Recently I sat down with two of my favorite folks, who just happen to be two of our most valued and esteemed AST company members. Chad Bradford and Jordy Neill have been with AST several seasons. Audiences will remember them in last year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Chad as Oberon and Jordy as Tom Snout (The Wall). These two talented actors and musicians were also involved in last year’s touring production of Twelfth Night — Chad directed the production, and Jordy entertained audiences with his hilarious Sir Toby Belch. That production made 12 stops last summer in various Arkansas towns and then toured Faulkner County Schools in the fall, after receiving a grant from Conway Development Corporation and Toad Suck Daze.
I asked Chad and Jordy to talk with me about their experience with AST and the exciting challenges they face this season. Chad will direct our touring family show, The Taming of the Shrew, and Jordy will star as Petruchio in this production.
Mary Ruth: Chad, what is your vision for this show?
Chad: I think that The Taming of the Shrew is a love story. It’s funny, provocative and challenging all at the same time. Shrew, of course, like all of Shakespeare’s work, was written in a particular time with a particular audience in mind. The mores and expectations of an Elizabethan audience were very similar, and in some instances, very different than ours. Our task is to bravely confront the differences in our own contemporary expectations with the social norms of the Elizabethan era. In our version, that means embracing the broad characters and physical comedy, and emphasizing the idea of surrender versus submission. We are, in essence, wrestling with the text to bring out how love — that is, true love — allows us to willfully surrender to the passion we feel for our partner, and how when you find the perfect person, that surrender allows you to truly become your “best self.” There is a kind of baggage that this show carries with it; however, I’ll say that you’ve never seen Shrew like this. We plan on taking the audience’s expectations of what this play is about and turning that on it’s head. The challenge is actually what makes producing and directing this piece so exciting.
Mary Ruth: Chad, why did you have Jordy in mind as Petruchio?
Chad: Jordy is one of my best friends, and one of the funniest actors I know! He defies expectation with every role he plays. He learned from a young age to be fearless as an actor, and that’s what I most admire about him — and why he is perfect for Petruchio. Jordy is also tender, sincere, and has a certain comic genius.
If Petruchio is a haughty, testosterone ridden meathead, the way he treats others in the play can seem at best, off-putting, and at worst, downright cruel. However, if we elevate the world into a place where the comedy is broad and our hero Petruchio is somewhat of a clown — unsure of himself, yet sure of his love for Katherine — then I think we find that Petruchio has a depth that can be arresting and charming.
Mary Ruth: Jordy, what drew you to the role of Petruchio?
Jordy: Petruchio is one of those problem characters in Shakespeare that a lot of people have trouble connecting to — for plenty of appropriate reasons! That challenge alone is appealing to me; allowing audiences to view his complexity and helping them toward empathy toward him are my main goals as I head into this process.
Mary Ruth: Jordy, how do you see the relationship between Petruchio and Kate?
Jordy: The relationship is something I hope to discover as we rehearse. I’m excited to work with newcomer Kat Cordes (Kate) and see what we can create together. The discourse between them is at times tumultuous and rigid with a lot of push and pull, but under the surface their courtship reveals a deeper understanding of one another that neither character is able to fully realize until later in the play.
Mary Ruth: Chad, you directed last year’s touring show. What are you looking forward to with regard to this year’s tour? What’s it like to take a show around the state to different locations/venues?
Chad: I love the family touring show. It may be my favorite offering that the festival provides. I think my favorite thing about the touring show is watching and listening to audiences as they leave the theatre hearing phrases like, “I actually understood the story,” or “Wow, I didn’t know I liked Shakespeare,” or my favorite “I didn’t know Shakespeare was funny!” Watching people experience some of the best dramatic literature ever written and having such a positive reaction is the most rewarding thing about the job. Bringing this work to towns that may not have many cultural opportunities is what this show is all about. It truly is ARKANSAS’ Shakespeare festival.
Mary Ruth: Jordy, you’ve done the touring show several times. What have been the challenges and rewards? Favorite character?
Jordy: The touring show is a grind that I absolutely welcome every single season. Anytime I’m unable to do it, I long for the experience. The bond you build on the road with your collaborators is one that remains, and being able to perform in a variety of venues really challenges you as a performer. Favorite tour character: The Dromio Twins in Comedy of Errors.
Mary Ruth: How do you plan to engage young people?
Chad: Renaissance special effects! Meaning original music performed by the actors, dance, simple and striking spectacle, and of course, the timeless humor Shakespeare brings to all of his comedies. I’m also trying some new things this time, emphasizing the commedia del’ arte tradition in the piece and a few more surprises. You’ll have to wait to see!
See you all at the shows!
Mary Ruth Marotte is Executive Director of AST and Professor of English at UCA.