With close to a month left of rehearsals, we decided to focus this week’s interview spotlight on none other than the director, Rachel Strayer! Rachel, playwright and co-founder of Ghostlight Productions, lives and teaches locally in the Clarks Summit area, but has written pieces that have been produced as far away as San Francisco. Today she explains why she loves Caesar, what inspired her interpretation, and the exciting opportunities on the horizon.
Tell us a little about yourself!
Since co-founding Ghostlight Productions I have directed Romeo & Juliet; Scenes from Metamorphoses; Almost, Maine;The Mousetrap; and co-directed A Midnight Dreary, in which I also had an ensemble role. Shakespeare in the Park roles include Feste in Twelfth Night, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Mrs. Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, and Adriana in The Comedy of Errors. I have an M.A. and MFA in Creative Writing/Playwriting from Wilkes University. My original play Drowning Ophelia received its World Premiere production in San Francisco in 2013 and an East Coast Premiere in Scranton in 2016. Gaslight Theatre Company of Wilkes-Barre has produced a number of my short plays, including Empathy, A Clean Bathroom, The Next Step, and In the Dark. I spend my days working as an Assistant Professor of Communications at Keystone College.
Talk about Ghostlight! What is Ghostlight’s vision for theater and why Shakespeare?
Julius Caesar is our 8th Shakespeare in the Park production. We started with a simple desire: to bring excellent theater to our community. Why choose Shakespeare? Well, honestly, Shakespeare was public domain and the park was free! But it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with Shakespeare as well as our chosen venue. I think Shakespeare’s works are intimidating to a lot of people; perhaps we are introduced to them in middle school or high school and all we can focus on is how hard it is to understand the language. But all plays are meant to be seen and heard, not read, and I believe seeing Shakespeare in performance has a profound impact on our ability to connect with the material. No matter what kind of experience you’ve had with Shakespeare in the past, Ghostlight believes we can help you fall in love with Shakespeare just like we did. We see kids attend our productions all the time and it thrills us to give young people their first experience with the Bard in a fun and engaging setting.
What was the initial inspiration for your interpretation of Julius Caesar?
To be honest, I’m not sure what first put the idea in my head, but I’ve been wanting to do a modern-day adaptation of Julius Caesar since I was a sophomore in college. I actually staged Act III, Scene II – Brutus’ and Antony’s speeches – for a directing class back in 2003.
How much has the play changed from your original concept?
Some of my ideas have stuck, like having a press corps asking questions and inflaming the public. I always knew I wanted to cast more women in the production than Shakespeare includes (in the original script there are only two); I loved the idea of a female Cassius in particular. But it wasn’t until I really started playing with ideas for this production that my vision evolved to include a female Caesar. I have to admit, seeing Phyllida Lloyd’s stunning all-female production of Julius Caesar at St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York City in 2013 definitely inspired me. My “present-day” concept has also stretched to include a slightly more dystopian future, but one that I believe, unfortunately, isn’t too far out of reach.
What is the biggest challenge for you as you direct this interpretation of the show?
I don’t think the interpretation itself has presented a challenge – yet. We chose an election year on purpose (but who could have predicted this kind of election year?!) and my only fear is that audience members will try to see our current presidential candidates represented in my actors’ portrayals. But each actor is portraying a unique character not based on any living individual and I think if we all do our jobs right, the audience will connect with the story we’re telling rather than the story they might be looking for.
What is one good reason that people should come see the show?
There are a lot of truths about our current political climate reflected in Julius Caesar. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, Caesar transcends the time in which it was written. At Ghostlight Productions we strive to highlight those transcendent qualities, making the show relatable and easy to understand. Plus we have some really awesome fight scenes this year!
What’s up next for Ghostlight Productions?
Keep your eyes open for audition notices for our next play, the 3rd annual Underage Theatre production, Twain by the Tale, directed by Jillian Alyse Kemmerer. This entertaining adaptation of Mark Twain’s most popular stories is for participants ages 15 to 20, but performances are open to theatre lovers of all ages. Mark your calendar for Underage Theatre: Twain by the Tale at Abington Community Library, July 22nd through the 24th.
What are you looking forward to doing in the future? Any big plans on the horizon?
I am blessed to have a number of exciting opportunities in my near future. Locally, I have a small role this summer in Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s production of Much Ado About Nothing and my ten minute play, It’s Enough, will be part of Gaslight Theatre Company’s 2016 PlayRoom Series in June. In the fall I will be transitioning into the Director of Theatre position at Keystone College. Outside our local circles, I am pleased to announce that my full-length play, Drowning Ophelia, has been picked up by two New York City theater artists – Victoria Rae Sook of Ensemble Atria and Annie R. Such of Eager Risk Theater – with plans for production this coming fall.