Interview: Director Kimberley Rampersad talks KING LEAR at the Stratford Festival

Kimberley Rampersad talks to BroadwayWorld about her vision for this production, the complexity of the piece, and what it means to be doing this show now.

By: May. 28, 2023
Interview: Director Kimberley Rampersad talks KING LEAR at the Stratford Festival

Opening Night of the 2023 season of the Stratford Festival is almost upon us, and for the first time in nine years, the Festival is staging a production of KING LEAR. A few weeks ago, BroadwayWorld had the opportunity to chat with the production’s director, Kimberley Rampersad about her vision for this production, the complexity of the piece, and what it means to be doing this show now.

BROADWAYWORLD: When KING LEAR was announced as part of the 2023 season, I immediately harkened back to the beginning of the pandemic when it became common to hear “When Shakespeare was in lockdown, he wrote King Lear.” Thinking about how this play makes me feel, and how I felt many times throughout lockdown, I find it very telling that this was the story he produced during that time. What are your thoughts on mounting this play in this moment in time?

KIMBERLEY RAMPERSAD: What I felt doing this play, coming out of the pandemic was my great desire to feel deeply with other people after feeling deeply in solitude. KING LEAR is my favourite in Shakespeare’s canon of work for so many different reasons – And it makes me feel deeply and there’s...I don’t know if ‘comfort’ is quite the word, but there is something very satisfying on a molecular level of feeling so deeply and then feeling so deeply in community with other people as you go to see something. And that for me is something that’s greatly needed in my spirit and that I see in the people that I’m working with, and so far even in the preview audiences. This desire to come together. And of course we are craving lightness and joviality and all of these things because our spirits need that, but our spirits also just sometimes need to just sit in the muck with everybody else in something that is, dare I say beautiful, and profound, challenging, and inspiring – that somebody wrote this, that it still exists and we can still mine it for so many gems and nuggets, and that there’s something enduring – which is our human spirit and our existence even through hard times.

BWW: How have the previews been going so far?

KR: It’s so informative when you get to share your work because you can be all in the room and in the space and even as we add more and more artists and theatre-makers, we live with it within a bubble – And the actual moment of sharing – that next step when we add the other critical element, the audience. It lets you know what it is that you’ve created, and lets you then respond and refine, knowing that you’re now engaging them. So it’s a deepening. And humbling too. We can delight in being flexible and responding to how the audiences respond to the play.

BWW: Has there been a particular experience from previews that has been most informative for you so far? Or something particularly memorable?

KR: It’s not necessarily something that’s been informative [for the process], but the thing that I really love is how many young people are there right now because of schools. Young people are my favourite. I love them and I love engaging with them with theatre – to sit amongst these young people and to listen to them respond to this play and to understand it. To understand the complexity, the hypocrisy that sits inside of us, the spiciness that the characters have, the ‘stankiness’, the mischievousness and also the folly and when the characters start slipping down the slippery slopes and you literally hear somebody say “oh no” you’re like “YES!” That for me especially is very heartening. If people think that these young people don’t enjoy or understand this language, I think they’re underestimating them, because they do.

BWW: I saw my first professional production of KING LEAR on a high school trip, and I’m not even sure why, but I feel like it absolutely is one of the best plays for a high school class to go to.

KR: I think it’s because it’s complex and young people love complexity and they’re sitting in a complex time. I think somehow they’re just like “I get that it’s mucky because it’s mucky for me too.” There seems to be a real amount of compassion because young people are betwixt and between and I think they understand a lot of these characters. They’re like “woof, I understand that.”

BWW: This is the first time that a woman is directing this play for the Stratford Festival...

KR: That’s the word on the street at Stratford! (Laughs)

BWW: A while back, on youtube, I watched the talk that you and Paul Gross did at McGill. You mentioned going to the archives and seeing the cuts that previous directors had made. You mentioned some of the cuts you were planning to make were similar, but that there were some past cuts that perhaps were influenced by the fact that the previous directors were male. I would love for you to speak more on that because I found it so interesting and I’m so excited for your perspective.

