As the dark and brooding Othello, he kept the audience at the edge of their seats as they watched his ultimate realization of Iago's betrayal. His perverse Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew" was delightfully bold and wildly energetic.
Her flawless portrayals of characters as diverse as the steadfast nurse to impetuous Juliet and the hilariously scheming Mistress Page in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" helped set a standard of excellence for the hopeful young thespians who followed in her footsteps.
Together, Mercury McCall and Michelle Gold will once again make their mark on Shakespeare Under the Stars, but this time from behind the footlights as directors.
Under the supervision of J. Gary Wyatt and Lydia Miller-Wyatt, the two Wimberley High School alumna led a troupe of students ages nine to eighteen in full-length productions of "The Merchant of Venice" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor" for a two-week run this summer at the EmilyAnn Theatre.
While the Wyatts have used student directors for the past three years, this is the first time both plays have been entrusted to their former students. "We're thrilled to death with both of them," Wyatt says with fatherly pride. "We don't hesitate for a minute to let them go with this. We're here to help them if they get stuck, but we're comfortable with their decisions."
McCall, who directs "The Merchant of Venice," is taking a two-month hiatus from his life as a struggling actor in New York City. After three successful years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he says he basically learned everything Wyatt had already taught him, McCall has acted in his first commercial and been re-signed for a three-year contract with his agent.
He remembers well his first year in the Shakespeare program, when he portrayed Malcolm in the young cast of
"Macbeth" in 1995. "I didn't have a lot of lines," he recalls. "We were still performing in the Wimberley High School courtyard, and had a lot of responsibilities as far as set building. It was fantastic, and after that I was in every show."
Veteran audience members will remember, as McCall does, the night the set caught on fire during the banquet scene, true to the superstition that productions of
"Macbeth" frequently carry a curse.
"I never met anyone in New York who has as much experience as the kids here," he says, as preparations reach a feverish pre-performance pitch and dedicated students swelter in the July heat. "I know that Gary Wyatt has told them everything they need to know, and has said everything that has to be said about acting. They all came to the first day of rehearsals with their lines memorized. They recognize what they have to do, and they do it."
Gold, in her fourth year at the University of Texas at Austin, also has deep roots in the Shakespeare Under the Stars program, first performing as Reynaldo, in Hamlet. With few female roles in the play, Gold laughingly recalls that she won Best Supporting Actress honors with such memorable lines as "Yes, sir" and "I will, my lord." In fact, she has performed twice in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" - once as Mistress Quickly in an eighth grade one-act production for which she earned Best Actress honors. She also performed as Mistress Page in the full-length 1997 SUS production.
Gold faces the challenge of working with students of varying experience with her usual calm thoughtfulness. For all her acting experience, it's her first time directing and she has made her own detours in the process.
"I tried to be well-prepared, and worked out all the blocking ahead of time on paper - it looked like football plays," laughs Gold, who is still an accomplished athlete, as she was in high school. "By the second day, I threw it all away." "It's all about finding a way to explain it to them that works," Gold says. "That can be very different for each person." That kind of understanding provides a comfort zone appreciated by the actors, some who have worked with McCall and Gold in the past, and others who are newer to the program.
Ben and Annie Bond, who play Sir John Falstaff and Anne Page in "Merry Wives," first acted with the two directors in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" seven years ago. "I feel more comfortable with Michelle because she's been through this before," says 13 year old Annie. "I always thought she was a great actress, but she has also always been so nice to everybody. She never treated me differently because I was young. She treated me like an equal." Ben, a WHS junior, also enjoys a close working relationship with Gold, and works with McCall in a smaller role in "Merchant." "It seems a little weird, having two people you've worked with and admired directing you," he explains. "But they take it all very seriously, and I think they're doing a good job."
Emily Stengel, a senior who plays Mistress Ford and is costume co-designer for "Merry Wives", is enthusiastic in her support for Gold's directorial accomplishments. "She's definitely patient with us," Stengel explains. "What makes her a really good director is how she translates the lines and the jokes for you." Senior Elena DiTraglia (Mistress Quickly and costume co-designer for "Merchant") agrees. "Michelle tells you exactly what she wants," she says. "If you don't understand, she will get out there and do it for you."
This kind of rapport between apprentice directors and young actors is exactly what Wyatt has been working toward for the past
thirteen years of Shakespeare Under the Stars. "Michelle and Mercury are as much responsible as anyone for the success of the program," Wyatt says proudly. "Now they can come back and continue the tradition. That's what the program is all about - nurturing creativity, instilling ideals and pride, establishing standards and making sure everyone lives up to them. Having them here only enhances it even further."