To Speak or Not To Speak…

Shakespeare’s New Masterpiece:
       I feel as if every eye in the theatre is boring into my back as I slowly pace the stage, thankful that there are several other actors around me.  We wander the space, just being aware of the theatre and the other actors, waiting to see who will be the first to speak their sonnet.  The first group did theirs so quickly!  What is wrong with us?  I can feel my palms sweating and I just know I’m going to forget my piece…….well, I’d better just go for it.  I grab a friend by the shoulder and laugh as I picture him a shriveled old man.  “When forty winters have besieged thy brow/ And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field….”  I attempt to educate him on the virtues of children as I bend all my energy to my objective, “have kids!”  He looks at me with deep concern as I speak and nods in agreement with my points.  However, just as I feel I have made my point well and my sonnet ends, another actor breaks in contradicting my point with her own sonnet.  Full of deep pain and regret, she paints a picture through Sonnet 129 of the sorrow and loneliness following a casual fling and urges him to be careful.  One after another, the other actors share their sonnets, but it is in a new and meaningful way as we exchange thoughtful wisdom, one sonnet responding to the material spoken before.  It feels like breathing life into a brand new Shakespeare play!
       You see, since this was the last week to work on our sonnets (my monologue is going very well, thank you for asking, I’m all memorized and just need to tighten up a few things before we really dive in next week) and we had implemented our critique from last week, Liz wanted us to play with the pieces differently.  She brought about half the students down to the stage and had them use their sonnets to create a scene, no rehearsal, no working out an order.  She just told us to come forward with our own sonnet when we felt motivated by another piece before us.  I could see this going very badly in one of two ways: 1) everyone would try to go at once so they could get their piece finished early, or 2) no one would go because they couldn’t find a way to make their sonnets early.  Not only did the first cast jump in with their first piece, but they blew the rest of us away with the ease with which they tied their pieces together!  Everyone was engaged in what was happening and one person responded to another, even adding blocking, while just using their sonnets!  The words didn’t feel like disembodied sonnets anymore.  Instead it seemed like there was a new play taking on a life of its own!  I was impressed, but would it work a second time?  And the answer, as I showed above, was a resounding “yes!”  I told you I worked with some amazingly talented people. ;)  You should see these people!
       In addition to our sonnets we received brief notes for our monologues.  I give you guys full leave to hold me accountable for these things to make me a better actress…promise?  Ok then…first thing, I get this little “cute” and breathy voice onstage apparently.  Since I have never received this comment before in my acting career I think it is safe to assume I am nervous and need to focus on relaxing (this can easily be accomplished by holding a chair over ones head as one speaks. Great for practice…not so great in a scene. Got to fix this problem first thing).  Second, I need to have more fun and play with the other characters more.  I got better with this as I rehearsed, I tried to really enjoy making fun of the peasant girl I am talking to and playing “matchmaker” to two lower class “fools” (I am playing Rosalind in As You Like It, Act 3 Scene 5, for those of you who forgot).  I also need to work on “scoring” the piece.  This means highlighting and drawing colorful notes in colored pencil all over the monologue to draw my attention to alliterations, antithesis, onomatopoeia and all the other lovely rhetorical devices I talked about last time.  I am looking forward to it…I like colors and I like words.  Life is pretty wonderful right now.  And now I will dash off and locate my inner Rosalind! Fare you well friends!
–Hanna Mitchell

A Rose By Any Other Name…?

“Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

“The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty.”

“Think not I love him, though I ask for him; ‘Tis but a peevish boy; yet he talks well.”

“Call you me fair? That fair again unsay.”

So many options and so little time!  Oh, my goodness!  I am overwhelmed with the wealth of wondrous words open to me (you like that? That is an alliteration).  How many of these quotations from monologues do you recognize?  They are all beautiful characters whose words flow from their tongues like so many crystal water droplets, one following hard upon the next (that is a simile) and yes, I am getting carried away with this rhetorical speech.  Fun fact: In Shakespeare’s day, “rhetoric” was not a word which implied insincerity or any sort of negative connotation.  To speak “rhetorically” simply meant speaking in figures and artificial patterns which were not usually used in everyday life.  Some people say that everyone in Shakespeare’s day understood his verse because that was just how people spoke.  While the audience did understand his verse, it was not because this was how they spoke in real life; it was because they had a much more auditory culture.  Interesting, no?  We studied more of these Shakespearean forms of speech in class this week and so many of these things are coming together to make sense in my mind.

Liz asked us to read a really helpful little book called “Shakespeare Alive” by the famous director Joseph Papp which was packed full of helpful little historical tidbits for better understanding of the Bard’s work and world.  For instance, did you know that the players in Shakespearean theatre presented a different play every day and a new work somewhere around every two weeks!?  Can you imagine the work involved in doing that?  With this in mind it completely makes sense that so many works are in verse…to help the actors memorize quickly and create word pictures in the minds of the actors and audience.  Liz reminded us that before we speak any kind of imagery in the text we must first see the image in our mind’s eye.  It is these images which produce life in the imagination of the actors and enables them to convey that energy and passion to the audience.

Although we touched upon language and rhetoric again this week, Liz’s primary focus was on breath and breathing.  I have had only a little bit of vocal training in my theatre education so far and some of the vocal exercises she gave us were fairly difficult for me, requiring my full attention.  However, she gave us a mental image that really did stick in my head and helped me so much.  She told us to think of our breath as being a line which we were throwing to someone as we spoke to them.  Every single thing we said had to be thrown to the person we were speaking to and connect us to them by a line.  You try it…take a deep breath and feel your ribs swing out to let in more air, then toss a line on your breath to someone.  This vocal support really feels very enjoyable, particularly when paired with those lush, round Shakespearean words I mentioned last week.  I will hold this picture a long time.

So now, the moment of truth……….What am I going to do for my monologue?  It has to be good, something I can really enjoy as I work.  It should also be something with a lot of imagery and rhetoric which I can sink my teeth into as I play with this language.  And Liz said it should be a character we could actually play now, someone near our own age and experience.  Well……..I think I have made a decision.  “As You Like It” has always been my favorite comedy…. Can I handle it?  I’m going to go for it.  I may not have this chance again!

