Many Goodly Creatures: Allen Radway talks THE TEMPEST, Simpatico, and fatherhood

He’s one of the very best actors and directors in Philadelphia; artistic director of one of the city’s most consistently first-rate independent companies, Simpatico Theatre Project; and recently became the proud and loving father of a young daughter. Even a brief encounter with Allen Radway reveals the intelligence, sympathy, and generosity of spirit evident in his theatrical work.

This month sees the launch of Allen’s newest directorial endeavor: Commonwealth Classic Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, which will tour around Philadelphia-area parks July 8-25, 2015 (see here or scroll to the end of article for full listing). Phindie talked to Allen about directing THE TEMPEST and got the scoop on Simpatico’s 2015/16 season.

Allen Radway

Allen Radway directing.

Phindie: What attracts you to THE TEMPEST?

Allen Radway: I love its smoke and mirrors and its balance and perfection as a piece of theater. It offers so much to the theater artist and the audience member to explore and enjoy. It resolves itself entirely in a way, yet it has such beautiful ambiguity. True magic, I guess—it’s so well crafted. It shows you everything, and still keeps its mystique. The real trick, its sleight of hand, however, is where all the convoluted plot-lines and different themes lead you. I mean, is it about forgiveness? The ravages of colonialism? The journey of the divided self toward oneness? Christian absolution and/or personal ascension? The artist’s farewell to his craft and the actor’s final bow to her audience? That’s the magician’s greatest accomplishment—each audience member takes that secret away with them at the end of the day. Great theatre.

Phindie: What challenges does it pose as a director?

AR: I think it taunts the director initially. It begs to be “improved”, interpreted, messed with, stamped, cut badly for conceit, or navigated by only one of those thematic paths. But it’s a tight piece. Shakespeare’s most complete play probably. You mess with that and it can quickly become nothing but a commercial for the director’s genius. Which is really the opposite of what the playwright intended with his final solely-authored play, I think. Don’t get me wrong, Prospero the artist is acutely aware of his powers and prowess and doesn’t shy from a good brag in verse – but wisdom is often as simple as learning to get out of your own way. And in that respect this production to me is about release of ego and acceptance. All that Hamlet’s “Let be.” can contain. So, ultimately, I feel Shakespeare has done your heavy lifting. The piece can take care of you. Let be.

David Howey (Prospero) and Mary Beth Shrader (Miranda) in CCTC THE TEMPEST. Photo by Plate|3 Photography.

David Howey (Prospero) and Mary Beth Shrader (Miranda) in CCTC THE TEMPEST. Photo by Plate|3 Photography.

Phindie: What are the special challenges to directing a play for outdoors performances?

AR: Balancing the size and subtlety is the biggest challenge. You lack the benefit of the built-in acoustics of a four-walled theatre space, but you still want and need the flexibility for intimate moments between your actors/characters. So finding a way to broadcast that subtlety over a sea of picnickers and nature presents a happy challenge. Though I have to say, I love that CCTC uses directional mics rather than body mics [stationary microphones placed around the stage versus mic-ing each actor]. It allows the performer to rise to the language better, make clearer, bolder choices, and own the space more. It’s worth mentioning that directional mics also help block the play. If the actors want to make an argument for a smaller moment they need to find their way downstage to a hotspot. Outside, the actors have to “think microphone” in addition to business as usual.

Phindie: Has your newfound fatherhood provided you with new perspectives on the parent/child relationships in the play?

AR: Absolutely, in every way imaginable. Notwithstanding that Janice [Janice Rowland, Allen’s wife and a talented actor in her own right] and I named our daughter ‘Clarabelle’ (for my grandmother) after seeing Clark Park’s production of THE TEMPEST two seasons back. In the play, Alonso and his court are returning from his daughter Claribel’s wedding in Tunisia, when they are snared by Prospero’s storm. But yeah, being a dad has brought a sea change to my work in general. A sharpness, I hope. Greater purpose without question.

The play’s relationships are all grounded in the conflict of ‘nature and nurture’. A concept conveniently coined by Shakespeare in THE TEMPEST. Parenthood in all its forms was a big focus in the rehearsal room in the early going. Bob Weick, who plays Alonso, and I discussed how the King’s relationship to his children has been muddied by the increasing bureaucracy of his rule – set in motion by Prospero’s overthrow. Alonso’s journey is then one of rediscovery – in which the very man he wronged resurrects his son and gives him back Time. That’s a hell of a thing. Caliban and Ariel’s complicated relationships to their master are another facet of parenting, often an ugly and unjust one. But Prospero and Miranda’s relationship speaks to me simply. It guides Prospero’s every action. His journey and legacy are her happiness and clear horizon. I think of Belle in every one of their scenes.

