ARTIST PROFILE: Kirsten Brandt, Director of Macbeth

Meet Kirsten Brandt, the director of Macbeth for the 2015 Santa Cruz Shakespeare Summer Festival.

Santa Cruz Shakespeare Kirsten Brandt

Where are you from originally? Where do you call home now?

I was born in San Diego, but grew up in San Francisco. I went back to San Diego to go to UCSD and stayed there for decades and ran a small alternative theatre company. I moved to Santa Cruz 11 years ago and call Boulder Creek my home.

How did you come to be a part of Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s 2015 festival? Do you have a history with us, or is this your first time?

I directed The Merry Wives of Windsor in SCS’s 2014 inaugural season. For Shakespeare Santa Cruz, I directed The Tempest and the intern production of La Ronde.

What has your experience been like working with Santa Cruz Shakespeare this season?

I get to direct one of my favorite plays and discover it all over again with a new group of actors and designers – it’s fantastic. The joy of working here is feeling like part of a community of artists. Even though I am only on one show (the actors and designers are on two or three), you feel part of everyone’s creative process. There is a camaraderie because everyone is giving their all every moment. Plus, the artists are game – ready to attack the text in familiar and different ways. You don’t have a lot of time to get these shows up – so you have to be bold and fearless. There is a tremendous energy that comes out of that – it’s exhilarating.

How did you approach your directing work? What inspired your choices? Was there anything you discovered during your process that surprised you?

Mary Cavett (left), Patty Gallagher (center), and Suzanne Sturn (right) as the ‘Witches’ in  Macbeth. Photo by rr jones.

Mary Cavett (left), Patty Gallagher (center), and Suzanne Sturn (right) as the ‘Witches’ in Macbeth. Photo by rr jones.

I’m setting Macbeth in Medieval Scotland. I wanted the visceral feel of that period. A place where people believed in the power of the occult, where kingdoms can be won by brute strength. The design work is based on that. I had to consider the fights too. Unlike Romeo and Juliet (which I recently directed set in the 1960s with switchblades as the weapons), this is warfare – broadswords and daggers.

As a director, I love actors. I love watching their impulses and sculpting that into the performance. These actors are sublime and open to anything. I push for strong, bold choices. I dive deep beneath the surface of character to help the actor find truth and purpose – it is my favorite part of my job.

I knew it would happen, but I am still surprised by this play. It’s been a decade since I directed it and certain aspects are more important to me now – so we are highlighting those things.

What have been some of your favorite things to do in the Santa Cruz area when you weren’t rehearsing/working?

I love hiking in Henry Cowell. I love eating at the downtown restaurants. Since I am a local – I always feel it is my responsibility to point out all the “off the beaten tracks” places to send the visiting artists.

What is your favorite Shakespeare play? Why?

Macbeth is one of my favorite plays mainly because it terrifies me. It really makes you examine what we are truly capable of if our ambitions go unchecked. Like all Shakespeare plays, it reveals something new to you each time you work on it. Plus there are witches – who doesn’t like witches?

I also love Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Titus, Antony and Cleopatra, Winter’s Tale, Midsummer, and Richard III.

What is your favorite Shakespearean insult?

“I do desire we may be better strangers.” – As You Like It and “Asses are made to bear, and so are you.” – Taming of the Shrew

Why should people come to see Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s plays this summer?

I hope people see all three shows – they are so incredibly different and yet each comments on elements of our humanity. I also think the experience of seeing Shakespeare in the outdoor setting is magical.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself? Or about anything?

Check out my website

Tickets on sale now for the 2015 season, which features three outdoor productions, starting with the wickedly romantic Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing, opening July 3; followed by David Ives’s modern adaptation of the wickedly hilarious 17th century farce, The Liar, opening July 24; and Shakespeare’s wicked tragedy, Macbeth, opening August 7. Plus, SCS continues the tradition of its intern-showcasing Fringe production with four performances of the wickedly festive comedy The Rover, starting August 18.


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