Talking with Amover and shaker of Shakespeare


Name: Lesley Schisgall Currier
Age: 51
City: San Rafael
Position: Co-founder, managing director of Marin Shakespeare Company


J.: You’re the founding director of the Marin Shakespeare Company and have been involved in theater most of your life. What sparked your interest in acting and directing?

Lesley Schisgall Currier: I come from a very theatrical family. I grew up in Washington, D.C., and my mother was a drama teacher and my grandmother was as an actress before she had kids. My grandmother — after her kids were grown — put together theater pieces at her synagogue and toured them to shuls around the country.

J.: You moved to the Bay Area in 1990 after spending a season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. What brought you here?  

Lesley Schisgall Currier

LSC: My husband and I had the opportunity to revive the Marin Shakespeare Company in San Rafael. We figured if Shakespeare can be popular in Ashland, Oregon, it could be popular here, too.

The Marin Shakespeare Company was the first amphitheater in California built specifically for Shakespeare performances. It started out as a grassy knoll and now has a capacity of 500 with redwood benches and a stage. We have a café, but people can also bring their own picnic. They can and do bring wine and beer, as well. One of the beautiful things about the venue is that when there is a full moon, it rises over the stage.

J.: This year is the company’s 25th anniversary. I’m sure there have been many successes, but what about blunders?

LSC: (Laughs) We’ve had every disaster you can think of, from actors getting poison oak to a bee sting that swells up an actor’s face. We’ve had electrical outages and nearby fires that have rained ash down on the stage. We’ve had people in the audience faint and we’ve had to call the EMTs. But we’ve gotten pretty good at rolling with the punches. As we say in theater, “The show must go on.” 

J.: Where do you find the actors?

LSC: We hold open auditions and usually have over 300 professional actors show up. We end up casting about 25 to 30 who are primarily from the Bay Area, but we also work with actors who come from out of town.

J.: What productions are you putting on for the anniversary season this summer?

LSC: We decided to start the season with the very first play we did in 1990, which is “As You Like It” [which opened July 12]. We had a generous anonymous donor who thinks that more people should see Shakespeare. They have underwritten the entire production of it, so we are calling it “pay as you like it.” That means theatergoers can make a donation of any amount at the door and see the show for the entire run. The second show is Romeo and Juliet [starting Saturday, July 26], which I am directing. The last one this summer is Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” [starting Aug. 23]. Curtains close on Sept. 28.

J.: What’s your current religious affiliation?

LSC: That’s a good question. I identify as being Jewish, but I don’t belong to a synagogue and I celebrate some of the High Holy Days. I married a man who is not Jewish, so we have a mixed family. Now I’m more of a Jewish humanist rather than devout practitioner.

J.: Have you been to Israel?

LSC: Yes, when I was 16 with my confirmation class. It was very powerful; I was surprised at how moved I was. At that time we were able to climb Mount Sinai, and we hiked Mount Masada at sunrise. But it was Jerusalem that I fell in love with the most. I didn’t expect to have that much feeling before I went. There was something about walking around places that have been so drenched in passion and blood. There is so much that has been invested, and so much psychic and spiritual energy that you just feel the energy reverberate and vibrate around you.

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