Ladies and gentlemen, for my first performance as the Antaeus Intern in Shakespeare, I will be presenting Rosalind (my dream role) from “As You Like It,” act III, scene v.

I thank you!

–Hanna Mitchell

14 Lines In One Breath???

“When forty winters have besieged thy brow

And dug deep trenches in thy beauty’s field…”

Oh, I’m sorry everyone!  I was just working on my sonnet. ;)  It is so much fun playing around with the sounds and the pauses and the iambic pentameter!  And yes…the class…oh my goodness the CLASS!  I am way in over my head in this talented group of people, but I had so much fun and I absolutely love every minute of it!

First of all, Liz Swain is amazing!  She has so much knowledge that she is waiting to share and so many fun stories that I could sit and listen to her for hours.  She drew all of us into the group, regardless of our previous Shakespeare or theatre experience and met us right where we are.  The people is this class come from a vast majority of places and backgrounds and she matches her teaching style to each of us, praising our successes and helping us pinpoint our biggest points for improvement.  I was really thankful for this since I try to remember too many things at once when I act.  I let my brain run away with me and fall head over heels…well, at least tie my tongue in knots.  And my class mates are the best!  I got really nervous going into the evening, I always do in acting classes, but they welcomed me in and encouraged me as I fumbled along in my ignorance of this bright new world opening up before me.

We ran through some basic Shakespearean writing tools (well basic to people who are more familiar with Shakespeare) and methods of speaking first.  How many of these do you know?  No cheating…just right off the top of your head:  scansion, spondee, caesurae, elision, onomatopoeia and dactyl.  You think I’m making these up…but no.  How many did you get?  Well I knew only one, but now I know them all!  Hurrah for handouts!

When we got up to begin our sonnets, I took one look at my classmates and got so flurried I think I said the whole sonnet in one breath.  No pauses, no emotion, nothing.  Liz patiently slowed me down and pointed out that the sonnet is divided into fourteen lines for a reason (wow! He did that on purpose?) and let me go back over the piece with some technical ideas in mind.  I was blown away by how much more relaxed I felt and how I was able to really focus on what I was saying, an important detail when working with Shakespeare.  Even when I was sitting back just watching the other actors I was able to glean so much helpful information from their artistic choices and thoughtful conversation.  I think I could learn in this class by just sitting in the room and inhaling all the talent there.

So now, armed with my notes, I prepare for week two of sonnets.  I am slowing myself down.  It’s hard, but it does make breathing and not passing out much easier.  I am also on the hunt for a monologue.  The problem is there are just SO many from which to choose!  Which way should I go?  Any suggestions?

–Hanna Mitchell

Brave New World!

Hello, world!  I’m Hanna, the new Antaeus intern and your guide for the next fourteen weeks on a journey of playing Shakespeare!  How fun is that?  I am so excited about this class with the fantastic Elizabeth Swain and an inspiring group of professionals brought together by a love of learning and a love of the Bard.  I’m sure there are many of you out there who are just as passionate about Shakespeare and his works as I am. How did he manage to come up with so many engaging and brilliant plots?  How could he breathe life into characters hundreds of years ago who still fan our emotions to flame today?  How can any actor or director feel that they are really doing justice to works considered foundational to society for ages?  I am looking forward to learning the answers to these questions as much as you are and I thank you in advance for venturing off with me!

To set the stage for this tour on which I will be your eyes and ears here are a few details:  I am a senior undergraduate student at a school with a brand spanking new theatre program.  We are so very new in fact that I will be a part of the first graduating class ever!  While this is all well and good and we have many opportunities to do things other students don’t, this also means we have a very small class roster so far.  Although I have been in love with Shakespeare since I was very small, I have never had an actual class to learn about him and bring his works to life.  When it was suggested that I, as the Antaeus intern, should participate in the Shakespeare class and blog my way through it, I jumped at the opportunity!  I could not believe my good fortune!  And so here we are!

Our task for the first class is simply to memorize a sonnet. I have selected Sonnet 2.  I am memorizing it in the car on my way to and from Hollywood (this is something else you must know…”I am slow of study,” at least as far as memorizing goes) and I’m in love with the images in the piece and the feel of the words on my tongue.  I know that sounds strange, but try it sometime.  Read a sonnet out loud and tell me it isn’t a strange and wonderful feeling letting those rich old words flow over your tongue.  That is your assignment for this week.

As for me, I’m off to my first class session!  Bid me godspeed!

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

–Hanna Mitchell

The Crucible: A Postmortem by its Directors

In this blog, we take a little breather to reflect back on The Crucible, which closed last month.  We asked co-directors Armin Shimerman & Geoffrey Wade a few questions on their process and experiences, and how co-directing affected and influenced the production.  Their answers are below:

AC: Start us off by talking a little about your relationship to Antaeus. How long have you been with the company? How did you get involved in the first place? When not directing, what’s your role in the company?

photo6GW: My first association with the Company was being cast in The Man Who Had All the Luck in 2000, but it wasn’t until a year, another show (Mercadet), and a lot of volunteer hours later that I actually was asked to join.  When Jeanie Hackett started the Academy I sort of found my niche: first as an observer, then an assistant, and finally as an independent teacher of some of our courses.  I feel my greatest contribution to the company has been in the development of a lot of exciting young talent.  As an actor, for a while there I was nearly the company “relief pitcher,” replacing actors late in the runs of, I think, four plays!  I am also -as much as possible- the sort of official photographer at Antaeus.  That is a tremendously rewarding role because not only do I get to see almost every cast of every show, but I am also able to make some stunning images thanks primarily to the breathtaking commitment of the actors as well as the amazing sets, lights, and costuming of our shows.

photo7AS: Well this first question is strangely a stumper. I had to do some searching in my Quicken files that seem to indicate that I became a member in 2004 or 2005. Time flies when you are having fun. My membership came about because of my participation as a guest in Paul Lazarus and Janet Jones’ development of their work in progress, The Dickens Project. Ironically, back in the 80’s, I had gone to an evening sponsored by Dakin about becoming a member, but my desire for membership alas went no further. Wasn’t good enough, I guess.

