Director Tyne Rafaeli dissected intention moment by moment during rehearsal for Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” a romantic comedy that opens Saturday, June 4. Even after the production played at ISF’s sister company, Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland, there are more depths to plumb as she and her cast translate the piece from a controlled indoor space to the amphitheater.
“It’s going to be curious to me how this lands during tech (rehearsal) because we’re in such a light space,” she tells actors David Anthony Smith and Robyn Kerr, while working a scene between Don Armado and his servant Moth. “I just need to track your relationship more clearly because the environment isn’t doing it for us.”
Rafaeli is an inventive and highly collaborative director who rarely stays seated during rehearsals. She moves around the stage creating a kinetic connection to her actors.
“It’s my process meeting the actor’s process,” Rafaeli says. “I direct the play, and they direct their roles. Inside of that dynamic can be terrifying because there are so many unknowns, but we also can reach heights we never anticipated.”
She surprised the company by coming in on their first day of rehearsal in Cleveland, saying “I don’t know what this play is about, so we’re going to figure it out together,” says actor M.A. Taylor, who plays Nathaniel, one of the clowns in this comedy. “It’s been so much fun and an amazing process.”
“Love’s Labor’s” is considered a problematic play because its hard to grasp what it is really about. On the surface it’s a topical satire about the ruling classes of Shakespeare’s time, which can be arcane to today’s audiences. On another level it is an interesting play about gender, she says. In the play the men vow to spurn women and to inflict a violent sentence upon them if they approach. Of course when the women do arrive the men are willing to do what it takes to win them.
“The more you spend time with Shakespeare you realize his plays are about the most universal human experiences,” Rafaeli says. “What I discovered is a community that are all trying to better themselves as human beings, albeit sometimes misdirected. As soon as I cracked that layer of it — and all of the gender stuff and satire is still inside — but it deepened into a more universal experience about people trying to be better human beings and that true wisdom comes from pursuing your heart, not just your head. That’s an important conversation to have in 2016.”
Rafaeli comes to ISF through a connection with Bartlett Sher, once a resident director at the Boise company and now a regular on Broadway. She’s served as his associate director on the Tony-winning revival of “The King and I” and the current Tony-nominated revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.” She also has a long list of regional theater credits to her name.
Her trajectory to theater is unusual. She grew up in London where her parents — an American mother and Israeli father — were filmmakers. With strong physical abilities, as a child Rafaeli became a gymnast headed for the Olympics, until an injury at 14. To fill the gap in her life, her parents sent her to the theater program at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Michigan where she caught the bug. Her next years were spent seeing shows, co-founding a storefront theater company in London, and attending the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
“Soon into my training I had a light-bulb moment,” she says. “ I thought, ‘They’re teaching me to execute, and I’m interested in conception.’” And that turned everything around.
To ISF she brings her strong physical sense to her work that incorporates music and movement into the action.
“When I’m feeling the need to unlock something, the two places I go for inspiration are dance and film,” she says.
The result is a production that blends elements from all performing worlds.
It is set in a Shakespearean fantastical land where time and space softly collide inside a library being infiltrated by nature. The setting gave license to draw on music by Brooklyn noise pop band Sleigh Bells to ancient Gregorian chants, plus references to Wes Anderson, Bottichelli and Pina Bausch.
“I wanted it to be fresh and accessible without dumbing it down. I wanted it to be moving and to feel relevant,” she says.
‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’
8 p.m. Friday, June 3, (preview) and Saturday, June 4, (opening); 7 p.m. Sunday, June 5, (family night) and dates through June 26, Idaho Shakespeare Festival Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise. 7:30 p.m. Greenshows Wednesdays to Saturdays. $27-$45 ($13 for kids 6 to 17, free for 5 and younger on Family night), $20 students any night. 336-9221. IdahoShakespeare.org.