Questions and Answers with Director Cameron Knight
This will be Cameron Knight’s first time directing at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, as he takes the helm of Richard III in the 2021 season. Hailing from Flint, Michigan, he has performed on stages across America and has worked in television, film, and commercials and voice-over. He has a growing number of directing credits (including work at Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, the Theatre School at DePaul University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Twelve Peers Theatre) and has taught at some of the most prestigious actor training programs in America. The Festival recently conducted this question-and-answer interview via email.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival: This will be the sixth time the Utah Shakespeare Festival has produced Richard III, more than any other history and more than many other “popular” shows. What do you think the appeal of the play Richard III is?
Cameron Knight: I think it is shifting and I’ll be curious to discover that with the entire team and the audience. Traditionally, we (as an audience) love the charming villain that says what they want and go after it, by any means. In some productions, as is the case with many of Shakespeare’s villains, they cross a line at some point in the story and by then the audience has been on the ride with the villain and they feel as an accomplice to the characters’ actions. This serves as a potential catharsis; a mirror to society and warning of its potential dangers. I am curious what our relationship will be to characters like this now.
The Festival: On a similar note, the character Richard III seems to be a character that we “love to hate” but that we also are somehow attracted to. What is it in this character that makes him appeal to us in so many ways?
Knight: Richard gives us the opportunity to celebrate those aspects of ourselves that we would otherwise suppress. We all carry envy, greed, desire, entitlement and so much more frequently in our daily lives and often, without an outlet. Until recently, such behaviors were not so easily available to witness in our society; I’ll be very curious how the audience reacts to Richard’s actions given where we are today with so many similar actions being taken in our daily lives. Will this play still serve as an opportunity to catharsis, an example of how deeply we become corrupted by obsession, or will we be desensitized? We will explore the plays “new potential impact” on audiences.
The Festival: In your Preliminary Director’s Concept, you talk about “the amazing opportunity that we have before us to create productions that answer for social justice.” Would you elaborate on that idea?
Knight: Representation and identity matter. With each artistic endeavor we take on going forward we have an obligation to live up to our statements of equity and inclusion. This play, which is iconic in so many ways, has by its history, left people out of participating in productions: we can fix that and create a new standard for equity and inclusion. I am proud of the Festival’s commitment to do that work. We can create a theatre community that is representative of our deeply held beliefs. In order to do that we must take action, immediately and consistently.
The Festival: You and your team have cut the script some, which isn’t uncommon at most theatres. Can you explain a bit what you cut and why?
Knight: We wanted to cut for time and clarity: the history plays require the audience to have a shared knowledge of English hierarchy and history, we want to make that clear so that our audience doesn’t, at any time, feel left out of the story.
The Festival: This play can be brutal and violent at times. How much do you want to emphasize this in your production? Why?
Knight: It really can! I want to lean into it, mainly because it can provide an outlet for similar feelings in an audience, but also it is cathartic for all of us: that release, the sense of action being taken. It will be important for audiences to have something to respond to again; we will need to learn how to be together again in such an experience. The balance of well-spoken verse and strong action—I find is crucial for a play to really grab the audience. We are becoming more and more visual; as a result people need to sit in an experience in order to be moved by it, to be moved to action.
The Festival: As playgoers, what should we watch for in this production that may help us enjoy it and/or understand it more?
Knight: It’s been a year of pandemic and being isolated; come looking for community, the plays you remember and love, realized with a mix of new ideas and the quality you’ve grown to expect from the Festival. We have missed you and we are excited to share a story with you!
The Festival: This is your first time working at the Festival. What brought you here, and what are you looking forward to?
Knight: I have such a great knowledge of the Festival from so many friends that have and still work here, so I am excited to join that group. I’m excited to collaborate with old and new friends.
The Festival: Besides theatre business, what is the one thing you plan on doing while in Cedar City?
Knight: Hiking! It’s been a while since I’ve been to Cedar City, I always try to get a great hike in and see some of the amazing sights
The Festival: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Knight: I’m looking forward to creating live theatre again. I think the moment we are all in the space together will be electric!