Is this your first direction?
No, this is not my first direcion at all. This is the first realization, however, of something that I've wanted to do since I was a very young actor. And that is to follow in the tradition of actors who mount their own productions of Shakespeare so that they can manage the storyline and the pace of the production and get the kind of slant or interpretation that they want to out of the entire production rather than just out of the single role that they play.
What role are you playing?
I'm playing the lead; I'm playing Oberon. It has been my experience that many productions appreciate the ensemble effect of Midsummer Night's Dream to such an extent that very often the piramital shape of the lead actor gets lost. The lead character in this case is Oberon. And Oberon drives the play and is an integral part of the mood of the play. So, this being a comedy. hopefully our Oberon will be contributing to the comedy.
I remember years ago playing Puck in a scene that was so much fun and you can get caught up in these guys and their stories but they all kind of meld together in getting out the main message.
I agree with you, and well said. The point is they can meld together to such an extent that we lose sight of who's driving the play forward. It's sort of like an avalanche that everything mixes together by the time it reaches the bottom of the hill, and it shoudn't be that way. There should be a through storyline which everything else revolves around. When that through storyline resolves itself, then the play is over. And that's the storyline of the argument between Titania and Oberon.
Are you reinventing the play in any way or are you doing a traditional mounting of it?
No, I don't favor and am not fond of reinventions. I don't say that everything has to be done strictly to period. I like Hamlet in the style of the Napoleonic day wars. I think that's perfectly appropriate. I like it. So, not everything has to be true to period. But, what we're doing is rediscovering what I think is being overlooked in the main by most companies in the United States, according to what I'm sensing, feeling and experiencing in theatrical productions of Midsummer Night's Dream. And that is that the original storyline which is the resolution of the struggle between Titania and Oberon and why it takes place in the first place is lost.
We're restoring a sense of it. Everybody in every literary endeavor has a very strong personal feeling about how Shakespeare should be done and what Shakespeare means, etc, etc, etc. I happen to think that Shakespeare is absolutely essentially foundational to Western culture. I believe that the loss of how to approach Shakespeare and understand Shakespeare and translate Shakespeare into action on a stage is being lost. I believe that it is a specific deal of study and endeavor, and although that sounds cold and academic, it is an imperative to me in my life that I accomplish what I can in illuminating plays by Shakespeare in my understanding of how to look at Shakespeare as a performer, before I leave this earth.
Where did you receive your training of the classics?
I was very fortunate...my father got me interested in Shakespeare when I was 10 years old, in the fifth grade. Through the years I discovered eventually that I really was interested in acting and that Shakespeare was foundational to my studies and to my whole life. It was the thing that made life make sense for me. I was fortunate enough eventually to be accepted into a conservatory program run by Mr. William Duncan Ross who had come I think from the National Theatre School of Canada. Later he became the head of the drama department at USC. He was an extraordinary Shakesperean scholar...and a director and an actor.
You were like a rep company?
Yes, 10 of us in the program were like a rep company. Under his direction we were significant in Seattle Washington where this conservatory was associated in developing Seattle's theatrical history.
What roles did you play?
Antonio and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice...Lear
Even though you were obviously too young for Lear or Shylock ... age makes no difference in Shakespeare.
I make zero apologies for it, asolutely not. I'm very proud of those performances, of that interpretation.
In fact it was William Duncan Ross's take on how to understand what Shakespeare really wrote, as opposed to what people are used to imagining that he wrote because they see the mistakes replicated production after production after production, so they begin to think, "Well, that must be what the play is about." It is his particular slant that I have hopefully expatiated on correctly in my own work and in my life.
Many deem it a daunting task to both act in a play and direct yourself at the same time. You seem to feel comfortable with the challenge.
