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March 28, 2011

Caro MacKay, Producer for Propeller, Shows Some Love for Ann Arbor Audiences

By Leslie Stainton

Later this week Caro MacKay, executive producer of Propeller, will zip into Ann Arbor to see her company in action, but over the weekend she was at home in London, where I reached her by phone. The former Royal Shakespeare Company producer knows us well—she was here for both the first and second RSC Ann Arbor residencies, in 2001 and 2003. I asked her why she wanted to bring Propeller here…

CM: Having done two seasons at Ann Arbor, I know your enthusiasm. But you’re also a tremendously thoughtful audience, and you’re obviously in a university town, so there’s great intelligence there, and I just thought you’d really like this company. Propeller offers something different—it’s very immediate and physical theater, but it’s also very intelligent Shakespeare.

You even decided to premiere Richard III here.

CM: Yes, it’s premiering in Ann Arbor. That’s really exciting for me. I’m thrilled that we’ll be presenting both shows [Richard III and The Comedy of Errors] because you will see the measure of what the company is capable of. And the different actors—they’ll be doing something in one show and something utterly different in the other show.

What was it about Propeller that made you want to get involved with the company?

First, their love of the text. It is there in all the shows. The text is very true to Shakespeare’s text. The second thing is, for me, every really, really, really good director is a great storyteller. And I think the way that [Propeller director] Ed Hall tells the actual story is terrific. That’s what leapt out at me. It’s the clarity—the actual clarity of the story, so that you can follow it. And the energy. Propeller is enormously physical.

Tell me about the ensemble. They’re onstage the whole time, for both shows, which is so intriguing.

It’s very particular to Ed’s work. And it means everybody is in rehearsal all the time. They’re in there all the time, all the day. You’re never only called for the scenes that you’re in. Rather than having just a half a dozen people working lines in rehearsal room, you’ve got 14. Everybody is always concentrated. I just think it is a true ensemble—everybody is looking at the scene that is the play and asking what is that scene doing for the play? What is the story line behind it?

It’s an all-male ensemble. How’d a woman like you wind up being the producer?

It’s quite funny, isn’t it? A girl to be running an all-male Shakespeare company. It took me a little while for me to really go, yes, I believe in this. But after a couple of shows, I got the clue. What you find with just having one sex is that actually you’re listening to the words. Whether you’re a male or a female, you’re just listening to what Shakespeare is saying and asking, what does that mean? That’s what it allows you to do—to scrape away the sexual politics and just listen to the words.



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.