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Interview: Alexa Kelly

Alexa Kelly has been the Artistic Director of Pulse Ensemble Theatre for 22 years, no small feat in New York City where the average lifespan of nonprofit theatre companies is three years.   She recently directed As You Like It, which continues its run at the Riverbank State Park’s gorgeous, outdoor amphitheatre in Harlem through August 13th.  Tickets are free on a first come, first served basis.  Back Stage hailed the production as “fun to watch, even on a hot, humid night relieved only now and then by a breeze off the river.”  As You Like It is the seventh Harlem Shakespeare production that Pulse Ensemble Theatre has produced.

Kelly spoke to Works by Women about why multi-ethnic casting is important, how to keep a company going after 22 years and what’s next for Pulse.

1. You have been the Artistic Director of Pulse Ensemble Theatre for 22 years.  Running a theatre company for that long certainly has its challenges. What motivates you to keep going?
I love theatre. No one will hire me on a level of production that I want to work. No one will hire me on a level of production that I want to work.  I do not like to make safe and obvious choices, I think every production should be creative and fun — the goal is always to transport the audience on an unexpected journey — many people are afraid of that.

2. Pulse is known for its multi-ethnic casting.  Why is this still an issue in the theater world?
Because there are so many talented actors who cannot get cast except in plays that deal with their specific ethnicity, and also because we have multicultural audiences.

3. Your production of As You Like It is fun and utterly modern with pop songs. It’s caused audience members to dance in the aisles!! What was your inspiration for this?
I don’t know exactly, just how I wanted it to be so it would connect with the audience and be fun.  I do not at all believe that Shakespeare should be regarded as “holy” theatre. I think it should be lively and fun and for and about the people.  It’s not always easy, but we have to try.  Our motto is “not your classic approach to the classics!”

4. Real estate is one the hardest things for a theatre company in NYC.  Pulse has performed in various locations for two decades.  How did you decide to perform in the beautiful Riverbank State Park?
It is a lovely location for an amphitheatre, and not used enough.  It is in a neighborhood that appreciates and needs free quality theatre.

5. What’s next for Pulse?
What should be next is concentrating on trying to raise some money.  We will get back to our playwrights’ lab in September, and try to develop one of our new works.  Then we work on trying to get the Summer Shakespeare up again.  We do not have any money to produce any other production this year.

6. What are the challenges facing women in American Theater?
They are not treated with the same respect as men.  They take more abuse from everyone — including actors.  They are pushed aside for men, especially in directing.

7. What gives you hope for women working in theater?
Julie Taymor getting ahead (before she went a little haywire — feeling that she has to re-invent the wheel and prove herself again and again) — part of the problem.  The fact that there is now some light being shone on the fact that women are not being fairly treated by so many theatre companies.  Thanks to the League of Professional Theatre Women and other organizations.
Pulse Ensemble Theatre’s production of As You Like It continues through August 13, 2011, Wednesday through Sunday at 8:00 pm.  Tickets are free on a first come, first served basis.

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