” Unfortunately for Goldsmith, he was talking to the local trickster Cornelius Kelly, who directed him to Squire Featherstone’s country house. When Goldsmith arrived, he was just as insulting and demanding as the aristocratic character Marlow is in the play. Like Marlow, Goldsmith didn’t realize his mistake until he requested the bill and was embarrassed to discover that the host was a friend of his father’s. 

2. BEYOND RESTORATION COMEDY She Stoops to Conquer appeared in the late 18th century (1773) as a comedy of manners that mocks its predecessors. With this play, Goldsmith achieved a parody of the melancholy, moralistic, and sentimental plays produced in backlash to the previous decades’ sexually frank Restoration plays. Many scholars consider She Stoops to Conquer a gateway to a new era of popular comedy, influenced by a changing society:  Goldsmith challenges the accepted hierarchies of the time period by blending wit with “low” humor, but still submits to them at the end.  Women may speak freely, and engage in repartee and intrigue, but in the end they consent to marry and confirm patriarchal values.

3. DANGEROUSLY FUNNY  She Stoops to Conquer was originally rejected by London’s famous Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres because it didn’t conform to the theatrical fashion of the times for sentimental comedy and melodrama. Covent Garden Theatre’s manager, George Coleman, was persuaded by Goldsmith’s creditable friend Samuel Johnson (the poet and playwright) to stage the play, but Coleman demanded many revisions. Goldsmith later sent thanks to Johnson in a letter describing his anxiety about the script. Click here to read the letter.

4. TRY, TRY AGAIN The play was born out of financial necessity. Oliver Goldsmith was a very generous man who liked to have a good time. He was a lavish gambler and would give to others, beyond his financial means. His first play, The Good Natur’d Man, was only moderately successful. She Stoops to Conquer, his second attempt at play writing, was a critical and financial success, finally getting Goldsmith out of debt. Published in London in 1773, its first print run of 4,000 copies sold out in three days.

5. BACKSTAGE DRAMA The opening night of She Stoops to Conquer started as a train wreck. The leading ladies Mrs. Green (playing Mrs. Hardcastle) and Mrs. Bulkely (playing the daughter, Kate Hardcastle) got into a fight over who would perform the Epilogue (a feminized parody of Shakespeare’s famous Seven Ages of Man monologue from As You Like It). Meanwhile, Goldsmith decided seconds before the curtain speech to change the title of the play from the simplistic, laughable Mistakes of a Night to the more intriguing She Stoops to Conquer. Despite the drama behind the scenes, the comedy She Stoops to Conquer was a triumph when it opened March 15, 1773. Since that time, the play has been one of the most staged and printed English comedies; there have been more than 300 editions since the 1770s.

Sources:  British Library, Kate Moncrief (Dramaturg for our production); Diane Maybank’s essays,  An Introduction to She Stoops to Conquer,  and  An Introduction to Restoration Comedy.

Click here for tickets and details about our production of She Stoops to Conquer.

An Introduction to She Stoops to Conquer

Oliver Goldsmith published several critiques of audiences and playwrights before writing a laughing comedy that was the triumph of its season and that continues to be performed today. Diane Maybank introduces She Stoops to Conquer, which uses satire to explore divisions between city and countryside, men and women, and rich and poor. Source:  The British Library (June 2018)

By Diane Maybank

Did Oliver Goldsmith once mistake a gentleman’s house for an inn and use the experience to shape the comic mayhem at the heart of She Stoops to Conquer?

His biographers accept the story as told by his sister Catherine, even though she wrote it down some 40 years after the event. Catherine’s account has a rather gauche Goldsmith riding in style to his home in Lissoy, Co Westmeath, Ireland. He is tasting freedom at the end of a long school term and burning to spend the guinea in his pocket. He soon tires on the badly rutted roads and loses his way. On reaching the outskirts of Ardagh he unknowingly falls in with a local trickster, Cornelius Kelly, and demands to be directed to ‘the best inn in the neighbourhood’. Kelly takes great satisfaction in directing the high-handed youth to Squire Featherstone’s rambling country house. Goldsmith is a very demanding guest, every bit as officious and insulting as Marlow, who is one of the play’s main characters. When he calls for the bill next morning he is deeply embarrassed to discover his mistake. To make matters worse, Goldsmith realizes that his host is an old friend of his father, and word of his behaviour is bound to get back to his parents sooner than he will.

