Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward talked with Katherine Hammond, ODU’S Director of Theatre. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death this month, ODU has organized a week-long city-wide event: “Shakespeare 400 Years After.”
TW: Katherine, how does Shakespeare continue to be relevant today?
KH: He is one of the most famous writers in English. Many of his plays (17 comedies, 10 tragedies, and 10 histories) are classics. He gave people what they wanted to hear. He wasn’t afraid to include current political topics.
TW: Like outspoken entertainers today.
KH: Yes, Shakespeare is also remembered for his way with words—both his invented words and his quotes.
Also relevant today in Hampton Roads, are surviving Elizabethan traces—seen in a documentary film and in historical exhibits from Jamestown and the Chrysler.
TW: How are you involved in the event?
KH: I am the producing director of the two-week ODU’s Much Ado Festival: Shakespeare’s Legacy and co-director of Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy “Titus Andronicus.”
The theatre festival is showcased by ODU Rep, ODU Opera, ODU Dance Theatre, CoreTheatre Ensemble, Warehouse of Theatre, The Governor’s School of the Arts, Hampton Roads Summer Theatre, and The Starving Artists.
TW: It sounds like full involvement!
KH: It is—both from within the university and from talented area professionals.
Many performances occur in a short period of time. A theatergoer during Shakespeare’s time might also have watched parts of 4 or 5 productions in a day. We are outside in daylight, but nighttime we plug in projectors indoors—adding another dimension to Shakespearean plays.
TW: Katherine, how are you prepared to produce such an extravaganza of performing arts?
KH: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. In college, I was driven to be an actor, but I can’t say I was goal-oriented. I had a vague goal “to be an actor”—something I see everyday with my students at ODU. After my father became ill with ALS, I realized that that goal could have many meanings. Redefining myself as “an act-or,” learning to be alive in the moment, being aware of little things in life as much as big things—took years of work. I’m still practicing it daily. It isn’t easy.
I’ve had many careers. In fact, I came to academia rather late—after a career as an actor in the theatre and as production manager for the Oscars and the Emmy’s television and the Kennedy Center Honors. I went back to University of Georgia for my MFA. Then I became a teacher, a creative scholar. I am a digital media artist incorporating dramatic media with live performance. I also teach students to perform with media.
My husband, Lee Smith, and I have been making theatre together for over 30 years. We strive to create passionate conversations between audience, actor, and image with our company, Warehouse of Theatre. We create a world through media. The films are part of the production and primary to it. We juxtapose film and poetic language, interspersed with raw expression.
TW: It sounds like a complex and creative intermingling of techniques.
KH: Yes. That’s why “Titus Andronicus” seemed a remarkable fit for our company. We have interpreted it as a “black comedy” with plenty of blood effects. It is the tongue-in-cheek “Kill Bill” of Shakespeare!
Titus is a political exposé of corrupt leadership, misplaced moral righteousness—appropriate for 2016, right?
TW: As relevant as it was 400 years ago....What would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?
KH: Since I have had such a varied career path, I know how important it is to discuss goals—partly to verbalize ideas and partly to solidify them. I find it is important to share my past experiences in my field with my students. It allows them to understand that a life path can be varied and wide-ranging. It gives them insight into my expertise and passion for my discipline. While they may not opt for a degree in my discipline, they may discover which field brings them joy. It might take several tries. That is not failure. On the contrary, that is the very heart of learning to be a rounded human being.
TW: Katherine, you share sage insights. What is your first memory?
KH: I was sitting on the front porch in a thunderstorm, celebrating its power. My mother brought me a cupcake with a candle in it. She always made small things more. I remember it because she made it an event.
TW: That’s a recurring example of your life. You appreciate what is around you. What others see as background, you know is integral to the telling of the story. And you reaffirm your mother’s flair for making things more.
KH: I also want to say that Lee and I take works on festival circuits throughout the country. By bringing ideas back to our own artistic community, we can become more than we are locally. Tidewater is where we’re grounded. There is so much theatre and so many people here who love theatre. That’s what excites us. It lets us be more.
TW: Katherine, thanks for sharing your infectious love of theatre with Tidewater Women.
For more information:
• Much Ado Festival Week: Shakespeare’s Legacy, April 6-17, 2016 • www.oduartstix.com • 757-683-5305 • Free & paid performances. Workshops, outdoor events, pop-up performances are free.
• Titus Andronicus, April 6-9, 7:30 p.m.; April 14 & 17, 7:30 p.m.; April 15, 4 p.m. • Goode Theatre, ODU • 5115 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk • www.oduartstix.com • 757-683-5305 ($)
• Katherine Hammond
Fran Ward is an artist and writer with a Ph.D. in Metaphysics. She is an active art and music lover who enjoys traditional cultural productions as well as seeking events off the beaten path.