“Ney and his interviewees convey the vitality of performances recreated through the eyes of those who headed them … The book records stage practices at a moment in time when some of the boldest directors are relaying their understanding of Shakespeare's theatre by scanning its longer history of production."
-Methods: Journal of Acting Pedagogy
Vilma Silva (Katherina) and Michael Elich (Petruchio) in Kate Buckley's production of Taming of the Shrew
Charles Ney provides an invaluable service distilling more than a century of stage practice into a compelling narrative that reminds us from whence we come - a must-read for any practitioner of Shakespeare the world over.
- Ethan McSweeny, Artistic Director, American Shakespeare Center
King Lear directed by Robert Falls with Stacy Keach (Lear) and Edward Gero (Gloucester) at the Goodman Theatre.
Ralph Alan Cohen
R. Scott Phillips
J. R. Sullivan
Mary Zimmerman's Pericles with Ryan Artzberger as Pericles at the Goodman Theatre.
"One of the great things about Shakespeare is that we don’t know how it was done. We don’t know how it was made… It’s allowed us to come back to him and try to re-imagine. We have to. It’s foolish to think that we can do Shakespeare the way Shakespeare was done. It’s impossible." – Brian Kulick
Bill Rauch’s Measure for Measure at Oregon Shakespeare Festival with Frankie J. Alvarez (Claudio), Alejandra Escalante (Juliet) Tyrone Wilson (guard) and Kenajuan Bentley (Lucio).
“Mr. Ney sets a new standard for the study of directing Shakespeare in the USA, deftly interviewing leaders in the field and opening up the remarkable visions, unique processes and historical research that drives the production of the Bard's work in festivals and theatres nationwide. . . . No doubt, Directing Shakespeare will be a welcome text for classrooms worldwide providing students with the "best practices" of notable directors . . . It's also a great read for seasoned professionals seeking a glimpse into the personalities and process of many of America's most successful directors."
"Shakespeare is like a bottomless sea because it always sticks to one’s fingers. It’s exactly when you feel like you caught it, you realize, “Oh! That’s not what it is!” – Andrei Serban
Charles Ney's book is a revelation-the research is impeccable and the anecdotes, directing lessons, visions, egos, mistakes and inspiration are brilliant as tools for seasoned or aspiring Shakespeareans
“Ney's incisive introductions to each chapter cogently frame the emergent patterns of thought vis-à-vis each topic without eliding their inherent contradictions and complexities and could well stand on their own as a survey of contemporary practice that is both wide-ranging and rich in detail. Political, practical, and aesthetic issues all get a thorough and inclusive treatment bound to stimulate lively discussion in graduate level directing seminars … In addition to the immense practical value of its nuts and bolts approach to the entire arc of the directing process the book also provides a kind of meta-analysis of the beliefs and positions beneath the surface of contemporary Shakespearean practice and this is, perhaps, the book's most compelling feature … Its potent combination of practical wisdom and abstract reflection make it a truly stimulating read for novice and veteran directors alike.”
- Shakespeare Bulletin
" I think what Shakespeare wrote is so passionate and so shocking. He plumbs the depths of despair, and the heights of joy, and every contour of the human experience. So you better be pushing yourself as an artist to explore the outer reaches of your imagination. You have to be, to match thepower of the work, and to dare be worthy of interpreting this work." – Bill Rauch
For any and all lovers of Shakespeare this book is a fascinating resource. It has absolutely changed my perception of the ground we stand on as Shakespeare producers in the 21st century.