Staging She Stoops to Conquer

In early 1772, many years after the Ardagh incident, Goldsmith presented George Coleman, manager of Covent Garden Theatre, with a challenge – the script of She Stoops to Conquer. Coleman’s mission was to stage sentimental comedies, make a handsome profit and avoid offending critics and the Lord Chamberlain. All his professional instincts told him that this new play would fail. Its ‘low’ features and clever parody of sentimental comedy were completely out of touch with the latest trends. He returned the script and suggested ‘improvements’.

Goldsmith grew desperate; he had debts to pay off and was looking for a quick profit. There were only two official theatres in London at the time, leading to fierce competition and risk-averse production choices. Coleman was especially reluctant to stage a new play because Goldsmith would have to be paid out of the profits and might be entitled to a benefit night where he could scoop all the takings.

Although poor and something of an Irish outsider, Goldsmith could call upon the support of powerful friends from London’s literary elite. Samuel Johnson, among others, pressed Coleman to accept the script, and by March 4, 1773 the play was in rehearsal, with a date set for its premiere within two weeks.

Coleman had difficulty casting the play. Actors sensed the manager’s lack of faith and did not want to be associated with the ‘low’ Tony Lumpkin or Kate, the squire’s daughter who liked playing the barmaid. On the opening night the leading ladies squabbled over who should speak the Epilogue, and the indecisive Goldsmith took until just before curtain-up to change the play’s title from the simply farcical Mistakes of a Night to the more intriguing She Stoops to Conquer.

Despite the tussles behind the scenes, She Stoops to Conquer was a triumph when it opened on March 15th, quickly becoming the season’s favourite play. Critics heaped on praise, even though the audience hissed at the ‘vulgar manner’ in which Mrs. Hardcastle emerged from the horsepond. No matter – the witticisms sounded fresh, and the piled-on misunderstandings were deemed a gift for comic actors.

Coleman relented as profits grew, and the play became his ‘go to’ choice whenever he felt his company needed a boost or rival productions at Drury Lane were exciting too much interest. The king and queen attended on May 5th, and Goldsmith got not one but three benefit nights, for which he received the handsome sum of £502 18s 6d.

There was more to this moment of theatrical triumph than the emergence of a hit play. She Stoops to Conquer had broken the bonds of sentimental comedy and shown how superior laughing comedy could be. For Goldsmith, it was the crowning moment of an all too short career. His comic genius received the public recognition and rewards he craved, but he died a year later.

In the last quarter of the 18th century, some 12,000 Londoners attended a play or opera every week. This was a socially mixed and very demanding clientele with strong ideas about how they wanted to be entertained. Goldsmith had a low opinion of theatre audiences, a view which he expressed in a series of satirical letters written under the penname Lien Chi Altangi, a Chinese philosopher visiting London.

In Letter XXI Lien Chi complains that the upper gallery crowd was too noisy and given to interrupting the actors by calling for music or some other diversion. He portrays the middle gallery ‘eating oranges or making assignations’. He disliked the pit crowd most of all because they sat in judgement over ‘poet and the performers’. As for the aristocrats in the side boxes, they were not interested in the play at all, being engrossed in their fashionable clothes, fans and flirtations. This diverse and unruly audience would hiss, clap, cheer and shout insults, creating a din which left Lien Chi ‘quite dizzy’.

‘Low’ or laughing comedy

Writing ‘low’ or laughing comedy came naturally to Goldsmith, because it gave him free reign to express his contempt for the hypocrisy of polite society. In January 1773 he published “An Essay on the Theatre”; or, “A Comparison between Laughing and Sentimental Comedy”, in which he made the case for the superiority of laughing comedy.

Goldsmith argued that the proper target of satire should be human folly in characters from all social classes. Comedy should concentrate on exposing vice and gulling fools, rather than lamenting the plight of genteel folk in distress. If playwrights only allowed wholesome characters on stage, who uttered emotional platitudes, audiences would be weepy, unamused and none the wiser. Goldsmith used the Constance/Hastings subplot to expose all the clichés of sentimental comedy. At the same time, he provoked thoughts about personal liberty, women’s agency and parental responsibility that revitalized a tired storyline. There is laughter, but there are also bruised emotions, sad partings and anxiety for the audience to contend with.

