3 Questions

3 Questions with Incite Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Ariana Karp

Of gender, genre and the timelessness of Shakespeare

(Courtesy Ariana Karp)

How does someone who doesn’t live in Santa Fe end up as the artistic director for a theater troupe like the Incite Shakespeare Company? In the case of Ariana Karp, it’s mainly about being a big ol’ Bard nerd. Karp, who calls Davis, California, home, has served in the role since 2018, though her involvement with local Shakespeare dates back to 2016 and companies like Upstart Crows. An actor, director and visionary with a degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Karp spends a few months in Santa Fe each summer helping to mount and perform in ISC productions. Romeo & Juliet opens this weekend (7:30 pm Friday July 5 and Saturday, July 6; 2 pm Sunday July 7. $5-$100. The Actors Lab, 1213 Parkway Drive, iscsantafe.org), followed by The Taming of the Shrew later this month. This interview has been edited for clarity and concision. (Alex De Vore)

This year’s season bears a theme: Genre/gender-bending. Can you talk about what this means?

If we’re looking at gender and genre for the two plays we’re doing, Romeo & Juliet is the genre one. It really starts out as a comedy, and so many productions I’ve seen—look, we all know the ending, and it’s very easy to play the end of the play at the beginning of the play and not have fun with the whole first half—but it’s absolutely a comedy right up until Mercutio dies and everything goes wrong.

Conversely, when we get to our gender-bending The Taming of the Shrew, we’re setting it in an upside-down world where women hold the financial and political power. It was sort of like, ‘well what does that do to the play?’ There’s a whole baggage car to unpack with that play; it has even been used to justify an American history of physical and emotional marriage abuse for centuries. We’re also queering a couple characters; and gender-fluidity is very much written into Shakespeare’s plays. It doesn’t seem radical to me. He was constantly playing with gender and genre. King Lear was a well-known story that had a happy ending, but Shakespare was like, ‘Naw, we’re going to make this have the most tragic ending.’ And it must have been shocking to his audiences. And you know, it seems like a perfect moment to examine both of these concepts.

I understand there’s a bit of a prompt for audiences to consider at ISC shows this year: ‘Choose Shakespeare—timely, imaginative and riveting.’ What does this mean to you?

It was really part of the marketing tagline. Because Santa Fe is bursting to the brim with experiences and things you can do, what do we tell people? We tell them to choose Shakespeare. Shakespeare still speaks to us to this day. It still speaks to audiences, it still speaks to actors, and I think…in a world that is full of 140-character thoughts, it’s part of valuing complexity and nuance. It’s empowering to delve into something that seems on the surface to be complex. Just because it’s on the surface doesn’t mean there’s not an information goldmine. Shakespeare is so global at this point, and nobody owns Shakespeare, which is fantastic. He was writing at a time when they were just getting out of the morality play era, and I think the reason he endured was because not a single character he wrote—with the exception of Iago—is all good or all bad. Most characters have a moment, too, when you think, ‘Oh, c’mon! What’re you doing?’ That’s the most human thing ever.

ISC’s promo describes a contemporary approach to this summer’s productions. Can you share any specifics about that?

‘Contemporary’ does not necessarily mean we’re doing Hamlet in Space! To me, ‘contemporary’ has more to do with trying to think about how this play speaks to our time now. How does this resonate with a contemporary audience? And it’s not about shying away from moments that don’t resonate with a contemporary audience, but acknowledging they’re there.

The other part of it has to do with process, because I think for far too long there have been a lot of really unhealthy processes in the theater industry where actors are taken for granted, taken advantage of, so we try to do a contemporary approach inspired by Shakespeare’s companies’ process: We start our rehearsals on Sunday, and we open on Friday, and it’s all-day rehearsals. Shakespeare’s companies would raise shows in probably a day, day-and-a-half. The process is what I consider our most contemporary approach—how can we improve the process and make it both supportive and challenging? If it’s just supportive, we’re not doing anything; if it’s just challenging, it’s almost abuse. Much of the rehearsal process and the way we focus is on sensible building and listening skills, and what we found last year is that everyone is excited about that. The contemporary aspect is also about our relationship to our audience. The show changes because our audience is there. But internally, we want to have really good practices. But we’re still tweaking it and I don’t think it’s ever a static or fixed thing.

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