I wear so many hats in the leadership of Antaeus. The diagram of what I do starts with my serving on the Board of Directors. I have held that position for many years. From there, we arrive at the fact that I am the chair of the Membership Committee.  The MC is in charge of all things that have to do with membership in the Company, including deciding who we ask to enter, members’ monetary matters, nominations of Artistic Director/s, etc. My long standing there has morphed into my now being the Co-Associate Artistic Director, participating in artistic decisions with the Boys. In addition, I serve on the Governance, Finance, and Executive committees. Plus, like Geoffrey, I teach class for the Academy and once in a blue moon actually act in projects. For me, Antaeus is full time commitment.

AC: You’ve both directed before.  What were some highlights, and how do you think your past work prepared you for The Crucible?

photo17GW:  I directed one show at Antaeus previously (Celebration,) which was quite rewarding for all involved, largely because we all knew each other and were very comfortable with working in a specific style and with a sort of common vocabulary.  Aside from that, my directing here has consisted of working with the students in the Academy classes.  Because they are acting classes (NOT directing, or theory, or theatre history…) I am always looking to find actable solutions to scene work.  No matter what the style or genre or period, the core acting problems are pretty much the same, but finding them can be tricky in the midst of those other elements.  Having to do that in a variety of scenes from a very wide assortment of styles and periods improved my ability to cut to the core of what an actor has to address in a scene.  And dealing with a wide range of abilities in the classes has forced me to develop a flexibility and variety of approaches, to expand my own “acting vocabulary,” if you will, to help actors fulfill their essential -and eternal- task of simultaneously communicating with each other and sharing the experience with an audience.  All of that helped me deal with a large cast who, though all possessed of great ability, naturally had different methods and approaches to the work.  We were asking them to trust us with a very unusual, demanding style while remaining honest and passionately committed to each other and the audience.

AS: Outside of Antaeus, I have directed two different full productions of 12th Night and one of the Scottish play. In addition, I have helmed (as they say) readings of plays for the Antaeus Classic fests. What all have taught me is that casting is 75% of your job as a director. If you get the right actors for the roles, you don’t pull your hair out. (Don’t anyone snicker!!) Also, you learn that Theatre is a mystery and that magic will most likely happen in the last week of rehearsal. Things come together and insights are learned. I had never worked as a director with this caliber of people before Crucible nor for this long and my admiration for this mysterious process is exponentially larger now.

AC:  Before working on this production, what were your thoughts on the play The Crucible? How do you feel about Arthur Miller’s work in general?

photo15GW:  The play, to be perfectly honest, struck me as something of a museum piece.  I wasn’t that familiar with it, I had seen a perfectly serviceable yet not particularly exciting production at a very good regional theater, and I guess I’d read it in school.  I assumed it was about a particular period and didn’t really have much to say to today.  I was wrong, of course.  Miller at his best writes with a humanity, generosity, and accessibility that places him in a very special category.  His voice strikes me as a quintessentially American.  For my taste, he can get self-indulgent and overly earnest on occasion, but when he’s done right his work has an immediacy and power that is powerfully emotional and personal; and that’s the reason I go to the theatre.  And it’s the reason his plays transcend their time and their settings and have become, deservedly, classics.

AS: If in the future, someone writes a bibliography of my life, there will be at least one chapter on my playing John Proctor in High School. That inexplicable event (I had no interest in acting prior to it) birthed my subsequent existence. It is 40 plus years later and the amber glow of nostalgia still colors my appreciation of the play. I remembered it as a powerful piece about an individual’s fight against tyranny and authority. I remembered it packed a wallop. I remembered the poetry of the language: “Massachusettes is a beauty in the Spring.” But of course, I was a teenager then and the Crucible spoke to me that way. All teenagers see themselves as John Proctor types: fighting injustice,speaking beautifully. But, the older Miller seems to have always seen himself that way, and, whether it is in Death of a Salesman, All my Sons, or American Clock, he stands up like Spartacus,  against wrong-doing and the tidal pull of complacency. His use of the American vernacular and simple shared human experiences makes for enchanting songs that we harken after, are enthralled by, and clamor to hear more. Through these two qualities, he fulfills the classical requirement of Drama: to educate and entertain.

AC:  How did you prepare for co-directing? What were some of your fears gong into the process?  What were you looking forward to?

GW:  We talked in general about the play, what were the major themes for us, how we saw the central characters.  We basically knew long before we started that our ideas about the piece were either the same or near as dammit.  I’m sure that’s the reason Armin chose to have me take over the direction of the reading we did in July of 2012 when he had to leave part way thru the process.  Our preparation largely consisted of one of us saying, “I’ve always thought thus-and-so about that scene,” and the other replying, “I couldn’t agree more… !”  The major conceptual choice was always Armin’s, but since I was willing to work within that concept we were always in sync.  We did make some explicit agreements beforehand about who would do the blocking, how we would handle scene-work and so on because it is so important for there to be one voice in charge in those situations.  My fears going into it centered around the more practical aspects of directing: deadlines, budgets, scheduling, design decisions… all the disparate elements that must come together with the acting, which is the area where I was always most comfortable.  I looked forward to working with the actors, of course, but also the collaborations with the designers.  I’m always excited by the prospect of sketching out my incomplete and hazy concepts to a creative artist such as a sound designer, for instance, who then develops a concrete entity -something you can see or hear- which becomes what I was trying to express, but so much more.  You find yourself getting not just an incremental improvement to the production, but a whole order of magnitude. 

