Aaron Posner is a multi talented artist who never stops working. His adaptations of My Name is Asher Lev, The Chosen and Melissa Arctic are just a few of the novels adapted to the stage by Aaron. You probably know him best as a director. His many works at Folger Theatre include The Taming of the Shrew, Cyrano (co-adaptor; Helen Hayes Award), The Comedy of Errors, Orestes: A Tragic Romp, Arcadia, Macbeth (co-director and co-conceiver), The Tempest (2007), Measure for Measure (Helen Hayes Awards), The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Helen Hayes Award), Melissa Arctic (The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play), Twelfth Night, Othello, As You Like It (2001) and Folger’s current production of The Conference of The Birds. Other area credits include In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and The Chosen for Theatre J. Other regional credits include productions for Milwaukee Rep, The Alliance Theatre, California Shakespeare Theater, Delaware Theatre Company, Portland Center Stage, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Arizona Theatre Company. He co-founded the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia and directed over 35 productions there. I first knew of Aaron’s work after seeing Melissa Arctic at Two River Theatre Company in Red Bank, NJ where he was the Artistic Director. I never knew he was so well known in DC until after I moved here. He is married to the wonderful actress Erin Weaver and they have a daughter Maisie. NYC will finally get to realize Aaron’s work in the near future. Read on for more details. Aaron Posner is a wonderfully talented artist and I can not wait to see what else he has coming up in the future.
Growing up, how did you become interested in theatre?
My mom put me in all the classes… painting, pottery, piano, dance (that didn’t go so well…), and eventually acting, which I really liked. And then I started doing plays in school because all my friends were doing them and then, eventually, all my friends stopped doing them but I just kept on doing them and now here I am… I think the truth is, I was a big reader. I collected comic books when I was very young, and then read a lot and just loved stories of all kinds. And my greatest fantasy was always that I could somehow be magically transported into the story and get to live the life of the character I most loved or identified with. When I realized that there was a way I could kind of do that as a career, I was pretty psyched.
You have adapted many novels for the stage including My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen. Was this something you intended to be part of your career or did you think you were going to be a director and the writing was something you fell into?
I went to Northwestern University because they had a great and active theatre program. But when I got there I discovered what was originally known as the Department of Interpretation and became the department of Performance Studies. At the center of this department was the study of literature through performance, and the adaptation of literature for performance. Frank Galati– who adapted THE GRAPES OF WRATH at Steppenwolf that went to Broadway and The National, among many, many other things– taught in that department and I quickly found an amazing mentor. I started dabbling with adaptation in school, and when we started the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia back in 1988, adaptations were a core part of what we did. They have been an important part of my work in the theatre ever since. Actually, I don’t draw big lines between my adapting, directing and playwriting. It is all about telling a worthwhile story on stage in a creative way. The skills overlap a lot, and I enjoy all of it tremendously.
Can you please tell us about your latest production at Folger Theatre called The Conference of The Birds?
I first read it in high school, I think, after reading Peter Brook’s THE EMPTY SPACE. I became fascinated with Brook and wanted to know more about him and I found this book about his journey to Africa and the creation of the piece THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS. I have been intrigued and puzzled and engaged by it ever since.
It is a 12th Century Sufi poem about a bunch of birds that leave their lives to go in search of God. Like many religious texts or pieces of “wisdom literature,” it is told in parables and tales that are abstract enough to engage the heart, mind and spirit. I didn’t fully understand it when I first read it, I don’t know, and I suspect I never will. That is part of what I love about it.
One of the things I find most interesting is this: The Sufi strain of Islam comes as close as anything I’ve ever read to the way many people I know who would consider themselves deeply spiritual, but non-religious, think about God. The Sufi’s (and I am anything but an expert) see no separation between things. We are God and God is us, and we are all part of the same unity and the same universe, and the divisions we see and feel are artificial constructs, as I understand it. Which I find wonderfully fascinating and provocative.
Do you find being a writer and a director equally as satisfying or do you prefer one over the other?
Love them both.
After The Conference of The Birds what are your next few projects?
The day after we open I start rehearsal for A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Milwaukee Rep. At the same time, starting the day before we start previews here, my adaptation of MY NAME IS ASHER LEV is starting rehearsals in New York for an open-ended Off-Broadway commercial run, which is very exciting to me. I have never worked in New York at all, and it is fun to be seeing this piece– of which I am very proud– receive this kind of attention. Then it is a variety of workshops and readings and some teaching in the winter before I direct CRIMES OF THE HEART in the spring at Signature Theatre (with my wife, Erin Weaver, Rachel Zampelli, and Holly Twyford playing the sisters), and then work with Howard Shalwitz at Woolly on my new adaptation of THE SEAGULL entitled STUPID ____ BIRD. It’s a very exciting year…