Like his heroine Kate, Goldsmith was brave enough to stoop to expose hypocrisy. He took risks with ‘low’ features: Tony’s glee at his mother’s drenching in the horsepond, barmaid Kate’s flirtatious ways, Marlow’s frank disclosure of his sexual adventures. To these he added the gulling of gentlemen and an interest in scripting rural dialect. He presented the Three Pigeons alehouse as a world of vigorous, authentic experience, unshackled from the concerns with outward appearance, social class and inheritance that beset the manor house. Goldsmith’s most daring idea was to place Tony and Kate in lowly positions where they suffer abuse but find ways to achieve their personal goals. By giving Tony equal prominence with the lovers, he fostered an acting style that was more natural and forthright than Georgian etiquette would normally have tolerated.

The city versus the countryside

She Stoops to Conquer was written during a time when England was going through rapid, unstoppable social and economic change, fueled by the Industrial Revolution. Cities increased in importance, and the size and power of the middle classes grew. If you were a factory owner, merchant or banker you prospered; if you lived in the countryside you felt your traditional way of life was under threat. The play put its finger on the pulse of change by holding up a destabilizing mirror to all that was considered enduring in family, courtship, marriage, class and wealth. A lot of unease must have piqued the laughter at Covent Garden.

Explicitly political content in plays had been effectively banned since the Licensing Act of 1737, yet the theatre was still a place where new ideas and subversive opinions could be aired. When Hardcastle calls his home ‘Liberty Hall’ (2.1.178) and Marlow’s servant shouts out ‘liberty and Fleet Street forever! Though I’m but a servant, I’m as good as another man’ (4.1.135–36), it is possible that Goldsmith was evoking the rallying cry of radical politician John Wilkes, whose supporters would have been in the audience. Wilkes had been elected to Parliament but prevented by law from taking his seat in 1768–69. His followers circulated pamphlets calling for an end to corrupt government.

Meanwhile, within the squire’s house other kinds of liberties are being sought and taken amidst a general subversion of the status quo. Parents are disrespected, ancient property rights are challenged, wives and servants disobey their masters, sons and daughters make free with the class structure and family heirlooms are passed around like highwaymen’s booty.

The play presents the values of city life and the countryside as deeply at odds with each other. Hardcastle’s house is ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘rambling’ (1.1.22, 16), because he lacks the wealth to invest in it. Had he been more enterprising he could have opened his home as an upmarket inn and got a share of the fortunes being made in the liquor trade (2.1.230–34). Instead, he despises London’s modernizing trends and outward shows of gentility, preferring ‘everything that’s old’ (1.1.23). Mrs. Hardcastle has a huge appetite for London fashions, but her understanding is flawed, and her desires are ludicrous and superficial.

The pair preside over a manor house muddled by the fog of deception and misunderstanding, where attempts to be genteel give way to farce and burlesque. Hardcastle does not perceive that his house has been recast as a wayside inn by a pair of city blades on the make. He fails to take proper care of Tony and Constance, allowing them to be trapped by his wife’s snobbery and greed. Goldsmith was taking a considerable risk in making this dysfunctional family the butt of his humour. For the previous 100 years country squires had been counted upon as the backbone of England. They owned much of the land and wielded considerable local power.

Class and social mobility

New wealth made in manufacturing was making social mobility possible, however. She Stoops to Conquer welcomes that possibility in its very title and takes the bold step of making a woman its chief exponent. Kate relishes playing women from three classes in her quest for a husband. Her mobility may be temporary and risky, but its effects are liberating. Hardcastle and Tony, meanwhile, are more comfortable with servants and rustics than with their social equals.

