Meet the Artist: M.L. Cogar
What brought you to theater and to Shakespeare?
I don’t have a pithy answer for that. My path to Shakespeare was a languorous meander through ancient history and medieval literature to Early Modern poetry and then Shakespeare, all obsessions I fell into during summers spent swimming the library stacks while my mother worked--and that I fed by regularly reading in my room to mask a good surly teenage pout.
When I'd run out of things to read in the kids' and young adults’ sections, I picked up a book about Roman ruins in the English landscape, and that was that. I studied history, architecture, art, and lots of poetry and music, crawling my way backward and forward in time.
In literature, my focal era was late medieval with a special penchant for the history of the English language, but when I hit Shakespeare, I found something so deeply connected to the entire spectrum of the times I’d lived in and studied--and so perfectly emblematic of human potential and character--that I suppose I have yet to find a reason to move on.
I came to my small performance experience through music, but I hit upon theater "in action," rather than on the page, in college, mostly doing small roles in musical theater and directing student projects. My first work editing Shakespeare was in graduate school—I did a 45-minute cut of King Lear, and I found my next area of study.
Now that I’ve reread my answer to this question, it sounds very pat, direct, unified, and even inevitable that I fell in love with Shakespeare. That is only true if you add Tom to the story. When young ML heard young Tom read Shakespeare back in 1987, it was the beginning of all the love stories. I heard all the beauty, all the possibility, and all the joy and deep meaning come to life, and I never wanted it to stop. If you add Tom, all this was inevitable!
What did 10-year-old M.L. think she'd be when she grew up?
A heroic corruption-busting journalist who moonlights as a speak-easy pianist.
What is the greatest challenge that you anticipate in co-directing Julius Caesar?
I have wanted to collaborate with Tom as co-director for several years—in fact, we were talking about co-directing Winter’s Tale when each of the actors on our “Leontes list” was unavailable or not interested. I just had to work with a Leontes I trusted, and that’s Tom, so I had the double honor of directing my first solo Shakespeare and directing my husband of (now) 25 years. True to form, Tom delivered an outstandingly rich, beautiful performance that brought to life all of Leontes’s complexities. I don’t regret having to wait for Caesar to co-direct with him.
The challenges of co-directing come more from the many “angles of approach” to the play itself, which, like the challenges of co-directing, serve to make the process rich. Our skill sets are also complementary—he knows movement, and I know text. He coaches actors, and I empathize with audiences. He deals in specifics, and I deal in the “maybes.” Wait till we have to negotiate rehearsal schedules to see how that goes, though!
What do you hope that Shakespeare in the Park fans will take away from Julius Caesar?
That feels like being asked to give away the punch line, although Julius Caesar and its themes are no joke. Caesar explores the interplay of ideology, personal ambition and celebrity in politics, right at the moment when a poorly informed and manipulated populace must make a momentous choice about the direction of the nation’s leadership and character. Shakespeare was aware of the dilemmas and wrote a story that forces a conversation, rather than answers a question. I hope that people will leave with something to talk about.
What Shakespeare character do you most resemble?
I want to say Beatrice because I imagine that her brain is on a multi-level hyperdrive, but unlike Beatrice, I never fail to get tongue-tied when someone gets my goat, and I am terrible at clever put-downs. So, not Beatrice. I’ve narrowed it down that much.
What's your superpower?
Nit-picking, or possibly being extremely vague about bad news.
Tragedy, comedy or history?
Earth, air, or water?
Truth or dare?
The daringest of acts is to speak truth.
I was hoping that one was actually written, “Guilt or pleasure?” “Pleasure,” I would respond.
More about M.L.:
M.L. teaches writing and analytical reading at Alverno College and British Literature at Marquette.She has adapted each of the plays produced by Optimist Theatre and directed The Winter's Tale in 2014. M.L. is one of the founding producers of Shakespeare in the Park.