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April 3, 2011

What’s next for Propeller?

By Leslie Stainton

We were sitting in the Power Center late yesterday afternoon, watching the changeover from Richard III to Comedy of Errors, and Caro MacKay, executive producer of Propeller, was talking about the shift from Richard’s stark black/white and blood-red world to the trash-strewn, gaily lit, exuberant world of Comedy. “We’re putting some color in the set now,” she said, as stagehands hoisted a panel of graffiti-sprayed shingling onto the big rock ’n roll truss that frames both productions.

MacKay said the idea behind Propeller’s environment for Comedy is “what we call ‘British lager louts.’ A Costa del Sol vacation, where Brits wear silly hats and spend the day drinking lager and hanging around the beach.” She chuckled. “Costa del Ephesus!”

This afternoon was your last chance to visit—at least in Ann Arbor. (The company will do a six-week run at Boston University’s Huntington Theater later this spring.)

A few behind-the-scenes tidbits:
· It’s not a stretch to think of the chorus members as hooligans—soccer fans (witness the jerseys) whooping it up far from home.
· The setting itself is a piazza in the 1980s, a period “quite close to us and probably the height of all this silliness,” MacKay said.
· Designer Michael Pavelka came up with the design of the graffiti himself, then hired a crew of real graffiti artists to render it. But before they agreed to lift a spray can, they made Pavelka swear it was his own design—it’s part of their code of honor not to copy another graffiti artist’s work.

MacKay talked briefly about what’s ahead for Propeller after its international tour of Richard III and Comedy of Errors winds up in August. While here in A2, Propeller received the welcome news that it had received three years’ funding from the British Arts Council—“which means we’re good for four more years,” MacKay said. “We can breathe.” (The news was bittersweet, though, as it came coupled with the announcement that 206 other British arts organizations had received no funding. Many would be forced to close.)

Propeller will reconvene in September and start work on next year’s touring shows, still to be determined. “There’s always one play Ed wants to do,” MacKay said of director Edward Hall. “He struggles a bit to find the other.”

Once they’ve picked the shows, Hall and Pavelka will come up with a set that works for both and begin rehearsals. The 14 members of the current company will get first-refusal rights for the next troupe. It’s a key part of the way this most democratic of theater companies works.

Sometime in the future, Hall wants to do his own cycle of the Shakespeare history plays—the three Henry VIs, Henry V, and Richard III. The working title is Blood Line. MacKay says they’re not sure when they’ll do it, “but we’re working toward it.”

A2 audiences who reveled in the RSC’s first residency here back in 2001—which gave us the three Henry VIs and Richard III—may find this news as tantalizing as I do. UMS, are you listening?


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.
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