• Video: Ariel Shafir on the new warrior face of 'Macbeth'

    by John Moore | Sep 12, 2017

    'We're getting a taste of where theatre has evolved, and Robert O'Hara is at the finger's edge of all this," Ariel Shafir says of his 'Macbeth' director. Video by John Moore and David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.

    'When you see someone like me playing Macbeth, already you are getting a different energy, look and feel.'

    By John Moore
    Senior Arts Journalist

    Actor Ariel Shafir is well aware that when most people imagine the face of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, they likely conjure a face like, say, Patrick Stewart’s or Kelsey Grammer’s as the great killer Scot. “It’s usually some 60-year-old, very WASPy looking guy,” Shafir said with a laugh.

    Ariel ShafirBut nevertheless, the decidedly younger Shafir is preparing to play the iconic embodiment of bloodthirsty ambition for the DCPA Theatre Company. And he thinks he’s just right for the role.

    “Macbeth is not one of these old generals in some back room,” Shafir said. “He’s on the battlefield. He’s the greatest warrior they have. So when you see someone like me playing Macbeth, you can see how far we are veering from the typical playbook. Already you are getting a different energy, a different look, a different feel for Macbeth.”

    Director Robert O’Hara is telling the tale of Macbeth from the point of view of a coven of shamanic warlocks. In his world, these warlocks are getting together years later and performing the story of Macbeth as a kind of passion play.

    There are purists who believe Shakespeare should not be tinkered with, even in concept. Shafir challenges that notion. “It is important to note that this is going to be the exact text Shakespeare wrote,” Shafir said. “But instead of relying on the template of productions past, I think Robert is actually probing deeper into the script and striking much closer to the heart of Shakespeare’s actual play.

     “We are delving into some of the darkest shadows of human psychology, and I think I directors sometimes tiptoe that line. But not Robert. There are so many things in our production that many others don’t ever deal with. There are just so many things about our own shadow selves that we need to embrace, and I think we do.”

    Ariel Shafir. Photo by John MooreThere’s a reason Macbeth remains a popular story after 400 years. Shafir says it’s the same reason we love Halloween and horror movies.

    “What is this darkness in ourselves that we need to embrace in the nighttime so that we can go out and be productive in the daylight hours?” he said.

    “This play is reaching forward in time and, at the same time, reaching back. There will be an interesting tension between the classic Jacobean style, while also having this completely futuristic feel as well. There are so many parts of this play that I think will be illuminated for the first time for people.”

    More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

    Ariel Shafir: At a glance
    At the Denver Center: Debut. Other regional credits: John Proctor in The Crucible (Playmakers Rep), Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (Chicago Shakespeare), Axel Fersen in Marie Antoinette (Steppenwolf), Uzi in Captors (Huntington), John in A Life in the Theater (Alliance), among many others including most recently Isaac in the China Tour of Disgraced. TV/Film: "Orange is the New Black," "30 Rock," "Army Wives," I Love You ... but I Lied," "M'Larky," "What Happens in Vegas" "Bride Wars" "Don Peyote," "What Happens Next," "Hysterical Psycho." Winner of a Suzi Bass Award, Jeff Award and Barrymore Award.

    Macbeth: Ticket information

    Macbeth_seasonlineup_200x200At a glance: Forget what you know about Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy. Director Robert O’Hara breathes new life (and death) into this raw reimagining for the grand reopening of The Space Theatre. To get what he wants, Macbeth will let nothing stand in his way – not the lives of others or his own well-being. As his obsession takes command of his humanity and his sanity, the death toll rises and his suspicions mount. This ambitious reinvention reminds us that no matter what fate is foretold, the man that chooses to kill must suffer the consequences.
    • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
    • First performance Sept. 15, through Oct. 29
    • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
    • Tickets start at $25
    • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
    • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
    Macbeth: Previous DCPA NewsCenter coverage
    The masculinity of Macbeth
    at a time when everything is shifting Cast announced for Robert O’Hara’s reimagined Macbeth
    Video, photos: Our coverage of the Space Theatre opening

    Making of Macbeth: Full photo gallery:

    Making of 'Macbeth'

    Photos from the making of Robert O'Hara's 'Macbeth' for the DCPA Theatre Company. To see more, hover your cursor over the image above and click the forward arrow that appears. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.
  • Beloved Denver actor Tony Church's memoir is released

    by John Moore | Nov 14, 2013


    Tony Church in what was to be his last appearance with the Denver Center Theatre Company, in 2004. But he became too ill and did not take the stage in "The Merchant of Venice." Photo by Terry Shapiro.

