Bill Largess is a founding member and Artistic Director at Washington Stage Guild. A graduate of Catholic University, he has been extensively involved as an actor and director in the region for more than three decades. He also serves as a faculty member at George Washington University’s Department of Theater and Dance. His newest directorial project, Tiny Island, is the story of two sisters who seek to rebuild their relationship following their father’s illness after years of discord and resentment.
Largess spoke with me about the show and how the Stage Guild plans to commemorate its 30th anniversary.
How did you choose Tiny Island?
Stage Guild has, over the years, done a bunch of Michael Hollinger plays. This is our fifth and we really love them. He is a very clever writer. The dialogue is really interesting. He has a background as a musician, so there’s a rhythmic quality to the dialogue, almost like you would find in a string quartet.
All the plays are very different in tone. We did one called Incorruptible that was very farcical. Others are more serious. Tiny Island is one we always had our eyes on. It is more serious than the others. It has some witty dialogue and it has these two great roles for women who are slightly older than ingénues. So many actresses find themselves at an age where not too many roles are written for them. We always had it mind for a few of our company members. This year, as we began to form a theme for this 30th theme, we decided to look at plays that talked about the past and future.
What is the theme?
The theater is turning 30, so it’s time to look back 30 years on where we’ve been and where we’re going. All of the shows deal with some aspect of the past and how it will affect the future.
What has been most gratifying about working on Tiny Island?
Probably the whole rehearsal process. It’s been amazing to see the ensemble that these four actors fell into. Just from the first read through, these 4 work together great. I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t’ do anything, but a lot of times I could just let them go. I’d very often say, “That’s just perfect the way you did it.”
What type of theatre most excites you?
I am primarily attracted to language and ideas – political or social or interpersonal. The easiest answer is that I helped found a theater that focuses on these themes. We do a lot of George Bernard Shaw. Over the years we’ve done Oscar Wilde, Nöel Coward… we joke sometimes that at times we’re the opposite of the Synetic Theater. It’s not true that we don’t move, but we don’t move like they do certainly!
October 1 – 25, 2015
Washington Stage Guild
at Undercroft Theatre
900 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $40 – $50
What’s missing from theatre today?
I have been working in Washington theater since I graduated from Catholic University. Something that I am noticing is there’s been a flurry of theater companies being started by a slightly younger group of artists. It seems like the more recent ones have not had the staying power, in spiteof some really fine work being done. I don’t know if the audience is super saturated or if they’re more used to going to older theaters. It seems harder for these younger companies to find their audience.
Catalyst did great work and eventually shut down. We have to address that to some extent the audience for the performing arts in general is aging. How do we keep younger people and how did we get them to try another show? There’s such a range in Washington – from Woolly Mammoth to Signature to Constellation – that each has their own personality and feeling to work they do. Its almost like people are missing out on the DC theater scene if they’re not sampling everything in that variety.
What are you working on next?
I’m involved in the season overall as artistic director – the next show we’re doing is very exciting to us: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. The cast plays a group of actors doing a reading of the Frank Capra classic. So it’s the story of both the story from the original movie and the actors performing it. It’s a fun production, with live sound effects and commercials, directed by Lisa Giannarelli.
I’ll also be directing a subsequent show – our finale of this 3 year insane project we’ve been doing of George Bernard Shaw’s, called Back to Methuselah, about life and revolution. We’ve been doing it for over three years.
It sounds kind of like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.
A little bit! We certainly have all aged a little. Some actors lost facial hair and so on. This installment of the show takes place 25,000 years in the future.
Anything else you would like to add?
We have for the last several years been doing readings of plays on off nights of our show. Although we looked quite a bit, we didn’t really find a new play to do that suited us for the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. But over the course of the season we will be reading plays by women throughout history. On the 21st, we’ll be doing a Pay What You Can reading by the medieval playwright Hrotsvitha– the first female playwright we know of and the only medieval female playwright that we know of. It’s a lovely, strange piece from the 10th century that we are organizing with a nod to the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
I’ve known Bill for nearly a quarter century, and in all that time I’ve never seen a bigger smile than the one above. He has reason to smile, for the Stage Guild has been around longer than many area theaters, and while producing literate and challenging plays (of late, I’m still ruminating over some of Shaw’s “Back to Methusaleh” ideas about the longevity of leaders) there is no blood letting, no bare boobs and no F this and F that. There are so many other ideas, concepts and emotions left that will suffice and, surprisingly, entertain.