As I mentioned up top, it's a tradition that many others have done before me, so I'm not the first. It's something that I've looked forward to do all my life...finally take charge of the whole production this way. (he pauses) I have moments of doubt and fear. But this I think is a tribute to the co-artistic directors of the Group repertory Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield. They have encouraged me. In fact, it was Larry who encouraged me first to put on a Shakespearean production way back when. He gave me the license, so this is a tribute to their stewardship of this company and this company. I'm fortunate to be...it's an embarrassment of riches the talent and the ability of these actors. I'm pretending when I meet them that I can do what they do.
Let's break away from the play a bit. I've read that you have quite a musical background.
My father was a symphony conductor and my mother was a concertizing pianist and kind of a savant virtuoso, raised in the farmlands outside of Dallas, Texas. And yet, with perfect pitch, and could play the most profound pieces of orchestral and symphonic music. My father directed all over the world and played with all of the great musicians of his day Isaac Stern and Claudio Arrau and Andres Segovia...the list goes on and on. They loved to work under his baton. My uncle was a pianist, as well, and my aunt...
Has any of this rubbed off on you? Do you play an instrument?
No, I didn't want to spend my life indoors. I do play the piano ... and the guitar. I play it at a strictly dilettante fashion.
Mainly to entertain yourself. So you wouldn't want to direct a musical?
I've always wanted to perform in a musical, like one of those older ones such as Babes in the Wood from that era. The music is so uplifting. I'm not in any way qualified to direct one. No, no...
Let's talk a tad about your movie fame. Tell our readers about your involvement in Beastmaster.
The Beastmaster was an extraordinary kind of charmic event in my life. We were children back in Texas. Everything was cowboys in those days... Roy Rogers, Gene Autry...all those people were on television screens in black and white every weekend.
For me it was Superman.
Superman, yes...Hollywood is a dream machine. And it is, because one day an actor's walking down the street and the next day he's the Beastmaster. And from that day on, he has in his own small way a niche in Hollywood filming history...to stand beside the Lone Ranger...and so it's like becoming the Lone Ranger. It was so fulfilling and so exciting when it was all over to think, to realize that people would now think of me as the Beastmaster.
Was being cast a surprise in any way?
It was. I got a call from my agent and he said they're sending you the script for a lead in a movie. That was the first time that had ever happened for me. When I went in to meet Don Coscarelli who was the auteur, he said it was my work as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew that had prompted him to say "That's the guy that should be playing the Beastmaster". I made friends on the film that I have kept for life. And I also learned so much about filming. I worked with John Alcott the Academy Award winning cinematographer who did Barry Lyndon. I got to do what I had always wanted to do, working outside, and doing that thing that actors, that we all say that we do, "I do all my own stunts!" Of course, that's baloney. We do as many stunts as we're physically capable of without killing ourselves and jeopardizing the film. The producers don't care if you kill yourself; (he chuckles) they just don't want the film to be damaged. So I got to do a lot of that stuff and learn about directing and acting...
You also did V on TV to great acclaim. Is there any other poject that you're particularly proud of?
I was lucky to do an episode of The Twilight Zone in its new incarnation in the 90s nd also Night Gallery. I'm proud of my performances in those enjoyable roles. I love immersing myself in a role. I love getting that character just right. Gripping for the audience and fun for me to play.
A role to play on your bucket list?
Oberon before it kills me. (we laugh) I want to play the role that brings out whatever is deepest in me that I want to express ... that I never knew was there.
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I had the opportunity to sit in on part of a rehearsal of Midsummer after the interview. It was a scene with the fairies, and there were four teenage actors playing the younger fairies. It is not easy to direct young actors; I know from my own experience as a middle school/high school teacher for many years. I had such fun watching, mainly because of Singer's ability as director to jump right in and show them what he wanted them to do. As he blocked the scene, he was very playful in his approach to guiding the 'kids' into having fun with their antics, which include singing a very silly ditty and moving as if in flight hither and thither around the stage. After a few practice sessions, they did produce what he gave them quite nicely. I truly believe from what I saw Singer accomplish as a director is that he is not only effective but really quite magical.
Here are rehearsal shots of other sessions showing Singer in action.