AS: Geoff and I did not prepare in any conscious way to co-direct. Though our strong friendship over the course of years reassured us that it was emotionally possible. I did not expect nor were there ever any ego clashes. Our collaboration started by chance in our co-directing the Classic Fest reading of the Crucible. I knew of his astounding work with the Academy students, and, when I unexpectedly half way thru rehearsal had to attend a memorial back East, I asked him to take my place. I came back to see masterful directorial contributions of pace, striking character simplicity, and minor blocking changes that I loved. These directorial improvements made the whole production run smoother and I honestly did not know if I would have had the expertise to instigate them. So when asked to direct the Crucible, I reminded the Ads that it had been the result of both our work and lobbied for a co-directorship. They agreed almost immediately. To my recollection, Geoff and I never spoke of nor really decided on what areas of direction each of us would lead. Responsibilities and artistic choices just magically fell into place. Though, I think we agreed I would do initial blocking which included the presentational style while he took on the arduous chore of scheduling as well as spokesman at the collective note sessions. However, we both gave individual acting notes to members of both casts and incredibly 96% of the time our thoughts on acting and stress were identical – or so the actors led us to believe. Certainly, we attended designer confabs together though I believe I was more influential with the Set design while he made more decisions about Sound and Lighting. I think we were equally opinionated about Costumes. I must say we did have some differences of opinion about casting and I want to believe I won more than I lost.  We spoke almost daily prior to rehearsal and were Siamese twins during the months of rehearsal.

photo3My one big fear was that the actors would try to manipulate us by treating us like parents. In other words, if not getting what you wanted from Dad, going to Mom and getting permission there. But Geoff’s and my POV was so consistent with each other that I am not aware of that strategy ever working – or for that matter being used. We were perfect gentlemen with each other, always respecting what the other had to say. With two directors giving direction, another fear was that that the actor would get too much guidance thrown at her/him. This is why we chose to let only one of us give collective notes with the other bursting in when he felt the need.

As for hopes, I think we both had hopes that with two directors and two casts we could split up the casts at times with separate directors and thus save time with rehearsals. But that benefit never fleshed out. Though, a short trip out of town for me, allowed Geoff to have both casts to himself for a weekend. My personal fear that my lack of directing experience would be a detriment to the show was supplanted by the hope and actuality that Geoff was there with me, advising, leading, and helping with decisions.

AC: In your opinion, how does directing with another person affect the process? What are some unexpected strengths or discoveries? What are some drawbacks?

DSC_0733GW:  It is impossible to generalize because this was a case of Armin and my being -weirdly- of one mind about nearly every aspect of the production.  Without meaning to speak for Armin, my perception was that there was not an aspect where either of us would have been uncomfortable with the other making a major decision on anything; casting, design, or execution.  The greatest strength is, of course, the collaborative nature of the thing.  We could bounce ideas of each other, amplify the best and modify the weaker ones, and emerge with an assured vision that resisted second-guessing because we had already gone through that process.  We each had the other’s back.  The drawbacks were relatively minor; there were times we disagreed about blocking, occasional line readings, even the design of the damn poppet.  I did not get “my way” 100% of the time, nor, I suspect, did Armin.  But when we did disagree, one or the other would defer, believing (and again, I am speaking for myself) that honestly, it wasn’t worth going to the mat or this or that detail.  You discover that there is, indeed, more than one perfectly valid way to say a line (tho’ perhaps not more than the two Armin and I were offering….!)

AS: Well, duh, its less demanding! You don’t have to personally attend all pre-production meetings. You can skip rehearsals for auditions or life-emergencies without disrupting the actors’ artistic growth. You can have a peer to bounce ideas off. And you don’t always have to be the one to make the final –God awful-decisions.  Of course, you need to either have a soul mate as your co-director or a Prince of tact. Luckily, I had both. But the opposite is an easy scenario to visualize. (Etta and Gabe did a hilarious job of picturing that in our video send-up.) One of the problems of a performer participating in double casting is the actor’s ego (fear) that he/she is not as good nor getting as much attention as his/her partner. That problem can materialize for co-directors as well. Are the actors listening to him more? Do they like him better? Are my insights as good as his? Is he doing as much work as I am? All these nasty demonic imaginings passed infrequently through my mind. And happily were exorcized almost immediately. That said, there were a handful of times where I regretfully compromised on a POV when Geoff would give a heartfelt opposite direction to an actor. Even though, I felt he was wrong; he was usually being passionate about it with the actor and it was not worth the disruption of confusing the actor or demonstrating a lack of cohesiveness. With it over, I must say that of those few times of discord, he was either absolutely dead on or the further exploration in rehearsal proved me right. A win-win situation for my messy ego and for the show. The drawback of course would be if this difference of opinion was happening all the time and your tongue was macerated because you had bitten it way too many times. Or if you had disgraced your partner and made him a less than credible leader in the eyes of the cast. People always asked, “But how can you have one artistic vision if you have two directors?” The easy answers for us are that we mostly saw things the same way or we respectfully compromised or we lived with two visions. The latter situation always presents itself in the Theater since the director and the actor have two separate imaginations and, though they lovingly collaborate, they will never be identical. This scenario is even further warped when you have two casts with their respective choices.

AC: 2 directors and a double cast.  This means that essentially 2 directors and 2 actors were working on one role at any given time.  How did this generally work?

photo10GW:  Generally worked very well, I’d say.  You might get a different answer from the actors, especially if you promised them anonymity…  As I said, Armin and I were agreed on the character’s arcs and the basic characteristics we thought they should embody.  It worked best by letting one of us work on any given scene with the other guy present to offer clarification or a slightly different way of approaching a question or problem.  So we -by and large- spoke with one voice.  Another interesting thing: there were occasions where one of us might reach a sort of impasse with an actor, and it was great having a collaborator to deal with that.  Not exactly good-cop/bad-cop, but close.

AS: Exactly the same as two casts working with one director on one role. My reasons are understandable from what I have said above.

DSC_0879That said, sometimes when working with double casts, one actor will prefer a radically different approach/blocking to a moment from that of her partner or for that matter from the director. Those conflicts rarely showed up in our production. I will opine that was so because we had talked in detail about the arcs of the characters. Or that we were so ruthless about the presentational blocking, the casts preliminarily acceded a lot of the blocking choices to Geoff and me.  We may have inadvertently blunted early artistic choice –though I hope never artistic discussion. However, later in rehearsal when the style was less foreign to the ensemble, there were some desires for minor differences of approach and blocking. If I felt that the differences were manageable and we still told the same story, I would okay playing it differently. As long as everyone in the scene in each cast knows that Actor X is going to play it one way while on another evening Actor Y will do something else, all will run smoothly.