KR: It’s interesting. This play doesn’t happen if these three women were men. This play happens because he has three daughters. So even though the daughters are marginalized in this world, the last thing I wanted to do was take text away from them. There’s only three of them who have text on the page in this whole world. As a director for this, I was incredibly possessive of their text – on behalf of not only the character but for the play. And I was so mindful of when I had to make edits- and I did have to because a play has to fit contractually under three hours. That’s my gig. Making edits is very challenging because it’s written so beautifully, and as soon as you pull on a thread, there’s a ripple effect and all the sudden you feel like you’re pulling on a sweater, so you have to be really mindful of what you’re pulling at because the payoff is two and three and five acts down the road, and you’re like “oh I lost the top end of that analogy!” It’s so interesting, but I really was mindful of taking text away from the three females – Cordelia, Regan and Goneril, I was very mindful of that.

BWW: Those characters are so interesting in terms of how they choose to navigate the patriarchal society they are in, and how they do it differently, and why…

KR: I love thinking about that and discussing that especially in the room. I’m in Niagara on the Lake, I work at the Shaw Festival, and I mention this because one of the big themes that Shaw talks about is ‘The New Woman’ which is one of my favourite themes, being who I am and you know, advocating for all of us in the space, and so to be able to bring that thread of the ‘new woman’ into our world over with the Bard – these three women are ‘new women.’ We’re not going to judge them. They are aspects of feminism crystallized in these personas, in these characters who are navigating this male world as best as they can to try and get what is theirs, rightfully – except for the fact that they were not born with the correct genitalia, supposedly. And we are especially trying to make them fight valiantly and to not let them be characterizations. Albany says to Goneril “tigers not daughters” and I would love for the audience to kind of turn their head to the side when he says that. I’m trying to make it complex, I’m not trying to undermine him because that’s not my job as the director – but it’s the idea that we would be playing these women so valiantly, so nobly that that some in the audience might think “tigers not daughters? Are you sure about that?”

BWW: It’s them being called ‘difficult,’ essentially…

KR: That’s it.

Interview: Director Kimberley Rampersad talks KING LEAR at the Stratford Festival
Paul Gross (centre) and the Company of KING LEAR. Photo Credit: David Hou

BWW: You know, when I saw LEAR in my youth, I certainly viewed Goneril and Regan as ‘villains’ in the play and it’s always so interesting to revisit things once you’ve experienced more life and can take different things out of it and see that nuance.

KR: LEAR has so much to do about maturing and aging. It feels like a different play every time I read it because of where I am, and watching my parents age now, and being like "oh wow, that’s challenging to maintain your independence, to want your autonomy, to want understanding from your children." It brings a level of compassion. I think it’s just a play that the more we age, the better this play becomes too. And I think that’s true for any great art, but especially for LEAR.

BWW: At the start of rehearsals, did you go in with a specific vision, or did you sort of build it from the ground up with everybody in the room?

KR: Because we had so many designers involved – set, costume, light, sound, composer - we really had an idea of what we were doing before we walked in on the first day, necessarily, because we had so many designs to share with the company in order to build and especially because it opens in the first set of openers.

I was offered this play April 25th, 2022. I have it in my calendar because it’s a very special day. From that moment on, I started putting together the team and asking people to collaborate. And we were working non-stop because one year isn't a long time to work on this size of a play. So last year, I think in the fall, the designers and I made a field trip down to Stratford to look at some of our big sort of elemental ideas and things and it's really neat to see them on the stage now to be like, “Oh, yes, some of those ideas really did stay!” I think what we really wanted our play to be was elemental and unadorned. So we put it somewhere in like the near future feels like maybe something happened. So everything could still feel analog. So we feel unplugged, so that swords don’t feel ironic. But it's somewhere where you feel like everything is unplugged again. And that it's just us in nature. So it feels kind of like brutalist, like maybe with like, just concrete, not much vegetation. You know what I mean? You don't feel you know, technology, the way that we have it, you feel it just very reduced. And that's what I wanted. I kind of wanted to get rid of the ‘stuff’ that's around it. And some of the stuff is great, but just really kind of naked words and naked people. Very kind of raw. I think especially maybe just after the coming out of the pandemic, that’s just how I felt – just kind of stripped back.

BWW: With this idea that it's taking place in the near future, and “something has happened,” I think, given what’s happened in the real world, the entire audience will be able to go with that pretty quickly!

KR: And that's what I wanted, because I wanted that buy-in where it's something just recognizable, that we don't feel like we need to wrap our heads around it or go back into something else. I wanted something that kind of locked in viscerally with not much explanation needed. I don't want to put something in between us in the play. I don't want to try and be clever. I don't want to try and do anything other than to like successfully try to lift this play off of the page.

