CTC artistic head Borba challenges Chautauquans to say, ask anything

As filled as Chautauqua Theater Company’s summer program is, Artistic Director Andrew Borba’s full year has been akin to a CTC season on steroids — even for a person who said he often won the 110 percent award in high school and is still “always busy.” 

If asked, Borba will share some of the year’s highlights at 9:15 a.m. Thursday at the Chautauqua’s Women’s Club during his presentation for the CWC’s Chautauqua Speaks program. Referencing the late English stage and classic film actor Sir Ralph Richardson, his topic will be, “Acting is Merely the Art of Keeping a Large Group of People From Coughing.”

“I love that quote,” Borba said. “Maybe there’s too much truth to it. … We — Chautauquans — love to investigate, we love to engage, and my hope is that we can cover a good deal of territory. It’s all fair game; let’s put that out there. Say or ask me anything.”


Last summer, Borba morphed from CTC’s co-artistic director, with Vivienne Benesch, to its artistic director.

“I don’t recommend a transitional year like that to anybody,” he said. “Not that it was necessarily hard, but we had to establish what everyone’s roles were, and as Viv’s roles were changing from artistic director at Playmakers (Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) to co-artistic director last year, it was a great diagnostic year for me. … This feels like my first year.”

Having said “yes” to a request — during technical rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew in August 2016 — from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to perform in two plays, Borba headed to Ashland unexpectedly at the end of last season. He soon commuted more than 700 miles six times in order to teach two courses at the University of California, Irvine during his first quarter as a full-time assistant professor of advanced acting and Shakespeare.

Borba said he had performed for four seasons at the OSF “a long while back.” Its artistic and casting directors had been wanting him back, and finally last year his schedule lined up if, just barely.

“They only needed somebody for about two and a half to three months, and the truth of it is … when you distill it down, when the (OSF) calls to say, ‘Hey, do you want to come play Claudius in Hamlet on the outdoor stage and Jaggers in Great Expectations?’ … you figure out how to do it,” Borba said. “It was, truly, sink or swim. It was a long time since I’ve been that nervous on stage; it was thrilling.”

In California soon after his OSF return ended, Borba took on the additional role of the head of NASA for the TV series “Rosewood.” Over the years he has had recurring roles in several TV shows, appeared in numerous other shows, and acted in many major motion pictures. 

At UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, Borba teaches M.F.A. students in all three years of their curriculum, as well as intermediate undergraduates. His courses include American realism, Chekov, “language plays” and acting for the camera. He also directs plays, such as Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day in the works for next winter.

With his 13th season at CTC well underway, Borba said that his current challenge is speed.

“We are a smaller arm of a much larger institution, so we want to run fast,” he said.

CTC has been “as strongly front-footed about a lot of things here as we could be,” Borba also said. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill’s “plan for the future frees us to continue to pursue what we have been pursuing. Our plan is so clearly and strongly in line with what he has articulated, much of which is lovely.”

According to Borba, there’s a “palpable energy” in CTC’s rehearsal rooms, hallways and administrative offices that he knows is also  felt out on the grounds.

“We have a real possibility of a real growth and a real strengthening of this program,” he said. 

Likening CTC to a small skiff with a short turning radius, and the Institution to an aircraft carrier that must be taken out to sea to turn around, he said Hill is putting a few more engines on the latter, so things will be happening faster anyway.

“We are coming off of the heels of the ethics week presentation that we gave on August Wilson, with a lot of discussion,” Borba said. “We just had a Brown Bag about arts and activism. We are moving into Detroit ’67. We are living in a very divided and tumultuous world right now, and I am interested in and ready to talk about a lot of things. … Maybe I’m trying to keep myself from coughing during that time.”

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The author Deborah Trefts

Deborah Trefts is a policy scientist with extensive United States, Canadian and additional international experience in conservation. She focuses on the resolution of ocean and freshwater-related challenges and the art and science of deciphering and developing public policy at all levels from global to local.