BY SIMON YAFFE
NANCY Meckler is used to change. The established theatre director originally started her career as an actress before moving into theatre and then film.
And now her production of King Lear — starring Pirates of the Caribbean actor Kevin McNally in the lead role — will be broadcast live from London’s Shakespeare’s Globe to more than 300 cinemas across the UK and Ireland for one night only next week.
“I had not seen that many live broadcasts of theatre until earlier this year and I was really pleasantly surprised at how engaged I was,” she said.
“I wasn’t expecting it as I thought that it might feel impersonal, but it makes it feel, for the audience, as though they are right on stage with the actors.”
She added: “It is a wonderful way of getting theatre to places which it cannot ordinarily reach.
“There are parts of the UK where it is very hard for people to see shows like this, so, if anything, I hope it will mean an increase in appetite for live theatre.”
It is not the first time that Nancy — who was invited to direct King Lear by the Globe’s Emma Rice — has worked on a Shakespeare play.
She directed five of the Bard’s works at the Royal Shakespeare Company, in Stratford, including Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That End’s Well, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and A Comedy of Errors.
“I find the Globe a really challenging and exciting space,” Nancy said.
“It holds 1,500 and, because of the shape of the theatre, the audience gets really involved.”
The 76-year-old is married to film producer David Aukin, who is featured on our profile page.
Nancy was raised in Great Neck, on Long Island, in an area which was “95 per cent Jewish”.
“My parents belonged to the local Reform temple and we always went there on the High Holy Days,” Nancy recalled.
“It was not a hugely religious home, but I have always been interested in Jewish history and involved with Jewish culture.”
Nancy — whose younger brother, Alan, is an internet pioneer — read drama at Ohio’s Antioch College and New York University before she moved to the UK, where she did a post-graduate degree at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
But, thinking she was not going to be able to progress as an actress, Nancy drifted into directing, having already worked behind the scenes on a number of occasions while at university.
“When I started directing, around 1968, it was very rare for a woman to be a director,” she recalled.
“I never assumed that it would be a career which I could pursue as I did not think that I would be taken seriously.
“At the time, there was only me, Joan Littlewood at Stratford East and a couple of others.
“When I first came to England, to visit friends, I worked for a fringe company called the London Freehold Company.
“We took one of our productions to Edinburgh and it was a big success, so I thought to myself, ‘I really am a director’.”
In 1987, Nancy became artistic director of the Shared Experience theatre company, where her numerous productions included the award-winning Anna Karenina, Heartbreak House, True West, The Birthday Party, The Bacchae and Orestes.
She also directed at major venues, such as the Royal Court and Almeida, and worked as an associate director of Hampstead Theatre and Leicester Haymarket.
Nancy also became the first woman to direct a major production at the National Theatre, with Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
She departed Shared Experience after 22 years in 2008.
“It was a long time to run a company,” Nancy laughed.
“There were also a lot of problems with funding, so I felt that it was time to move on and let my co-artistic director take over.”
She also ventured into the film world, directing 1994’s Sister My Sister, starring Julie Walters and Joely Richardson, and, two years later, Indian Summer, with Bill Nighy.
“I enjoyed it because I felt that I did not know as much about the technical side,” Nancy continued.
“I felt it was important to mostly concentrate on the acting and performances, which I could do.
“I learned about how things work on the set, such as choosing the right angle.
“Because I had really lovely people helping me, it was easier.
“It also helped that neither of those films were huge action ones, so it wasn’t as if I had to direct car chases or anything.”
Both of them were made for Film4, where her husband was commissioning editor at the time.
“I had seen a production of Sister My Sister on stage and it was suggested that if I found a producer, Film4 would be interested in making it as a film.
“I found Norma Heyman and it went ahead.
“Film4 offered me Indian Summer because the person who wrote it, Martin Sherman, had seen my work on Sister My Sister and felt I would be the right person to direct it.
“Because directing both those films was so time-consuming, as I was also running Shared Experience at the time, I decided that I was too busy to prolong a film career.”
Nancy and David have two children, Jethro and Daniel.
And Daniel has followed in his parents’ creative footsteps, as he makes a living as a theatre director in New York.
Now a dual-citizen, Nancy returns to her native America around four times a year, specifically New York and Florida, where her 101-year-old mother lives.
“I love the UK,” she enthused. “I love working in the theatre here and I am married to an Englishman.
“I do miss the summers in America, but now it feels like we are having the good summers and it is too hot over there.”