This article is Part Two in a series of excerpts from an interview with Denis McCourt, Co-Artistic Director at Long Beach Shakespeare and writer/director of The Conjugated Beliefs of Usallica. See Part One here.
Acting Examiner: Now with a company called Long Beach Shakespeare, this obviously isn’t a Shakespeare piece, do you find that being in a company that has such a definite name confuses people in the community when you don’t do Shakespeare works?
Denis McCourt: I would say that initially that’s probably very true because the Long Beach Shakespeare company has been around for twenty years, they used to be known as Bard in the Yard. Helen Borgers who is the Co-Artistic Director and has been the Artistic Director for the last 12 years. She has pretty much tried and true stayed to the classics. Not just Shakespeare, but a big advocate of literacy and she’ll take novels and actually adapt them. One of our board members is Dashiell Hammet’s granddaughter and so they did a staged version of The Maltese Falcon with the family’s permission. That was a world premiere about two or three years ago. But, when you look nationally at Shakespeare companies like The Globe in San Diego or Ashland out in Oregon they don’t just do the classics. When I originally approached Helen about a year and a half ago…I brought that up to her. She’s going to maintain that position [with the classics] and then I’m going to bring more of a contemporary voice and musicals to what we’re doing.
I think we as an industry, the theatre industry has to take a look at how we’re doing business…and I think any way that we can engage the community and bring them into a creative opportunity to hear stories being told that reflect who they are…Now Conjugated Beliefs is another production that is multi ethnic, is multi gender, multi-age it really speaks to a very broad section of who we are as a country. Im hoping that everyone feels that they’re represented in it some way. I even have a child in the show.
AX: Now having such wide variety of actors in your cast, and also yourself not being from this area. You’re from the east coast as you mentioned. How do you think this show would read to the Long Beach community versus Floridians or New Yorkers? It would look different because it’s such a broad range of topics.
DM: It is my hope, and of course you write these things to produce them and you never know if it’s going to catch on or not especially an absurdist play, because I think there is a level of simplicity attached to it. I think the undercurrent can have a significant meaning for the audience. And because the script is so ambiguous at points, I think a lot of communities and individuals can really infuse themselves into it. [Referring to the] set design by Dan Wheeler, is sort of the circus meets a junkyard kind of thing whereas I think the script could very easily be done on a black stage with just a spotlight. So, my hope is, you know if it does get produced in other places that there’s enough space in it for them to really take a hold of it and make it their own.
AX: So, Long Beach. You said you’ve been here for about 2 ½ years. What brought you here? Why long beach? Of all places…
DM: A lot of different reasons. It’s funny because when I was younger I always used to say I’m never going to visit California because I’ll never come back. [laughs] I used to say that all the time, truthfully. My partner, Leon, and I have been together eleven years and we both have always wanted to live in Southern California. He’s been a sailor his whole life, in the eleven years of course, I’ve come to love sailing. We have a sailboat, and Long Beach is such a diverse community, that is really… growing up in New York I loved…just different cultures and the weather here is gorgeous, coming from Florida, we kept the sunshine, but got rid of the humidity.
AX: And now here you are directing a full-length work on the stage of the EXPO that’s quite an experience for someone who switched careers, some would say, late in life, but for someone like myself would say, never is too late. With the show itself, with Conjugated Beliefs, how would, what would be a short blurb, what three words, or what sentence or two would you use…
DM: I think the description that I’m using is that it’s sort like this Mad Max band of clowns that are roving together and the audience will watch them navigate rituals and traditions and ceremony together and I think really what the play is about at its heart, is how do we maintain our individuality within the structure of an organization or as a country or a city or a family, that needs to move together as a whole and so its. You’ll witness the struggle and the use of power and sex and religion to sort of circumnavigate how we make it. How we get through this maze and somehow at the end of it, wind up moving forward, as opposed to moving backwards. And I think when people look at it, because a lot of it is taken and deconstructed from pledges and things that we whole near and dear to our heart. But I hope the audience looks at it and says, “ok, is this how things were? And then we’ve evolved to where we are today?” or “is this a look to how things are going to be in the future?”
Tomorrow: Part Three, The necessary magic of networking in this industry, LA Theatre, and little more about Denis and his time with LB Shakespeare and Usallica.