by Bill Batson
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” says the King of England in William Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II. After 20 years as the director of the Children’s Shakespeare Theater, Diana Green will stage Henry Part II starting on May 10th as her 90th production. For that accomplishment, Green should be crowned, and after that coronation, she could deservedly feel a bit weary, if not uneasy.
But Diana Green, like spring, and her beloved bard, “hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.” (Sonnet 98, 1-3)
Meet the founder of Rockland’s Children Shakespeare Theater and recent recipient of awards from both the Rockland County Legislature and the Rockland Arts Council, Diana Green.
When did you meet the bard?
I began reading Shakespeare around a kitchen table with my mom’s friend, Jean Brock of Palisades, and her 5 kids. They were going to see a production of Macbeth and wanted to know the play better before going. I loved the show and we went to see many together over the years, at the Delacourte Theater in Central Park. In those days, you could just walk up at 6:30pm and get a handful of tickets.
After a few such readings (maybe a year of this?), I raised my hand and asked “Why can’t we do a play?” And the first CST was born in in 1972 with Jean Brock directing. She did 5 plays over the course of 5 years, but then the group fizzled out and Jean went on to direct the shows at Tappan Zee High School. She died in 2003, but got to see a couple of productions of the new CST before she went. I started CST in 1999 because I wanted to provide this experience for my own kids. It has grown far beyond the dreams we had in 1972 or in 1999.
What brought you to Rockland County?
My mother moved us to Palisades in 1966 after divorcing my dad. Her mother, my grandmother, lived in Nyack since 1949. I have lived in Rockland for almost all my life, excepting years away at college and a brief move to North Carolina.
Heard you’ve been busy lately?
Yes, I thought I’d be living the life of Riley by this point in the season, but that’s never realistic. I had to take over our final production, Henry IV, Part 2, for one of my directors who just had a baby. Henry IV.2 is the final show in the Season of Our History, our 20th season of plays.
It’s a coming-of-age story of a prince growing into a king. I think that’s appropriate for our 20th season. We have come a long way and learned so much. We just won the Arts Leadership Award from ACOR and it’s great to feel that our peers see our progress and reward our efforts! CST is also a hugely collaborative entity, sending kids and directors to teach and perform in many venues and for many groups. I am currently teaching a short workshop for the NYC Allstars, a group that offers free theater instruction to kids from the 5 boroughs.
I have also partnered with the Hopper House to bring a workshop to alumni from an organization called Rehabilitation Through the Arts. I’ll be guiding a group of formerly incarcerated adults to write, direct and act a series of monologues and scenes based on Hopper paintings for a performance on June 9 at the Hopper House.
I just met the new kids in town, The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, when their founders came to see our most recent show and were bowled over by the professional quality of our production. They recruited several of our actors for a reading at the Nyack Library and I will be directing a staged reading for them on June 6th starring their two founders.
Lastly…for now… I am working toward my director qualification at The Elmwood Playhouse. To that end I’m assistant stage managing for the upcoming show Little Foxes which opens in July. Whew! I’m exhausted just reading this…
Being so multi-talented, this must change all the time for you, but currently, what do you like to do most, act, write, direct, teach, lead your non-profit?
My favorite part of the whole elaborate machine is and always will be directing. I love the collaboration with other energies in the rehearsal room, the discoveries, the text work and the cooperative camaraderie. The actors inspire me to want to help them with all of my resources and that is an exciting challenge.
How do these different skill sets/passions overlap?
I do love acting as well and much of my method for directing comes from stepping into the shoes of a character. Lately I’ve returned to writing and I find that playwriting seems the most natural extension of all that I’ve done in the past 20 years. I wrote and directed a series of monologues for last year’s Artwalk. I did the same for 2 presentations at the Hopper House. I hope to continue as a playwright as I figure out my next move.
Have many of your students become professional thespians?
We’ve had maybe 10% of our kids go on to careers in the theater. Perhaps the most notable is Anna Baryshnikov, who has been in films and on TV. She gave CST a great shout-out during her appearance on Colbert’s Late Night The others are working in technical theater or in small theaters around the country. They have done such cool things as start Shakespeare companies on their college campuses, direct productions in abandoned sections of Kosovo, and joined Renaissance faires. They’re still young. Give them time.
