By Robert Simonson
04 Nov 2004
Rees will be only the fourth person to head the famed summer theatre festival since it was founded in 1956 by Nikos Psacharopoulos. In its nearly 50-year history, the nonprofit has become an important source of significant productions of classic plays, as well as premieres of new works. Williamstown shows often find their way to Broadway and Off-Broadway. Rees has come to know the company, which is nestled in the Massachusetts Berkshires, over the past five years, working there as both a performer and director.
When asked why a successful actor and director such as himself would seek out an administrative-heavy job of an artistic director, he replied, "Well, it's one of the foremost American theatres. Actors seem to enjoy being directed by me, and some actors seem to like to act with me. And I ran the Bristol Old Vic for two years. I certainly had the suspicion over the past few years that I was looking for something like this. I think I'm good at negotiating the center. I'm good at being the daddy. So this is a perfect thing for me. I'm really very pleased about it."
Rees will be the first British-born head of the festival, and, indeed, one of the few English artists to helm a major American nonprofit theatre. Roger Rees was born May 5, 1944, in Aberwystwyth, Wales. He rocketed to fame in the early '80s as the star of the Royal Shakespeare Company's marathon drama The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, for which he won an Olivier Award. He won a Tony Award when the play came to New York.
A citizen of the United States since 1989, Rees has appeared in such Broadway and Off-Broadway productions as The Rehearsal, Uncle Vanya, Indiscretions and A Man of No Importance. In recent years, he has increasingly concentrated on directing, staging plays at the Old Globe and for The Roundabout Theatre Company. Television audiences know him from his recurring roles as Robin Colcord on "Cheers" and British Ambassador Lord John Marbury on "The West Wing."
"I think I'll find that out," he said. "I think whatever it will be, it will be like me. I'm diverse in the things that I enjoy. I know when you play Hamlet, you read thousands of books and you feel obliged to be respondent and please every one. And in the end after playing it for two months, you go, 'Oh, I see. All Shakespeare wants is me.' It just wants a human being. And I fit the bill."
He said he had begun work on the coming season, but that no selections have been decided upon. Also, he was not sure whether he would direct any of the chosen plays or musicals.
"We've been talking around this idea for months," he said. "I've been thinking about it. I haven't been planning, but I've been thinking. I have some very good ideas. I feel a bit like Howard Carter looking through that little chink in the Tutankhamun tomb and saying, 'Oh, I see wonderful things.'"