For one night only Duomuži present their two person adaptation of Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra. Actor Luke Robbins and director Colleen Sullivan discuss their production coming to The Bread & Roses Theatre on 28 November.
COLLEEN: Here we are back on Skype again. So, that’s my first question, can you talk a bit about our 9-month long rehearsal process on Skype for Antony & Cleopatra?
LUKE: It was a fascinating beast. It was a necessity given our locations and our separation -- oddly enough separation is a huge part of the play — but having that extended time was really helpful. The phrase that kept popping up during our process was this "A&C stew." We had months to think about these characters who were so complex, that defy logic and were so frustrating. We had a lot of time to spend with them individually. It was really interesting to find how personal Skype rehearsal could be.
COLLEEN: What do you mean by “personal”? What does that mean to you?
LUKE: Staring at a computer screen that was entirely Ronald’s face and getting to whisper to him was a really wild experience. Because most of the time I was alone in my apartment so I was feeling isolated on my side. In many ways, it was so much easier to tune everything out and just see him, just hear him. And I could hear everything. It was really nice to be able to play in our tiny, tiny miniature rehearsal space. For such a long time. And then to see it expand out when we were in person. The two spaces we were limited to on Skype helped shape the staging of the play.
LUKE: Question…Why? Why Antony & Cleopatra? We were sitting in your dining room in Gettysburg, PA, August 2015 and we threw the idea of doing a 2-man show out there with Ron and me. I took out the list of Shakespeare plays. Skipped All’s Well That End’s Well and next on the list was Antony & Cleopatra. And as soon as I said it, there was an instant agreement that this was happening. What was it? Why Antony & Cleopatra?
COLLEEN: When I consider working on a project, it’s not about what play I want to direct. I don’t have a list of plays. It’s about who I want to work with. And that was you and Ron. How do we make something special among the three of us? You and Ron had such great chemistry together when we three were working on Henry V. A chemistry that I wanted to explore more deeply. Plus, you two are extraordinary actors. Making a 2-person Shakespeare play has intrigued me for a while. And I also wanted to give you and Ron the opportunity to work on something that would really challenge you. That would push you hard as actors. That would strengthen your relationship as friends and acting partners. Luke, when you said “How about Antony & Cleopatra?” It just felt right. I believe in instinct and trusting my gut. I knew this was a difficult play, it was long, and complicated, with complex characters. But you two are such sensitive humans, I knew you would find the heart and truth in all of these characters. And it would also kick your asses.
LUKE: We did make this decision without Ron. He was in Edinburgh at the time. Immediately, I messaged him and said he’d be playing Antony to my Cleopatra. And he said “Ok”. So, who knows what he thought he was agreeing to.
COLLEEN: I will say that when he emailed me later, he simply replied, “Where’s the script. And when do we start?” We didn’t even know if it was possible to make this play with 2-people. It was hard. But once we decided to cut much of the politics out (Pompey was one of the first to go) we knew this was going to be a play about relationships. Nostalgia and memory became some early themes we were exploring. We cut it to 7 characters. And Ronald started writing the music right away, while I was cutting the script. The first song he wrote and recorded was called "Antony & Cleopatra II." (I can’t remember why it’s a “II”. But we’ve kept all his original working titles. Sentimental. You can hear all the music from the show on our website: www.duomuzi.com)
LUKE: For me, that song became the musical theme for the whole show.
COLLEEN: Me, too. I loved that in our production 'Antony & Cleopatra II" underscores one of my favorite moments, the scene where Antony leaves Cleopatra for the first time. So beautiful. Ok. Another question for you, Luke. Cleopatra. What was the hardest thing about playing her? And after 3 months away from her since our premiere in NY, what are you looking forward to revisiting about her when we bring the show to London?
LUKE: Initially I was intimidated by playing such an iconic female character. About living up to that. I think most people have a definite image of Cleopatra. And what she should be. And you see that in the play as well. The way Enobarbus talks about her. We had a discussion early on about not playing the icon. Not playing up to what others said about her. And it’s something that eventually we found as we worked with her...she’s so deeply insecure. And she hurts a lot. She experiences things so fully. She takes in stimuli and reacts in such a rich way. Whether that’s positive or negative. And that was definitely a challenge. I miss her. I spent so much time saying “Why is she doing this?” “Do I really like her?” “She’s the worst”. But I’ve missed her in this time away from performing the show. Which is strange. There is this intangible quality...there is just something about her. You can’t escape. And you don’t even want to escape from. I’m always finding and feeling new things with her and Antony. Do they even love each other, really?
COLLEEN: Do you think they love each other now?
COLLEEN: I do too. I didn’t know we would get to that realization. Because we questioned it for so long. But just days before we opened and after seeing your performance in New York and feeling the audience’s reactions…Now I know they love each other. I think that discovery surprised us, or it snuck up on us. Were you surprised by that?
LUKE: We stopped questioning after a while. And then it was like, “Oh yeah, they have to love each other.” Another question for you. How did our virtual rehearsal process influence the final piece? What surprised you?
COLLEEN: I think I was surprised by how the intimacy stayed with us from the virtual to the inperson rehearsals and then in the performance. I was a bit worried at first, because the intimacy was so important. When we were finally together in Virginia, face to face, body to body, none of us knew how all these characters should relate physically to each other or to the space. It took a while but eventually we found that same level of intimacy and vulnerability as we did on Skype. There are moments where the performance felt cinematic. Which I think was an influence of working on Skype. The tiny nuances on your faces as you changed characters seamlessly or as you responded to each other. The heightened degree of listening, the focus. That is probably a memory, a residual effect, of the Skype process. Which was surprising and beautiful. Also, we stripped away everything, but the two chairs. No costume changes. Which left you guys so vulnerable. You had to just be there with each other. Raw. Breathing the same air, sweating on each other. Lots of sweat. So much sweat. Can I ask you one more question. Since Ron’s not here, I’ll ask you a question about him. Well, it’s about the two of you. What do you hope that you two can bring to this audience at Bread & Roses?
LUKE: I hope we can show them an Antony & Cleopatra that have never looked like this, have never sounded like this, or have never felt like this.
COLLEEN: Nice. Do you expect it might be a bit different from our New York production?
LUKE: I don’t know. This is my first time performing outside of the US -- it’s my first time being out of the country, in fact -- so I have no idea what to expect. I just hope the audience feels it. I don’t know a better way to say that.
COLLEEN: How do you think Ronald would answer that question. I mean, you’re the duo, after all?
LUKE: It would be eloquent. It would thoughtful. It might be accompanied by a perfect lyric or poem or passage from a novel. And it would put everything I said to shame.
COLLEEN: You are both eloquent. He’s just Czech, so, you know…
LUKE: I’m so excited to have a valid reason to leave the country. And I’m excited that the reason is getting to do what I love.
COLLEEN: See, that was eloquent.
Thank you Bread & Roses. We can’t wait to see you in November!
Signing off, Colleen & Luke