October 1, 2001

Contact: Sarah Ray
Posted: October 1, 2001

MIDDLEBURY, VT - The London Theatre Exchange (LTE) kicks off a five-week residency at Middlebury College this fall with two works: "Elizabethan Rivals: Art or Money," featuring the legendary rivalry between William Shakespeare and Philip Henslowe over art versus enterprise, and "A Century on Stage: from Shaw and Wilde to the Present," exploring how dramatic literature in the 20th century reflected a changing society. "Elizabethan Rivals" is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 12, and "A Century on Stage" for Saturday, Oct. 13. Both performances will take place at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall in the Center for the Arts on South Main Street (Route 30).

Public question-and-answer periods will follow both performances.

Now 10 years old, LTE was formed by a group of senior actors, directors and teachers from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

LTE's award-winning director and producer Chris Hayes and other founding members sought a way to broaden their creativity by collaborating with actors, companies and playwrights from around the world. Known for an innovative production style, the organization draws on leading theatre companies and training schools in the United States and Britain for its artists-actors, teachers, directors, writers, designers and technicians. Their primary focus is the development of small-scale ensemble shows with American and British casts, as well as the organization of workshops for actors and directors in U.S. and foreign locations from Atlanta, Nashville and Los Angeles to Milan, Munich and Buenos Aires.

While in Middlebury, the LTE will present these two performances, conduct a two-week workshop with Middlebury College students, and put on a teacher workshop for a diverse group of Vermont educators and Middlebury College teacher education students. Director Hayes will also lead a Middlebury College theater program production of "Henry V" in early November.

The performances are sponsored by the Middlebury College Performing Arts Series and the theatre program. Tickets for the Oct. 12-13 shows are $10 for general admission and $8 forsenior citizens. A pre-performance dinner Friday, Oct. 12, will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Rehearsal's Cafe in the Center for the Arts. Reservations are required. For tickets or dinner reservations, call the College box office at 802-443-6433.

To follow is an interview with director and producer Chris Hayes conducted by Middlebury College Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone via telephone and e-mail in September:

An Interview with Chris Hayes of the London Theatre Exchange
Chris Hayes has worked in British theatre, film and television for over 30 years, directing in that time more than 500 productions. He founded the London Theatre Exchange in 1991. This year during October and November, the London Theatre Exchange will be in residence at Middlebury College and will conduct a variety of events: an intensive two-week workshop by Hayes and colleagues Katya Benjamin and William Richards for theatre students in acting, voice and movement; two platform performances for the Performing Arts Series, one featuring Elizabethan theatre and the second exploring 20th-century British drama; subsequent discussions of the work and the company's process; and a three-day teacher education workshop at the College's Bread Loaf campus, led by Benjamin and Richards. The residency culminates with Hayes' production of Shakespeare's Henry V, by a company of 21 Middlebury students. Henry V will be presented in the Seeler Studio Theatre on Nov. 8-10.

Q: Chris, how did you first become involved with theatre?
As a callow and shy 14-year-old, the drama club at my school was a magnet. It was certainly run by an inspirational teacher who influenced me greatly. The real pull, though, was that you got to spend time-sometimes even in chaste legitimate physical contact-with girls. And naturally, the girls who were interested in drama were always the most desirable. Within two years, I knew that I wanted to direct. Even before I understood what it really meant, it seemed to me the plum position.

After drama school (New College in London), I started working in as many areas of the theatre process as possible. Over the next few years, I did everything from FOH [front of house], publicity, stage/production management, lighting design and…yes, of course, acting. I wanted to direct, but I thought it important to experience all areas. I devised and directed several terrible, typical '60s confrontational pieces on the nascent London fringe scene.

My first professional directing job (i.e. where I was paid to work with other people who were also paid-albeit £30 per week) was in a small theatre in a bleak summer coastal resort in East Anglia in Norfolk. It was weekly rep-a new production each week-70 seats and a proscenium stage, 12 feet by 12 feet. I went to windy Norfolk with, to me, the huge carrot of directing Blithe Spirit. In a week! Those were the days when the "company" was acting one show at night, and during the day rehearsing the next and learning the lines for the one after that. I have no memory of what it was like-but I'm sure it was an appalling, cliché-ridden, derivative mess!

And no doubt I might have gone on like that if I hadn't had the good fortune a few months later to be tried out by Hugh Cruttwell (then principal of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, RADA) to direct a production of Orton's Loot in a small upstairs room with some students. That led to three years working at RADA virtually continuously, and that's where I learnt what directing was
about. I had the good fortune to work on the widest conceivable range of plays that commercially would have been impossible. Also I was cutting my teeth on, by and large, talented actors. It was the best training a young director could get-and I was being paid for it! I never forgot that and all through my career I have gone back at different times to direct and work with students as a teacher at RADA and other drama training institutions or schools.

Q: What, then, does directing now mean to you?
Forty years later, I really don't like the term. It is a misleading description. The old-fashioned term of producer-as it was used previously in the United Kingdom, to mean someone who worked with the actors, etc., as opposed to the money person or manager-is more descriptive, although now not reclaimable. Peter Brook suggested the word "distiller" in 1999. This is much more accurate to describe the process and function but, unfortunately, far too pretentious sounding to my ears to actually use. So I guess we're stuck with director. Doesn't really matter as long as the people who are working with you don't expect you to "direct" them anywhere.

Q: Can you talk about the founding of the London Theatre Exchange?
LTE was established in 1991 as an independent company to work in partnership with like-minded organizations overseas to develop these international cross-cultural productions and training workshops. Underlying our work are four principal objectives: to revitalize the presentation of classical texts by integrating the strengths of different theatrical traditions, to facilitate the interchange of practitioners between countries, to create possibilities for original writing in a global context, and to research and develop new training methods for today's modern actor.

Underneath what's written, there is a realization that I came to in the late '80s/early '90s. The personal journey that I found myself merrily, and unthinkingly, rolling along on-always directing and producing "bigger and more showy" productions in the West End, etc.-was not satisfying any more. The catalyst for this re-think was, I admit, pragmatic. There was a recession looming and that, quite simply, was making it harder and harder to do the kind of plays I wanted to in such a public arena. Looking back on it from this perspective, I see that I was seduced by the chimera of its glitz, which, at the time, I took for "success." Thus the idea of what became London Theatre Exchange-a platform of a much lower key was born.

Q: What can you say about the production of Henry V which you are directing here?
Except in the most general terms, I am finding it impossible to describe how Henry V will turn out. The idea is to use the text as a vehicle to explore war, conflict, heroism, etc., at the personal level of the ordinary citizen. It has been cut, I hope, in such a way that gives scope for this.

However, the shattering events of September will inevitably sharpen our collective focus in, as yet, unknown directions. How this will manifest itself on stage in a play written 400 years ago, I do not yet know. But at this moment, it feels so present and all consuming that it cannot but affect what we come up with. Is it a harbinger of the next chilling phase in the history of "man's inhumanity to man"?

In practical terms, the hope is that the experience of the immediately preceding British Classic Theatre Workshop will allow us as a group to develop a common language of communication, trust, lightness-of-touch, and freedom which we can take directly into the performance via the rehearsal room.