Making Our Own Measure 

Director’s notes by Martha Henry


In 1975, Robin Phillips directed the Festival’s signature production (exempting the first, in 1954) of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, one that was brought back for a second year. I had the great good fortune to be in that production; now, in 2013, I am charged with directing the play myself.

This assignment carries its own push-pull dynamics: some portions of the play I remember vividly and others seem completely new to me. One might think that the vivid memories would be helpful – but on the contrary, not only do you not wish to repeat what was done before, you often will deliberately avoid moments of recognition simply for that reason. Eventually, of course, the actors make it their own, and one day you realize that you could not repeat what was done before, even if you wanted to – it’s not physically possible.

Some points of interest we have discovered in rehearsals: the time period in this play is one of Shakespeare’s most cohesive. The Duke leaves in the early hours of a Saturday morning, and we go straight on through the following three days until the Duke’s return on Tuesday. Notice how many of the scenes take place at night: no one seems to sleep in Measure for Measure (except the condemned prisoner, Barnardine).   

Shakespeare sets this play in Vienna. We have chosen 1949 as a post-war setting for a story that depends on intrigue, chance, opportunity and picking up whatever you can in the street in order to make a living. It’s the first time I have ever had the opportunity to direct a play of Shakespeare’s set within my lifetime!

One word about the soundscape: In Montreal this past fall, directing Red for the Segal Centre (starring the amazing Randy Hughson), we were in the scene shop learning how to paint, when I spied an odd-looking “machine” built by the scenic artist, Jeremy Gordaneer. It was created out of bicycle parts, old saws, screws, rods, all the flotsam and jetsam he had lying around. Jeremy demonstrated.

He had made it as part of a performance piece for a dancer; when the dancer hit or stroked the machine with his body, it would make . . . well . . . sounds. I had been looking for “the sound” of this Vienna to personify the ambiguities of the play: the raw displays and the cover-ups, the light- and heavy-heartedness, the overt sexuality and stringent purity of the characters. I didn’t want Strauss waltzes.

Here, in the Gordaneer machine, was the answer. Todd Charlton, our sound designer, went to Montreal to meet both Jeremy and his creation – then came back with every audio permutation and combination imaginable. From that, he has created a world – an odd world, but an original world – within which this oddly challenging play can live.

We have a stupendous cast and production team for this Measure for Measure. Everything the actors come up with is fresh and original, the designers are amazing, and our stage management and crew are absolutely terrific! They are all gifted and skilled, and I am a very lucky inhabitress of this play – the second time around.

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