Last week I chatted to two of the actors starring in Summer Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and among the many compliments they paid director Michael Hurst, the one that stood out was his likeness to “a walking Shakespeare encyclopedia”.
With five Hamlets, four King Lears, four Macbeths, two Romeo and Juliets and two Othellos under his belt, Michael Hurst is just the person to impart a few wise words on life, work, and how Shakespeare’s words make the world a better place.
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
Primarily I act and direct in theatre, television and film. I also have a voice over strand to my work, which ranges from hard sell TV commercials to the documentaries such as My Big Blue Back Yard.
What’s been the proudest moment in your career to date?
Honestly, so many. Whenever we achieve the vision of whatever project it is, I feel proud to be doing what I do and to be working with the talented people that I work with.
Most recently I directed Chicago for the Auckland Theatre Company, and I loved very minute of the process. We made a fabulous show, and watching those actors and dancers transcend the medium and bring real, transformative playing to their work was exhilarating. The audiences ate it up and I was full of pride and joy every time I saw it, which was at least three times a week.
But having said that, just the other week we were rehearsing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the room suddenly filled with laughter and delight. The actors were firing, the script was alive, and it was truly a privilege to be in the room with everyone. It was such a pure experience facilitated by Shakespeare in the first instance, and taken up with craft ant enthusiasm by talented, generous performers. Proud indeed.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was not so much given this advice, but I certainly have absorbed it over the years: Be like water around rocks.
In this way, you will not stress and you will see obstacles as things you can negotiate one way or the other. The water has to go over, around, under – whatever, but it still flows. And sometimes, the water backs up and then surges through and lifts the rocks away.
Also – Sam Goldwyn the legendary studio boss had it right when he said “Nobody knows anything”.
Who are your biggest influences?
Shakespeare, the Ancient Greeks, Bertolt Brecht, the Romantic Poets, Laurence Olivier, James Joyce, Mark Rothko, Max Wall, Jacques Brel, Steven Berkoff, Raymond Hawthorne.
If you could have dinner with any three people in the world, living or dead, who would you choose?
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar and Sappho.
If you could go back in time, what one piece of advice would you give your 20 year old self?
Protect your body; it will age and things will start to fall off.
What has been your greatest adventure to date?
My whole life is a bit of an adventure because in a way I live many lives. But directing the TV show Spartacus was pretty big.
What’s your greatest fear?
How can theatre work to make the world a better place?
Theatre is a dialogue that reminds us of our humanity. It should bring a healthy catharsis to the audience through laughter or tears, and at times both. The two faces of drama, one happy, one sad, are really only one face.
It’s is a bit like church, only without the religion. It’s a human communion in which the idea of god is put into the right context, which is to say, as an invention of human beings. When we present the world as a play, we put ourselves in the position of gods observing the action and weighing it against our reality. We start to see our true place in the scheme of things. For me this is a healthy process. If we could examine our issues in this way instead of resorting to blind faith and ignorance, the world would be a better place.
Plus, we need to be entertained!
If you could be any one of Shakespeare’s characters, who would you be?
I’d like Hamlet’s brain, Macbeth’s prowess and Viola’s capacity for love, please.
What do you hope people will take away from A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Love, joy, delight, a tinge of nostalgia; the feeling of having had a lovely, satisfying meal; awe at the brilliance of human beings!