David Howey, my Shakespearean father and mentor – the quintessential Prospero in my book – and I have spent most of our private discussions talking about our families, how our lives and philosophies have changed over the twenty years we’ve known each other, and musing simply on the big stuff THE TEMPEST conjures. We then say “Ooh, that’ll be a nice angle to work in our Act II,” and then get back to it.

Phindie: Looking past THE TEMPEST, what excites you about the upcoming season from Simpatico?

AR: Everything. We haven’t announced publicly yet, so how about the scoop, Phindie?

Phindie: Yay! What can we expect?

AR; We really have an amazing one on the books. Two world premieres in our new home at The Drake and an all-ages odyssey in co-production with Drexel’s Mandell Professionals in Residence Program. We launch Season 11 in November with John Hildreth’s adaptation of Richard Adams’s cult favorite Watership Down, which will feature puppetry by Aaron Cromie, animal-researched movement with live actors, and sprawling, projected, watercolor landscapes by Ulysses-Seen creator Robert Berry. In January we present the world premiere of Amanda Schoonover and Brenna Geffers’s The It Girl, an expansion of Amanda’s 2013 SoLow show. It’s currently being further developed through 1812’s amazing Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program. And then we close the season in June with our second commissioned work, the world premiere of Time Is On Our Side by R. Eric Thomas, which traces a Philadelphia mystery through the history of our own LGBT+ community. The plays are directed by myself, Brenna, and Simpatico’s associate artistic director Jarrod Markman respectively. We’re thrilled.

Phindie: That sounds like a great line-up. Watership Down is such an amazing book. Are we going to see you onstage anywhere soon?

AR: Maybe next spring. I’ll keep you posted. I miss it, I won’t lie. Running a company has taken me off the boards more than I’d like in the last five years. The juggle of parenthood, which I refuse to miss, and teaching at the Brind School (UArts), which I absolutely adore, are big factors too. So yeah, turning down work can be really depressing sometimes, and eventually they’ll stop calling I suppose, but for now I really enjoy the luxury of being more selective about the work I do. I’m just grateful to be out there whenever I get the chance. Acting is no longer a neurotic process for me though. It’s a joy—earned.

Phindie: Do you have a favorite line from THE TEMPEST? 

AR: It’s a three-way tie. “The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance”; “This thing of darkness—I acknowledge mine”; and Miranda and Prospero’s exchange:
MIRANDA: How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t.
PROSPERO: ’Tis new to thee.

Phindie: Thanks Allen! We’ll look out for them in your production!

THE TEMPEST runs July 8-25, 2015, at these locations around Philadelphia.(Philadelphia locations in italics). Visit commonwealthclassictheatre.org for more details

Wednesday, July 8th 7:30pm: Twentieth Century Club Lawn, Lansdowne, PA (Open Dress Rehearsal)
Thursday, July 9th 6:30pm: Kimberton Park, Kimberton, East Pikeland, PA (rain or shine)
Friday, July 10th 7:00pm: Everhart Park, West Chester, PA
Saturday, July 11th 7:00pm: Green Lane Park, Montgomery County, PA
Sunday, July 12th 7:00pm: Auburn Road Vineyard, Pilesgrove, NJ (rain or shine)

Tuesday, July 14th 7:00pm: The Willows, Radnor, PA (raindate: July 21)
Wednesday, July 15th 6:30pm: Morris Arboretum, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia (rain or shine)
Thursday, July 16th 7:00pm: McMichael Park, East Falls, Philadelphia (rain or shine)
Friday, July 17th 7:00pm: West Pikeland Cultural Center Earthworks, PA (rain or shine)
Saturday, July 18th 7:00pm: West Goshen Community Park, West Goshen, PA (raindate: July 19)

Wednesday, July 22nd 7:00pm: East Goshen Township Park, East Goshen, PA
Thursday, July 23rd 7:30pm: Whites Road Park, Lansdale, PA (raindate: July 26)
Friday, July 24th 7:00pm: Brookhaven Borough, Municipal Lawn, PA (rain or shine)
Saturday, July 25th 7:00pm: Penn Treaty Park, Philadelphia

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.