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Michael Kaiser

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Gregory Doran and Antony Sher: A Remembrance

Posted: 05/07/2012 8:20 am

It was exciting to read that Gregory Doran will become the new Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Greg is a wonderful director whose insightful productions have graced the stages of the Kennedy Center during my tenure.

But I have a more personal reminiscence of Greg that stems from my work at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was fortunate enough to be asked to help the Market during the first years of the Presidency of Nelson Mandela. The Market was a unique theater in South Africa -- it allowed black and white actors, directors and designers to work together even during the apartheid era. Its founder, Barney Simon, was a true theater genius and visionary who was brave as well. He produced and often directed the original stagings of the major works of Athol Fugard and other ground-breaking South African playwrights. He also trained a generation of South African theater artists.

When I met Barney the Market was deeply challenged. After the end of apartheid, the major international corporations doing business in South Africa eliminated the support they gave to non-government organizations (NGOs) that was the price of doing business during apartheid. As a result, schools, arts institutions, medical institutions, etc. were all struggling.

I was asked by the Rockefeller Foundation to help Barney create a plan for a sustainable Market Theatre. One element of this plan was developing high-profile productions that would increase the number of South Africans, and donors from the United States and Europe, willing to support the theater company.

Enter Greg Doran and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Through a Market Theater board member, we were presented with just such an opportunity. Greg and the RSC were anxious to produce a production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus in South Africa (and in England) using English and South African actors and settings.

This production was to star Greg's partner in life Antony Sher, a truly great actor who had been born in South Africa but who had emigrated to England during apartheid. This production was to be his home-coming.

The problem was that it would be very expensive to produce and Barney was not convinced that the Market should use scarce resources for this project. He was all set to cancel the production. I was convinced that this would be a major event in South Africa and I promised to help raise funds for the production in the United States if the Board would match these funds. They found this a curious offer and, in fact, questioned whether I would really deliver the funds necessary to match their contribution.

In the end, the money was raised (though the board did not, indeed, match the funds I raised!) and a memorable production was staged. I remember being truly frightened of Tony Sher, a truly lovely man, since I never saw him out of his Titus beard and wig-a truly frightening ensemble. Greg was far more approachable. Greg and Tony immortalized the experience in a wonderful book Woza Shakespeare!

One of my prized possessions is a copy of this book signed by the authors: To the true hero of Titus.

 
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