Entertainment Local

Bard takes Bennett on a global journey

By Brian Paterson

Director Kevin Bennett's latest production is Troilus and Cressida, which runs Nov. 17 to Dec. 4 at Studio 58. (Handout Photo)

Director Kevin Bennett's latest production is Troilus and Cressida, which runs Nov. 17 to Dec. 4 at Studio 58. (Handout Photo)

“It’s kind of a whirlwind,” I’m told by 28-year old Kevin Bennett, one of Canada’s most promising up-and-coming directors.

When we connected, the theatre artist was in the midst of rehearsal at Langara College’s Studio 58, fresh off an international tour with Shakespeare’s Globe. Bennett is leading the program’s young actors through a production of Troilus and Cressida, one of the Bard’s lesser known and least performed works.

“It’s the ultimate love and war story,” Bennett explained. “In Shakespeare’s time, Greek and Roman culture inspired their own art. What (Shakespeare) did is take one of their legends – the Iliad, the story of the Trojan war – and made the characters much more human. More flawed and messy.”

For Bennett, coming back to directing the work is a “full circle” experience. It represents the conclusion of a major chapter that began nearly a decade ago when he himself was a student at Studio 58.

“I wasn’t into Shakespeare when I was in high school,” he confessed. “I was always a little bit ashamed. I didn’t understand it and thought I wasn’t really smart enough for it.”

This would change a few years later when Studio 58’s founder, Anthony Holland, came to direct and play Shylock in a production of The Merchant of Venice while Bennett was studying in the program.

“They put me as his assistant, which was just amazing,” Bennett recollected. “He had this amazing ease with (Shakespeare’s) text… the first time he spoke, I just got it. It sounded like a normal person speaking. I was like, ‘Okay. This seems really difficult on the surface – but if it’s done well, anyone can understand it.’”

This revelation would ignite a relationship with the Bard’s canon that would carry Bennett around the world, beginning with local productions crammed into small and unconventional performance spaces.

When a staging of Hamlet in a Commercial Drive back room caught the eye of Bard on the Beach regular Dean Paul Gibson, Bennett was invited to spend two summers among its tents as an assistant director. This, in turn, would lead to his being accepted into the directing apprenticeship program at Ontario’s Stratford Festival.

Following two intense years honing his craft alongside some of Canada’s finest classical theatre practitioners (including close collaboration with Tim Carroll, the new Artistic Director of Shaw Festival), Bennett received the 2015 Bluma Award. The prize sent him to the Globe on the South Bank of the Thames: a loving and faithful reconstruction of the original Elizabethan theatre.

Working in the venue had enormous significance to Bennett. At the age of 18, he embarked on a sort of artistic pilgrimage to London and took in 32 plays – five of which were at the Globe. Even at this early age, Bennett was struck by how the venue did not create separation between artist and audience; a quality he has brought into his work ever since.

Bennett would assist on The Merchant of Venice for the second time in his career at the venue. When the production was selected to travel the world one year later, he would join the cast, touring it across the United States, Europe, and China.

Fresh from this tour – and with these experiences percolating in his mind - Bennett is now crafting an intriguing vision for Studio 58’s upcoming Troilus and Cressida.

“This play will feel more modern,” he explained. “There are some Greek elements - but the clothes and landscape will be very young, modern, and fresh: A Main Street kind of hipster vibe.”

“In Shakespeare’s time, all of these plays were in modern dress, because they would have only had clothes that had been donated to them,” he expanded. “They had all these beautiful clothes to represent the characters in a sort of emblematic way – but they didn’t do anything to make it look like Greece or Troy or Verona or wherever the play was set.”

For Bennett, such a staging transcends any one place or time and allows audiences to access the universality of Shakespeare’s words. As he describes it, “It’s all in the text. You’ve got everything inside there.”

Troilus and Cressida runs Nov. 17 to Dec. 4 at Studio 58. Info at langara.ca/studio58.