When Marlow and Hastings first appear at the Three Pigeons (2.1.82) the stage falls silent as both sides of the class divide take in a powerful sense of difference. Their travelling attire indicates their social status but also their vulnerability; they are coach travelers who have wandered into a situation where they could be gulled by rustics. Their upper-class sense of entitlement at first asserts itself. They whine, they judge, they show contempt for everything; but the manor house slowly emasculates them. Marlow becomes everybody’s fool, and Hastings’s plans are continually thwarted. Meanwhile, the London audience is teased with talk of a countryside full of confusion and menace, with its gibbets (from which the bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display) and bloodcurdling place names (such as ‘Crackskull Common’, 1.2.142 and 5.2.70–71).

Georgian England was a place where strict rules of etiquette and dress defined your class identity. There was a growing feeling that too much attention paid to genteel behaviour risked trapping men in an overly feminized world where women, had the upper hand. For Marlow and Hastings, the masculine world of warfare has been replaced by the pursuit of women and fashionable clothing has become their battle garb (2.1.173–208). Hardcastle’s tales of military campaigns are simply an irrelevance to a city-bred generation who recoil at country fare, rough roads and makeshift beds.

Marlow and Kate: Gender and marriage

Audiences admired Goldsmith’s characterization of Marlow, finding in him a complexity that rang true. He is deeply conflicted by the dictates of the society he is born into, finding it hard to settle on his true nature. Gentlemen were expected to live a life bound by codes of class, manliness and honour. They were always on show and some clearly struggled with what was expected of them. For Marlow the marriage market holds only terror (2.1.118–32), yet he feels pressured to acquire a wife. The double standards he operates – deference towards ladies and lechery towards barmaids – were standard for the time, but change is in the air and the old certainties let him down badly. The advantages of class, gender and wealth should be enough to get Kate into bed, but she laughs at his efforts and, turns lust into love and finally, respect.

Kate persists with Marlow because she is a woman of complex desires. For young women such as Kate and Constance the best marriage was one that combined love with sound financial advantage. Both argue for some agency in the matter of courtship, something not always available to women in the late 18th century when, within the upper classes, arranged marriages were the norm. In their decisive and intelligent participation in the play’s love intrigues, Goldsmith makes their choices an inspiration for the increasing number of women in the audience.

She Stoops to Conquer continues to be performed to audience delight and critical acclaim because it is extremely funny and while deeply probing into the vagaries of our social nature.

Written by Diane Maybank

Diane Maybank BA. MA. taught English Language and Literature for over 35 years in schools and colleges in France, New Zealand and the UK. She now works as a freelance editor specializing in seventeenth and eighteenth-century drama. Her editions for the “Oxford Student Texts” series include Aphra Behn’s The Rover, William Congreve’s “The Way of the World”, George Farquhar’s “The Beaux Stratagem”, Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals”.

Source: British Library

Click here for original article, which include links to additional images.

Click here for info on CSC’s production of She Stoops to Conquer.

The Diary of Anne Frank: Compelling, Controversial, Essential

Pages of the original red checkered diary of Anne Frank                                                                                         © Anne Frank House / Photographer: Cris Toala Olivares

By Arthur Hirsch
for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Through the pages of her diary written in hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Anne Frank made a powerful first impression on Shelly Mintz. The mere existence of a book about a Jewish girl like herself was striking to Mintz, at a time when characters who shared her background were hard to find in literature, movies, and theater. Across decades and miles, a girl in Paramus, N.J., connected with a girl who experienced the Holocaust.

That was in the mid-1960s, as Anne Frank posthumously was emerging as a global pop culture phenomenon. After The Diary of a Young Girl first appeared in English translation in 1952 – eventually becoming one of the most widely read books ever published – there followed a Broadway play, a movie, a museum in Amsterdam, TV productions, an array of Anne Frank-inspired musical compositions, fiction, biography, poems, dance performances, a Broadway revival with a revised script starring Natalie Portman, and who knows how many other theatrical productions.

In Spring 2019, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will perform the revised script of the play, The Diary of Anne Frank. Mintz, who is president of B’Nai Israel Congregation in Baltimore, will be there. She has revisited the diary many times since her first encounter, and the more she has learned, the more compelling Anne Frank seems. The more time that passes since World War II and the Holocaust, the more urgent seems the need for people to hear Frank’s words.