    British actor Tony Church was a respected member of the Denver Center Theatre Company and was the first dean of the National Theatre Conservatory. The "consummate man of theatre" died at age 77 on March 25, 2008.

    Now his memoir, "A Stage for a Kingdom," has been published, with an epilogue written by Patrick Stewart, currently starring on Broadway in "Waiting for Godot" and "No Man's Land" in repertory. "A Stage for a Kingdom" costs $16 and is available as a paperback on Amazon.com (click here).

    [[MORE]]The book chronicles Church's life from his earliest role – Grumpy in Snow White – to his final stage appearance at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2007.   There is generous mention in the book of Denver Center Theatre Company members past and present.

    He acted in 31 of Shakespeare's 37 plays, which led me to refer to him as "Denver's Baron of the Bard."

    To celebrate the release of his book, Denver CenterStage is re-posting Church's interview with John Moore that ran in The Denver Post on March 28, 2004. Church was to perform in "The Merchant of Venice" for the Denver Center Theatre Company, but he became ill just before that show was to open and did not appear.



    By John Moore
    The Denver Post

    Most people have not attended eight Shakespearean plays in their lives. Tony Church has performed in eight productions of "The Merchant of Venice" alone.

    Church has been an actor for 62 of his 73 years. He was a founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, served as the first dean of the Denver Center Theatre Company's National Theatre Conservatory and has performed in more than 70 Shakespearean productions in 13 countries.



    Of the Bard's 37 plays, it is easier to list the titles Church has not performed in, for there are only six: "Pericles," "All's Well That Ends Well," "Henry VIII" and all three parts of "Henry VI." His voice can be heard on 26 Shakespearean recordings as well.

    Around the globe, if people have heard of the DCTC, it's likely because they have heard of Church.

    He has played everyone from Malvolio to Prospero to Polonius, and no fewer than five King Lears. When he performs the roles of Tubal and the Doge of Venice in the DCTC's new production of "The Merchant of Venice" opening Thursday, he will be revisiting the first Shakespearean play he ever performed, at the age of 11 in a school production in the west of England.

    Two "Merchants" bookending 62 years: His has truly been a life on the stage.

    "It's the greatest thing in the world to be privileged to be able to do what you love, and to have made a living at it, as I have done all my life," Church said. "I'm a theater actor, and I've never been paid a lot, but the theater has kept me, and for that I shall be eternally grateful."

    Church was born May 11, 1930, and schooled at Cambridge University. Classmates included Peter Hall and John Barton (who collaborated on the DCTC's "Tantalus") and Peter Weir ("Master and Commander").
    "Well, that didn't harm my career a bit then, did it?" he joked.

    Church was a founding member of England's Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960 and remained affiliated with it for 28 years. He was given leave in 1967 to become the founding director of the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, and later headed the drama department of the Guildhall School in London.

    Church has more theater anecdotes than most leading men have lines in a play. He played the Duke in the RSC's 1960 production of "The Merchant of Venice" starring Peter O'Toole as Shylock.

    "It was O'Toole's second professional job," Church said. "On the night of the first preview, he came into the trial scene with his back to the audience and bowed to me. Now, as he bowed, he lifted up his dress to reveal to me that he had nothing on underneath."

    Church said O'Toole made for an astonishing Shylock, "but then he went off and did 'Lawrence of Arabia,' and we never saw him again."

    Church performed in "King Lear" for President Josip Tito of Yugoslavia in 1964, and in 1968 was booed off a Broadway stage - for all the right reasons.

