REVving it up

Local theater company continues to reinvent great classical work

Rev Theater performers
Hannah Wolff, Mary Howe, Susanna Herrick and Rudy Caporaso are some of the performers who have appeared in REV Theatre Company performances. | Image: Dave Kappler

New York transplants Rudy Caporaso and Rosey Hay are the driving forces behind theater the likes few have seen: The REV.

They created REV to, yes, “rev” up classical work – to re-imagine and reinvent classical work, particularly Shakespeare. Working outdoors means they can see and connect with their audiences in a profound way.  

They present their work in non-traditional, often site-specific and unique spaces: For instance “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on the steps of the Art Museum, a parking lot, a pier, a tiny, empty storefront and a previously disused lot next to the Broad Street Ministry.  They’ve created a partnership with Laurel Hill Cemetery and have presented “Hamlet” and “The Witch of Edmonton.” Their annual FringeArts offering, “Death Is A Cabaret Ol’ Chum: A Graveyard Cabaret,” in the cemetery (to overflow crowds) has become a Fringe First with a cult following for the past eight years.

This summer, with any luck, they are set to do an all-male “Macbeth” in Laurel Hill at the Victorian Receiving Vaults. 

They also create exuberant period-specific musical events, a “1940s Cabaret” and their turn-of-the-century “Vaudeville.”  This coming summer/early fall, they hope to bring a brand-new piece, “Sh-Boom! The Nifty Fifties,” free as usual to Philly Parks (Drexel Square, Dickson Square, Hawthorne, Fisher Campbell Square, etc.) and once again to nursing homes and veterans homes throughout the area.

PW recently caught up with Caporaso and Hay to talk about the company.

Talk a little about REV Theatre Company’s early days. How long have you been around, and who were the driving forces behind it?

We started doing theatre work as an actual company in the early 2000s in New York, and then we brought a production we had done in New York to Philly, and that was the start of REV here. Also, part of what brought us to Philly was (Hay) teaching at the University of the Arts and also Temple. 

We presented our work intermittently here until we decided to really focus on Philadelphia as a base a few years ago. A great city and a great theatre scene.

Rudy: After drama school, I did the traditional New York jobbing actor thing with agents, auditions and casting directors. All of it. And I worked Off-Broadway and regionally. I enjoyed some success, but I felt out of control and just as importantly, utterly out of touch with whatever at that point I believed to be a creative artist.  

I met Rosey at school (I was a student, she was a director). Out of our personal relationship, we began to work together (at that point producing work to showcase our individual work as director and actor to further our individual careers as such). Rosey and I decided to truly strike out on our own and actually begin a theatre company – REV.

Why did you take the approach of reimagining and reinventing classical work? 

Having worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare is my (Hay’s) great passion. We wanted to make Shakespeare alive, vital and exciting. The REV aesthetic fuses a profound exploration of the texts with a ferocious emotional landscape, intensely physical staging and musical production numbers.

We both think this classical work (and particularly Shakespeare, that is) can and should be brought to everyone, of course. So, much of our work is offered free to audiences. We perform outdoors primarily because it’s amazing being able to see audiences and really connect with them.

“Working with “disadvantaged” kids, “at-risk” teenagers – I hate those adjectives…is vitally important to us as a theatre company and particularly rewarding to me. It helps me to not become just another self-absorbed, self-obsessed actor in this world.”

– rudy caporaso, rev theater company

How have the coronavirus and all of the closures associated with it affected the company?

Well, first of all, of course, we’re in a holding pattern like everyone else. We had planned a big summer/fall (“Macbeth” and then our new “1950s Cabaret, plus our “Graveyard Cabaret”). Right now, we are struggling with making (new) ways in order to proceed.   

And because we are partnering with various organizations, including the City of Philadelphia as we received a grant to bring the 1950s to various Philly parks), much of whether the actual show indeed goes on will be dependent on these agencies’ perspectives and policies.  

Meanwhile – and again, just like so many other entities – we’re engaged with technology to help meet our immediate needs (ie casting, pre-production meetings and we’re looking at maybe even doing some rehearsing virtually if projects are indeed green-lighted and it’s all systems go.

The company also has an educational aspect. Talk a little about why education and outreach are important to you.

We both believe that the arts can have a profound effect on children’s lives, and we also believe that every child should have access to these kinds of educational and outreach programs. We realize that these kids need more than one theatre program to change his/ her life, but we believe that a program such as ours can be important in their lives.  

Rudy: First of all, and probably ridiculously obvious, kids are the theatre-going audiences of tomorrow. I’m happy I get to be a teacher because of the socially-conscious and engaged outreach work REV does in various communities. Working with “disadvantaged” kids, “at-risk” teenagers (I hate those adjectives, but…) And for the past two years, we’ve begun outreach with seniors, which is wonderful too.

All of this is vitally important to us as a theatre company and particularly rewarding to me. It helps me to not become just another self-absorbed, self-obsessed actor in this world. 

The outbreak, of course, has jumbled a lot of plans, but what does the future look like for REV in terms of upcoming performances and programs?

We have every intention to keep on keeping on. We are trying to come to terms with the fact that we won’t know anything for a while. But we’re going to proceed with making our art and hope everyone else can and will too.

What’s the best way for people to learn more about REV and keep up-to-date on performances and programs?

Our website is revtheatrecompany.org, and we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.