The Hawaii Shakespeare Festival (HSF) has been a mainstay in the local arts community and have recently completed the full works of William Shakespeare. You would think that completing such a mammoth task would be enough, but HSF is not resting on its laurels or achievements. Curious, we pulled back the curtains to find out more as they near the end of another season, and who better to ask than the maestro behind HSF, Tony Pisculli.

Congratulations. What was the feeling like when you finally completed the full works of Shakespeare?
Accomplishment, certainly, but also a sense of “now what?” But I’m very pleased with our current season, our first since completing the canon … our boldest and most experimental ever. Rather than just starting over from the beginning, we’re taking things in new directions.

After completing his works, did you ever contemplate pulling the curtains on Hawaii Shakespeare Festival?
No. Completing the canon was just a milestone, not an endpoint. Our mission is to make Shakespeare accessible to the people of Hawaii. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve produced many of Shakespeare’s plays for the first time in Hawaii, but there’s still more to do. Recently, under the leadership of Lacey Chu, we launched an education program that takes touring shows to the middle and high schools twice a year. We’re currently in pre-production for a four-actor Macbeth which will tour in October and November.

Are you the only person behind HSF or do you have a team?
All theatre is a collaborative effort. The Festival wouldn’t exist without the efforts of an army of volunteers, from the actors to everyone working behind the scenes: stage managers, board ops, dressers, and so on. Nicole Tessier, our Production Manager (and House Manager), handles most of the logistical details. Shawn Forsythe and Cora Yamagata designed sets and lights, respectively. Cheyne Gallarde, Kim Shire and Rose Wolfe are our costume designers this year. And I’m just one of three co-founders (R. Kevin Garcia Doyle and Harry Wong are the other two).

Tell us about your first HSF season and how have things changed since then till now?
Our very first season, back in 2002, established the model for subsequent seasons. R. Kevin directed our “big name play,” Hamlet. Harry chose Coriolanus, signaling right from the beginning that we’d be tackling Shakespeare’s less well-known plays, and I directed Two Gentlemen of Verona with an all-female cast, which became a bi-annual tradition for us. We planned that season as a one-off and called it the Summer Shakespeare Festival. We didn’t become the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival until our second season when it looked like we might be sticking around for a while.

With a strong history in contributing to the arts community, how important is it to continue HSF especially training up and coming artists?
Very important. We try to cast as wide a net as possible with our auditions, and we deliberately cast less experienced actors to work alongside HSF veterans. This brings a lot of energy to the show, and the more experienced actors serve as mentors and role models for the newbies. A lot of our actors move on to other opportunities out of state, so it’s important to keep growing the local acting pool.

Tell us about your current season and what were some of the challenges and how exciting it is for you to produce another HSF season?
Our season opener, Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, directed by R. Kevin, was our first non-Shakespeare play. We plan to include more classic plays in future seasons. Edward III, directed by Jason Kanda, is considered canon by some, apocrypha (of uncertain authorship) by others. Regardless of where you fall on that debate, it’s an intriguing bit of English history. Jason and his movement choreographer Jon Sypert, have done a fantastic job of staging it with dancers (Lia Yamamoto and Becky McGarvey) serving as avatars, or proxies, for the warring kings. I’m directing an all-female rep of three plays (King Lear, Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing) using some of the original staging practices of Shakespeare’s day, including letting actors devise their own blocking, working from cue scripts (just the actor’s own lines and their cues), and all of this with minimal rehearsal – just twenty-something hours per play – creating an incredible environment of immediacy and discovery and invention.

What do you love about the works of William Shakespeare?
You know, I hated Shakespeare when I was in high school. I found the plays archaic, affected and irrelevant. But that’s because my first encounter was with the scripts, not an actual staged performance. The actors, designers and directors do a lot of work interpreting the play for the audience, and that’s something we always try to keep in mind at HSF, how to make the plays accessible and enjoyable for a modern audience. It’s a lot of work. But the thing I love about Shakespeare? That work is rewarded. The language, the characters, the stories. The payoff is huge. People often ask me what my favorite play or production is, but the truth is I fall in love with every play I direct. Even, maybe especially, the more obscure plays I’ve directed: Love’s Labors Lost, King John, Henry VI. Shakespeare at his weakest is better than most other playwrights at their best.

I hear you have a very famous patron of HSF. Can you please tell us how that came about?
Dame Judi Dench is the patron of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival, at the invitation of our mentor, Terence Knapp. They toured together in a production of Twelfth Night and have been friends ever since. Terry asked her on a recent trip to England if she’d be our patron and she agreed.

Thank you.
Tickets for the final HSF production of this season are available. Grab your tickets now and go see why you love Shakespeare.

O’ahu Fringe Festival wishes Hawaii Shakespeare Festival all the best on their final production and that they continue for many more seasons. For more information, please visit their site: