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Billy Saunders Jr. ’17 says it was a rewarding experience to work with the renowned British director and actor Peter Craze, who brought The Picture of Dorian Gray to the London stage last year. “It’s not your contemporary production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, or Glengarry Glen Ross,” says Saunders, who played the role of Dorian Gray in this spring’s production by the University’s The Hartt School.
“It takes place in the Victorian era and you have to bring yourself up to the piece, rather than have the piece take you on the journey,” says Saunders about the play that is based on the novel by Oscar Wilde.
This isn’t the first time Saunders, of Calvert County, Md., was directed by Craze. Last year as a third-year actor-training student, Saunders and his classmates completed a required eight-week Shakespeare study abroad semester at the Drama Studio London, where they not only worked with Craze, but also with a number of successful London theatre artists. The Drama Studio is a distinguished drama school where Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker, Oscar-nominee Emily Watson, and Emmy-nominated actress Roma Downey got their starts.
Craze says he’s quite impressed with the talent and dedication of the Hartt students. “They are giving an awful lot,” he says. “I think they are doing some very good work, extremely good work.”
While Craze was in rehearsals for Dorian Gray, his wife Illona Linthwaite—an actress, director, and fellow Drama Studio faculty member—was directing an all-female cast of Hartt students in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. “I think it’s fantastic for women to play male roles,” she says. “It’s a good experience now because in the professional theatre, it’s increasingly popular. We’ve had so many all-female Shakespeare productions in London recently. It gives young women an opportunity of not having to be feminine and not having to show out as women, and really looking at something very strong and clear for themselves.”
“The students really raved about working with Peter and Illona,” says Hartt School Theatre Division Director Alan Rust. He says Craze and Linthwaite have served as guest artists for The Hartt School for the last 15 years whether it be in London, on the University’s campus, or on Cape Cod during the summer months at The Monomoy Theatre where Rust also serves as artistic director.
“Illona has been absolutely wonderful to work with,” says Daniella Sinder ’18 of Groton, Mass., who led the cast as Macbeth, and doubled in the role of Hecat the head witch. “It’s great to have that continuity from our study aboard short semester. She’s seen the full arc of our Shakespeare education at The Hartt School so she’s able to relate back to what we did in London and give us the full experience as we finish up our Shakespeare semester.”