Director’s remarks for the 1st rehearsal of Comedy of Errors

Over this past week I have struggled to find focus.

As some of you may have learned, I do my best to stay politically involved and with so much happening so suddenly, I’ve found myself being pulled in many directions. Since the inauguration, I have marched for Women’s Rights in Austin, protested for Immigrants Rights at the George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, made a daily shuffle of phone calls to Congress, written emails and letters to local leaders, and endeavor(ed) to stay abreast of every Executive Order, Congressional Hearing, and Press Briefing — fact checking all the details.

It has been exhausting, and it is only week two.

I won’t pretend that this hasn’t kept me somewhat outside the world of Comedy of Errors. Under normal circumstances (if we can ever honestly call them that), these weeks leading up to our first rehearsal would have been filled with fervent re-readings of the script searching for new discoveries, finding more articles and essays about previous productions to disseminate and discuss with mentors and colleagues in my analysis of the play, sketching images that preoccupy my brain of possible scenic choices, and generally getting excited for our time to be spent crafting this story.

Instead, I was considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wondering why I’d elected to spend the largest cavity of my free time directing a Shakespearean farce, while my activist cohorts continue the fight for the vanishing civil rights that I, as a gay man, and my immigrant family enjoy. I know I’m not the only in this room who’s felt that pang of compunction.

But a commitment is a commitment, and having been entrusted with this year’s production in Houston’s oldest Shakespeare tradition, feelings needed to be pushed aside to create space for work to be done. News off. Social media off. Phone on silent (because who really turns their phone off). Script out. Read.

The enmity and discord which of late
Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,
Excludes all pity from our threatening looks.
For, since the mortal and intestine jars
‘Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
It hath in solemn synods been decreed
Both by the Syracusians and ourselves,
To admit no traffic to our adverse towns. Nay, more,
If any born at Ephesus be seen
At any Syracusian mart and fairs;
Again: if any Syracusian born
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies.
(Act I, Scene i, Lines 5–19)

Something here sounds familiar.

Heightened comedy in a farce is best achieved by the framework of dire stakes — in this play, the threat of death. Our story opens with EGEON, a merchant from Syracuse who has traveled to Ephesus to find his sons, being condemned to die for the crime of having illegally entered the city.

Something here sounds very familiar.

It reads that DUKE SOLINUS of Ephesus, under the instruction of a religious council (synod), has forbade Syracusan travelers from coming to Ephesus in response to the hostile treatment of Ephesian travelers in Syracuse by their Duke — dare I leap, the discrimination toward and the persecution of said travelers. Both despising the other, the two nation-cities elected to ban the other’s respective citizens from entry. Yet, a father driven by the love of his family is willing to face the threat of death if only to be able to be reunited with his sons once more.

I suppose moving forward a director could understandably conceptualize this opening scene in an airport detention room.

This remarkable coincidence reminded me of several things: 
1) The necessity of the art we create
2) The continued relevance of Shakespeare’s plays (or could it just be history repeating…)
3) The love I have for doing this work

While we won’t be performing a Trump-era Comedy of Errors, we will be presenting the play to a Trump-era audience. That will color their perception of this story and what a gift it is to share wisdom from the bard about the value of humanity over national pride through a raucous farce filled with joy, love, and dirty jokes.

Our task at hand is an important one. Culture is crucial. Community, to be found in an audience from all backgrounds, experiences, and ideologies gaining a common experience on which they can bridge differences and build relationships, is vital. And, particularly in these times, laughter is craved.

My hope is that this room, our rehearsal hall, can serve two conflicting purposes simultaneously. I want this to be a place where you can escape the world and all its pressures. I also want this to be a safe space where you are free to feel and submit to the vulnerability that our work demands.

We have a monumental business before us at a momentous time in our history. I am excited to be a part of it, I am honored to know you, and I am ready to get to work.