“It’s an eternal story that never stops being relevant,” said Mintz. “These days it seems more relevant than ever. There’s been such a rise in xenophobia, there’s been a rise in anti-Semitism. There’s so much happening in the world that seems to be separating people and sorting them into groups.”

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company production will run from April 26 through May 26, 2019, ending just a few weeks before Anne Frank would have turned 90 years old. She died at age 15, in the late winter or early spring of 1945, at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. Her father Otto Frank was the sole Holocaust survivor among the eight people who hid in the rooms above his spice business between late spring 1942 and their arrest in August 1944. He arranged the publishing of her diary. He died at age 90 in 1980.

Visitors view copies of the book from around the world.                                                © Anne Frank House / Photographer: Cris Toala Olivares

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s Founder and Artistic Director Ian Gallanar said he chose The Diary of Anne Frank for a few reasons, one being the theatre company’s mission to stage at least one classic work each season that is not just for adults.

“I’m very interested in theatre that families can see together, multigenerational theatre,” Gallanar said.

He also said that the story of the Holocaust “is maybe the most important 20th century historical story to keep alive. I take it to heart when people say how important it is to keep this story alive so people don’t forget.”

Indeed, members of B’Nai Israel and some who have taught the Holocaust say The Diary of Anne Frank only gains significance with the passing of time. A generation of survivors, military servicemen who liberated the camps, and other witnesses is passing on.

“If we don’t expose people to this, we are risking greater and greater chances for it to happen again,” said Louise Geczy, Senior Project Coordinator at the John Carroll School, a Catholic high school in Bel Air, Md., where she organizes a Holocaust education program.

Those concerned about fading historical memory could point to the results of a survey released this spring by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The sample of 1,350 American adults recruited by telephone and online found that two-thirds of millennials and 41 percent of respondents overall could not correctly identify Auschwitz as either a concentration camp or an extermination camp.

The merits of The Diary of Anne Frank as a way to tell part of the story of the Holocaust, and as a work of dramatic literature, have been debated since it first appeared on Broadway in 1955. The play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett was a commercial and critical success at the time, winning a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

First print of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in Dutch, 1947 © Anne Frank House

Over the years, though, the original play has been much maligned. Critics have called it sentimental, its title character idealized from the complex person who emerges in the diary, its characters’ Jewish identity nearly removed. The play’s uplifting closing note of belief in humanity’s decency has been called unsuited to a story of people hiding from a genocidal campaign that slaughtered millions.

“One might wish that a happy ending could emerge from the Holocaust,” said Samuel Spinner, the Zelda and Myer Tandetnik Assistant Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture at Johns Hopkins University, who recently taught a course on the Holocaust in literature and film. Given the magnitude of the calamity, however, and the deeply disturbing revelations about the human spirit that emerge from this history, Spinner said there is the point of view that “telling a story with a happy ending is not telling a Holocaust story.”

Jeanette Parmigiani, who directs Holocaust programs for the Baltimore Jewish Council, said she’s aware of the many critiques of The Diary of Anne Frank, but she still thinks it’s an effective way to introduce the subject to young people who might not be ready to confront the most horrifying aspects of the Nazi extermination program that targeted Jews and other minorities. Historians estimate that between 4.5 million and 6 million Jews were murdered.

“The students can identify with this girl,” said Parmigiani, adding that the book and the play are usually taught in middle school. “It doesn’t get into the graphics.”

The version of the play Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will perform is given credit for improving on the original in several ways. In her 1997 adaptation of the Goodrich and Hackett play, playwright Wendy Kesselman put more stress on the fact that the characters are Jewish, including scenes in which they sing or pray in Hebrew. Kesselman also included a passage that does not appear in the original play, in which Anne Frank talks directly to the audience about her sexual curiosity about another girl.

The uplifting line from the diary that appears as the original play’s next to last line –“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”–appears in the adaptation, but not at the very end.

Instead, the new version ends with Otto Frank telling the audience what happened after the arrests, the deaths of the other seven people at several concentration camps, Anne Frank last seen by a friend at Bergen-Belsen “through the barbed wire, naked, her head shaved, covered with lice. ‘I don’t have anyone anymore,’ she weeps.”

