Encore: Lesley Currier
Monday, July 21, 2014
Interviewed by David Templeton
Lesley Currier, managing director of Marin Shakespeare Company, grew up outside of Washington, DC. In 1989, with her husband Robert Currier, she tackled the daunting job of resurrecting the San Rafael–based Marin Shakespeare Festival, originally founded in the 1960s by Ann and John Brebner. With a robust training program, a commitment to putting Equity actors alongside interns and amateurs, and an ambitious schedule of summertime plays staged in repertory, Marin Shakespeare Company is now celebrating its 25th season under the Curriers' direction.
How did you first get involved in theatre?
I've been acting since I was a little kid. My first role was as Gretel, in my first-grade production of Hansel and Gretel. I knew then I wanted theatre to be my life.
Where did you study?
I went to Princeton as an undergrad, but there was no theatre major there. I got my BA in Religion, and a certificate of completion for the Theatre and Dance program. Then I came out to San Francisco to do the ACT summer acting congress. I decided to take a yearlong break from school, and it lasted a bit longer than I expected.
Your husband is Robert Currier, artistic director of Marin Shakespeare Company. How did you meet?
I was living in Sonoma County, which in the early '80s did not have as active a theatre scene as it does now. I heard about some interesting things happening at the Ukiah Players, up in Mendocino County. They were doing an evening of scenes from Shakespeare, so I auditioned for that, and I was cast. The show was codirected by Bob Currier, and because he was codirecting as well as acting in it, he got to choose which scenes he did—and somehow he and I ended up doing two love scenes together.
We did a Rosalind and Orlando scene from As You Like It, and the Henry V scene with Henry and the French princess, Katharine. If Bob was really going for artistic excellence, I don't think he'd ever have cast me, because I do not have a good French accent. But in that scene, Henry gets to kiss Katharine at the end, so...as I remember, we had to practice that kiss a lot! Thirty years later, we're married, we have two kids, we run a theatre company—and we've been artistic and life partners ever since.
Did you ever go back to school?
Yes. But not right away. I spent about two and a half years in Ukiah, which is where I started producing plays and where I learned how to do fundraising. I'd never been to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in Ashland, so we went up there in 1987, to see some plays, and on a whim, I auditioned. A year later, I got a call asking me to come up and be a fairy in A Midsummer Night's Dream. So I did one season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I like to say I played a fairy in Ashland...and even smaller roles. I finally decided to apply to grad school, then two things happened. I got pregnant. And then I got accepted to UC Irvine, Bob's alma mater.
So Bob left being artistic director of the Ukiah Players, and went with me down to UC Irvine. I started grad school in September, had a baby in November, and then did a play at South Coast Rep, with Bob taking care of the baby while I was in school.
How did you end up in Marin, running a Shakespeare company?
Well, during a summer break from grad school, we were spending a summer back in Ukiah. It was a show of two one acts, so Bob could direct one and I could act in the other, so we could take turns taking care of our baby. One night, Bob, out of the blue, said, "Honey, how would you like to go to Marin and start a Shakespeare festival?" He'd gotten a phone call from someone in Marin who he had worked with, who was part of a small proto-board-of-directors, interested in bringing Shakespeare back to Forest Meadows, on the campus of Dominican College.
So, I took a leave of absence from my MFA program, and we came to Marin in September of '89, and in 1990 did our first play. And we've been growing the company ever since.
You run the company, produce the shows and even direct one or two a year. Do you ever act anymore?
Very rarely. I appeared in our first couple of seasons, but running a theatre company is an all-consuming thing. I realized that there are many, many talented actors—but there are only a few people who can make a company grow and thrive, who can create opportunities for other theatre artists to grow and thrive. I love acting, but I finally decided that, when all is said and done, it's more satisfying to be that person.