One of the great exceptions to double casting is the genuine wisdom that the 5-6 weeks of rehearsal are about an actor building a unique relationship with his fellow characters in the play. This is time consuming and essential for a fully realized production. Therefore with two casts, the spanner in the works is that an actor is constantly having to modify the understanding of a growing character-relationship by the mere fact that one must of necessity have a different chemistry with different actors playing the same character. I am told it is confusing and wastes rehearsal time as one waits to rehearse a scene sufficiently with alternates. This is pitfall of the double cast system. The only way in my mind to mitigate the problem is to have each actor studiously observe not only her double rehearsing a scene but also the other combinations of people in her scene – while her alternate works, watching a scene in the audience during rehearsal like a director. This enormous extra work can be made easier for the actor by familiar past collaborations/friendships with fellow actors in a long-standing ensemble.  That familiarity will do much. The less arduous way would be to separate ensembles completely after opening and let the usual simmering process take place. But though we name certain combinations of actors and ask them to be cohesive as a cast unit, the necessities from the Industry in Los Angeles enforce absences and require Antaeus to mix and match.

AC:  In general, what are your thoughts on Antaeus’ “partner casting,” both as a director and as an actor?

GW:  I remain ambivalent as an actor, but I can now fully understand why directors pretty much dislike it.  In purely practical terms, it makes scheduling a nightmare and therefore rehearsal necessarily becomes a catch-as-catch-can procedure.  The greatest loss is that there is never enough time to rehearse a scene properly. Scheduling fell entirely on my shoulders so I can say unequivocally that having to accommodate so many conflicts leads unavoidably to insufficient rehearsal time.  Most actors were understanding and did their best (sometimes giving extraordinary performances on very little rehearsal), yet some complained explicitly and at length about not having enough stage time, even as they took advantage of having a double to miss considerable amounts of rehearsal.  Additionally, the imperative to give every actor his voice in rehearsal and reach compromises -or workable separate solutions- means that functionally you have less than half the rehearsal period to set the play.  Obviously, it gets done, the results are excellent, and the coverage makes the grief palatable, but I would have to think long and hard before doing it again.

DSC_0847AS: As an actor, I find partner casting to be an enormous help when rehearsing a play. Primarily, because if it is true partner casting –meaning have as good an actor as you or better-, you can have two major talents working in tandem to solve the puzzle that is your character. This is done through conversation, but more effectively by sitting in the audience and watching your character play the scene. From this vantage point, you can get a sharper realization as to how your character fits into the scene, into the play- what his purpose is and how the audience will perceive his presence. This awareness typically comes late in usual rehearsals, but arrives early with partner-casting. It is an enormous shortcut in the character’s unfolding and your creative exploration. Moreover, having a peer partner, you can steal his good choices and call them your own. In addition, you can trash the ones that he does that don’t sit well with you. Leaving artistic reasons aside, partner casting allows me the luxury of missing rehearsals so that I can audition for more lucrative work, for attending to personal crises, for doing a film or TV show, or for illness. I can do all that without the attendant guilt of letting the production down because my partner will be there. Needless to say, all that goes for missing performances as well.

There are those who abhor the very thought of what I just said. Because they want no part of another actor’s investigation of their character. I find that attitude small-minded and adolescent. The director/s, the designers, and your fellow actors always impinge on your investigation. It’s never just yours. Now if your partner is not truly a peer, then double-casting will be futile. Because not only is one not getting any creative help from your partner, but you’ve now lost potentially half your rehearsal time to a lame duck. And you may have to struggle to undo unwise blocking choices because of him. But even so, I stand by my previous statement that you should still be able to suss out your character’s place in the play more readily.

Now how do I feel about partner-casting as a director. In short, I don’t like it. You have to cut short your rehearsal of a scene because you must give the other team equal time to rehearse. Equity gives you too little time to rehearse as it is. You are required to juggle not one, but two casts availabilities. While in casting, you invariably have two people for a role and you find one slightly better than the other. You have to invariably explain some minor detail twice because one cast member didn’t watch his partner rehearse the scene. You have to deal with potential personality conflicts between partners. You have to clutter your precious rehearsal time with being fair to all partners. And you have to sit through two enormously nervous first night openings. As a producer, I dislike it even more because the Theater has to pay for two sets of costumes, two casts’ salaries, and twice as many cast comps. If you are only a director, you have no insight into the shortcuts partner casting provides the actors (mentioned above) because that’s not on your radar. And most importantly, because when assembling casts, you must sometimes scuttle a great cast a little by being required to put a less successful actor in with stronger ones-in order to balance out the two casts. The lack of rehearsal time only exacerbates that. It’s this fact of not having an ideal cast that scares me about Antaeus’ chances of being a world class Theater. Because on any night, an audience will not see a perfect show. A very good one, yes. But not World Class.

As a director at Antaeus, there is only one good artistic reason to agree to direct a partner-cast production. That is the chance to work with twice as many good people and see twice as much work blossoming.

AC:  This production of The Crucible was quite presentational, in that the actors spoke mostly out to the audience rather than each other.  How did this style come about, and how do you think it ultimately worked?

photo1GW:  The style, the concept were Armin’s, so I’ll leave the details of that answer to him.  I’ll only say that it came about because of the reading, done in what has come to be known as the “Frank Dwyer” style of connecting through the audience for a reading rather than trying to speak to another actor at a music stand, thereby reducing a performance to nothing but profiles.  I think it worked exceptionally well in this production, which is not to say it’s a one-size-fits-all approach to staging.  Our intention was always to let people hear the play anew, to scrape away the varnish of the expected, accepted approach and allow the burnished text -as filtered through the emotional commitment of superb actors- affect the audience in a challenging way.  There is no doubt in my mind that we accomplished exactly what we set out to do, and by and large the audiences members had the sort of bracing, invigorating experience with the play that we hoped they would.  

