Sellars directed over 40 productions during his time as an undergraduate, developing a controversial reputation for the eccentric, the unusual and the just plain wacky.
Sellars got an early start on directing at age 10, joining a Pittsburgh puppet theater he describes as a “fuschia garage with moss covering the walls.”
While at Harvard, he enjoyed the independence that came with the lack of a formal drama program.
“The reason I came to Harvard was because there was no theater department,” he says. “What you did was what you and your friends decided to do.”
And he and his friends decided to do whatever they wanted—like putting up King Lear in the backseat of a Lincoln and Mayakovsky in a supermarket.
Sellars directed Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in the Adams House Pool while it was still used for swimming, a move The Crimson’s 1978 review called a “vigorous, probing, playful approach to college theater.” The two lovers acted on floating rafts, with a strategically located phallic diving board. Cleopatra dunked the messenger who told her of Antony’s marriage to Octavia.
“If it frequently resembles a circus, it is an indisputably Shakespearean circus,” Crimson reviewer David B. Edelstein ’81-’82 wrote.
Sellars’ audience sat in a horseshoe around the pool and were frequently splashed by the actors. At one point, the actors led the spectators out of the Pool and into Rome—Adams House A-entry.
Edelstein seemed bemused by the experience in his Crimson review.
“Frankly I don’t have the vaguest idea what [these things] mean. Maybe nothing and maybe everything,” he wrote.
Drainage problems in the pool cut short Antony’s run.
Much Ado About Nothing starred mannequins and people in day-glo Renaissance wear.
“Watching Peter Sellars’ Much Ado about Nothing is like walking across a room blindfolded—it’s easy if you’re well acquainted with the terrain but painful and confusing if you’re not,” wrote Crimson editor Scott A. Rosenberg ’81.
Rosenberg described the production as self-indulgent and radically unconventional.
“Sellars might just as well have bounded on stage, done a headstand, cried, ‘look at me!’ before the curtain rose, and let the play proceed with a modicum of sensibility,” he wrote.