The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Woman Who Kept Going

When, after many years of its being a "lost episode," the BBC recovered "The Web of Fear" and "The Enemy of the World", of course I bought them on iTunes. Well, yes, of course I did--and immediately watched "Enemy," the famous James Bond pastiche. It was a corker--inspired, silly, funny, and genuinely tense--it had something of the the flavor of a Doctor Who-Avengers crossover. (The fact that Troughton played the titular villain, Salamander, as a Mexican would be quite problematic if any effort to do so was discernible--Salamander is definitely not-English, but that's really all you can get from Troughton's hilarious, Clouseau-esque accent, and he plays the part as charming, intelligent, and the mirror image of his Doctor. Troughton playing the Doctor pretending to be Salamander is funny; Troughton playing Salamander pretending to be the Doctor is hilarious; Troughton playing Salamander pretending to be the Doctor pretending to be Salamander is uproarious. The man was a brilliant actor.)

But I held off on Web. The yeti seemed abject 20 years later in The Five Doctors, and then of course there's Downtime:

So, even though Web is the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as The Brigadier, I was…reluctant to actually watch the thing. Actually, I needn't have been. Yes, the yeti are a bit crap. But the performances, the direction, the plot--I watched all six episodes in one go, and enjoyed it immensely.

One of the guest stars, Tina Packer, struck me as being really quite good, and I wondered why I had never heard of her anywhere else. A quick google search turned up a great explanation from 2009:
Packer is also exploring the director/actor relationship, from a different perspective. “When I was rehearsing it,” she says, “I kept thinking, well, when do I take over the action, you know? And I realized I never take over the action.”

Packer is used to being in charge, as artistic director of Shakespeare & Company. She founded it in the Berkshires three decades ago. But now Packer is stepping down to go back to acting. It was actually her first career, in her twenties, in England.

“I wouldn’t say I was famous famous but, you know I did one of the those Mobile Masterpiece Theatre pieces. And I did “Doctor Who,” which is what everybody remembers me for in this country now,” she laughs.

“You know at the time I did it I was trying to pretend I wasn’t doing it, you know, because I was a classical actress.”

A frustrated classical actress, she admits, with the Royal Shakespeare Company. “I couldn’t have the effect on theatre I wanted to have as an actor,” she says. “Because actors don’t have any power.”

At the time she was obsessed with Shakespeare, but she wanted to approach his texts her own way. This ran against the genteel delivery style most teachers and directors embraced.

“Annunciating, pushing the vowels to the front of the mouth — especially for the women,” Packer says. “It’s all nonsense; Shakespeare’s dirty as hell and full of life and full of vivacity.”

So Packer abandoned her career as an actor in England, raised some money in the U.S., and founded her own company in the Berkshires. She was one of the first women to direct Shakespeare professionally. Packer says it’s a natural fit.

“Because we are good at multi-tasking, you’re following 10 themes and there’s a lot of people on stage and you’ve got to arrange them,” she says. “It’s like having a giant family.”

Running this company is also like nurturing a family — a family of 150 core members — and Packer is the mom. From fundraising to cleaning toilets to cooling family feuds, she does it all. And has from the beginning, according to Tony Simotes.

“As people grew and changed and went to different places, it was really Tina’s heart and soul that kept maintaining, in a sense, the mothership,” Simotes said.

Simotes came to the Berkshires as an actor with Tina 30 years ago. He says it changed his life. They gathered a band of professional players and practically squatted in buildings just down the road from here, at Edith Wharton’s estate, also known as The Mount. It was a creative commune, Simotes says. But like a real family, it wasn’t all love and roses.
What an extraordinary person, and what a life well lived--and still going strong.

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