Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Five Minutes with Director Steven Hopley.

Tell us a little about your professional background. Why did you set up Sydney Shakespeare Company? 

I'm a playwright, producer, actor and director. I started working in the theatre 12 years ago, on the Central Coast, just after I left school. I wanted to direct Romeo and Juliet, which is my favourite play, so I started up the Central Coast Shakespeare Company - it took off, and I ended up producing eight shows for the company. After a move to Sydney, and some time away from the bard, I decided it was time to get back into it, so in 2011 I started up the Sydney Shakespeare Company with the debut production of Othello.

What were your visions and motivation behind this? And how does it differ to the existing companies that actively promote shakespearean works? 

The Sydney Shakespeare Company is dedicated solely to works that Shakespeare had a hand in, and it aims to treat all his plays equally, rather than just remounting the same dozen that everyone does again and again because they're popular or on the school syllabus. The company style is one of simplicity and clarity: communicating the story and dialogue as written, and allowing that text to come through without extraneous concepts or business. I even put together my own edition of the play from early texts, making for a performance that is unique to our company. And the aim is to perform each given play in as intimate a venue as possible - the Tap Gallery, where we're performing The Merchant of Venice - is only 5x9m, and that includes the audience!

This play was written in the 1600s. In this version, what steps did you take to update this play and make it relevant for your viewers? 

(Actually, it was written in the mid 1590's!) I think the play is already quite relevant to a modern audience. We're dressing the actors in modern dress, but that's about setting it in a time, not about relevance. Most of Shakespeare's plays were period pieces when they were written, and resist updating to varying degrees, but The Merchant of Venice is an exception to that - it's a play about religious intolerance, bereft of kings and swordfights, and centred around the financial world, so it almost doesn't matter whether you set it then or now or anywhere in between, as long as you don't let the set and costumes become what the play is about. The relevance is in the text and the relationships between the characters.

Have you worked with the leading actors before? 

I've not worked with Mark Lee, who plays our Shylock, or our Portia, Lizzie Schebesta, before, although I have worked with Alex Nicholas who plays Bassanio, and a number of the other cast members - some have returned from our first production, Othello, and a few of the cast I've worked with on other projects over the years. When it comes to the actors I've not worked with before, I've usually seen them in other shows and approached them to perform for the company.

What did you find challenging about the process of directing your leading actors for this play. 
Every actor is different and has a different style of working, so it's always a challenge, but that's also a great joy of directing for me. So far, this cast has been exceptionally wonderful to work with!

What did you feel was the most powerful/ poignant message in the play? how did you convey this? 
This is a very unusual play in that I feel it has several messages, and several central threads running throughout it, but for every thread or message, or idea - or even plot, or genre - that Shakespeare manages to put in there, there's an equal and opposite one in counterbalance to that. I feel it's my job as director to make sure that no one point outweighs another and throws out the balance of the play.

Creative Director of Sydney Shakespeare Company: Steven Hopley

Directed By Steven Hopley
DATES: August 7th - 24th ( Preview Aug 7 & 8)
TIMES: Wednesday - Saturday 8pm , Sunday 5pm

LOCATION: Tap Gallery 278 Palmer street Darlinghurst


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