The Classic Theatre’s production of As You Like It starts next week at the Botanical Gardens. Director Nick Lawson talked to us about his intriguing and unorthodox method of bringing Shakespeare to the stage in an efficient manner.
ArtScene SA: Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience.
Nick Lawson: At the Classic Theatre, I’ve done lots of shows there as an actor. I’ve been doing shows there since Merchant of Venice. That’s seven years ago now? It’s amazing how time flies. My wife and I moved to Texas in 2012. We both teach at Texas State. My background is mostly classical theater. I’m from California. I went to Chapman as an undergrad. I went to grad school at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. I was in New York for a few years. I met my wife at a show. She’s was the draw to Texas State. She’s the head of Musical Theater Dance there. She landed her dream gig out of grad school, and I just followed her here.
Sounds like John Stillwaggon and his wife.
Yeah, he and Carolyn [Dellinger] are going to come back in the spring. They’re good people. We were on Merchant of Venice, and I’ve been trying to do another show with him. I’ve been in a couple of shows with Carolyn. I was supposed to be in MacB, but because of the pandemic… I have two small children so we really had to lock it down. Especially last fall. We were in a really tight bubble. I did the fight choreography, though.
About this production of As You Like It. What adaptation is it?
It’s an adaptation of my own. Through my years, I’ve done very low-budget, very small cast, very short versions of Shakespeare shows. I managed to get it down under two hours. There’s an eight-person cast and we’re playing over 20 roles. It moves fast. I usually start with a folio and start carving it down. Unfortunately, it means cutting out some beautiful passages, but it’s one of those things you have to do. It’s the modern sensibility. The idea of getting things down to an hour and a half or two hours is primo.
It’s something I started at Texas State. I have a lot of experience with it, and it’s something I wanted to do with this show. I hope that it has life afterward, now that the theater is in transition. The idea was that it could be a traveling show with eight players and low-budget tech.
I was wondering if there would be doubled-up characters. That’s a huge cast!
Most of the cast is playing three roles. The only one not playing multiple roles is Kacey [Roye], who plays Rosalind. Pretty sizable parts, too. But it’s fun. There will be literally costume changes onstage. There’s one point where Adam Ochoa is technically three characters at the same time in the same scene (laughs). It takes very clear storytelling on our part, and very clear theatrical magic. Part of the beauty of the concept is that you get to see that magic right there. We realize that we’re going offstage and coming back as a different character. That requires the actors to buy in. We’re not trying to hide it by the end.
We have some big characters, physically and vocally, so when they switch to a new character, it’s very clear that they’re somebody else. We’re doing a good job. It’s a fun show. It’s a show I’ve done a lot. It’s the first play I ever directed.
From the photos, it looks like you’re leaning toward half-modern and half-period costuming?
It all comes down to my sensibilities. I’ve never been one of those people who needs to see Shakespeare set in a particular place. During Shakespeare’s time, they were always in modern dress. With the exception of when they were wearing togas in the case of Caesar. We’ve got an advantage after 400 years down the line. It’s probably me. I always figure that Shakespeare is set now. A lot of our tech is about function — switching characters and that.
How are the songs presented?
Again, it’s me. I wrote some melodies my guitar. We’re in the city in the first act, and they we get displaced. It becomes a little more country. The songs have a more folksy, country vibe. And a bluesy sort of vibe. ”Under the Greenwood Tree” is basically a twelve-bar blues. The lyrics just match a standard twelve-bar blues. Shakespeare didn’t write any of those songs. They were modern songs for his time. We may need to take a syllable off to make it fit. That’s what I do. I was basically trying to write a Lumineers song. Campbell Reid Andrews just kind of twanged it out. It’s really fun. t’s an ensemble effort.
I do the same thing with Josey [Porras]. They can actually sing. I don’t sing. I just give them the basic music and let them go.
In terms of rehearsal, how do you handle it?
We’re rehearsing at the UIW patio. It’s a big, open flat space. As far as the socially distanced stuff goes, it’s not easy. There’s intimate moments in this play where you wish you could hug and be close, but limitations are the mother of invention. You have to be creative. We’re finding funny props to keep our distance. And there’s an actual funny wrestling match. We turned it into a tug-of-war so we could keep our distance. It’s fight choreography I’ve never done before. It forces you to be creative.
What does this play say to contemporary audiences?
A pastoral comedy is not really a genre in America, but it’s a genre that Texans can relate to. I appreciate Texans’ love of the outdoors, and their relationship with the environment. There are things like floating down the river back in California that I would never do. But here it’s the gold standard of outdoor activities. It’s easy to translate. A shepherd in the field of Arden could easily translate to a rancher. There’s some easy translatable stuff there. That’s one reason why I picked the show.
There’s another thing we’re exploring — gender identity. The fact that Rosalind is a girl, disguised as a man. In Shakespeare’s time, the part would have been played by a young boy. It gives this play a special layer of gender fluidity that I think works a lot. In the cast, we’re five to three. We’ve got a lot of female-identifying actors playing men. And we also have a couple of male-identifying characters playing women.[Rosalind] has a lot of power being identified as a man, and in Shakespeare’s world, that means a lot of power. I think these are really amazing themes. And I think Kacey is doing an amazing job.
As You Like It will be performed at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens from Sept. 9 to 26, at 555 Funston Place, San Antonio, TX 78209. Get your tickets here.
Feature photo: Josey Porras, Kacey Roye and Eddie Morfin, Jr. (Siggi Ragnar).