AS: AAAAH the perennial question. How did it come about? I’m asked that constantly and I hope because people liked it or, at least, were intrigued.  Like many creative choices, it incubated in me long before I was aware of it. Without going into all the History, Bo Foxworth and Ann Noble asked me to direct their Classic Fest presentation to the Crucible. You know from reading this wordy blog that I have been a member of Antaeus for a long time. Because of that, I have seen a slew of readings done at our Theater. One of the things I am sure of is that readings are most successful when there is very little blocking and when the actors for the most part stand and deliver. What we call the Frank Dwyer method. That means facing front and rarely inter-acting with their fellows visually. One still has to genuinely hear the cues, process them, and honestly respond.  I was committed to that style and so adhered to it while working on the reading. To that end, I had the cast sit in a semi-circle around the playing area that was only furnished with a large table and one/two chairs. We had no budget and I swear by ‘less is more’. I love the theatrically of that simplicity. It is what essentially makes Theater different from the visual complexity of film or Tv (that and language). When the characters would enter into a scene, they would either stand at their chairs or take a meaningful position in relationship to the table and what it symbolized. For sight lines and so as not to upstage the actors placed further downstage from the semi-circle, I asked the actors to just look forward even when they were talking to characters standing behind them. Because it was a reading with books in hands, the audience never questioned the non-naturalness of the presentation. They were all familiar with readings of plays done with music stands or just having the actors sit in a semi-circle and reading from their scripts. You walk into a Theatre and the presence of scripts gives this presentational style license.  I have often been told, by Antaeus patrons, that sometimes these types of readings are more powerful than other theaters’ full productions done with large budgets and clever devises. What I didn’t need to be told and what was obvious from the audiences’ reactions to the Classic Fest read was the power of Miller’s play and the audience’s immediate and electrifying reaction to our presentation and the play’s impact. People who had witnessed many other productions in the past raved about the power of our reading and its immediacy.  I saw that the simplicity and directness of our reading matched and heightened the language and personal choices of those of  the play’s.

Time passed. The Antaeus Artistic Directors asked me to direct a full production with the caveat that it have the same presentational style. It was a bold choice. No one knew for sure whether the freedoms and permissions of a reading would be equally embraced in a full production (no books in hand, no seats in a semi-circle). It worked for me. If you saw it, you have to make your own evaluation.

photo4The second part of the question is less factual, more epistemological. (Sorry, I’m a classical actor; I love language.) I believe the success of our out-front presentational style is due to several factors. Some reasons have to do with the play, some to do with Antaeus . 1) Miller has given us what is essentially a courtroom drama. Certainly, the court, people’s feelings about court, the power of the court, the consequences of court actions, the distinct members of the court, and the arguments to be presented to the court are the crux of the evening. The presentational style consciously promotes that concept by having all the characters seem like lawyers presenting their different beliefs and testimonies to a jury composed of the audience. 2) Acting as a jury, the audience is reluctantly brought into the play. The actors are talking to them and they are being forced to come out of their safety in the dark and form an opinion of each character’s testimony.  They are being asked not just to listen, but also to decide about what they are hearing. They have no choice; the character is staring right at them. 3) Our house is highly raked which even for the young makes hearing difficult at times. The presentational style does away with the audience missing words because an actor has turned away or, in an emotional clinch, spoken too softly.  With our approach, not a word of the play is lost or can be avoided. 4) We chose not to do the play in the time period of Salem 1693 with well-recognized Puritan costumes and regalia. Every 4th grade student knows that period of American history was marked by a repressive Church/State that subjugated the people living under its sway. So we had the dilemma of creating a believable repressive society that fostered the same feelings of impotence and suspicion without the visual cues of a Puritan society.  I believe our presentational style -where no one really looked at each other – was an excellent alternative in explaining that religious oppression. Hale is called “blind” by one of the characters and so he is in the first two scenes. But all the characters are blind early on and only slowly come to “see” the truth. We decided to illustrate that blindness and only shatter it at intimate or uncontrollable instances. 5) And lastly, it was my agenda to showcase the company that I so admire and am proud of.  Only actors of a high caliber and commitment could dare and succeed at throwing out convention and demonstrating how to tell a theatrical story in a radically new way.  Their talents and commitment shown through even when we took away the prime prop of an actor’s performance – seeing and reacting to their fellow actors’ performance. They overcame this undeniably unfair disadvantage as well as their own questions of the efficacy of this approach to give performances that will live in our memories.  Their emotional life and classical technique flew like arrows directly to the heart. Their talents gave our unique concept “more weight.” Do I think it ultimately worked? Yes, on so many levels.

AC:  What would you like to direct next? What’s your dream production?

photo8GW: Ooooo, toughie, that one!  I’d like to do a Shaw.  I love the way Ayckbourn combines rollicking humour with the most profound longing and melancholy… I’d love to have a go at one of his.  I daren’t be specific about a dream production; seems like a pretty good way to assure it will never happen.

AS: That’s an easy answer. I have no idea. But I know my dream production would be directing my multi-talented wife, Kitty Swink.

Kitty in some Shakespeare. That would be Love’s Labour’s Found.

AC:  Would you ever co-direct again?

GW:  If the partner and the show were right.  It strikes me as a very delicate combination of egos and status and complimentary strengths all in service of a play and cast that would stand up to this unusual treatment.  Some theatre god was smiling on me when Armin chose to invite me aboard this project.

AS: Sure, if I had Geoff or a Geoff clone.
He’s easy to clone. You know he’s very skinny.

And what are Mr. Shimerman and Mr. Wade doing now that the trials are over?

GW: I spent the summer acting at a couple theater in New England.  Actually had to leave LA long before CRUCIBLE closed, which was a very frustrating, but unavoidable turn of events.  Happily, I was acting in two-hander, EDUCATING RITA, that was an absolute dream production.  Just a coincidence, but with only two actors, one director, and eight hours a day to work it was about as far from the rehearsal frenzy of CRUCIBLE as you can get!  But I regret missing those final CRUCIBLE performances as I know it went from strength to strength and the actors were making “something rich and strange” indeed, far beyond what was already a compelling piece of theatre.

