After 27 years working with England's Royal Shakespeare Company and some of the greatest directors and actors ever to bring Shakespeare to the stage, Maurice Daniels has chosen to spend his retirement directing plays at colleges around the United States.
"I certainly wouldn't want to work in the commercial theater," says Daniels, 70. What he enjoys about college theater is "the commitment, the openness of the students, the trust that we generate amongst ourselves, and their energy.
"And their talent, which, you know, varies, of course," he adds.
Daniels recognizes that students have neither the time nor the training professionals bring to the stage. "I have to make allowances," he says. "But at the same time, I don't make so many allowances that I'm not going to push them. I'm going to really drive them because, as actors, that's what they are going to have to get used to."
Daniels is currently driving Catholic University students, whom he is directing in Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost," which opens tonight and runs through March 9 at the Hartke Theatre.
Last year he directed CU's "The Taming of the Shrew," which, he "very immodestly" says, went "extremely well." That success encouraged him to continue directing college Shakespeare productions.
"I know they can do it," he says, in his proper English accent. "Having worked with American students doing workshops on Shakespeare, having done 'Shrew,' I know that their energy, which is very particular to American students, can be focused into dealing with the Shakespeare text."
It's midday, and the theater is empty but for a few students working on the stage set. Daniels sits back, smokes and takes a few minutes to talk about his lifelong interest in theater: "It's an extraordinary genetic thing, in a way. In my family there were four daughters, three sons. All three sons had leanings towards theater. Father hated it."
Throughout his years at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Daniels worked in many capacities, first as a stage director, then as casting director, planning controller and assistant director.
"I was an actor for eight years before I became a stage manager," he says. He left acting "because I realized I would never be as good an actor as I wanted to be."
"I'd gone into the theater late, at about 30, having been in the family business for about 10 years," he says. "My father traded with Africa and I was in Africa for about nine years. But I didn't let go of theater even while I was there, and some friends and I worked with young Africans, directing them in plays."
That was at a mission in what is now Zaire, he says. A few of the Africans spoke French, so Daniels and his friends first tried a Molie re play. It was "kind of stilted," he says.
"And then a very bright-thinking holy father said, 'Why don't you do a folk story?' And we said, 'But there are no scripts.' He said, 'You don't need a script, they'll make it up.' And so we did a folk story with them improvising, and we then shaped scenes and it was very exciting."
Daniels' last position with the RSC helped prepare him for his work in academia. He headed a program in which RSC artistic personnel worked with students, trying to bridge the gap between the academic study of Shakespeare and Shakespeare the playwright:
"So that university students, high school children, could see that text that they'd pore over -- you know, to pass their grades, to get a degree -- they could see it being used for the purpose for which Shakespeare wrote it -- to be performed."
Daniels says he spends about three months of the year in the United States directing, lecturing and conducting workshops. From Washington, he goes to the University of South Florida in Tampa. "Then I go home and collapse."
After a half-hour break, the students call to Daniels for advice on lighting, and he turns back to his work. As Shakespeare himself said, the play's the thing.