Damien Ryan, award-winning local actor and director, is well versed in all things Shakespeare, having taken part in many Sport for Jove productions for Shakespeare in the Park at Bella Vista Farm.
Damien is now a published author with adaptations of Cyrano de Bergerac and Antigone published together by Currency Press earlier this year.
According to Damien, audiences of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park can expect great things from this seasons plays, Measure for Measure and The Servant of Two Masters.
Focus: What are your plays for this Summer Series?
Damien: Our 9th Summer Season is a very original one and a very special one for me, fulfilling one of the original charters of this company, which was to develop new Australian directors of the classics and bring some of our best loved artists’ visions to the stage. This year we are taking on Shakespeare’s brilliantly dark and subversive comedy Measure for Measure, directed by one of Sport for Jove’s (SFJ) principal artists and a veteran of the festival season, Lizzie Schebesta. And it will play alongside probably the world’s most famous, certainly most influential comedy, Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, again directed by two of SFJ’s most experienced and best-loved theatre makers, Francesca Savige and George Banders, the team who have created our Second Age Project season for young people over the past 4 years. It is wonderful to have these three cherished artists taking on our main season this year.
Focus: How do you make your plays different from other companies performing the same plays?
Damien: Every individual vision of a play is different to someone else’s so it is not typically a huge challenge to find new ways of seeing these plays, but yes, they are of course classics and audiences are to some extent familiar with them or may have seen them before, so we always try to think originally with the work. But, as with these two plays, the directors have a great passion for the writing and they have selected these plays because of what they feel they say to us right now, and through the prism of their own experience. That, combined with the huge amount of research they do in building the world of the play, very quickly provides a myriad of new perspectives and insights into the work. The other important element is the casting, every new cast has countless points of difference to any other cast, and the response they have to the language and the situations guarantees that something new, personal and revelatory will happen as you approach the play. So, it is almost inevitable that the familiarity of the work becomes something new and mysterious. I am really excited about the worlds being created for these plays this year.
Focus: You must be pretty excited about your adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac being published. Could you tell me about the process and how you’re feeling?
Damien: Yes it was a great surprise, a thrill and a privilege to be published. Currency Press saw my production of Antigone last year and contacted me about publishing it alongside Cyrano. It was nerve wracking going back over the work, revising it and thinking about precisely how it should be published, but a wonderful thrill. I’m really glad for the actors too because we worked so hard in mounting those original productions and it is lovely to see their names and photos in print, like we created something. Of course, in terms of the writing itself, you are standing on the shoulders of some serious genius in Sophocles and Edmond Rostand, so the credit to me is pretty minimal, these are adaptations of extraordinary pieces of writing.
Focus: What would you say to people who think Shakespeare is outdated and old fashioned?
Damien: Read it, see it done well and look to understand it. If you take a moment to pull apart a scene of Shakespeare’s, you will learn an enormous amount about yourself, the way you think, the way your relationships are formed and sustained, the way you feel about the world. These plays are x-rays of what it is to be a human being and the only injustice we do to them is when we approach them as outdated museum pieces or believe they are old fashioned. They can feel as new as today and yet as timeless as any great work of art when they are made to feel fresh by actors and directors who really understand the work. A work about human beings can never feel irrelevant to other human beings if it tells the truth.
Focus: What are your top tips for people attending Shakespeare in the Park? Should they bring chairs and a picnic etc.?
Damien: Definitely bring a picnic blanket! It’s the way to get closest to the action, bring food, drink, some warmth just in case and settle in to a beautiful landscape and immerse yourself in a great story, and among a community of people sharing something together. It is a wonderful experience. And yes you can bring a chair too, there are options to sit on the ground or to sit in chairs but everyone is welcome to have a picnic around them. In Servant of two Masters you can expect to lose some of your picnic to the actors too, so fair warning there. The summer season is a great night out and a very different experience to indoor theatre.
Shakespeare in the Park will run from December 8 – 30 2017 at Bella Vista Farm.
Please click here for more information and to book tickets.