A dream will become reality for Eleanor Svaton and Tony Pisculli this weekend when the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s production of "The Winter’s Tale" opens its two-weekend run at The Arts at Marks Garage. The show is Svaton’s debut as a solo director and the final step in a journey that started in 2008 when she auditioned for Pisculli’s all-female production of "Henry V."
"It was her first time on stage ever," Pisculli said recently. "I cast her as Katherine in ‘Henry V,’ she went on to serve as my assistant director for ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ and ‘Henry VI,’ and then we co-directed ‘Timon of Athens’ two years ago. This year she’s solo."
THE WINTER’S TALE
Where: The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
"I was 26 years old, pursuing a BA in English at (the University of Hawaii-Manoa), and I had always wanted to act," Svaton recalled, communicating by email while immersed in rehearsals for "The Winter’s Tale." "As an English major, I was very much into studying Shakespeare, I had read that there were three shows and one had an all-female cast, and so I decided to go for it."
Svaton almost didn’t pass the audition. She was so intimidated by the veteran actors who auditioned before her that when her turn came "I was basically a talking head. My hands were shaking and I could barely move." She credits director Scott Rogers, who was conducting auditions for his HSF production of "Othello," with encouraging her to try again and "really go for it."
"I did, and I got called back (for a second audition) and I got to be a French princess! And a Scottish captain. Being in an all-female cast of around 23 actors was amazing — the most nurturing experience," Svaton says. "The ladies of ‘Henry V,’ and Tony, are the reason I am now totally and completely a ‘theatre person.’ I am still very close with many of the people I worked with on that production."
Giving people of all experience levels an opportunity to do Shakespeare was a major consideration for Pisculli, Harry Wong III and R. Kevin Doyle when they created the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival as a midsummer theater program in 2002. High schools and colleges were on vacation and Oahu’s community theater groups were also dormant. People like Svaton who had no experience were welcome to participate. People who wanted to learn more about doing theater were given the opportunity to so.
"Tony and I were having a drink at Mercury Bar one night after the show and I said that I thought I would really like directing. Right then and there he asked me if I wanted to be his AD the following summer for his all-male production of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor.’ We worked together from the beginning of the process (and) I loved it, so much so that I AD’ed for him again the following year and (also) acted in the show — an all-female ‘Henry VI’ trilogy. It was an amazing experience."
Pisculli invited her to be his co-director for HSF’s production of "Timon of Athens" in 2013. She says that co-directing means that "pretty much everything had to be discussed."
"We had to know exactly what we wanted so that the cast wasn’t getting mixed signals. … But the product was cohesive and clear and Tony and I were both very happy with the outcome."
Svaton will have her hands full with "Winter’s Tale," which combines spousal jealousy, tragedy, romance and humor, and comes complete with a magical resolution. She said directing solo "requires I bring all of my strengths and skills to the task, every night, every rehearsal, until we open. I have a lot of support, but being at the helm, solely accountable for nearly every aspect of the production, that’s a lot (of responsibility). On the other hand, in many ways I feel totally in my element, like this is what I should be doing."
Pisculli said Svaton’s directorial debut is an important milestone, not just for her, but for HSF. Every other HSF director has had a degree in theater and outside directing experience. "Eleanor is the first to rise through the ranks, so to speak," he said.
We all take different paths, and I think mine and someone with a theater degree’s paths aren’t actually all that different," Svaton says. "It’s all about knowledge and experience."