The adaptation is one of several darker and more complex versions that have emerged after the diary was first published in Europe in 1947 under the direction of Otto Frank, who insisted that his daughter’s sexual thoughts and critical musings on other characters be edited out.

These complexities, said Mintz, makes Anne Frank, and the play, more interesting.

“Over the years she’s become less the icon and more real,” said Mintz. “Not just more Jewish, but more of a real girl.”

Museum presentation with photos of Anne Frank                                                                                                        © Anne Frank House / Photographer: Cris Toala Olivares

Arthur Hirsch is a writer, teacher, and editor based in Baltimore. He is an adjunct faculty member at Goucher College, and formerly worked as a writer for The Baltimore Sun and in media relations at Johns Hopkins University.  All images are © Anne Frank House, Netherlands, Photographs by Cris Toala Olivares, used by permission.

Click here for info about CSC’s production of the The Diary of Anne Frank.

Well-Tuned Shakespeare


A Little Conversation About Art
In this illuminating new series of lively conversations,
Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar exchanges ideas
with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s leading artists.

No. 2: “Well-Tuned Shakespeare” 

with Isabelle Anderson, Distinguished Artist-In-Residence

IAN: You are a U.S. citizen, but you were born in Australia and worked and trained as an artist in France, England and India. Do you find something unique about American artists?

ISABELLE: It’s the same thing that I find in the general culture in this country. Great energy. In my first visit to New York in 1990 I found the energy of possibility and striving was amazing. When I went back home to Australia, I missed it. So I came back! There is definitely a daring and a can-do energy here.

When I first encountered the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company many years ago, it was exactly their energy in performance that was so appealing and delightful. Still is! Sometimes though, as a teacher, I notice that the striving to get things right and do it the best (Reach for the moon, as it were) can get in the way of American student actors just having a deep experience, right now, or even of failing and learning. That’s where teaching clown work is helpful and a great technique for American actors. I taught a clown course for many years at Michael Howard Studios in New York, not to create  “clowns,”  but to give freedom and courage for creativity.

The actors here have great physicality. They seem to love improvisation and comedy. The comedy here is fantastic and powerful.  They are brave. I think actors were the original “start-up” kids. So many brave ventures into new theater groups reflect the innovative and individual style of American actors. I love and admire that. Then there’s the American actor’s love for Shakespeare. So much Shakespeare is done here. I was stunned, and delighted by that. 

IAN:  We’re so proud and grateful that you have lent your significant talent and outlook with us over the years. I remember meeting you that very first summer- when our work was accompanied by work lights and lots of folding tables. Now, we have this bright shiny theater and other toys, but, in many ways, we’ve held on to some values. What do you notice has changed with CSC? What has stayed the same? I mean, in terms of the art work?

Isabelle Anderson as Cleopatra, in Antony and Cleopatra (2013)

ISABELLE: The camaraderie of the CSC actors is still fantastic. Their willingness to do whatever is needed. Their humility and playfulness. Their genuine connection to and liking for their audience. They are a daring lot. They will pull a show through.  When I had to leave my production of rather intricate stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, two weeks before opening night, and fly to Australia for a family emergency, they all pulled it together and pulled it through. Amazing. And done very generously. They are what we in Australia call “Real Troupers.” 

In the gorgeous new theater, there is still the energy and celebration-spirit in performance, the welcoming openness. But I also see, hear and feel a deep desire to grow with the demands of a “home” theater, with its levels and acoustic requirements. It needs skills to fill beautifully and they are up for that. I am super-impressed by their desire to always grow and learn. They are simultaneously a laid-back, likeable, unpretentious bunch AND a driven, keen, growth-seeking group.

IAN: I’ve been thinking about painting and painters a lot lately. Painters seem to work so differently than actors and theatrical artists, but I’m curious about the similarities. I read recently that Jackson Pollock liked to work with a giant roll of canvas so that he wasn’t limited by “the rectangle.” He never wanted to see the edge of the canvas. Do we as theater artists have a rectangle?

