Interview: Theatre Life with Aaron Posner

The incredibly talented director/playwright on Shakespeare adaptations, his daughter's future as an actress and more.

By: Dec. 12, 2022
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Interview: Theatre Life with Aaron Posner
Aaron Posner

Today's subject Aaron Posner is what I call a GOD of DC theatre. He is arguably one of the best interpreters of Shakespeare, Chekov, and so much more. His current production of The Tempest (co-director and co-adapter with Teller, yes, of Penn and Teller) is onstage at Round House Theatre through January 15th. The show is a co-production with Aaron's frequent DC theatre home Folger Theatre.

Aaron Posner's credits bring out his incredible versatility as a director and writer. His work includes adapting the classics for a new audience, directing modern day plays, and even the occasional musical for good measure.

Some of his many credits include The Taming of The Shrew (set in a saloon), King John, Midsummer Night's Dream, and District Merchants at Folger Theatre, Born Yesterday, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Ford's Theatre, The Last Five Years at Signature Theatre, JQA, The Chosen, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Arena Stage and Stop Kiss at Round House Theatre.

As a playwright his Stupid f-ing Bird (adapted from Chekov's The Seagull) premiered at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company before having much success all over the country. His My Name is Asher Lev was produced locally at Round House Theatre and more recently had a production off-Broadway at NY's Westside Theatre. Other adaptations by Posner include No Sisters (based on Chekov's Three Sisters) which premiered at Studio Theatre and Life Sucks (based on Chekov's Uncle Vanya) which premiered at Theater J. Do we notice a pattern here with Aaron's love for Chekov? It should be noted that Posner directed No Sisters and Life Sucks besides being the playwright for both.

Aaron is married to actress Erin Weaver and the couple have a daughter named Maisie Posner. Read on to see if her career as an actress is going to be a sure thing or not.

When not directing for the professional stage, Aaron can be found at American University where he serves as a professor in the Department of Performing Arts.

Aaron Posner is one of those very rare artists that hits it out of the park with every production he is associated with. That is near to impossible to achieve in theatre. Maybe it's because he never compromises and casts the best actors around. Or maybe it's just because the man is a force to be reckoned with.

This holiday season grab some tickets (if you're lucky enough to be able to) to Round House Theatre's production of The Tempest. Aaron Posner's work will as usual not disappoint you.

Aaron Posner is a prime example of someone living his theatre life to the fullest. Here's to more greatness in 2023!!

At what age did it become apparent to you that working in theatre was going to be your chosen career?

I started acting when I was about 11 or 12... and didn't really stop for about the next 10 years. I did as much acting as I could- shows at school, at the one professional theatre in my hometown, and more when I went to college. By the time I was going to college, I knew I loved it and that I wanted to do theatre in some way. Around that same time, I began to realize that acting was probably not my best path, and that directing way a more likely course for me. Not long after that, I found adaptation and writing.

It was always my intention to become a theatre professor. My father was a professor, and this seemed like a really good idea. I have now, finally, accomplished my original intention, and I am now a professor at American University. But in the interim I have been incredibly fortunate to spend a life working in the American regional theatre pretty much non-stop.

Where did you go to school to receive your training?

I went to Northwestern University where I was a Performance Studies major. I went to grad school at Southern Methodist University for nine months. I'm a grad school dropout.

What was your first professional theatre job?

I directed Hold Me! by Jules Feiffer at The Oregon Repertory Theatre in Eugene, Oregon, the one professional theatre in my hometown at that time. It was the year after college. I taught my first adult class that same year, at Lane Community College, also in Eugene

Interview: Theatre Life with Aaron Posner
L-R Eric Hissom and Nate Dendy in Round House Theatre and Folger Theatre's
co-production of The Tempest.
Photo by Scott Suchman.

Your production concepts for Shakespeare are some of the most innovative I've ever seen. Setting The Taming of the Shrew in a saloon was a stroke of genius. Can you please talk about the concept for your current production of The Tempest?

We call it a Shipwrecked Magic Show. That is our short-hand tag line. It is big, excessive, extremely jam-packed production- a magical, musical re-imagining of The Tempest inspired by a travelling tent-show magician from the late 19th and early 20th century called Williard The Wizard. There is a lot of magic and music and movement, but at its core it is actual quite a straightforward, honest version of the play, trying to focus on the complicated journey of the magician Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda.

Interview: Theatre Life with Aaron Posner
L-R Aaron Posner and Teller.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

This is not the first time you and Teller have collaborated on a production of Shakespeare. How did you first meet and what other Shakespeare plays have you done together?

We actually met when he came to see a production of The Tempest that I directed at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia in the early 90's. We talked a bit about Shakespeare (which he was incredibly passionate about), and I had the audacity to ask him to help me put a few magic tricks into a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that I was directing at the Arden in 1998. That was how we started. The first full production we co-created was Macbeth, a co-production between Two River Theater (where I was the Artistic Director) and The Folger. That was 2008.

When you start work on a Shakespeare production, where do your ideas for the overall style of the production come from?

Everywhere. My life. My experience. My wife, my daughter, my friends, and family. My imagination. Conversations with collaborators. Other artworks. When I start thinking about a production, I carry it around with me pretty much all the time. It is with me when I eat and sleep and teach and talk and work. Eventually, things begin to stick to it. Ideas or images emerge over time, or pop up, suddenly, surprisingly, all at once. It is an iterative process. I keep at it until I have developed a unique relationship with the play, and I have something I think is worthwhile sharing with an audience.

How many of Shakespeare's plays have you directed thus far and of the ones you have not which do you most want the chance to direct?

I've done about half of them, and I've done most of the ones I really love the most. I want to do Hamlet again, which I did once when I was very young. I have more to say about that world now. I would like to do Henry V again, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. There are some like As You Like It, that I love so much I could just do again and again and again. And then I had an idea about Richard III this morning when I was driving to Round House and listening to a particular artist. So...

Your daughter Maisie Posner recently made her DC theatre acting debut in Our Town at Shakespeare Theatre Company. Are you and your wife actress Erin Weaver encouraging her to pursue acting or hoping she grows out of it?

We love that she loves the world we've chosen to spend a great deal of our time in, and we have no particular agenda for her future. And believe me, it wouldn't matter if we did, as she is already very much her own person. Right now, she loves a lot of things, and theatre is one of them. That is very nice for now.

What does 2023 hold in store for you work wise?

I will be teaching at AU, which I love. In terms of directing, I will be doing a wonderful play by Kimberly Bellflower (who wrote John Proctor is The Villian) at AU with the students there starting in January. It is called Lost Girl, and it is about Wendy's struggles after she comes back from Neverland. It's really smart and very moving. Kimberley is an amazing playwright, and I'm very excited for that. That starts in January. This spring I will be doing some teaching and workshopping in the UK for the first time, and my latest Chekhov adaptation is premiering at the extraordinary American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. It is one of my very favorite theatres. It is a compilation of five of his short vaudeville pieces, entitled Anton's Shorts. And there are some other things in the works as well.

Special thanks to Round House Theatre's Public Relations Manager Alexandria Moreland for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

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