Antony and Cleopatra director Elizabeth Huffman
Hello, and welcome to the first in our Cleo Chat series of posts that will feature interviews with the amazing people that are bringing Portland Actors Ensemble’s upcoming production of Antony and Cleopatra to life for audiences this summer! Today we feature the first part of a 2-part interview with Portland director, Elizabeth Huffman, as she talks about the style that she’s created for this version of Antony and Cleopatra and more–we hope you enjoy it.
(Athena McElrath-AM) How did you arrive at the style for this production of Antony and Cleopatra?
(Elizabeth Huffman-EH) I think that my Middle Eastern background has formed the foundation for the production. I wanted to create an Egypt that represented the cultural beauty of the entire African/Middle Eastern region. I am not really trying to create ancient Egypt but instead an Arabic world that we rarely see today on news reports; from its colorful embroidered costumes, jewelry, music, and poetry to its traditional customs, food, and dance.
We chose clothing that is actually worn today in Egypt, building on those elements to extend the design in order to create a highly theatrical culture replete with elaborate wigs and makeup. I wanted the Romans to look on this culture as so foreign that they may as well have come from another world entirely; somewhat like the way we observe many African or Bedouin cultures today when we see their colorful pictures in National Geographic and wonder why do they dress or act like that? Why are they not like us?
The production explores what happens when an ancient culture like Egypt is threatened by war from a militarily superior and imperially aggressive Rome. Both use as a springboard for the war the relationship of Antony and Cleopatra when that is only a part of the agenda for both countries. What happens when powerful rulers, from vastly different cultures, dare to fall in love? Has anything changed if these events were played out now? This play is remarkably provocative on issues still facing the world today.
(AM) What challenges did you face in mounting this production in an outdoor setting, and can you talk about how you overcame them?
(EH) I will let you know once we open if we overcame all these obstacles! The main one is rain. I live in terror of rain ruining and canceling this beautiful show. But since that is out of my hands, there were 3 things I challenged our brilliant set designer, Sarah Lydecker, to create:
First: I wanted the set to look like an ART installation so that when people are in the park they are immediately drawn closer to see what this beautiful structure is all about and hopefully they will be curious enough to stay and find out. This she has done in a stunning way.
Second: I wanted to bring the audience closer to us, rather than everyone sitting out front, sometimes very far back, not being able to really hear and get involved in the play. We will have the audience on two sides, facing each other in four quadrants, separated by aisles. The acting area is in the middle with Rome at one side and Egypt on another connected by a “road”. Additionally, the actors will often be in the aisles, therefore even closer to them.
Third: It has to be able to be set up and taken down in a half an hour!
Additionally, I hope through the use of live music to captivate the audience, an important consideration in an outdoor setting.
(AM) What attracted you to directing this play?
(EH) It is Shakespeare first and foremost, and I am a classically trained actor and director. Then it is a famous love story with a political and epic scope, which deeply appeals to me as a human being, and finally it is very challenging to stage even indoors; actually, in many ways being outdoors has worked out to be more exciting for this show. I love the play, and as we work on it , I have grown to greatly respect it.
(AM) Do you think Cleopatra was with Antony for love? Or other reasons?
(EH) I think she loves him to distraction. And he loves her to distraction. Distraction can be a dangerous thing.
Part 2 of this interview will be posted soon, so check back in!
You can find our show schedule for Portland Actors Ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra here–please join us and see this production that runs June 19th through July 26th.
Have any questions about Antony and Cleopatra? We’d love to hear about it down in the comments, so feel free to stop by and say hi!
Till next time,
Take pains; be perfect; adieu!Athena McElrath is an actor and singer who is also an Administrative Board member with Portland Actor’s Ensemble. She helps PAE with social media and educational outreach. She often works onstage with her husband, K.J. McElrath, in their cabaret act, called McElrath Cabaret, which features songs from classic Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley. For more: http://mcelrathcabaret.com/