- Bill Rauch, Artistic Director, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
John Tufts (Romeo) and Christine Albright (Juliet) in Bill Rauch's Romeo and Juliet
“Directing Shakespeare is as much a tribute to prominent American directors of Shakespeare as a presentation of critical approach to staging Shakespeare's plays … The book often reads like a roundtable discussion on directing, with Ney deftly leading the discussion … Throughout the book, readers will find pragmatic advice, amusing anecdotal examples, humor, and brutal honesty. Beginning directors will find Ney's approach especially helpful because they can read the book from cover to cover for guidance through the directing process. It is likely that other directors will turn to the book for valuable insight while they are in the process of directing their own Shakespearean productions … It adds valuable insight and specific geographic perspective that is often absent in Elizabethan theatre studies … Ney uses the thoughts, reflections, and opinions of this broad group of directors and companies to create a wide-ranging, thoughtful, and inspiring conversation on the directing process and the purpose of theatre.”
"I think your role, as an interpretive artist, is to respond to what resonates for you in the script. I think how I would approach Hamlet at 30 would be different than how I would approach directing it at 55 or 60." – Henry Worinicz
John Cullum (Cymbeline), Michael Ceveris (Leonatus), and Martha Plimpton (Imogen) in Mark Lamos's Cymbeline
Darko Tresjnak's The Tempest with Shrine Babb (Ariel) at Hartford Stage.
“Charles Ney's Directing Shakespeare in America: Current Practices is an illuminating and much-needed resource for directors, scholars, students, and Shakespeare aficionados … Ney demonstrates a remarkable ability to curate this wealth of wisdom in a way that is compelling and easy to follow … The book is engaging as a straight read-through, but it's equally useful for the reader that wants to skip ahead and explore concise essays on various topics, such as approaches to table work, or how to navigate tech and previews. These practices are invaluable for directors of Shakespeare, but can be more broadly applied as resources for directing any kind of live theatre … Ney's book astonishingly avoids privileging one approach over another. This is a study that attempts to truly capture diverse approaches and contextualize them … This book is an effective snapshot of an incredibly diverse body of work and a must read for Shakespeare directors, scholars, and enthusiasts.”
-Journal of American Drama and Theatre
"I don’t like work that is dull and safe, where you are getting the laughs that have been achieved in the last five productions of that play. I don’t like formulaic theatre. I don’t think it’s enough to say that we hold a mirror up to the world we live in. I think we actually have to take responsibility for changing what’s done." – Des McAnuff
"I dislike very much the language being wrenched out of shape. Because there are simple guidelines that you just follow in speaking. We all follow them whether we know we are following them or not. We’re hitting the verbs. I’m hitting them now. There are rules that help. Like playing cards or understanding music." – Mark Lamos
DIRECTING SHAKESPEARE IN AMERICA is the result of a fourteen-year study of directors working on Shakespeare. Over the last decade, Charles Ney interviewed more than 60 artistic directors and directors about their beliefs and craft. In addition, he has researched the history of the most influential American directors of Shakespeare starting with Augustin Daly.
The first book, Current Practices was publisedon February 2016. It consists of advice on all aspects of directing a Shakespearean production. It is presented in the order in which a director works on a "typical" production. Ney discussed with each director how they handled the nuts and bolts of their work in the various phases of production. Live interviews allowed Ney to get a feel for each director's personal style and in almost every instance, he was able to view at least one production directed by them.
The second book, Historical Perspectives, examines the history of directing Shakespeare in America. The book covers activity form mid 19thcentury to 2000, including major productions as well as directorial approaches and methods
"Charles Ney’s Directing Shakespeare in America: Current Practices is an illuminating and much-needed resource for directors, scholars, students, and Shakespeare aficionados. Between 2004 and 2015, Ney interviewed a veritable “who’s who” in the American Shakespeare scene. He selected 65 directors to participate in this study, an impressive feat as these are among the most prolific practitioners and artistic directors in the United States. Any of the interviewees in Charles Ney’s book could be the subject of an entire monograph, but Ney demonstrates a remarkable ability to curate this wealth of wisdom in a way that is compelling and easy to follow. Rather than presenting the interviews as self-contained essays, he has taken the much more useful approach of extracting and collating advice from each interviewee and organizing it based on topic. He identifies common approaches and creates convincing categories in which each director can be viewed. The book is engaging as a straight read-through, but it’s equally useful for the reader that wants to skip ahead and explore concise essays on various topics, such as approaches to table work, or how to navigate tech and previews. These practices are invaluable for directors of Shakespeare, but can be more broadly applied as resources for directing any kind of live theatre.
