BWW Interviews: British Propeller's TAMING OF THE SHREW Actors Dish on Shakespeare and Minneapolis (Part One)
British theatre troupe Propeller is presenting Taming of the Shrew in repertory with Twelfth Night at the Guthrie Theater through April 6. While the company is traveling around the world for 10 months performing in such spots as Spain, Germany, Italy and France, they came to their longest run of any city in Minneapolis via a stop in Michigan and will return to England before heading to Italy next month.
Propeller seeks to find a more engaging way of expressing Shakespeare and to more completely explore the relationship between text and performance. The company mixes a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic. Both productions are directed by Edward Hall.
Two of the 14 actors in the company sat down with me one recent afternoon to talk about Minneapolis, Shrew and Shakespeare. Vince Leigh plays Christopher Sly/Petruchio and Dan Wheeler plays Katherine in this all-male production.
What do you think of Minneapolis now that you've been here a few weeks?
Dan: The food is fantastic.
Vince: We're big foodies.
Dan: We get one night off a week -- Monday night -- we make sure that every Monday night we book a table somewhere different, somewhere nice to eat. We've had some amazing meals. J.D. Hoyt's, Sea Change downstairs, obviously. And everyone's been really welcoming, which is good because the cold has been a challenge.
Have you been here before?
Dan: No, I've never been here. This is the first time I've been to this part of America, actually. We had a week in Ann Arbor before we came here but apart from that it's my first time in the Midwest.
Vince: I'd love to get up and see the lakes in the summer because I'm big into water sports. I was very disappointed when I went out there and found they were all frozen.
Dan: Very impressed by the skyway network. It's a nice way of staying in out of the cold.
Vince: We actually went and walked around the lakes.
Dan: Yeah, that was really lovely, despite it being cold. And not being able to see the lakes. It's really lovely out there. Yesterday I spent some time at the MIA (Minneapolis Institute of Arts) but not nearly long enough. I have to go back. It's an amazing collection. There's an amazing photography exhibition there at the moment. Since we work every night, we have not had a chance to go out to the other theatres, sadly -- there's a lot going on, theatre-wise.
Vince: We managed to see "Other Desert Cities."
Dan: Yeah, which is great.
What do you think of the Guthrie?
Vince: It's an incredible building. Spectacular. The views. And, the theatres are wonderful. The Guthrie's thrust is a great space to play. And it's the first time we've done the shows on a thrust. And it's really nice and intimate, even though it's large. You can speak to everyone in the auditorium.
Do you find you can connect more to the audience here?
Vince: Much more intimate. You can see everyone's expressions. Which is very unusual. Because normally in a proscenium you have all the lights and you sort of lose it.
Dan: It's a very different relationship with the audience that you have here. They find some of the violence harder to take here because it's very real and you're right next to them. You can see 360 degrees, actually. Whereas with a proscenium arch, they can sort of remove themselves from the action a bit. So it's just much more intimate and real, I think, here, which is another challenge for us to try and make that work.
What kind of difference is there with audiences when you play to different countries?
Vince: What's really weird are the receptions we get abroad are often far bigger than they are in Britain. We'll get rock star-like standing ovations... It's great; we love traveling. And especially in different languages. When we get supertitles, in Cantonese, and you realize, actually, what you're doing is not as important as what the surtitlers do, cause you can do something and think it's the funniest thing but if they haven't translated it in a funny way...
Dan: We had an excellent translator and surtitle guy in Paris. We got extraordinary reactions in Paris and we think at least half of it was what they were reading. That just shows you how great these stories are, how great the text is.