After looking through the 2013 schedule for Portland Center Stage (PCS), there was one show that really caught our attention. Starting January 29th, the Tony Award winning play, Venus in Fur will be showing at the Ellyn Bye Studio at the Armory. Not only has it had an extremely successful run on Broadway but PCS managed to snag Director Nancy Keystone, who has quite the impressive background to say the least. Keystone is a jack of all trades, working as a director, writer, designer in the theatre, and a visual artist. She also just happens to be one of the kindest and most humble e-mail correspondents EVER. We had a lot of questions and she had great answers. Can’t wait for this show!E+E: Tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from and how did you get started in theatre?Nancy Keystone: I grew up in Santa Barbara, CA after early stints in Michigan and Alabama. My mom has always been involved in arts education, and my childhood was filled with the arts–dance, visual art, theatre, music. When I was 17 I was the youngest member of an experimental theatre ensemble in Santa Barbara; it was the last gasp of the 60’s avant-garde, in every good and suspect way you can imagine. It was a completely immersive experience–all day and night, working on serious, soul-expanding stuff, and it inspired me to create an ensemble of my own, years later.I went to UCLA for theatre, and got an MFA in directing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I’m the founding artistic director of Critical Mass Performance Group, which is dedicated to the collaborative creation of new work, reinterpretation of classic texts, and the use of traditional and alternative performance spaces. I consider myself a multi-disciplinary artist, working as a director, writer and designer in the theatre, as well as a visual artist. It’s all of a piece. I’m really lucky that I can alternate between working with my ensemble in Los Angeles, and doing freelance directing and design work at other theatres, such as Portland Center Stage.E+E: How did you get involved with the Venus in Fur production here in Portland? Was it luck? Was it years in waiting? Fate?NK: I went to graduate school with Chris Coleman–Artistic Director of Portland Center Stage. He started a theatre company in Atlanta (Actor’s Express) and hired me to direct/design there for about 10 years in the 90s. When he came to PCS, I was fortunate that he continued to invite me to work here. Venus in Fur is my 8th show at the theatre and was chosen by the staff at PCS as one of the shows this season. They asked me if I would be interested in directing it. Of course, I said “Yes!”. I don’t know if it’s fate, but I certainly always consider it luck that I get to work at PCS. Chris has been incredibly supportive of me, and my work (he’s also very brave, having produced two of my own pieces: “Antigone”, and “Apollo.”).E+E: We know in the past you have done a lot of the actual set designing for your productions. Did you take part in the design for Venus in Fur?NK: I did not design the set this time. I'm collaborating with a wonderful scenic designer and visual artist - Sibyl Wickersheimer--whom I've known for several years in Los Angeles. It's been a terrific experience working with Sibyl because she knows my work and process, and we share similar aesthetics and ideas about theatre, art and design.E+E: The New York Times was quoted saying Venus in Fur is “As funny as any play on Broadway, something darker, stranger and altogether more delicious.” Is that an accurate description? Tell us why (or why not).NK: Well, since it's comparing Venus in Fur to other Broadway plays, which I don't know, I can't really speak to the accuracy of the statement. But it is funny, dark, strange and delicious on its own!E+E: Rumor has it, Roman Polanski is currently directing the film version to Venus in Fur. Do you think it willtranslate over well to film? Is Polanski the man for the job?NK: I think the play could make a very compelling film, and Polanski is definitely one director who could do well with it. He has also adapted the play in collaboration with the playwright, David Ives. His ability to get underneath the surface of human behavior and relationships, as well as to embrace the "shadow" side of things bodes well for the project; I have high hopes for it!
E+E: Has there been anything during the process of this production that has genuinely surprised you?NK: We're still very much in process, but so far the most exciting (if not surprising) aspect is the cast: Ginny Myers Lee and David Barlow. I didn't know either of them prior to casting them. Usually I know at least one person in the cast, either from previous work together, or from seeing him/her perform. This play requires some real guts and the desire to dive into the fray. I don't want to jinx anything, but so far they have exceeded my hopes, and we're having a fabulous time! They are super talented and smart people, and they are digging up exciting hidden treasure from the depths of the play.
E+E: You travel around the world for your productions, do you have a favorite spot?NK: I can say, sincerely, that Portland is my favorite place to work. I've been working here for almost 13 years, and I love the city and PCS and the many friends I have here, now. When my daughter was little, I used to bring her with me a lot of the time, and she feels like Portland is a second home. I just feel really lucky to be able to be here (I think I said that already!).E+E: Since we are now on the subject what is your favorite thing about Portland?NK: When I'm working my world is pretty small--I don't venture too far from the theatre. Here, from an admittedly limited perspective, are a few favorite things: Portland Center Stage; Powell's Books (books are my biggest vice and addiction, and I've spent a big portion of my fees over the years at Powell's, I'm there at closing time several nights/week); the Lan Su Chinese Garden; the winter weather (being from LA, it's a treat to be in the cold and sometimes snow); Northwest Film Center and film culture in general; the ease of being here; the Mark Spencer Hotel where I stay in the same room every time, and feel totally at home.E+E: In three words, describe what people can expect when they go see Venus in Fur at the end of the month.NK: Good, twisted fun!Venus In FurJanuary 29-March 10, 2013Gerding Theater at the Armory - Ellyn Bye Studio128 NW Eleventh AvenuePortland, Oregon 97209 | 503-445-3700Get tickets HERE!
Photo courtesy: Patrick Weishampel