Drive-Thru Interview: Brad Myers and Miss Bennet at Fresno State

IMG_3765Brad Myers has the reputation of being one of the most intimidating theater directors around. A reputation which he says is completely erroneous. He’s one “of the sweetest people on earth,” he claimed in rehearsal one day. And I rather believe him.

I had the pleasure of directing Myers in Hedda Gabler in 2017 and found him to be unflappable and professional, always saying “thank you” after each note, even if he probably didn’t agree with it in the least. He’s also a powerful actor on stage, who enjoys thinking deeply about his character, and sharing and discussing his insights in the early collaboration of rehearsals.

Myers is an Equity Actor who has performed with numerous regional theatres including Shakespeare Santa Cruz, California Shakespeare Festival, Utah Shakespeare Festival, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, New York’s Capitol Theatre and Florida’s Seaside Music Theatre. He brings this wealth of experience with him in each production he directs for Fresno State’s University Theater where he’s known for bringing students up to his high expectations for performance. 

If there’s anything that may contribute to Myers’ intimidating reputation, it may just be those high standards and how they so consistently translate to high caliber productions at Fresno State. His next production there is Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, a period holiday romance with a Jane Austen theme.

Here is his Drive-Thru Interview.


Bennet_FINAL1. In one word, describe your present condition.

Curious

2. In one sentence, what’s going on in your world?

I’m on Thanksgiving break and soooooo anxious to get back to rehearsal.

 

3. With no restrictions on content or form, describe the present condition of your artistic outlook.

It’s challenging to verbalize my artistic outlook.  Most of my direction and my initial reactions to scripts are intuitive, instinctive, and I embrace the importance of creating visceral experiences for audiences.  I believe that all genres of Theatre are capable of having a vivid impact on audiences, which is why I choose to direct varied theatrical styles.  Like so many of my friends in Theatre, I began to experience a dissatisfaction with the world at a very early age, and I had to choose between being consumed by this discontent or finding a path to confronting it.   The need to affect change is the primary catalyst for every script I select–whether it be overt didacticism in a Brechtian play like THE PRIVATE LIFE OF THE MASTER RACE, or the creation of empathy which alleviates loneliness through a contemporary play like REALLY REALLY, or to re-examine a classical piece to find contemporary relevance  through a Shakespearean play such as TWO GENTS, or to bring laughter to a weary world through a wacky comedy like NOISES OFF.  I also believe in the life-altering benefits that can come to anyone involved in the artistic process. Be it educational, community or professional theatre, I know that every show one is involved with can leave one a more evolved human being, through the families created by the collaborative art form and the characters we meet.  I should add, that as both a director and actor, I am strongly motivated by fear, always asking myself, “will this production be the one that exposes me to be the incompetent fool I’ve always suspected myself to be.”

4. Why Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley?

As I state in my program notes, when I was leaving a University Theatre production last year, I heard an exiting audience member say, you never see a show at Fresno State that “doesn’t contain a lot of swearing, characters having sex onstage, or a character getting raped..”  An exaggeration?  Yes.  A bit.    But, worthy of consideration?  Also, yes. When it became apparent that I would have the December directing slot this year, I began to search for a play that would bring an uplifting holiday experience.  To be honest, there are a lot of schlocky Christmas scripts out there, but far fewer that are well-written and engaging.  But, every few years a new Christmas script comes out that’s truly exciting.  (I’d say the last was It’s a Wonderful Life, a Live Radio Play.

What a happy coincidence to find Miss Bennet a new script which was one of the most produced plays in the country last year, and which is co-written by last year’s most-produced contemporary playwright, Lauren Gunderson.  When I first   read the script, I was immediately entranced by the characters and the story, even though I was not that familiar with Pride and Prejudice.   All the ingredients were there:  a romantic comedy, the baggage of a Christmas family gathering, the beauty of the Regency Period, and Jane Austen’s beguiling characters whose stories are being told two years after the end of the classic novel.  Also compelling to me, is the modern feminist theme, as Mary tries to escape the societal expectations of what her future should be, nd she years for self-definition.

5. What do you find challenging about working on holiday-themed play?

The most challenging aspect of directing a holiday themed play was finding a script that is well-written, appropriate for the age of our student actors (all the characters are between 17 and 30), and which provides learning opportunities for our students (the language demands and period deportment of Austen characters are challenges, which the student actors are tackling beautifully).
In addition to being a holiday-themed play, Miss Bennet required me to do a lot of fascinating research, including familiarizing myself and the cast with the characters’ back-stories provided in Pride and Prejudice, and further research into the Regency Period.  It’s been a long time since I’ve directed a period piece, and I have relished the challenge.

6. What might surprise people about this show?

Most surprising may be that the story and themes of the play are so modern.  As mentioned before, the yearning of a woman to be able to expand the opportunities for her life, and the entrapments of a family Christmas gathering contribute to the play feeling familiar and timely.  Also, many students have told me that, before reading the play, they feared the play was going to be stuffy, with just a lot of fancy talking.  But, after reading the play, they were surprised at how funny the play is, even providing opportunities for physical comedy, and how accessible the language is.

7. What makes a great audience for you?

A great audience is open to a new experience, recognizing the audience’s importance in completing the theatrical event.

8. What are your top three theatre reads?

This is hard.  I’m just going to throw out three books that flash into my mind.
Tips for Actors by Jon Jory  (Along with Tips II for Actors, and Tips for Directors)
The Work of an Actor by Michael Woolson
The Empty Space by Peter Brook

9. Describe your favorite show-related ritual.

This is very private for me.  After a show closes, after everyone has left the building, I like to sneak back into the theatre with just a candle, and reflect, and breathe a sigh of relief.  Not for a long time; usually about twenty minutes.  I know it sounds corny, but it brings meaningful closure to me.  This little ritual stems from my seasons at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, where we ended each season with a full-company  candle light ritual in the glen.

10. What do you do when you’re not teaching, acting in, or directing theatre?

I’m a loner.  I like to travel . . . alone.  See theatre and movies . . .alone.   And, I know I’m not supposed to admit this, but I am a huge TV addict, usually watching MSNBC non-stop, and, yes . . . alone.  Silence is distracting to me, so when I read, I must have the TV on or I can’t focus.  Occasionally, I grab a meal or a drink with friends.  I’m bad at parties.  My family back in the Upper Midwest is very important to me, and we are mutually involved in each others’ lives.

11. What would you like to see more of on Fresno stages?

Over my decades of living in Fresno, I’ve seen so much growth in the Fresno theatre scene.  Long standing theatre producers such as Good Company Players, Fresno City College and the College of the Sequoias are now producing such high quality shows that I hate to miss any of them.  And, yes, I remember what Fresno was like before  Stageworks Fresno brought such stunning productions to our community.  I have watched the The Rogue Festival become more and more exciting each year, and have enjoyed viewing or working with other companies such as the New Ensemble or Artists Repertory Theatre.  And Fresno has a Shakespeare Festival that survives, even when performing in the summer months?  So much has changed.

That being said, I still believe that Fresno audiences are most drawn to shows with which they are familiar.  I would love to see a continue growth in the production of new plays, devised theatre, and ethnic theatre which would be more embraced by the Central Valley audiences.  Of course, for that to happen, the word has to get out, and I strongly wish that the Fresno Bee would expand its coverage of the Arts (maybe beg Donald Munro to return to their writers).

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

December 7-15, 2018

John Wright Theater at Fresno State

Information HERE

Online Tickets HERE

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