A new theater season is bringing changes to several local theater companies. Some months back I wrote about the turnover of artistic leadership at Know Theatre. Andrew Hungerford, who’s provided Know with scenic and lighting design services for seven years, succeeded Eric Vosmeier in June following the 2014 Fringe Festival. He’s been steering the ship for four months, and now we’re about to see his first mainstage production as a director. It’s a whale of a choice, a stage adaptation of Herman Melville’s epic American novel, Moby Dick. It opens next week and runs through Nov. 8.
Hungerford, who earned his master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, is the personification of multitasking. (He earned two college degrees simultaneously, one in theater and one in astrophysics.) He designs approximately 20 shows a year for various theater companies, including Cincinnati Shakespeare. His wife of one year lives in Los Angeles, so he spends time and works in theater there, too.
There’s a lot going on in his life, but given his long history with Know, he welcomed the chance to have a hand in the theater’s artistic decisions. “As a designer, you’re part of the product,” he says. But as the artistic director picking shows, “you get to influence the direction of the theater.”
Moby Dick is one of Hungerford’s favorite novels. Wondering if there was a small-cast stage adaptation, he stumbled on Julian Rad’s script. “It’s a really cool distillation of the adventure story that doesn’t lose sight of the overriding metaphor that makes the novel so great,” he says.
But he knew he’d need some help, so he turned to his mentor Michael Burnham, a veteran local theater artist who’s retired from CCM’s drama faculty, to co-direct. They’ve known each other for a decade. “We come up with a project at least every other year,” Hungerford says. Those have ranged from Hungerford’s CCM thesis to a play he wrote and produced at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Co-directing Melville’s tale of obsession has been an experiment in process. “The theatricality of the show is related to the design. Michael gets that,” Hungerford says. “We’re building it with all the technical elements from the very beginning.” Especially aspects Hungerford has designed, which are fully integrated into the show, not just layered on top of it.
Hungerford and Burnham’s work is mutually supportive. “Michael is the kind of director who can say exactly the right thing to an actor that allows a whole story to fall into place,” Hungerford says.
Hungerford says Julian Rad’s adaptation of Melville’s tale of man versus nature is a stripped-down rendition of the story of Ishmael, overwhelmed by life in 19th-century New York City. Deciding to escape by heading off to sea on the whaling ship Pequod, he gets caught up in the one-legged captain’s blood lust for vengeance. Hungerford and Burnham are using a cast of eight to tell the story, which has its mood set by the haunting music of more than a dozen sea shanties. The results will soon be afloat on Know’s stage. More info: knowtheatre.com.
Meanwhile, another small company, New Edgecliff Theatre (NET), doesn’t have new leadership, but it does have a new home. After a two-year search, the company — established back in 1998 and based for several years in an old church building in the East End — has settled into the Hoffner Lodge in Northside. The 1885 building was designed by architect Samuel Hannaford, the same guy who designed Music Hall, City Hall and other noteworthy Cincinnati structures. It first functioned as a Masonic Lodge, and later was St. Patrick’s Church and the home to a number of community businesses including a post office, a Kroger store and a laundry. Today NET shares the space with several community entities, including dance troupes, massage therapy, yoga classes and the Buddhist Dharma Center.
“We’re very excited to be a part of what promises to be a vital new arts venue in the Northside community,” says Jim Stump, NET’s producing artistic director. “Plans for the facility include a brew pub, music lounge and eventually a restaurant in the former rectory building.”
Beyond the currently running production of Douglas Carter Beane’s comedy The Little Dog Laughed (onstage through Oct. 11), NET plans to produce the third incarnation of its holiday show, The 12 Dates of Christmas (Dec. 4-20), and David Mamet’s Race (April 9-25), a drama that deals with sex, guilt and provocative accusations. For more information about the theater and its season: newedgecliff.com.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]