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If you like Trevor Nunn's story, you might also like:
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Trevor Nunn in the Achievement Curriculum section:
From Dance to Drama

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National Theatre
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Royal Shakespeare Company

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Sir Trevor Nunn
Sir Trevor Nunn
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Sir Trevor Nunn Interview

Theatrical Director

June 28, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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  Sir Trevor Nunn

When did you first know what your chosen field was going to be?

Sir Trevor Nunn: I guess I was five years old when I first said to my parents, who were just working-class people, "I want to be an actor." And it caused great hilarity. I'd never been to a theater, so I think it must have been something to do with listening to radio during war-time years. And having some sense that sometimes people were playing parts, and sometimes people were speaking as themselves. And it never went away. I just involved myself in every kind of amateur theatrical activity, really from the time when I was seven. Then, I developed a real passionate idolatry for a school teacher of English literature. In my teens I was thinking maybe I want to do something that he would more approve of, so I thought I should be some sort of a scholar. And then, there was this discovery one fine day that the more complex plays really have to be directed. A lot of acting instincts, a lot of performing instincts are involved in the business of direction, but so also is analysis, conception and having a sense of literature.

When I was 17, just before I left school and very arrogantly I put an advertisement in a newspaper saying, "I want to form a theater company." I formed this young theater group. Probably nobody was older than 21 or 22. I directed Hamlet, a great, sprawling, ambitious production that ran for five hours. It had ridiculous symphonic incidental music, and a very spectacular set that took a great deal of time to change from one scene to another. But, what a wonderful learning process! Actually, one of the things that I did in that production, I had a feeling about Shakespeare's soliloquies, that there should be a real exchange between the actor and the audience. I remember seeing the film of Kiss Me Kate how Petruchio was out in the audience on a platform. So in this production I had a runway and Hamlet would come right out into the middle of the audience and talk. "Shall I kill myself, or shall I go on living? How am I going to deal with this problem with my father?" Curiously thinking that at the age of 17, I've always believed that about Shakespeare's soliloquies. I've always wanted to have that sense of dialogue.

Did you get any encouragement from your family when you were a child with these dreams?

Sir Trevor Nunn: I never had discouragement. In the sense that we were a very poor family. In my early years, my father was away as a soldier in the war. When he came back, work was very difficult to come by. Even though he was a highly skilled man, a maker of furniture, the payment for that work was really very, very poor. So, I grew up in an area where it wasn't expected that kids would have any kind of scholastic career, or go to grammar school, or anything like that. When I started to talk about the possibilities of career that would take me away, my parents never said, "No, no, no, no, no you mustn't consider that," or "You must stay here, stay in this area," or anything like that. I think they were bewildered because there was no theater or entertainment business of any kind in our family. So, therefore, there was a fear that I would occasionally encounter with my parents and other members of the family. "Do you quite know what you're doing?" My mother would telephone and she would say, "Now, you have to be careful what you say." I said, "Who do you mean?" Well, she said, "They listen." Who do you mean? Who do you mean 'they'?" "Well, you don't want to ask, but you know...They." There was this feeling of, if you come from this area of society, "You'd better be on your best behavior and you'd better not upset people and challenge other people's assumptions." So, I was always aware of that degree of fear, but then once I did involve myself in professional theater there was a huge amount of encouragement and pleasure from my parents.

Do you remember the first time you saw a theatrical play?

Sir Trevor Nunn: I think I was seven-years-old. I was taken to a place called the Ipswich Hippodrome. "Hippodrome" is a word that means a stadium where horses are going to be on view, but lots of vaudeville theaters were called hippodromes. I was very excited that at last I was being taken to a theater. I had no idea what the inside of a theater would look like. Even in this area - it was just a kind of vaudeville house - there was this feeling of red velvet cushions. Probably it wasn't velvet; I don't know what the material was, but some feeling of plushness that I found very exciting. As we sat there, I heard an orchestra tuning up for the first time. I say an orchestra -- it was probably six musicians, eight musicians, I don't know -- but I heard violins -- an E being struck, and a clarinet being played. And then, the overture, and I have never forgotten that completely visceral excitement. That -- butterflies in the stomach and a show is about to begin. I can't remember much else about the show, except that there was a woman in it who had a very shiny black skirt and it was split right up to the waist. That image remains. I would imagine, therefore, that I was being taken to a show that was pretty inappropriate for a seven year-old. Heaven knows what kind of blue jokes were coming down from that stage! But, it was an indelible thrill.

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