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March 25, 2011

Propeller: Q&A with UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka

By Leslie Stainton

All week long guest blogger Leslie Stainton will be following the Propeller theater company residency in Ann Arbor.  She starts the week with a Q&A with UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka about how he learned about Propeller.

For years, Michael Kondziolka, UMS’s Programming Director, has been my go-to guy for all things cultural. If Michael says see it (as he does about Propeller), I move heaven and earth to heed the call. So I asked him how Propeller caught his eye…

MK: Through the RSC—the gift that keeps on giving. Caro MacKay, one of the RSC producers I worked with 10 years ago on the Henry VI/Richard III tetralogy here in Ann Arbor, brought to my attention the work of Propeller and Ed Hall in general.  Ed Hall is the son of the British director Sir Peter Hall—and Caro said, “I think he’s doing important work. You owe it to yourself to see it.” So I checked it out and was blown away by the sort of arch, vaguely edgy sensibility. At the same time, they had a lot of integrity and respect for the text. This wasn’t about trashing Shakespeare—it was about bringing a young, fresh, edgy sensibility to the text. I remember leaving the theater and going to King’s Cross Station to get my sleeper car up to Edinburgh for the festival there. I’d planned to sleep on the way up, but we stayed up all night and talked about the production.

How does Propeller fit into the broader UMS vision for theater—and for Shakespeare in particular?

MK: Over the long term we want to celebrate the work of companies like the RSC and the Globe Theatre, but we also want to start painting a picture of the versatility and the broadness of Shakespeare, and of just how wonderfully elastic these texts are. It’s one thing to understand that intellectually, and it’s another thing to actually witness it. Well, this company will help people with that!

How different will the Propeller experience be from, say, the RSC?

MK: I’m not so sure it’s going to differ that much. I think that ultimately what people are going to respond to and recognize is the absolute craft, the absolute training that’s in evidence, and more so than almost anything, this wildly profound commitment to ensemble. For people who don’t go to the theater every day, there’s something so special about the mystery and magic of a truly trained ensemble working together over an extended period of time.

So in a nutshell, what’s Ed Hall’s take on Shakespeare?

MK: I would imagine that that’s what’s going on in Ed Hall’s mind is, how do you take this potentially strangling tradition—especially in the UK—how do you take the weight, the smothering weight of this tradition, and keep it alive? And keep it relevant and exciting and engaging and fresh? I think that’s one of the questions he’s trying to answer. I can imagine really great things for a company like Propeller in Ann Arbor—great audience reaction, a real recognition of the power, strength, integrity, and impact of this company’s work, and how that could build over time. I don’t want to make any predictions, but I have a feeling.



Leslie Stainton is the author of "Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts" (Penn State, 2014) and "Lorca: A Dream of Life (Farrar Straus Giroux 1999)." She'll read from "Staging Ground" at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on Monday, November 3, 2014 at 7 pm.