郝邦宇 Steven Hao
"We're all pretenders. Through play and fun the artist discovers the human quality of the stories actors tell."
Recent 2022 BFA TMU graduate Steven Hao has been in rehearsals as Assistant Director at Crow’s Theatre for its opening on October 5 for Will Arbery’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’
Tapestry Opera describes Hao’s “directing work…with a huge emphasis put on ‘play’ that usually guides his staging process and the creative yet efficient application of design…[his] work is often highly sensorial and heavily conceptual.” This emphasis on the word PLAY intrigued me, and I asked Steven further about this statement.
‘Play’ is the very core of the theatre. It boils down to the very ancient art form of what the actor does – to play. Actors used to be called players. That notion has always been prominent and evident in Steven’s brain as director.
Hao always considered theatre to be a ‘fun thing.’ Through playing and having fun, the artist discovers the human quality of the stories actors tell. It all starts in the process of play:
“I’m constantly reminded of this when I speak to others about what I do who don’t understand what the artist does.”
But Hao also spoke about the challenges and awakenings of the artist and his/her/their reflection(s) because of these last three years. Collectively, that time forced artists to rest, but this away time made the artist better and more empathetic.
We laughed when Steven sometimes speaks to others who don’t understand what he does: “You mean you sang and danced all day? You moved people around?” He emphasizes the joy of the artist in what they do in his conversations with ‘non-theatre’ people. He wants to ensure those not involved in the theatre process understand why artists do what they do – for the joy of it.
In Steven’s process, he wants to consistently remind actors they are all very fortunate and lucky to do what they have been able to, so it should all be about playing. No matter how difficult the content might be on stage, the actors are to be having fun on stage, and the audience can immerse themselves in the stories.
Yes, the theatre is still a job. But how often does one get to be a pretender?
Steven learned that from what Director Philip Akin has accomplished with the actors in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ On the first day, Aikin said: “We’re all pretenders, and the work we do is to pretend, and how fun is that?”
For Steven, that’s important to him too.
Rehearsals have gone splendidly for ‘Fourth Turning.’ Hao feels things have returned for the theatre industry. Chris Abraham (Crow’s Artistic Director) and Paolo Santalucia (Associate Artistic Director) have done a magnificent job planning this electric season at Crow’s, including this Canadian premiere co-produced with The Howland Company.
‘Fourth Turning’ begins with the characters reuniting in their hometown. on a chilly night in middle America, one week after the Charlottesville riots in 2017. Four alumni gather to toast their mentor, the newly inducted president of their conservative Catholic college. Their reunion spirals into spiritual chaos, clashing politics, and stunning revelations as they furiously grapple with their beliefs and sense of personal responsibility. They all attended the same Catholic college in Wyoming. The characters have reunited in the backyard of one of them. At the very core of the story, Steven sees the story as one of empathy. If theatre is to teach us how to be empathetic, then Arbery’s play teaches us how to do so.
‘Heroes’ opens a conversation we are forced to confront and contend with. It is an open invitation to ponder the large question: “Can two truths exist simultaneously?”
I then put Steven on the spot and asked him what the process has been like working with Akin:
“Wow! It is by far the most inspiring and invigorating process that I’ve been a part of. Philip leads the room with magic, which is evident in his blocking and understanding of the play itself.”
And how would Philip describe Steven’s contributions as Assistant Director on ‘Fourth Turning’?
Hao started laughing profusely, so I knew I caught him off guard for a split second. He then added:
“I think Philip would say I bring a lot of joy to the room and a lot of wits as a young person. Quite literally, I’m also Philip’s crutch sometimes. He’ll have these moments of explaining to the actors some blocking where I’m literally there to be the other actors and demonstrate to the other actors what he’s imagining.”
And again, we shared another laugh on camera as the timing was impeccable. Philip walked by just as Steven said: “I think he [Philip] would also appreciate my existence.” Akin said he does and added Steven’s a great guy because he always brings tea for the director. He’s smart, and Philip is glad he’s there.
The joys when the Director and Assistant Director just click with each other.
Steven calls the cast: Mac Fyfe, Ruth Goodwin, Cameron Laurie, Maria Ricossa, and Hallie Seline a wonderful group of actors who bring a unique perspective to tell the story and a great group of ‘pretenders’ (as Philip would say) who bring such truth to the stage.
For Steven, good theatre always asks more questions than just simply giving answers. He hopes audiences take away that asking questions about how we come together as human beings and how much empathy we can have for each other is the significant takeaway message about ‘Fourth Turning.’ Listening in Arbery’s play is crucial.
What’s next for the young artist once ‘Heroes for the Fourth Turning’ has completed its run?
Steven has an exciting run at Crow’s after the play is done. He is assisting Michael Mori and Tapestry Opera in their revival of ‘Rocking Horse Winner’ at Crows the first two weeks of November. ‘Winner’ is a re-staging of the show already done at the Berkeley Street Theatre.
The exciting part of this production for Steven? He gets to direct a scene. Audiences who haven’t seen the production before will see something different because, in Hao’s words, he’ll be finagling with it.
After ‘Rocking Horse Winner,’ Steven will perform in ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ with SHAKESPEARE BASH’D in January 2024. Later in summer 2024, Steven will make his onstage debut at The Stratford Festival playing Benvolio in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and taking part in a new play ‘Salesman in China.’
There’s a lot of work ahead for the next year and a bit, and Steven is excited and grateful for the opportunity.