American classic is new Venture
Rowan Vickers left Bermuda to carve his path as an actor almost a decade ago. He is back home for The Glass Menagerie, the American classic that launched Tennessee Williams’s career as a playwright in the 1940s and is now “the most revived play in Broadway history”.
Put on under the banner of Mr Vickers’s Venture Theatre Ensemble, it is part of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts line-up.
“I wanted to present something recognisable, that people may have studied in school; something that they might want to rush out to see,” he said.
“I also wanted to do something that would have a big impact and this play really, really does.”
The Glass Menagerie tells the story of a poor family in St Louis, Missouri as recalled by the son, Tom Wingfield, years later.
“Having been abandoned by her husband, Amanda is desperate to provide a good future for her children,” reads the festival synopsis.
“Tom, though he truly longs for a life of adventure as a writer, is working in a shoe store warehouse to provide for the family. Daughter Laura, who has been left disabled as the result of a childhood illness, lives a secluded home life in a fantasy world of glass toy animals and old phonograph records.
“Amanda is on the prowl for a husband for Laura. When she convinces Tom to bring a colleague from the warehouse home as a suitor, a spark of hope is ignited and the eventual arrival of this mysterious gentleman caller pushes the already tenuous familial relationships to the breaking point.”
Mr Vickers is the play’s director — his first time in the role. He cast fellow Juilliard alumna Leigha Sinnott as Amanda and New York actor Adam Schroder in the role of Jim. Alexandra Cockrell is the assistant director and stage manager; Amanda and Tom are played by his aunt and uncle, Karen Wood and William Vickers.
“Directing and being at the helm of a show and having a real say as far as the design aesthetic is concerned always tickled my fancy and so this production has been a laboratory for all of us to experiment in,” Mr Vickers said.
It’s how his uncle, who is in his mid-sixties, ended up in a role usually played by an actor in his late twenties.
“We wanted to see what casting an actor that much older might add to the piece in terms of amplifying the themes of memory and regret and guilt and moving through the world haunted by the ‘what might have been’.”
He is thrilled it gave him the opportunity to work with his relatives, professionals who have acted in productions around the world.
“[They] have had really illustrious careers,” he said. “They have made a life in the theatre and I have always admired and looked up to them as actors as well as people.
“We’ve always longed to work together. We’ve been talking about it for probably about ten years now and we always wanted to come back and do a project here in Bermuda but the opportunity never presented itself.”
He chose The Glass Menagerie for “practical as well as artistic reasons”.
“It’s a play I’ve been interested in as an actor and an artist for a while,” he said. “It’s a small cast, only four characters, and so when it came to the prospect of bringing international actors to take part in the production, the intimacy of the piece was a practical consideration as well. It’s about familial love as well as romantic love — what it might mean to love someone you don’t particularly like. It asks us what we owe to ourselves when the two are in direct conflict: passion, desire and our soul? Or is it family and honour and duty?
“It’s also a story about stories. It’s a play about the stories we tell ourselves and illusions we manufacture in order to survive and what might happen when those illusions inevitably shatter. And it’s because of those themes that the play is incredibly universal.”
The show is the first by Venture Theatre Ensemble, a “social enterprise” Mr Vickers started in hopes of exposing Bermudians to performances featuring local and international artists.
“The idea is to continue to do more productions in the future,” said the 26-year-old, who has worked in television and on stage in New York since graduating from Juilliard in 2015.
“I was taken by my parents [Ken and Jane Vickers] to see a lot of shows in the festival.
“I remember being inspired and meeting the actors and taking part in the outreach programmes.
“That exposure, and seeing what one might be capable of, is inspiring and I think it’s important to expose young people to the arts, and the arts at that level. We’re all indebted to the festival for providing that to us all.”
It is one of the reasons he was eager to get involved.
“I’d longed to do a production here and the notion of directing a play was something that had interested me for some time,” he said.
“So, months ago, I reached out to them and said I wanted to start a theatre company and bring together local actors and international actors to create a culture of fantastic theatre under the banner of Venture Theatre Ensemble.
“I want local and international theatre artists to create dynamic, exciting productions of classic texts as well as new work for a Bermudian audience; world-class, really exciting theatre in Bermuda that you could get in London and New York.
“There’s so much talent on island, such as the Christopher brothers and Faulkenberry sisters and a well of untapped talent in our young people, that I wanted to create a platform for that talent to emerge and perform for the Bermuda public.
“That was the ultimate idea and so I reached out to the festival and said, ‘What do you think?’ Eventually they agreed to take on this production, which we are incredibly grateful for.”
• The Glass Menagerie runs at Ruth Seaton James on January 21 and 22. Showtime is 8pm. Tickets are available at ptix.bm. For more information on Rowan Vickers or Venture Theatre Ensemble, visit rowanvickers.com and vtensemble.com
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