Michael Dyer: director
Michael Dyer has been artistic director of outdoor touring Shakespeare company the Festival Players since 2001. To celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary, it is mounting UK and European tours of Henry IV and As You Like It, visiting locations from Scotland to the Scilly Isles, and including trips to Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.
What do you enjoy about staging your productions outside?
It gives us a freedom of where we perform. We are mainly in semi-rural areas and many of our audiences can’t or don’t have the time to drive an hour and a half to watch theatre, and sometimes we’re the only theatre they see in a year apart from maybe a local pantomime. We usually stick to original dress and setting because of the places we play – castles and stately homes. People come along with their picnics and bottles of wine. The lovely thing about playing in the open air is that actors can actually see the audience. In a theatre you can’t engage with the audience in quite the same way.
Some people find Shakespeare to be inaccessible – is that something you try to combat?
Without dumbing the shows down we do try and make sure they are accessible. We do sometimes get very young people in the audiences. I’m not going to pretend that they understand everything that’s going on, but if there is enough action and colour and physicality in the performance it can be very engaging even for a very young person. I also think it’s good for the actors. When I left drama school, where I trained as an actor, I went straight into rep – a wonderful training ground which is, unfortunately, hardly there anymore.
What sort of training do you think you benefited from in rep that is now lost?
I left drama school in 1968 and two weeks later I went into weekly rep with the Arthur Brough Players in Folkestone. I think you pick up from your fellow actors the skills of being able to make decisions quickly in the rehearsal period. When you’ve got to do a show in a week, you make decisions quickly. I’m not advocating weekly rep as the ideal situation but equally I do find you can rehearse for too long. After a certain period you do need to get in front of an audience – that’s where you really start learning and that’s what you benefit from in rep.
You are a former artistic director of the Minack Theatre in Cornwall – how did you get involved with the venue?
I contacted the then director and asked what I had to do to get a show in there. He said there was a long waiting list unless I came up with something very unusual, so I did a stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I did in 1975. I had an association with the theatre after that, then the job became vacant and I applied for the post. Sure, it has its problems – I performed on the stage, I remember doing Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus with a heavy Mozartian grand piano, which was being blown across the stage in a gale. That would be in a matinee and by the evening you could hear someone whisper from the stage at the top of the cliff. It is so unique and quite tremendous.
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