A prolific director himself, Ney no doubt has his own informed opinions about how to approach directing Shakespeare, and yet he manages to serve as a fair and impartial conduit for each interviewee’s ideas. He transmits a variety of approaches without prejudice, saying “... there is more that can be learned by setting those judgements aside” (28). He is present in this work, not as a director, but as a keen scholar
organizing a chaotic cacophony of ideas. Still, his underlying tone in this book is that of a person with great reverence for the artistic process and great respect for a diversity of approaches. Part I includes an introduction to each director’s career and attempts to identify their major beliefs and aesthetic sensibilities. Part II focuses on preproduction, how the director prepares to work with designers and actors. Part III explores the various approaches to rehearsal, with focuses on table work, staging, speaking the language, and middle stage rehearsals. Part IV, titled “Finishing the Production,” explores tech and dress, as well as the added element of the audience.
Ney intends this book “to be a framework in which to view an individual’s work” (1). It accomplishes that and much more. A director can read Ney’s book and apply this framework to their own process. For example, a “Shakespeare as a Contemporary” director takes artistic license to promote the text’s relevance to the present. Conversely, an “Original Practices Director” works as a “director archeologist,” using Elizabethan staging practices to reveal possibilities in the text (31). The “Invisible Director” aims to “erase the traces” of the director (31) while the “Interpretive Director” actively attempts to collaborate with Shakespeare while putting forth a strong artistic vision for the play. For each of these approaches, Ney provides examples of specific directors’ processes. Categorizing directors based on their theoretical or practical approaches is challenging, but Ney makes convincing arguments for his breakdowns, while acknowledging that any individual director will defy those at times, based on the practical demands of their production or the nature of collaboration. These approaches are sometimes contradictory in a way that feels invigorating, as Ney creates a dialectic between powerful voices.
The book then presents a breakdown of the common elements of production – selection, casting, concept, table-work, rehearsals, tech, previews, performance, etc. – and each section offers reflective advice from a number of directors. Ney doesn’t allow the discussions to become a collection of disconnected essays, but curates this information, extracting relevant information and placing it in appropriate sections. He develops useful categories and identifies major themes in each chapter. He sometimes identifies which approach is dominant, but never which approach is right. One can assume, based on the success of the interviewees, that every approach delineated has merit. The reader is invited to pick and choose. He manages to contextualize without getting in the way. These directors’ voices shine through.
Ney’s contribution is unparalleled, in part because of his specific focus on the rich community of directors in the United States. A 1990 book by Ralph Berry called On Directing Shakespeare featured 12 interviews, including Trevor Nunn and Peter Brook, with no specific geographic focus. The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare, edited in 2008 by John Russell Brown, includes interviews with 31 directors (4 of which were American), and each chapter focused on a different director’s approach. Nancy Taylor’s 2005 book, Women Direct Shakespeare in America, focused on feminist performance theory in practice during the 1990s. Elizabeth Schafer took a similar approach in 2000 with her Ms – Directing Shakespeare: Women Direct Shakespeare. Countless instructional books exist that focus on directing Shakespeare, but each of those only focuses on one author’s specific approach.
Ney’s book astonishingly avoids privileging one approach over another. This is a study that attempts to truly capture diverse approaches and contextualize them. Each interviewee generously throws open the doors to their process and the result is instructive. There were moments when I craved more examples from specific productions to illustrate points, or to more clearly set up the contrast between directors, but I understand this would have made things lengthier and perhaps cumbersome. This book is an effective snapshot of an incredibly diverse body of work and a must read for Shakespeare directors, scholars, and enthusiasts."
-Deric McNish Michigan State University
Copyright 2013. Charles Ney. All Rights Reserved.