After the cancellation of last summer’s season because of difficulties finding a place to perform, Princeton Rep is back in business with what the company feels is their talisman play, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The company, a mix of Equity and non-Equity actors under the direction of Princeton Rep stalwart founder Victoria Liberatori, will perform Thursdays through Sundays, July 20 through August 27, at Pettoranello Gardens Amphitheater, Community Park North in Princeton.
Founded in 1984 the company presented during its first years free Shakespeare in Palmer Square, with each production drawing bigger and bigger crowds. Their exceedingly popular production of “Twelfth Night” caught the attention of Princeton Borough mayor Marvin Reed, who suggested they move to the larger space at Pettoranello Gardens where they brightened the summers until last year.
Happily, they’re back this summer with the same play that brought them luck before. As a theater patron noted in a recent E-mail to the company, “Thank you for working out your differences and returning to Pettoranello Gardens. Whenever we the people are deprived of your incredible program, we are the losers. You have introduced a whole new generation to appreciate Shakespeare; that’s an incredible gift.”
Liberatori will direct this “Twelfth Night,” featuring some returning actors (Nell Gwynn, “Much Ado About Nothing,” 2004; and Donald Kimmel, “King Lear,” 2002,) as well as some new to the company. The play was written by Shakespeare at the height of his career, well liked during his time, and continues to be a popular choice for contemporary producers.
Set in the Kingdom of Ilyria, it begins with Orsinio listening to music and pining for love. Liberatori will build on this musical introduction, adding original music as the plots progress. Yes, there are mistaken identities, a girl disguised as a boy, misdelivered letters, separated twins — the usual complications of Shakespeare’s comedies. Viola loves Orsinio; Orsinio loves Olivia; and Olivia loves Cesario. At the same time, the local “characters” — raucous Sir Toby, silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek, feisty Maria, and dour Malvolio — interact with merry and not-so-merry hijinks. In the end all ends well except for poor old Malvolio.
Liberatori is noted for enlivening her productions, cutting where useful, and making Shakespeare accessible to a wide family audience.
Bringing new blood to Princeton Rep, the young director Alexandra Hoge, 32, joins Liberatori as co-producing artistic director. Hoge first worked with the company during the 2004 season as an assistant producer and an assistant director. With a fresh perspective, new ideas, and theater connections, she says, “I can relate to younger people. After all, I’m not that far away from their age group.”
Hoge brings a wide range of experience, all the more impressive because of her age. She was born in then-communist Romania but her family was able to come to United States when Hoge was three years old. “Getting out of Romania was difficult, rough going,” she says in a phone interview. Her father is a lawyer and her mother works in a law firm, though she had wanted to be an opera singer — under the communist regime, she was unable to follow that dream.
Hoge grew up with her family in the Washington, D.C., area. She seems to have inherited her mother’s artistic bent. After graduating in 1997 from George Washington University with a bachelors in dramatic literature, she worked in the D.C. area and a few places further afield as a stage manager and directing small shows. “I didn’t know that I wanted to go into directing until after I graduated from college.”
Following a “life-long dream” she went to Paris “to investigate the theater scene.” She took various theater classes at small ateliers that taught private classes but was disappointed with the theater that she saw there, other than work by British director Peter Brook and Romanian director Gabor Tompa.
Returning from abroad, she embarked the Masters of Fine Arts program at the Actors Studio Drama School, which until May, 2005, was associated with the New School University (it is associated now with Pace University.) Some readers may be familiar with the television program “Inside the Actors Studio,” the Bravo program hosted by James Lipton. On the program Lipton interviews actors and directors with probing as well as lighter questions — “What is your favorite curse word?” — followed by a Q&A between the guest and the student audience (it is a required course for first-year students — Hoge says her favorites were Martin Sheen and Robert Redford). Hoge was awarded an MFA in directing in 2005.
After some free-lance directing she found her way to Princeton Rep. She says her new role to invigorate the company “is an opportunity to work on an exciting project and gain valuable experience. I love directing, and I’ve always been involved the artistic side of things, but to be a really good director and theater artist, you need to understand all aspects of the theater, especially the business side, including promotion and fundraising. This is a great opportunity for me to grow and understand.”
Included in Hoge’s multitude of duties (she and Liberatori are the only full-time staffers) is heading up the Repertory Apprentice Program (RAP). Open by audition to young people ages 16 to 18 the program offers classes taught by theater professionals, the opportunity to work alongside the professional actors on the production of “Twelfth Night,” as well as to present an evening all-student performance of Shakespeare scenes. The class slate includes Movement for Actors, Empowering the Actor, and Stage Design, as well as a two-day intensive movement workshop on “Viewpoints” and Michael Chekhov technique. According to the Michael Chekhov Association website, “the fundamental nature of the Chekhov approach is to bring the psychology of the character into the body through movement and gesture, creating an enriched and active inner life, making the creation of a character an imaginative, organic, and playful process.”
Hoge is especially pleased to bring in from the Actors Studio directing teacher Stuart Vaughan for a master class, an intensive workshop on “The Method and the Classics.” Over four days, students will spend their mornings in a master class and their afternoons rehearsing. This will be capped by a public performance on Friday, June 30.
Vaughan will return on Saturday, July 29, to lead another master class that will be open to actors other than those in the RAP program. A director closely associated with the beginnings of Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York, Vaughan directed a number of their festival plays and has worked as a director at the Seattle Repertory Theater, Repertory Theater New Orleans, and the New Globe Theater, and was artistic director of New York’s Phoenix Theater. He has directed over 40 New York productions, including 16 Shakespeares, and has served as guest director for regional theaters from coast to coast.
When asked, “Why Princeton Rep?” Hoge answers, “I believe in their mission.”