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Tyne Rafaeli

One of the theater world's most buzzed-about directors helms next production of Idaho Shakespeare Festival


It is rare to sense you're in the presence of greatness, but that's the sensation when meeting Tyne Rafaeli, who makes her Idaho Shakespeare Festival directing debut with Love's Labor's Lost, which opens Saturday, June 4. Though still in her early 30s, Rafaeli's reputation precedes her. She's a competitive gymnast who trained in Moscow, Russia; she's a classically trained actress; and has collaborated six times with director extraordinaire Bartlett Sher--including on recent critically acclaimed Broadway revivals of The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof, both of which are still playing to sold-out audiences in New York.

How did the Idaho Shakespeare Festival come onto your radar?

Bart Sher has become the most important mentor of my career, and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival formed so much of who he is as an artist. Bart introduced me to [ISF Creative Director] Charlie Fee and we started talking about some ideas. Two years later, here I am.

Once you decided on Love's Labor's Lost, how soon thereafter do you choose the setting or time frame of your production.

I'm a bit of a private detective. I extract certain visual, rhythmic or aesthetic ideas from the play. I present those hunches to my designers. For example, I had a hunch that we needed to be in contact with nature; we also know that the people we meet share a dense language and live in a community in transition.

All that said, what will we see on stage?

We stole a little from Botticelli, a little from Wes Anderson and a little from Pina Bausch.

You mentioned the word "dense." Indeed, this may well be Shakespeare's densest play.

It has the longest scene, the longest speech and the longest word.

So, let's talk about that word.

Honorificabilitudinitatibus. It's interesting to note that it's spoken by a street-smart groundskeeper, among the lowest on the social scale in this story. I think that's quite intentional by Shakespeare.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the last two years of your professional life. You're the associate director—along with Bart Sher—of two Broadway shows that wowed critics and audiences. First, there was a lavish new production of the King and I at Lincoln Center, starring Ken Watanabe, and then a provocative revival of Fiddler on the Roof, which is up for a few Tony Awards in the coming days.

They're both still running in New York, and we'll be bringing the King and I to London's West End later this year.

Regarding Fiddler on the Roof, your production made a rather interesting choice to frame the show in the 21st century, with reference to the current global refugee crisis. Talk to me about making that choice.

We've been experiencing the most terrible refugee crisis since World War II, and we're doing Fiddler on the Roof. How could we not make that choice? We thought it was a political and moral obligation.

I need to ask about another musical that's on your professional horizon. Tell me about the new show you'll be directing, entitled Chasing Rainbows.

I think it's going to be pretty epic. It's the story of the early career of Judy Garland, leading up to her performance in the Wizard of Oz.

My guess is we'll be crying before the evening is through. Do you have access to the original music from the Judy Garland songbook?

We do. We'll open the show at the Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut this September.

Can I assume it's heading for Broadway?

We're concentrating on making it as a beautiful a production as we can. If it has a life after that, it would be a blessing, but we don't think about that too far in advance, do we?