AS: Just returned from Vegas from four days of Star Trek conventionering. Before that, England and Austria where we ate up the scenery. Looking forward to teaching and finally writing the last pages of my Historical novel, The Toadeater. Oh, and I am campaigning to be a delegate at the first SAG/AFTRA convention. Life is full.


WADE_GEOFFREYShimerman_ArminCompany Members Armin Shimerman & Geoffrey Wade co-directed this summer’s production of The Crucible. Next up for Antaeus is Corneille’s The Liar, adapted by David Ives and directed by Casey Stangl. Tickets now on sale at http://www.antaeus.org

Antaeus Salon Series Focuses on THE LIAR

That’s right!  Our “Behind the Curtain” Salon Series returns this Fall, and this time we pull back the curtain on all aspects of The Liar, focusing on topics such as its style, verse & historical context.  The Salon Series will take place in the Antaeus library Monday evenings 7 -10pm – 5 roundtable lectures/discussions led by 5 experts in their respective fields.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN SALONS
Monday evenings, 7-10p in the Antaeus Library
A series of 5 roundtable discussions focusing on various aspects of our upcoming production of Corneille’s The Liar (adapted by David Ives,) moderated by experts in their fields.
Each week features a new moderator and topic.
(Limit 15 participants per class.  Please contact deirdre@antaeus.org to reserve your spot!)
The Liar previews 10/3 – 10/9 and opens on 10/10

FLEUR DE LIS package 5 Salons (plus preview ticket to The Liar)
Workshop Fee: $225

PLACE ROYALE package 3 Salons  (plus preview ticket to The Liar)
Workshop Fee: $140

INDIVIDUAL classes
$50/class (plus preview ticket to The Liar)

SEPT 16                    The Style: Farce & Verse in The Liar
Moderated by David BRIDEL

SEPT 23                    The Words: On Adaptation and Translation
Moderated by Lillian GROAG

SEPT 30                   The World: Society & Culture in 17th Century France
Moderated by Prof. Malina STEFANOVSKA

OCT 7                       The Players: On Acting Corneille Past & Present
Moderated by Robert GOLDSBY

OCT 14                     The Story: The Real Scoop on The Liar
Moderated by Prof. David RODES

 

David BridelDAVID BRIDEL As a director and playwright, David Bridel has garnered acclaim from his native UK to Israel to both coasts of the USA; the LA Times describes him as “the real thing, one of the most ambitious, scholarly and vastly challenging voices on the current theatrical scene.” His choreography credits range from operas such as Salome in Munich and Ariadne Auf Naxos in LA, both directed by Academy-Award winner William Friedkin, to the recent international smash-hit Il Postino, starring Placido Domingo, which has enjoyed sold-out runs in LA, Paris, Vienna, Mexico City, Santiago and Madrid. Meanwhile Bridel has traveled extensively in the US, China, Australia and Brazil, connecting his own organization The Clown School with many luminaries in the field, including David Shiner and LUME Teatro. His productions have twice been nominated for the LA Weekly Theatre Awards; he is the winner of an Entertainment Weekly Special Events Award for his his commedia dell’arte direction in The School of Night at the Mark Taper Forum, an Anna Sosenko Award for Musical Theatre; and he was recently awarded a prestigious Zumberge Grant for his ambitious project Clowns Across Continents. He has contributed to American Theatre Magazine and is a published playwright. His solo play, Sublimity, will be seen in Los Angeles and at the United Solo Festival in New York this Fall. David is an Associate Dean and the Associate Director of the MFA in Acting in the School of Dramatic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Lillian GroagLILLIAN GROAG works in the theatre as an actress, writer and director. Her acting credits include Broadway, Off Broadway, Mark Taper Forum, and regional theatres throughout the country.  She has directed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Old Globe Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Mark Taper Forum’s Taper Too, New York City Opera, Chicago Opera Theatre, Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Center Stage, The People’s Light and Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, Missouri Repertory, Seattle Repertory, Glimmerglass Opera, Asolo Repertory Theatre, San Jose Repertory,  A.C.T. in San Francisco, The Juilliard School of Music, Florentine Opera, Kentucky Opera,  Arizona Opera, the Sundance Institute Playwrights’ Lab, the Virginia Opera, Opera San Jose and the Company of Angels.  Her plays The Ladies of the Camellias, The White Rose (AT&T award for New American Plays), The Magic Fire (Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays), Menocchio and Midons have been produced variously by the Old Globe Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Kennedy Center, The Guthrie Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory, Denver Center, The Shaw Festival, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Northlight Theatre, the WPA Theatre, Seattle Repertory, the Asolo Theatre, The Wilma Theatre, The People’s Light and Theatre Company, and The Shaw Festival.   Abroad:  Mexico City, Junges Theatre in Bonn, Landesbuhne SachsenAnhalt in Eisleben, Shauspielhaus in Wuppertal, Hessisches Landestheater in Marburg, Shauspielhaus in Stuttgart, Teatro Stabile di Bolzano, (National Tour) in Italy, and Tokyo.  She has done translations and adaptations of Lorca, Feydeau, Musset, Marivaux and Molnar, produced at the Guthrie, the Mark Taper Forum Taper II, and Missouri Rep.  She is an Associate Artist of the Old Globe Theatre. The Ladies of the Camellias, Blood Wedding, The White Rose and The Magic Fire have been published by Dramatists Play Service.  Up coming:  A Nervous Splendour, adaptation, from Frederic Morton’s book, Carmen at Opera Omaha.  Aimee And Jaguar, at A.C.T. and Northwestern University, War Music at the Getty Museum in LA.  Master’s and PhD degrees from Northwestern University in Romance Languages and Literature, Theatre Thesis,  and an Honorary PhD from Lake Forest College.

Marina StefanovskaMALINA STEFANOVSKA: Professor and presently Chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies has published two books on the French court, politics and society as seen through the eyes of memoir authors of the 17th and 18th century (Saint-Simon, un historien dans les marges, Paris 1998; La politique du cardinal de Retz: passions et factions, Paris, 2007). She has also widely published on French theater,  historiography and memoirs, and co-edited a book on “Self and Space in Early Modern European Cultures (Toronto, 2012). She is presently working on Casanova’s Memoirs and, in her spare time, on her own.

