A Conversation with Ron Gural

Ron Gural, who became the artistic director of the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane in 2006, is a professor in Tulane University’s Department of Theatre and Dance. He co-founded the festival in 1993 with fellow faculty members Buzz Podewell, Paul Schierhorn and Jeanne Button. This summer’s festival begins May 31 with “Taming of the Shrew,” followed by “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night.”

When you’re producing Shakespeare and presenting some of the plays repeatedly, how do you keep your approach fresh?

I think you look at the play and what it’s about, and you think about what you want the audience to take away. There are all kinds of ways to do Shakespeare. For “Taming of the Shrew,” I saw a production a number of years ago that I thought kind of missed the boat, because the producers set it in a milieu that didn’t quite support the text. The play is supposed to be in Italy, but they used a French-Cajun milieu and music. I talked with Jim Fitzmorris, the festival’s associate artistic director, and we decided the play needed music by Louis Prima. We thought about setting it in New Orleans in the 1950s, when Louis Prima was performing. Of course, that creates inconsistencies in the text — the characters are supposed to be in Padua for instance — but Shakespeare is full of inconsistencies, so you just try to see what you can do to illuminate the text.

What’s your basis for selecting the plays for an upcoming season?

We think about what kind of issues we want to explore in a given year.
Last year we did “Henry V” and “Coriolanus,” and our apprentice
program did “Macbeth.” It was all about power, how power can corrupt and how it can ennoble. This year we decided to explore something a little lighter. The plays are all about male-female relationships, in one way or another. And Jim is doing a series called “Mad Wenches” — works by female playwrights.

Is it difficult to find actors, or do you find the acting talent pool is pretty rich?

I think the pool is growing and getting richer. It’s getting more
difficult to get  actors because there’s so much going on out there. It’s great for actors, it’s really kind of a “sellers’ market” right now. But in a sense, you’re always competing against other theaters that may be running shows or in rehearsals at the same time you are. It used to be that the reverse was true, and you had 18 actors showing up for every role.

It sounds like you see the local theater scene as being pretty strong.

It’s getting to be very healthy. There are a lot of interesting
companies now — the NOLA Project, Cripple Creek, Mondo Bizarro, for example — all doing very interesting stuff, and I think this will continue. Tulane has the largest freshman class coming in next year since before Katrina. I’m assuming that out of that we’ll get some kids who want to
participate in theater.

Have you begun planning for next year’s Shakespeare Festival?

We’re constantly working almost a year ahead. It’s possible that the next season might include “Julius Caesar” and perhaps “Merry Wives of Windsor.” We’d like to begin to explore some other, non-Shakespeare plays, perhaps on the same bill as Shakespeare. This is our 15th season, and we’re hopeful that a lot of things will come out of this season that will help us expand next year.

How long have you lived in New Orleans?

I came here in 1978. I went to undergraduate school at the University of Houston, and then Yale Drama School, and then worked in various places. I was living in Milwaukee when I came for an interview in New Orleans, in February. I had walked to
a rehearsal, through the cold, in Milwaukee the night before, and I got here and it was 60 degrees and people were getting ready for Mardi Gras, and
I thought, “What am I doing in Milwaukee?” •

For tickets or more information about the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, visit www.neworleansshakespeare.com or call 504-865-5105.

Categories: Director’s Notes, Theatre + Art