ISABELLE: Yes and no! Ha. This is where my two voices, as teacher and director, answer!
Yes, there are the limits of discipline and technique. Actors have to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses and work hard on them, be it voice or body or nerves. Then, what those disciplined skills give possibility to… is infinite. The artistic soul of an actor needs skills to give pathways for it to flow outwards and create infinite possibilities. A solitary actor on a bare stage can evoke a space as far as the horizon, or a tiny airless cell, can summon up heaven or hell, all through what she or he does with body, breath, eyes and mind … and contagiously the audience feels it.

Only if we work our technique can we surpass our limits and fly. It’s the same with ballet, which is the other art I know well. So many hours at the barre doing rather unattractive things like plies and tendus… but then… you can let go and d-a-n-c-e, transporting an audience. It’s when people forget technique is just the vehicle, not the destination that things get boring or egotistical. Or, conversely when the desire for “freedom” dominates and a lack of technique means it’s just personal self-expression or therapy, not art.

I teach actors at the ACA, Academy for Classical Acting in Washington, D.C. and I always say on the first day. “You must become masters of time and space!” That’s beyond all rectangles! I’m in love with Matisse and Diebenkorn as artists. I read how many, many months and versions they would go through for what seems like a marvelously spontaneous slap and a dash of paint. Same thing.

IAN:  I think the rectangle is something to deal with/wrestle with so that someday you can, maybe, find small ways to expand beyond it. But I like producing Shakespeare because you wrestle with the rectangle every day. What is it that has led you to Shakespeare?

ISABELLE: Well. Yes. To continue the metaphor or image… Shakespeare’s plays give us the “rectangle” of form – so many components of form. There is the text. The specific words. The rhythm of the lines. Scansion. Juxtaposition of scenes. Rhetorical devices galore… and on and on. The first response is to find all that rather an obstacle course, a difficulty to be overcome or simplified, so we can “get it.” But my experience, thanks to masterful teachers like Cicely Berry and Bill Alexander, is to bow to the form and enter into every detail, like a treasure hunter looking for clues. Clues abound. One asks. “Hmm, why this word? Why that extra beat? Why a broken, shared line? ” It’s really very Sherlock Holmes stuff and totally, utterly riveting. Shakespeare tells you everything. I remember when Cicely Berry told me… if you find all the clues, you don’t really have to “act,” because the form holds the truth. Just bring it to life and the audience feels it.

I wonder sometimes if I love Shakespeare so much because of its complexity, the search for his intention, the search for the clues. It’s like the intricate choreography to a ballet. Every move is in there. Just find it and repeat it every night …and twice of Saturday’s. It stays alive and fresh. The form gives life to vast and varied experience.

And I am deeply drawn to the insights Shakespeare has into us humans. Comparing him to his contemporary playwrights I wonder at Shakespeare’s depth of humanity, understanding and poetry. How did he get to be so wise and insightful?

IAN: You have worked and studied with some of the great theatrical figures in the world, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, Jacques Lecoq, Cicely Berry and Bill Alexander. What, if anything, do they have in common?

ISABELLE: Interesting question. I suppose if you put them into a room together (What a great thought!) they would agree that theater is all about creating profound experience for the audience. Not just any experience, they all believe in the depth of experience possible. They would also agree that it is the actors who generate that experience. A painter can give a painting to a gallery and go on vacation while we all look at it and experience the painting’s art and profound beauty or impact. Actors have to do it all in real time, and twice on Saturdays. Move well, speak, be musical, sing occasionally, dance, be coordinated, convey emotions. Their instrument has to be incredibly tuned and above all… brave and open. Because it all happens NOW. In real time and space. Magic. The audience must feel something NOW.

All those teachers you mentioned, that I was so fortunate to have known and learned from, all believed there was massive experience possible for the audience. Not simply diverting, or novel, or spectacular experience, but transformative, life-changing experience. The creative force itself could be harnessed through the actor in the theater space. Whether through laughter, tears, thrill, awe or whatever the style of play, electricity between audience and actors could create a third, shared field where both would feel something powerful.

I think that gathering humans together and going on an agreed plunge into some pool of story is one of the few truly healthy, fabulous things we do in our society. I believe in theater as a muscle for strong societies. And it is beautiful, fun and engaging. I love it.

IAN: Thank you Isabelle!


PHOTOS:  Isabelle Anderson by Teresa Castracane. Isabelle Anderson as Cleopatra by Mindy Braden.