It takes a special sort of actor to perform in the Houston Shakespeare Festival, a local tradition since 1975.
“There are very few actors who have the skills and courage, the bravado to act to the scale of Miller Outdoor Theatre,” says Artistic Director Jack Young, citing the venue’s size as an obvious obstacle. “It has to be someone who can say I’m going to get up there and deliver all the way across a distance of almost a football field.”
One such actor is Laura Frye Banovez, who was in the first class of actors at the UH’s MFA professional acting program under Young several years ago. After graduating in 2007 and moving to New York, she co-founded Titan Theatre Company in Queens. She just performed the title role in Hamlet as part of Titan’s 10th anniversary season before coming to Houston to work with her former teacher.
Like all of the festival’s actors, Banovez plays multiple roles, appearing as Portia in Julius Caesar and Rosalind in As You Like It, along with two other minor roles. The two plays—one tragedy, one comedy—will be performed on alternating days from August 2–11.
“It’s a real challenge,” says Young, who’s directing Julius Caesar. “Banovez has an overbearing father in one show, and in the next show that same actor is playing her husband. She has to look over there and see that same person and go, Wait, different relationship."
The festival’s short run means Banovez and her fellow actors will perform each play four times in just nine days, for a total of some 40,000 people. That's after less than a month of rehearsals during which mornings were dedicated to one play and afternoons to the other.
Two Shakespeare plays rehearsed each day, each with a very different tone and approach. How did the actors shift gears and move from the dark and serious Julius Caesar to the fairy tale, romantic As You Like It?
“Basically, you have to take out your brain, turn it around sideways, put it back in, and come at it in a different way,” Young says, laughing.
It’s a rare opportunity to work both on both such a compressed schedule and a high level of professionalism at the same time. “As an actor, you want the opportunity to do something different," he says. "There aren’t that many places that offer this kind of opportunity.”
Of course, Banovez and other UH alum who performed in previous HSF productions trained to do this very thing. Young says it’s important to him to be able to have people who started off at UH to come back later and perform in HSF.
“Right now there are a whole bunch of new, young actors watching [Banovez and other alum] and thinking, ‘Wait, if I do the right work now I can turn into that?’ Between scenes, they go off to the side and say, ‘Wait, show me how you did that’ or ‘Tell me about L.A.’”
August 2—11. Free. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Dr. 281-373-3386. More info at milleroutdoortheatre.com.