VIDEO: Kathryn Hunter's "Lear" Explodes at TFT Theater Lab

Students excel in workshop production
directed by Helena Kaut-Howson and produced by Katherine Priestley
in association with theater chair michael hackett

"Exploding Lear" Creative Team: Front row, left to right: Lea Guillory, Dana Fishburn, director Helena Kaut-Howson, actor Kathryn Hunter, producer Katherine Priestley, Victoria Rafael, Venk Potula, Ella Pravetz. Back row, left to right: Josiah Davis, Marco Ramos, Kevin Doherty, Kendal Evans, Liam McCoy, Olivia O'Conner, Derek Charlton, Isabel Espy, Chelsea Fryer. Photo: Randall Michelson

Posted on November 16th 2012 in Announcement

Kathryn Hunter, one of the most admired actors on the British stage, brought her groundbreaking portrayal of the title role in Shakespeare's "King Lear" to TFT's Theater Lab in November.

Audience members who lined the walls of the small former TV studio were never more than a few feet from the performers, who committed intensely to their challenging roles in Shakespeare's great tragedy, under the leadership of of world famous director Helena Kaut-Howson and producer Katherine Priestley.

Four dialog-rich scenes from "Lear" were performed in the one-hour presentation. Hunter, as Lear, shared the stage with undergraduate acting students in such major roles as Gloucester, The Fool and Lear's three daughters. The scenes were selected, said Kaut-Howson, "to give as many students as possible an opportunity to interact on stage" with the dynamic Hunter.

Theater Chair Michael Hackett and TFT Dean Teri Schwartz moderated a question and answer session following the opening night performance. Hunter referred to "Exploding Lear" as an exploration and said she welcomed the process of trial and error. "I was happy to get away from the temptation in professional theater to tie things up too quickly, because you have to open in a week."

Dean Schwartz worked for over a year with producer Priestley and Chair Hackett arranging this workshop revival of a legendary production. Priestley also produced several of the frequent collaboratiors' most celebrated earlier efforts, including bold adaptations of Garcia Lorca's "Yerma" and Georgi Vladimov's "Faithful Ruslan," as well as an acclaimed Japanese tour of their staging of "King Lear."

In 1997, Hunter became the first woman in Britain to portray Lear in a professional production, and sparked controversy. "But for the Japanese audience," Priestley suggested, "which was accustomed to forms like kabuki, in which men play all the roles, female as well as male, an actor crossing gender lines was never an obstacle."

Recalling the Japanese tour, Kaut-Howson offered insights into Hunter's process, describing the actor's research visits to Shinto shrines to observe the behavior and absorb the body language of elderly Japanese worshippers, "adding fresh details to a performance she had already given at least 50 times."

Best known in the US for her performance as Mrs. Arabella Figg in the film "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," Hunter has a repetoire of Shakespeare roles that includes The Fool in "Lear" as well as the King, Richard III and Cleopatra in "Antony and "Cleopatra." (That was "harder for me than playing Lear," Hunter told an English interviewer, "because she's a woman.")

Hunter has also directed many acclaimed productions, including a celebrated "Othello" for the Royal Shakespeare Company, an institution with which she has been closely associated.

Later the same week, Priestley conducted a masterclass in Producing for Theater with TFT graduate theater students.

Hunter, Priestley and Kaut-Howson were joined on opening night, and at a reception after the performance, by several members of the Los Angeles Philanthropic Committee for the Arts (LAPCA), which generously sponsored the event as part of its Theater Master Class Series.

Members of The Los Angeles Philanthropic Committee for the Arts (LAPCA), with Dean Teri Schwartz, actor Kathryn Hunter and Theater Chair Michael Hackett. From left to right: LAPCA Vice President Dr. Eric Furman; Roberta Delvei; June Furman; Hal Delvie; actor Kathryn Hunter; TFT Dean Teri Schwartz; LAPCA President Audre Slater; Morency Maxwell; UCLA Theater Department Chair Michael Hackett. Photo: Randall Michelson

VIDEO: Kathryn Hunter and Helena Kaut-Howson interviewed by "Daily Bruin" reporter Jacob Klein.


Kathryn and Helena on revisiting "Lear" with students...                    ...and on their history with the King.

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