For those that don’t, how do student benefit from drama education?
My step-brother is a partner in a Wall Street firm and he swears that all his salesmanship comes from his early training with CST. Most report, like him, that they are far above the herd in their comfort in speaking with others, be it in an interview or in front of an audience. The ones who are still in High School report elevated scores in English classes and on SATs, not to mention an ease in the Shakespeare units that no one else has.
What are some of your memories from the first year of CST?
We really did not know what we were doing, but with an army of volunteers we got it all done. We rehearsed for 6 months (which I would never do again) and took it slow with lots of games and time spent outside. In the end we put together a charming show. I loved how much the kids loved doing it.
How many productions have you staged?
CST will be completing its 90th production with Henry IV, Part 2. I, myself, have directed 65 of those.
How do you manage to stage all of these plays? Who are your key supporters?
We have wonderful venues – The Palisades Presbyterian Church and The Tappan Manse – who are beautifully cooperative. The key supporters are always the parents who help in so many ways. As far as the financial end, the kids pay tuition, just like any other after-school entity, and we receive some assistance from The Jerome Robbins Foundation and The Kent-Allan Foundation, among other one-time donors over the years. It’s always the biggest part of the challenge of doing community theater – to get those who are not actually participating in the creative end to come out to support us, be it as donors or just audience members.
I saw this incredible set of 20 pins that celebrate your anniversary. Can you tell me who made them?
Daniela Pescher and Greg Falkner are jewelry makers. Their daughter, Emilia, joined us 3 years ago and has been a passionate company member ever since. When her parents heard we were going into our 20th season they wanted to do something to celebrate that in a lasting way. They have come up with a gorgeous line of custom-made pendants and charms that supporters and alumni of the company can buy as commemorative keepsakes.
What is your favorite play by Shakespeare?
Ha! Don’t make me choose. But usually I respond “The one I’m currently working on.” Funnily enough the history series has been so exciting. Of course my long-term favorites are probably Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard 3, Midsummer, Winter’s Tale…OK that’s too many favorites.
Favorite non-Shakespeare play?
I just saw Burn This and loved it so much. I also love Lettice and Lovage and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.
Queen Margaret currently…although she’s usually not so likeable. Richard 3. Benedick. Rosalind.
Nope. Too many.
Boy…also hard to choose… Malvolio coming to Olivia in yellow stockings? Othello and Iago in a battle of wits? The lovers in the forest? Almost anything from Twelfth Night…Margaret & Suffolk’s parting scene in Henry VI, Part 2! So romantic!
Favorite CST production?
Also impossible to choose. I think they just keep getting better. OG companies – Midwinter Night’s Dream, King Lear, Measure for Measure. Current companies – our most recent Romeo & Juliet and Winter’s Tale.
Favorite Shakespeare company production?
Hudson Valley Shakespeare’s 5-person Midsummer!! (3 years ago?)
Favorite Shakespeare inspired movie?
Shakespeare In Love!
Have you been to Stratford on Avon?
Yes, 15 years ago! We saw a 4.5-hour Hamlet at the RSC. My son was 11 and may have nodded off a little. But seeing the town was magical!
What is the biggest life lesson you’ve learned from the bard?
Take a risk. Speak truth to power and hope you have the autonomy of the Fool.
I have been renovating a school bus into a tiny home and will be traveling the country as a visiting artist in other companies. I hope to find collaborators who want me to write, direct, teach or make costumes. I will be directing for CST in the fall (starting with Othello next season) and then off on my nomadic adventures winter/spring/summer. Look out for my upcoming Kickstarter this summer!
Henry IV, Part 2 will be performed Fridays and Saturdays, May 10, 11, 17 & 18 at 7:00pm at the Palisades Presbyterian Church, 117 Washington Spring Rd, Palisades, NY. Tickets are available at brown paper ticket
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketch logs in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Children’s Shakespeare Theater” © 2019 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com