New to the Fresno theater scene, Ellicia Mertens Elliott makes her California directorial debut with The Comedy of Errors at Woodward Shakespeare Festival, running now. Elliott is the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Rude Mechanicals, “Eastern Washington’s premiere Shakespeare Company,” presenting shows in Prosser, Pasco, Walla Walla and around the Yakima Valley. Before starting The Rude Mechanicals, she directed over fifty productions in educational theatre programs, community theatres and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Here is Ellicia’s Drive- Thru Interview:
In one word, describe your present condition. grateful
In one sentence, what’s going on in your world? I’m a full time mommy and artistic director, absolutely thankful I am where I’m at in this season of my life.
With no restrictions on content or form, describe the present condition of your artistic outlook.
I’m cautiously optimistic that things are beginning to change, artistically and otherwise, in the theatre community. There are still many uphill battles for anyone who doesn’t identify as a white, straight, cis-gender male in theatre, but the rest of us are becoming more vocal, causing change, supporting one another, and I’m excited to see what will happen. We just have to keep going, and practice self-care so we don’t get burned out.
Why The Comedy of Errors in Fresno (since you’re not from the area)?
Due to receiving my MFA in directing, I am starting to find more free-lance directing jobs, and the Woodward Shakespeare Festival contacted me to see if I’d be interested in directing. The Comedy of Errors had already been chosen, and it was one of the Bard’s plays that I hadn’t directed before. Plus, after directing four major tragedies (Othello, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet), I was ready to direct a comedy! I had never been to Fresno, and this was a new adventure both for me and for my family.
Do you have a particular concept or approach to Comedy of Errors? To Shakespeare in general?
The concept for this production of The Comedy of Errors is a vaudevillian world where the crazy antics and slapstick humor that take place in the story actually make sense and *could* happen. My approach to Shakespeare is making sure his work is accessible and easy to understand for everyone. He never meant to have his plays read; they were meant to be performed and watched by an incredibly diverse audience. Everyone from the Groundlings up through the Royal Court could experience a Shakespeare play and be entertained by it. This is always my goal as a director; how can I make sure we (the cast and crew) can make these classic stories come to life on the stage in a way that whether you’re familiar with Shakespeare or not, you’ll be drawn into the world of the play and come away with something new because of it.
How is this production bringing something new to this story?
I’m hopeful this concept is a new way to view this comedy for the community of Fresno. Using a concept modern day audiences are more familiar with will make this play more approachable and enjoyable, even for those who may possibly suffer from “Shakesfear.”
What are your top three theatre reads?
Clues to Acting Shakespeare by Dr. Wesley Van Tassel, Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt, and Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber
What would you like to see more of in theater?
I would love to see more female directors getting hired and recognized for amazing work. I want to see all members of our community represented on stage. I want theatre to be accessible to absolutely everyone – no exceptions.
What have you found to be the most surprising about your experience in Fresno?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how open to ideas the cast has been from the very beginning of rehearsals, and how quickly we worked to put this show up on its feet (less than four weeks). I love the palm trees, the sunshine, and was surprised by how easy it was to navigate around town.
What’s next for you?
I’m getting ready to graduate with my MFA in Directing from the University of Idaho. This fall, I will be directing Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play. The Rude Mechanicals (our theatre company) will be the first theatre in Washington State to produce it.
The Comedy of Errors runs two more weekends at Woodward Park.
Thu – Sat through May 18.