GOLDSBY_Robert recolorROBERT GOLDSBY: has worked in theatre for over sixty years as actor, director, professor, administrator, producer, translator, master teacher, scholar and author. For 30 years (from 1957), he taught acting, dramatic literature and directing in the Dramatic Art Department at the University of California at Berkeley. In the late 1960s, Goldsby was an actor, resident stage director and conservatory director from the beginnings of San Francisco’s celebrated American Conservatory Theater. Additioanlly, Goldsby was a founding director of the legendary Berkeley Stage Company (1974-1984), introducing many important new plays and playwrights to America. Since then, having re-located to Los Angeles, he has worked as actor and director at the major university and professional theatres of the region. Goldsby’s directing credits include work in New York, Paris, Marseille, San Francisco, Berkeley, and points in-between, for a total of 153 productions, including 46 plays from the classical cannon. As both director and scholar, Goldsby has been particularly devoted to Molière, and he has directed 15 productions of 11 of Molière works, some in his own translations. Goldsby has recently published his first book, Molière On Stage: What’s So Funny (Anthem Press: London). He holds a B.A. in French and Comparative Literature from Columbia and an M.F.A. in Acting from Yale. He most recently directed the ClassicsFest 2013 reading of Cyrano de Bergerac for Antaeus, starring JD Cullum.

David RodesDAVID RODES: In 1972 David Rodes received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and in 1995 he was decorated by the French government for his contributions to French intellectual activities. He has held Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and Danforth graduate fellowships and in 1968 received a Ph. D. from Stanford University in English Literature. He has taught Shakespeare and 16-18th Century Theater in UCLA’s Department of English since 1966 and has been a consultant for various international stage, film, and television projects on classical theater. In 1994 he and A. R. Braunmuller completed an influential interactive CD-ROM project on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” From 1989 – 2004, Rodes was the director of UCLA’s prestigious collection of fine art prints, drawings, and photographs, the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, located at the UCLA Hammer Museum. The Grunwald Center’s 40,000 works of art on paper include notable old master works, landscape prints and drawings, 19th-century caricature, French modernist prints and artists’ books, and German Expressionist drawings, prints, and books. Under Rodes’s directorship–and guided by the Center’s associate director and senior curator Cynthia Burlingham–the Center has produced such notable exhibitions and catalogues as “Moonlight Theater: Prints and Related Works by Carlos Almaraz” (1991); “The French Renaissance In Prints” (1994); and “Picturing Childhood: Illustrated Childrens’ Books, 1550-1990″ (1997). Rodes now sits on its board of directors.

An Academy Interlude: Hermione Man

Human Sculpture in Gender Bender Shakes 2013.

Human Sculpture in Gender Bender Shakes 2013.

In high school, like just about everyone else who has an American public school education, I was made to read Romeo and Juliet in English class.  And at some point, we were told that in Shakespeare’s day boys played the women’s roles.  Why?  Because it was illegal for women to perform onstage in Elizabethan England.  I don’t remember if an explanation was given; immorality or prostitution, religion or just plain old chauvinistic prejudice.  I do remember my fifteen year old self thinking, “What about all that kissing and stuff?”

I’m glad to say that the current, and hopefully more evolved, version of me isn’t concerned with kissing at all.  Now, after 20 years of working as an actor, my questions are about what an individual, rather than an actor of any particular sex, can bring to a role.  Did Elizabethan audiences care that they were seeing men portraying Juliet or the Nurse, Hermione or Paulina?  It was the convention of the time, after all. Did it even register that Cleopatra was a boy?  And how would I approach playing a female character if I were given the chance?

Those questions are what drew me to The Cross-Gartered Bard:  Exploring Shakespeare with Gender-Blind Eyes class, led by Rob Nagle, at Antaeus Academy.  Every Tuesday afternoon my classmates and I take on roles we would never get to otherwise perform.  And by working these roles through scenes and monologues, we gain a better understanding of our preconceptions of gender and gender roles.  We talk about how men and women move, sit, gesture; the physical aspects of each sex, but more importantly, how each approaches and works through problems, how each reacts to the world, how each thinks.

Jonathon in Coward's Private Lives

Jonathon in Coward’s Private Lives

So far, I have tried to do justice to the roles of Lady Macbeth, Hermione, Beatrice and, soon, will attempt the Nurse from R&J or Emilia from Othello (still trying to pick between the two). My male classmates have taken on Titania, Imogen and Isabella.  And then there are the women in the class who have played characters like Macbeth, Oberon, Iago and Cassio.  At first it was a struggle, I think, for most of us to get a handle on the shift in gender.  For example, I found that memorizing lines was more difficult than I usually experience, a feeling that many shared.  Each gender approaches the world from a different angle, a different power base, a different way of thinking;  because of this shift in world view, I have also had to shift my awareness as an actor in order to memorize, to try to do justice to my characters, and to think in a new way.

Chekhov's The Seagull

Chekhov’s The Seagull

Something that struck me a few weeks into the class was how we had stopped talking so much about the gender of the characters and how much more our discussions focused on their humanity.  Gender had become secondary to the truth of each moment, feeling, action and reaction, which, after all, is what we do as traditionally-cast performers.  Taking on challenges like switching gender can be intimidating and frightening. Leaping into the challenge and the fear is so much more satisfying and fun than staying in our safety zone.  Rob, and everyone associated with the class, has provided an open, positive, safe environment for our group to explore, make mistakes, and make discoveries.  In fact, I’m looking for the first opportunity to use my Hermione monologue for an audition.

 

LAMER_JonathonJonathon Lamer is currently a student with the Antaeus Academy.  He will also be appearing in our upcoming production of Corneille’s The Liar, “translapted” by David Ives and directed by Casey Stangl.  For info on our Academy classes: www.antaeus.org/theacademy. Auditions for the Fall 2013 Semester begin this weekend.

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