Enduring works of live theater continue to be performed; even in this fast-changing digital age, with disruption to so much long-held, accepted wisdom. Classic works of literature and theater keep on sparking audience’s interests and hearts.
Bringing “the greatest works to the greatest number,” the nationally recognized Aquila Theatre, a touring stage troupe based in New York City, will be making two appearances in Northern Virginia in the upcoming weeks. The company will perform Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights as well as Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Both are classics that share universal themes of romance and revenge, even as life must go on.
Aquila Theatre was founded in 1991 by Peter Meineck. Aquila has been based in New York City since 1999. The theater company has a New York City-based season performing in the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and a touring component. Now under the artistic direction of Desiree Sanchez, the company regularly performs at George Mason University. Last season the company brought Twelfth Night and Fahrenheit 451 to area audiences.
The performance of Wuthering Heights will be at the George Mason University Center for the Arts in Fairfax, VA on October 5, 2014.
The Tempest will be performed at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, VA on October 11, 2014.
What may be of interest to this column’s readers is the on-the-road life of Aquila’s touring component. The company travels to about fifty to seventy American towns and cities each year. For a gander at its 2014-15 touring schedule go to the Aquila Theatre touring page.
Here’s a quick story line for each of the two show to be performed for those unfamiliar:
Wuthering Heights is based upon the 1847 classic novel by Emily Bronte. Wuthering Heights is the name of the farmhouse where the story unfolds about the romance between Catherine and Heathcliff. The George Mason University press release describes Wuthering Heights: it is a “riveting tale of passion….and of revenge, family, social class and the supernatural” brought into view. There are damaging forces, jealousy and vengefulness aplenty at the show’s core.
The Tempest is one of William Shakespeare’s most recognizable works; and one of the last he authored. As described in Hylton Performing Arts Center press material, The Tempest, “spins a magical tale of shipwrecks and storms, revenge and reconciliation, and a father’s love for his child.” The tale takes place on a exotic, magical island. where the father, Prospero, works to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using much illusion and trickery.
This article is based on interviews with Aquila Theatre artistic leadership as well as several of the actors appearing in the upcoming productions.
David Siegel: How does Aquila decide what classic plays to tour each year?
Christopher Marc, Aquila Theater Company Stage Manager and Sound Designer:
We typically try to do at least one Shakespeare show, and one Classic. The classic is usually chosen based off of what the university programs are studying in the current year for The Big Read Program.
Note: The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts. It is designed to revitalize the role of reading in American culture by exposing people to great works of literature and encouraging them to read for pleasure and enrichment. The Big Read is a partnership of the NEA with Arts Midwest. Here’s more information on The Big Read.
What is the size of the touring company both cast and crew? Do company casts appear in both productions?
The company’s cast and crew is 8 people this year. 2 Crew. 6 Actors. Both shows involve the whole company.
How does Aquila travel about the country? What are the challenges of a touring company?
We travel with a van and trailer…We design our sets to be easy to install and small enough to pack into a trailer. That can be a challenge with two productions. The biggest thing we run up against is the varying theatre conditions we enter. Some of the spaces are very nice, and others we have to adapt our set and lighting to accommodate the venue. The real trick is we often aren’t aware of the challenges until the day of the show when we load in. We do a lot of problem solving on the fly.
How would you describe the acting “style” of Aquila Theatre?
Aquila is a very movement based company. We try to break free from the standard way of presenting a show and give the audience something different and challenging to see and talk about.
Why do you want to be part of the touring Aquila Theatre?
Calder Shilling, Actor: I love the challenge of adapting to multiple theaters and audiences, as well as the pleasure of visiting parts of the country I’ve never seen before.
Kali Hughes, Actor: Working with incredibly talented people with a shared passion for telling stories in innovative ways. I adore my roles in both plays and never tire of the infinite variety of beauty and culture this enormous country has to offer over the several months that we tour
Ralph Farris, Composer and Music Director for Aquila Theatre’s production of The Tempest.
“These gifted actors have all taken an active part in building their tracks [songs] with me, which in and of itself is incredibly cool for a collaboratively-minded composer. The actors all sing; they all support each other instrumentally; they all take part in building the music and the sound-scape of our production – all supported by an innovative and deeply committed crew…And the fact that I get to set songs on the words of The Bard (such a pleasure!), and it makes for an awesome artistic and personal experience.
What are the challenges being in two different productions and touring?
Kali Hughes: Once on the road the challenges are few but while rehearsing I tend to immerse myself wholly in one show, one story, one journey for one character, say Miranda, for a few days. Then when it comes time to switch to Wuthering Heights I have to dig about in the dusty files at the bottom of the cabinet in my brain to recall the work I’ve done on that play to date. The main challenge of touring is having to repack my bag every morning in a different hotel room
What are some of the greatest rewards in being in a touring company like Aquila?
Calder Shilling: The opportunity to see so much of the USA, and to interact with audiences of such a wide variety. The range of cultural differences is always surprising and enlightening!
Kali Hughes: Working with incredibly talented people with a shared passion for telling stories in innovative ways.
Wuthering Heights plays on October 5, 2014 at 7 p.m. at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive,in Fairfax, VA. For tickets, call (888) 945-2468, or purchase tickets online.
The Tempest will be performed on October 11, 2014 at 8 p.m. at Hylton Performing Arts Center – 10960 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, VA. For tickets, call (888) 945-2468, or purchase tickets online.
An aside: “Aquila” is Latin for “eagle.” In ancient Roman times the eagle represented strength, beauty and leadership. And, of course, the bald eagle is the United States national symbol and national bird.