Casting white actors as slaves and black actors as slave owners in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Staging The Diary of Anne Frank in an attic. Having a woman play the outlaw role in The Assassination of Jesse James. These are just a few of the cool ways EgoPo Classic Theater sheds new light on well-known plays. Such risks come courtesy of its artistic director, Haverford College grad Lane Savadove.
MLT: What was the theater scene like at Haverford when you graduated in 1989?
LS: There wasn’t a scene at all, because there wasn’t a theater major. I got mine by taking those classes at Bryn Mawr College while taking classes for psychology at Haverford. Haverford hired its first full-time theater professor, Mark Lord, when I was a junior, and he’s still there. I was cast in his first show, Waiting for Godot, and it had an enormous influence on me. By the time I graduated, I knew I was going to start EgoPo—and I had a whole plan for the company.
MLT: EgoPo’s seasons are organized around themes like vaudeville, expressionism, cruelty, Jewish theater and Ibsen. How do you choose?
LS: I have a secret document that contains 20 possible themes. I discuss the ideas with the artistic advisory board, the board of directors, the actors, and other artists of EgoPo. It’s an ongoing process; we meet every few months and talk about upcoming seasons. We consider what casts and spaces are available, what other theater companies are doing, and our budget. It’s very important to me that we feel artistically motivated to do a show, and not just do it to fill a slot.
MLT: But you also reinterpret plays. And I’m guessing you don’t know exactly what that new creation will be.
LS: That’s very true, and it is scary. But it’s also thrilling for a director to take that risk, then do the creative work to figure out the production.
MLT: EgoPo just did Death of a Salesman. Why did you pick it, and what did you do with it?
LS: Arthur Miller’s 100th birthday is coming up, so that appealed to me. I read everything I could about Miller—biographies, newspaper stories, and all of his other work. I got interested in his Judaism and thought I could make it part of the production in a way that would make Miller proud. It added another dimension to the play, and I think that our Death of a Salesman was gutsy and the best acting work we’ve ever done.
MLT: You debut Tennessee Williams’ Stairs to the Roof in February. Why do you do so much Williams?
LS: Because I’m a big fan. It’s fair to say that I’ve spent my career investigating him. He’s an incredible writer, very American, and very much a reflection of the 20th century. Stairs to the Roof is a fantastical romantic comedy set in the 1920s. In our version of it, the audience enters the mind of a child who’s imagining what it’s like to live in capitalistic America. The roof is a magical place where he can be free. It will be amazing and unlike any other Tennessee Williams play anyone has ever seen.