By Ivy Olesen, Teen Council member
Mark Wing-Davey has a firm handshake and booming voice with a
thick English accent. One could easily be intimidated by his presence and
achievements; he’s an acclaimed director, actor, and the chair
of NYU’s Graduate Acting Program. Instead, Mr. Wing-Davey is a disarming mix of wit and mischief. I had the pleasure of interviewing him as part of Teen Night, which allows high schoolers to see Berkeley Rep shows for only $10 and interview people like Wing-Davey -- it’s a deal that can’t be beat.
His gift for storytelling and inclination to talk with his hands makes him an engaging interviewee. I, along with the 60 or so other teens attending Teen Night, was immediately drawn in by his descriptions of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and his work in directing, acting, and teaching.
He began by describing a prank he had pulled on Berkeley Rep. In his production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre there is a (fake) baby onstage that is swung back and forth, sloshed with water from a fire hose, and (or so it seemed to me, as an audience member) almost lost to the sea. On April Fool's Day, Mr. Wing-Davey sent Berkeley Rep staffers an enthusiastic email to let them know that he had found a real newborn to play the part. This did not go over well for him, he explained gleefully.
I gasped in astounded laughter and was then compelled to turn the questions over to the other teens. Their queries yielded even more interesting answers from Mr. Wing-Davey. Like Aristotle said: “the more you know the more you don’t know,” and we all wanted to know more about him and Pericles badly.
I learned that there is a time for questions and then there is a time for the art to speak for itself. For this we all walked a block over to the Roda Theatre to actually experience the show. Mr. Wing-Davey had proclaimed that Pericles is a “work in progress” and that although we may not agree with all of the choices he made, he hoped they would be thought-provoking. Those provocative choices kept me at the edge of my seat, an unprecedented experience in my viewing of any Shakespeare play ever.
During intermission, I talked with my peers who were teeming with ideas, insights, and opinions about the first half of the show. Was it crazy nonsense? Insane genius? The most profound art that had ever been created? Pure silliness? Mr. Wing-Davey succeeded in leaving behind the stereotype of a boring Shakespeare play, creating something that felt immediate and even relatable to teenagers, which is no easy feat.
As I left the Roda I couldn’t help but smile. All around me audience members of all ages streamed out discussing the various things about Pericles that surprised, disgusted, and delighted them. This, I thought, is just how theatre should be.
Ivy Olesen is a senior at Berkeley High School. She directed the original play, Orpheum, written by Frances Maples as part of the 2013 Teen One-Acts Festival.