RVA actor makes directorial debut with TheatreLAB’s ‘Venus in Fur’
Matt Shofner has been busy since he helped start the production company Yes And… Entertainment. The RVA actor and co. saw success with projects like the “Ghost light Afterparty” and their “Cover to Cover” series at Hardwood Park Craft Brewery. And who could forget the amazing performance they produce with Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the end of 2014, their first TheatreLAB production.
Now Shofner and friends are returning to TheatreLAB with a new production, Venus in Fur.
Taking place entirely in an audition studio, Fur follows Thomas (James Ricks) a beleaguered playwright and director, who is in search of a female lead for his adaptation of the classic sadomasochistic tale ‘Venus in Fur.’ Enter Vanda (Maggie Roop). The two began running through the script and the lines begin to blur between play and reality as the darkly sexual tale unfolds.
“It is a daring play,” said Shofner, describing the famously scandalous show. “I’ve used the word ‘sexy’ [to describe it] but I should really use the word ‘powerful.” Those differences are part of the challenge in producing a play like this. He called it a feminist play, and said he has taken great care to make it not “forcefully” Sexual, but instead to use “sensuality as a form of power.”
“We get to explore the ways that women are viewed and portrayed in three different incarnations,” Shofner said. “The modern woman, the classical, and the omniscient, women as deity in the Greek and Roman sense.”
The idea for performing Fur started some time ago when Shofner met with TheatreLAB’s Artistic Director Deejay Gray. They were sitting around joking about how Maggie had directed Shofner in Hedwig, and how funny it would be for the two to switch roles. Sure enough, Gray was into the idea and Venus in Fur turned out to be the perfect opportunity.
“I said I’d take a stab at it and here we are,” Shofner said, who figured it was all part of TheatreLAB’s commitment to taking risks where they can. “It’s a huge challenge and I couldn’t be more excited with where the production is now.”
They’ve only had about three weeks to rehearse the project, but Shofner has already learned a lot in his role as Director.
“For me, one of the most interesting parts of theatre as an art form is that it is a truly 100% collaborative effort,” he said. “I get to work with an awesome team of people… and pull everyone’s vision into the mixing pot and put it all together to tell this story.”
“I’m hyper aware of the collaborative nature of theatre. There’s a lot of different visions and a lot of different goals coming from a lot of places and I think it would be a disservice to the storytelling if I were to shut out some of those opinions.”
While the entire show only consists of the two actors, Shofner said he was lucky to get Roop and Ricks who he called “intellectual” actors that are perfect for the role.
“It is important because it’s based on a classic text,” he said, calling both performers incredibly versatile. “The play takes the audience in many different directions. It’s funny, sexy and sexual, but also dangerous at parts.”
Continuing his devotion to collaboration, Shofner said he sought out talents from some of RVA Theatre’s lost tradesmen like Adam Dorland for set design and vocal director Amanda Durst.
“I don’t have the benefit of exciting scene shifts or things like that, it’s a very basic audition studio set,” he said, making Dorlan’s skills particularly important. “He’s created this wonderfully realistic set that I get to work on.” Durst’s help was similarly invaluable when it came to line placement and delivery, with Shofner saying she helped “shape the characters and in turn shape the world they live in.”
Gray is just as excited to see how Fur shapes up. He called Shofner and Roop two of his favorite RVA actors, and after the success of Hedwig, he wanted to find another project for them to work on.
“Last year, Matt was on stage and Maggie was making her directorial debut, so it’s been really exciting with Venus in Fur to switch it up and have Maggie on stage and Matt in the director’s chair for the first time,” he said. “Just like with Maggie, the coolest thing about watching Matt direct for the first time is seeing how he takes everything he knows about performing and everything he has observed other directors do over the years, and apply that knowledge and that history to his process.”
Gray said Shofner’s background helps him understand what actors go through and that insight often breeds the most successful directors as they can “speak that very specific actor language.”
“I’ve really enjoyed watching Matt navigate the challenges that come with taking on a new role and while everyone already knows how great of a performer he is,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to folks seeing this part of him too.”
Venus in Fur runs from today through May 7th at TheatreLAb’s The Basement, you can pick up tickets here!
photos by Birgitte Dodd Tingley
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