BWW: Talk to me a bit about this company. You mentioned there have been great discussions throughout the rehearsal process and obviously there was a lot of excitement in town to hear that Paul Gross was returning! SLINGS AND ARROWS fans are seeing a version of season 3 become reality!

KR: It’s crazy! It is crazy.  I am a fan of Paul Gross. I am a fan of Slings and Arrows. I think that series is ridiculous in all the best ways. It’s so good. It’s so stanky and wry and dark and twisted and wonderful. And when I learned I was going to do this with Paul Gross, I was like “That’s fantastic!” I had the pleasure of working with his wife on a play here at Shaw and so we had met in 2019 I think it was. It was nice to meet him and get to know him and now I get to direct a play with him!

The company is wonderful…it’s a lot of people who have been at Stratford for a while so a lot of seasoned actors there who are incredibly skilled – not just in the delivery of it, but in the intellect of it, in the thoughtfulness that goes behind embodying and lifting these words. And then there are several new people that are in the company and that’s always fun – a mix of old and new and fresh ideas into the space. But what they all are, are committed and devoted to this piece and devoted to enjoying the difficulty of this piece, and to really enjoy that. Certainly, I’ve found out that KING LEAR is now a devotion, it’s not just a piece of work – And to really feel a full company, the actors, stage management, the crew, the designers, all of the stagehands and crafts people – for us all to feel like it’s a devotion is a really galvanizing opportunity to make some beautiful art.

BWW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Broadwayworld!

In addition to being director of this production for the Stratford Festival, Ms. Rampersad is the Associate Artistic Director at the Shaw Festival and is directing THE AMEN CORNER for that Festival later this season. This is her third season with the Stratford Festival, having previously directed SERVING ELIZABETH in 2021, and performed in the ensembles of CRAZY FOR YOU and MAN OF LA MANCHA in 2014.

KING LEAR officially opens on May 30th and continues in Repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 29th. For tickes and more information, visit: Click Here

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PHOTO CREDIT (top): Kimberley Rampersad, Stratford Festival


The 36th Womens Blues Revue Lineup Revealed Photo
The 36th Women's Blues Revue Lineup Revealed

 The 2023 Women's Blues Revue full line-up is here! Featuring Sandra Bouza, Divine Brown, Dawn Tyler Watson, Charlotte McAfee-Brunner, Garnetta Cromwell and Laura Hubert, learn more about the event here!

SOMETHING IN THE WATER Comes to Next Stage Festival Photo
SOMETHING IN THE WATER Comes to Next Stage Festival

After touring internationally across Europe, the UK and Australia, including a critically-acclaimed run at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe, Something In The Water makes its Toronto debut from October 18-29, 2023 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. Learn more about the performance and how to get tickets here!


AIN’T TOO PROUD – THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS will return to Toronto this December! Learn more about the musical and find out how to get tickets here.

Harbourfront Centre Launches 2023/24 Torque Season with Canadian Premiere of Fouad Boussou Photo
Harbourfront Centre Launches 2023/24 Torque Season with Canadian Premiere of Fouad Boussouf's NASS

Torque, Harbourfront Centre’s esteemed international contemporary dance series, celebrates the launch of its fifth season with an electrifying line-up of international and Canadian choreographers. Learn more about the upcoming performance and how to get tickets here!


#repshow# in[i]# Our Flag Means [Blank] - An Unscripted Pirate Adventure
Pirate Life (9/13-10/04)
#repshow# in[i]# Peter Pan: The Panto
St Jacobs Country Playhouse (11/29-12/31)
#repshow# in[i]# Christmas Social Dance Party at Access Ballroom Toronto Beaches
Access Ballroom (12/09-12/09)
#repshow# in[i]# Chris, Mrs. - A New Holiday Musical
Winter Garden Theatre (12/05-12/31)
#repshow# in[i]# Jake's Gift
The Rose Studio (11/09-11/11)
#repshow# in[i]# The Lehman Trilogy
Bluma Appel Theatre (11/14-11/26)
#repshow# in[i]# Topdog/Underdog
Canadian Stage (9/22-10/08)
#repshow# in[i]# Fiddler on the Roof
Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge (11/29-12/24)
#repshow# in[i]# Halloween Social Dance Party at Access Ballroom Toronto Beaches
Access Ballroom (10/28-10/28)
#repshow# in[i]# Calendar Girls
Oshawa Little Theatre (9/28-10/14)

Recommended For You