    "I played a bishop called George Bell in the Broadway production of Rolf Hochhuth's 'Soldiers,"' Church said. "There was a three-quarters-of-an-hour scene in which the Bishop was attacking Winston Churchill about the pattern bombing leading up to the bombing of Dresden. With my last line, I accused Churchill of being a traitor to his own people, and I was heckled all the way off the stage."

    It was Denver Center for the Performing Arts founder Donald Seawell who first brought Church to Denver in 1975. "Otherwise," Church said, "I would not have ever known about the place."

    Seawell was a governor for the RSC and he booked its touring production of "Love's Labor's Lost," including Church, into Denver's old Bonfils Theatre.



    "The chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities called me and asked if I would bring (an RSC) production to America," Seawell said. "He said the Endowment would underwrite the cost if the stars would also teach at a local educational institution during the run of the play. Naturally, I said yes, and brought over 'Love's Labor's Lost' with Tony playing a starring role."

    Church twice taught at the University of Denver, which since has given him an honorary doctorate.

    "When I was here in 1976, Don had invited me to the offices of The Denver Post, and at the time, the (Denver Center) was just an idea in his head," Church said.

    "He showed me the model of what he wanted to do, and he said, 'This is going to be unlike any other performing-arts center in the United States, and I should think in England as well, because I am not only able to produce the money to build it from our foundations, but we are putting in escrow a sufficient sum of money to run it.'

    "Ever since the big foundations had pulled out of supporting American regional theaters around 1968, Don was determined that he would never have anything to do with a theater that depended on foundations he didn't control."

    Church had no further contact with the Denver Center until 1988, when artistic director Donovan Marley asked him to run the NTC student program and join the Denver Center's acting company.

    But Church was not immediately allowed to act in any Equity productions here, so he went to Mesa College in Grand Junction and performed in "King Lear" there

    "I was running the conservatory in Denver, but I didn't have resident alien status, so I couldn't join a union," he said.

    Church finally bowed at the DCTC in 1990's "The Man Who Came to Dinner." He considers his favorite roles there to be "The Dresser" (1996), "Taking Leave" (1998) and "The Tempest" (1999).

    His favorite role remains Lear, "because I am still not 80, and Lear is, so I've still got more time to have another shot at him - and I won't have to wear any makeup."

    If he had the opportunity to play the role again, he said, "Now I would not be so concerned to play the autocratic king, because I think it plays itself. Also I think at my age and my authority, I don't need to act that anymore. There are areas of the madness which interest me that I still don't think I have explored enough, and the fact is, he's an extraordinary mixture of hate and love.

    And while I think I've done the hate very well, I think I probably would like to explore more of the love."

    Shakespeare continues to appeal to Church because "there is always a surprise every time we come back to a play," he said. "Some bit of it comes up fresh that I haven't seen the same way before."

    In "The Merchant of Venice," current events always seem to make the story new again.

    "In Venice, the Jews weren't allowed to operate in any way other than lending money, and Jews were the only people allowed to charge interest because Christians believed earning interest to be a sin.

    "But Venice was also a business community that had no fidelity to anybody at the time the play was written. It was an empire of its own. Venice was sort of like the United States is now: You don't move very far without American influence. Venice was the great commercial empire of the Elizabethan times. Well, that's the United States.

    "What the rest of the world sincerely believes is that we went into Iraq to make certain that the oil was protected. Commercial considerations are driving this country more than any other, except possibly China, which is desperately trying to get there."

    "Merchant" director Anthony Powell also directed Church in "The Dresser," among others.

    "He's been incredibly kind to me, and I can't tell you how much I've learned from him," Powell said. "And as if his talent and humanity weren't enough, his trove of backstage stories is phenomenal."

    Church suffered a heart attack in 2001 but has had no health problems since, thanks to a pacemaker and defibrillator. He now lives most of the year in Greece after having remarried last year. His ex-wife, three children and two grandchildren live in England.

    But he would like to keep coming back to the DCTC, even after Marley resigns at the end of next season.

    "Obviously now everything is going to change," he said. "I want to go on working here, and I want to make that absolutely plain. I think a lot of us do because we like working here."

    Click here to read John Moore's obituary for Tony Church in 2008.

John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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