Just like you are sitting at the coffee shop next to us, please join the conversation by commenting below or connecting with us on Twitter (@JosephStodola, @NewEpicTheater, and @ArtfullyKendra) using the hashtags: #NewEpicTheater, #Coriolanus, and #TheNormalHeart. Twin Cities theatergoers can experience Shakespeare's Coriolanus and Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart beginning March 24 and running through April 16, 2016.
You have created quite a buzz around shows that you have directed at the Minnesota Fringe, with One Arm (2014) and then The Picture of Dorian Gray (2015). What have you learned from your Fringe successes?
Joseph: Word of mouth travels fast. In both cases our early houses were relatively small, but by the end our performances were selling out. I felt empowered to make risky, provocative choices that ended up working because the environment felt low stakes. I continue to take artistic risks because I think it's important to push boundaries. I'm happy that we have something like the Minnesota Fringe to encourage that, and I'm excited to keep doing work as part of that festival.
How do you define yourself as an artist?
Joseph: I think in pictures. Often for me, a story should be able to be wordless, so I've always been interested in very physical work (where the body tells story) and I pay a lot of attention to staging and position of the body onstage in relationship to scenery/lighting.
You created a local theater company, New Epic Theater, and started with a remount of One Arm (2015) and then this past fall staged Doubt (2015). What considerations do you have in mind when you decide the shows you will include in your season?
Joseph: It's important to me that a piece of theater speak to a current issue or the current political climate, but I also need to be in love with the piece. Those are basically the two criteria for the work my company does.
You have two shows coming up this spring at The Lab Theater in Minneapolis. Can you tell us more?
Joseph: These are two plays I have loved deeply for a long time, and it seemed that the more I thought about them the more I found that I loved them for the same reasons. The idea of doing two shows simultaneously with the same cast is not a new one, but it's a lot more common in the UK than it is stateside. I like the concept here because it allows the two works to have a dialogue with one another.
Why did you pair Shakespeare's Coriolanus with the more modern The Normal Heart?
Joseph: Good question. Often, when two plays are done in this scenario, they have a superficial connecting theme (same playwright; similar scenic/casting requirements). These two plays are less similar in superficial ways, but profoundly similar in their ideas and arguments. Both plays are about the citizen's relationship to their government, and the anger one feels when one's voice isn't being heard. They're both political works almost in the classical Greek tradition and they wear their emotions and ideas on their sleeves. They also both have very imperfect, very human protagonists.
Joseph: Relevant. Political. Physical.
Would you share who you brought aboard for this project?
Joseph: My associate artists at New Epic Theater are James Kunz (movement), Adam Qualls (actor), and Torsten Johnson (actor). We're thrilled to be joined by Guthrie Theater veterans Michelle O'Neill and Zach Curtis, along with a new friend of ours from New York, Michael Wieser (you'll be seeing a lot of him soon). JuCoby Johnson, Grant Sorenson, and BFA student Antonio Duke round out the cast. I love working with these artists.
Joseph: Well, it's an interesting challenge, but it's been really wonderful in certain ways. We set up some rules to challenge ourselves artistically. For instance, when we want a set piece/major prop, we want to use it in both plays. That has made us decide what's essential to telling each story and what isn't, as well as forced some interesting decisions to be made. For the cast, I have to think it's like exercising different muscle groups on different days. It has made for a dynamic process.
How do you market two shows at once? It seems like a challenge.
Joseph: Tell me if you know, 'cause we have no clue. We've been billing them together, and hoping that audiences read into our materials enough to understand how they are scheduled and when to see either or both works.
In your theater work, where do you go to find inspiration?
Joseph: Locally, I feel like I always learn something when I see a piece by the Moving Company, and formerly Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Their work was responsible for initially expanding my understanding about what theater could be. I also read a lot written by theater artists I respect.
Joseph: I hope this community starts to grow in even more unique and interesting ways. I love the concept of the ArtShare program at The Southern Theater, and I would love to see smaller companies merge and band together to support their common artistic goals rather than feel like they are fighting for the same audience members. I think we're all sort of in it together.
Any parting words you want to leave us with?
Joseph: I want to talk about the importance of challenging theater. I believe too often audiences come to the theater only expecting entertainment or enjoyment. I think those things are valuable, but I don't think they're the only things theater can do. Often, theater that is challenging isn't done because it seems too "risky." I hope audiences will encourage this risk by stepping outside of their own comfort zones for a chance to have an experience that means more.
Ticket Information: Coriolanus and The Normal Heart
General Admission: $29
NEW EPIC THEATER stages William Shakespeare's urgent political thriller alongside Larry Kramer's searing drama in repertory with an incredible cast of Twin Cities veteran and emerging actors.
Separated in authorship by 400 years but united in their urgency, CORIOLANUS and THE NORMAL HEART reveal the necessity for political and social engagement, performed in NEW EPIC THEATER's trademark lean, intense, minimalist style by the same cast of eight highly-skilled actors in repertory on alternating nights.
A rarely produced classic about government and militarism in response to a national famine and one man’s belief that he is irreplaceable, CORIOLANUS follows a star warrior unable to function off the battlefield as a member of a democracy.
THE NORMAL HEART follows Ned Weeks, a gay activist enraged at the indifference of public officials and the gay community toward the AIDS plague, and his lonely fight to awaken the world to the crisis.
Michelle O'Neill, Zach Curtis, Michael Wieser, Torsten Johnson, Adam Qualls, JuCoby Johnson, Grant Sorenson, and Antonio Duke.
Director/Scenography: Joseph Stodola
Movement: James Kunz
Lighting: Mary Shabatura
Stage Manager: Audrey Rice
The Normal Heart:
Thursday, March 24 @ 8pm [preview]
Friday, March 25 @ 8pm [preview]
Saturday, March 26 @ 8pm [opening]
Sunday, March 27 @ 8pm
Thursday, April 7 @ 8pm
Saturday, April 9 @ 8pm
Thursday, April 14 @ 8pm
Saturday, April 16 @ 4pm
Thursday, March 31 @ 8pm [preview]
Friday, April 1 @ 8pm [preview]
Saturday, April 2 @ 8pm [opening]
Sunday, April 3 @ 8pm
Friday, April 8 @ 8pm
Sunday, April 10 @ 8pm
Friday, April 15 @ 8pm
Saturday, April 16 @ 8pm
Engage in the conversation on social media:
New Epic Theater on Facebook.
New Epic Theater on Twitter.
New Epic Theater on Instagram.
Also the venue @TheLabTheater is on Twitter.
The Lab Theater
700 N 1st St
Minneapolis, MN 55401