This year, in its 21st season, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival presents the romantic comedy, As You Like It. The production features conflicts between brothers, and a circuitous path to love.
Two actors – a father and son - talk about the challenges of acting in the same production and carrying on a family tradition.
A childhood in theaters leads to a career on the stage
It’s the first day for actors and staff in Southmoreland Park, transformed each summer from a quiet strip of grassy lawn to a cluster of white tents and stage for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. Workers hammer holes into the ground, placing lights near the stage. On this early afternoon, it's already in the low 90s and humid.
Michael Linsley Rapport, in a royal blue polo shirt and shorts, and his son, Matt Rapport, in a white Elvis t-shirt and jeans, sit side by side in the shade of a tent. They both have full beards - Michael’s with a few streaks of white - and a ready laugh.
"I started working professionally in Kansas City in 1975," says Michael Rapport. "Matthew was three years old at that point. So he’s seen a lot of theater."
Matt Rapport says he and his older brother grew up going to theaters, such as Tiffany’s Attic and Waldo Astoria, waiting during rehearsals and then, later watching their father perform on stage.
"We grew up going to the theatre all the time, of course, and getting to see it from a business side as well. Sort of knowing what I was getting into," says Matt Rapport. "I felt like I was sort of making somewhat an educated choice when I became an adult and was deciding what to do with my life."
Gravitas lends validity to a popsicle on a hot day
Executive artistic director, Sidonie Garrett, started working with the festival in its third season - and she's directed or assistant directed each year with one or both of the Rapports in the cast.
Garrett recalls her first festival with the Rapports. An out-of-town director was away, and, as assistant director, she was taking notes on one of the hottest days, about 103 degrees. It was a "commedia-style play, a play-within-a play," so actors, not in the scene, were above in the scaffolding watching the action below.
"Michael was one of the adult professionals in our city, and I was familiar with his work. Matt was a very young actor at the time," Garrett says. "I had come back after being gone a few days. And I'm looking up at the scaffolding, where Michael was sitting, and all of a sudden, the guy next to him starts eating a popsicle. And I was like, this is crazy. And I was immediately writing a note, 'Don't eat the popsicles!' and 'This is a professional show, that was not part of the action.'
"And I look over, and I think Matt himself was also eating a popsicle up above. And I'm like, 'These young guys are out of control! I've got to take charge of this.' So I'm taking all these horrible notes and glaring at them from my seat. And then I look over and Michael Rapport is eating a popsicle."
Garrett adds, "Apparently, they'd been given permission to do this by the stage manager because it was so hot. And it made perfect sense. But to a young director who's trying to maintain the show, it was really Michael's gravitas and position as a professional actor that made me stop writing notes for a moment."
'Deep, resonant voices' run in the family
For the last two decades, Michael and Matt Rapport have appeared on many Kansas City stages together – from Theatre for Young America, to the New Theater and the Unicorn Theatre. And they’ve played some of the same parts - with years between - on the same stages.
For more than a decade, as an actor, Sidonie Garrett appeared on stage with Michael Rapport in A Christmas Carol. He was Topper, chasing her as the laughing girl. And then, for many years, Michael was the generous Mr. Fezziwig, who takes on a young Ebenezer Scrooge as apprentice.
Garrett says the Rapports have two of the most powerful vocal instruments in the city. "These deep resonant voices," she says. "(It's) interesting to hear them together and see them together, because of that, I think."
Treating a father as a father figure in As You Like It
In As You Like It, Matt Rapport plays Oliver – whose father has died, and he’s charged with taking care of his younger brothers, including Orlando (played by Todd Carlton Lanker). Michael Rapport, plays Adam, a family servant – who sides with Orlando when Oliver mistreats him.
Matt Rapport’s character, Oliver, gets a little rough with Michael Rapport’s character, Adam, in the first scene. He says he doesn’t recall having such an antagonistic relationship with his father in a production.
"There was a moment in rehearsal, where we talked about Adam being a father figure to these boys, and it was just funny for me to be having this discussion with Todd (Carlton Lanker), who plays Orlando about what’s that like to treat him as a father figure," says Matt Rapport. "And I was like, 'Well, I can kind of identify with that, I guess.' That wasn’t a hard leap to make for that.
Michael Rapport says when Matt was first starting out as an actor, he would make suggestions about characters or lines. But, now he says, he doesn’t – unless Matt asks for them.
"Years ago, when Matthew was a child and growing up and getting into theater himself people would occasionally say to him, 'Oh, you’re Mike’s son.' And now, people will say to me, 'Oh, you’re Matt’s dad,'" he says with a laugh. "And that makes me proud."
The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival production of 'As You Like It' runs through July 7 in Southmoreland Park, just west of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.