Dan Hasse, Artistic Director of Shakespeare in the Square and Class of 2006, sat down with Maddie Johns (Class of 2018), Ellie Killinger (Class of 2018), and Anya Turner-Veselka (Class of 2019) to talk about Shakespeare, directing, and how Hill helped prepare him for a life in theater. These are excerpts from that interview.
What got you interested in Shakespeare? I was never super into Shakespeare when I was in middle school or high school. The passion for it came later. After I graduated high school, I went to the American Shakespeare Center [in Staunton] to study classical acting. I realized I wasn’t very good at acting but I liked directing. While I was at the Shakespeare Center I met Rose Bochner. We were both about to go to NYU for our BFAs, and we decided to start a Shakespeare company while we were in school. And then that Shakespeare company took off, and when we graduated, it became this company that’s doing the tour.
What would be your suggestion for someone who is just starting to look into Shakespeare’s plays and is finding them challenging? I would suggest going to see Shakespeare performed live, and if you can’t see it live, renting a DVD from a library. Seeing and hearing the words spoken, I think, is as important if not more important than reading the page. It wasn’t until I saw Shakespeare’s plays fully realized on the stage that I realized they could be exciting, and understood the relationship between the characters, and heard the music of the verse. It wasn’t until I performed Shakespeare that I thought, “Oh, these words are fun to say!”
Do you still find Shakespeare challenging, or is it easy now that you’ve worked with his plays so many times? It’s always hard! You always walk into rehearsals and ask, “What the heck are these characters saying?” I don’t pretend that Shakespeare is easy or initially fun; you have to work as a company to bring the plays to life. But when you do, it’s the most exciting thing in the world.
What do you find most appealing about Shakespeare’s works? I think he gives language to emotions that are very difficult to articulate or express. Maybe in fifth grade you’re worried about–whatever fifth graders are worried about! And in eighth grade suddenly you’re stressing about high school, and in high school you’re stressing about dating, and then in college you’re stressing about careers. Whatever it is, Shakespeare’s plays have words—monologues or scenes—that articulate those feelings and give you an avenue either as an actor to express them or as an audience to understand them better.
How did Hill School prepare you for your career? My first experience with Shakespeare was performing a scene from Midsummer’s Night Dream in 7th grade English. I did the Spaniel scene with Phoebe Krumich, and that was my first experience saying Shakespeare’s words out loud in front of people. And we watched (clips from different dvds) and I saw it’s not just dudes in tights speaking verse. That was my first exposure to the interpretive power of a director and of a company, to take a play and set in in a new context or a new setting. I think it’s really important for American students to hear Shakespeare done with an American accent so it doesn’t have that stuffiness or seem like a British thing. Shakespeare is relatable across cultures.
As well as performing to a packed house during Shakespeare in the ‘Burg, Dan and his company gave workshops in stage combat and working with Shakespeare’s text to Hill’s 7th and 8th grades. Learn more about Shakespeare in the Square or Dan’s forthcoming movie, Hamlet in the Golden Vale.