Marin Shakespeare’s new leader loves the Bard but won’t gloss over his problems
Raphael Massie, most recently an artistic associate at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is Marin Shakespeare Company’s new artistic director. He succeeds Robert Currier, 74, who retired in November from the company he founded in 1989 from the remains of the defunct Marin Shakespeare Festival.
Massie quietly started his new role Monday, Jan. 31, with the San Rafael company officially announcing the transition Friday, Feb. 4. He had never set foot in the Bay Area before his finalist interview; he has also never run a theater company before. Lesley Currier, the managing director and Robert Currier’s wife, plans to stay in her role for the foreseeable future.
Speaking to The Chronicle by phone from Ashland, Ore., from which he plans to relocate in the next month, Massie radiates a passion for Shakespeare, albeit not an uncritical one, and maps out a clear, thoughtful vision for the company.
“Shakespeare was the first time I encountered language that was full enough, that was broad enough, that had enough words to fully tap into and express what I was thinking or feeling,” he said of his time as a young actor. Massie grew up in New Haven, Conn., and his time in Oregon followed long stints with Elm Shakespeare Company, Collective Consciousness Theatre, Southern Connecticut State University and the Regional Center for the Arts — all in Connecticut.
At the same time, he said, Shakespeare “has been put on this pedestal as if the plays can do no wrong. I think that has to shift.” He takes particular issue with the idea that Shakespeare is universal. “Shakespeare is definitely not for everyone, and we have to be OK with that instead of presenting the work as infallible and above other work.”
At Marin Shakes, Massie is excited to dig deep into the plays’ problems — the antisemitism of “The Merchant of Venice,” the colonialism of “The Tempest” — as part of presenting them. “I can’t just put something onstage for the sake of entertainment and assume that, just because it’s Shakespeare, everything’s fine,” he said.
He also thrills to the idea of putting Shakespeare in conversation with new writers as well as classic female and nonbinary playwrights of color. That philosophy guides his planning of Marin Shakespeare Company’s 2022 summer season at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre.
Lesley Currier said Massie especially stood out during the portion of the interview process when Marin Shakes asked applicants to direct local actors in Shakespeare scenes — “the way he asked questions of them and got them to see things in the text,” she recalled.
Robert Currier plans to serve as “artistic director emeritus” in order to oversee the completion of the company’s 165-seat indoor venue in downtown San Rafael. He estimates that construction is one-third complete, with $1 million left to raise. He also plans to continue performing his old job’s least glamorous duties — taking out trash, unclogging toilets — which he doesn’t feel he can ask Massie to do.
As for his own decision to step down, Currier was to the point. “An inordinate percentage of theaters, opera companies, ballet companies are run by old white guys,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to step aside, and we’re going to hope to find some more diversity in the leadership of our company.’ And that’s just what has happened.”