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.

Moderating “The Classical Cure”

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it, but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour.  The search is your task.” – Harold Pinter

Janellen Steininger in the CF2013 reading of Little Women. Photo by G. Wade

Janellen Steininger in the CF2013 reading of Little Women. Photo by G. Wade

This past May, I attended the Antaeus Academy auditions. I enjoy taking part in the evaluation, whether or not I am going to teach for the upcoming term, in order to meet the potential incoming students, and observe my colleagues work with them.  I was particularly interested in Ron Orbach’s interaction with the auditionees.  He was scheduled to lead a new class: Take Two Aeschylus and Call Me in the Morning … The Classical Cure.  It was a pretty daunting undertaking to lead a class to diagnose and tackle the particular challenges and obstacles each student felt was holding him or her back in their craft.  “He’s a braver man than I,” I thought.  Then, as so often happens at Antaeus, Ron booked a job at the last minute -in this case, the Broadway show: THE SOUL DOCTOR,-  which prevented him from moderating the course. So the very morning of the first class, I was notified that Rob Nagle and I would switch in to moderate the first session.

It doesn't get more collaborative than this.

Janellen & Rob teach. It doesn’t get more collaborative than this. Crappy iPhone photo by D. Murphy

That evening was great.  Rob and I volleyed the comments, warm up exercises, and feedback on the students’ first monologues back and forth by the seat of our pants, and we complemented each other’s work with the actors.  The actors in the class were extremely straightforward and candid about their goals and what they felt were their shortcomings. Some common threads from their issues included trusting themselves and their skill, harnessing their fear and letting go, commitment to the process, and getting out of their own ways.  After this first class, it was decided that I would helm the course, as Rob already had a class to teach for the term and had prior commitments, which would conflict with some of the sessions.  He would join me to moderate when he could.

Janellen teaches "The Classical Cure"

Janellen teaches “The Classical Cure”

I felt a tremendous responsibility to honor the students’ commitment to face their demons and work toward releasing their best art – their best selves as an actor.  And this is where communicating the craft of acting, of expressing the emotional core and intent of a character, can be the most abstruse. It’s not easy to articulate the intangible processes of such intricate work; therefore clarity in my comments to the class would be imperative.  I instructed the students that when I comment on their efforts or offer adjustments, the question “Does that make sense?” is not rhetorical; they mustn’t let me go on unless we’ve connected!  I have found that no matter the era or style of a play and its unique demands, our approach as actors to the characters and their circumstances must be grounded in emotional reality. I feel that the great pleasure for actors is digging, exploring, and discovering what the text reveals and then connecting that to our own inner intuitive inner life and imagination. This “geekery”, as I fondly call it, is nurtures the freedom to grow in a role and live in the play, and here at Antaeus it this is part of the process that fortifies our ensemble.

J. Steininger in our 2012 production of You Can't Take It With You. Photo by. K. Flaathen

J. Steininger in our 2012 production of You Can’t Take It With You. Photo by K. Flaathen

Everyone in “The Classical Cure” class has been eager and willing to take the plunge to deeply probe not only the texts of the assigned scenes and monologues, but also the depths of their own emotional core.  We also flex the instruments of their work – their bodies, voices and imaginations- with exercises to keep them strong and pliable.

 In the past several weeks I have witnessed some frustration and fear, yes, but also overwhelmingly, courage and breakthroughs from every actor in the class.

Fears, obstacles and bad habits are gradually giving way to risks, stumbles, laughter, and a lot of huge steps forward. The line between “moderator” and “student” has become blurred as I continue to learn from them how to communicate, to commit, and importantly, how to stifle the demons and release the joy of acting.  Thanks Ron Orbach, and Break A Leg, and thanks to my students for your perseverance to reach that elusive emotional truth in drama.

STEININGER_JANELLENAntaean Janellen Steininger is the current moderator for “Take Two Aeschylus and Call Me in the Morning: The Classical Cure.” Last year, she introduced our students to Absurdism.  Auditions for our Fall 2013 Classes begin next week: http://www.antaeus.org/theacademy for more info.

Anna’s Summer Adventure

Our summer intern, Anna, is with us for 10 weeks, and this week marks her halfway point! Needless to say, we’re a little sad that it’s going by so quickly.  To cheer ourselves up, we asked Anna a few questions about herself.  Answers below!

AC: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, but moved around a bit (Malaysia, New Mexico) and ended up in Southern California to go to school.

(Ladies and Gentlemen, she acts too!)

(Ladies and Gentlemen, she acts too!)

AC: How did you get involved with theater?

When I was younger, I remember attending rehearsals with my dad. He was very involved in community theatre where we lived in Greenville, SC and was in quite a few shows. The first show I remember was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He played Reuben and of course had quite the Southern drawl.  I was a pretty shy kid so I never really interacted with anyone. I just liked to sit back and watch. Even as a kid, I can recall that my favorite part about live theater was watching all of the pieces come together. For weeks the actors would learn their lines and blocking while the sets were being constructed and the costumes sewn together. Then one day everything magically came together and everyone is singing “Any Dream Will Do”.

AC: Tell us a little bit about things you do and adventures you like to take.

My kind of adventures include road trips, traveling, cliff jumping, kayaking, thrift shopping, and going to see lots of live theatre like the Hollywood Fringe. My independent nature tends to seek adventure everywhere and there is so much to learn. One of my biggest adventures occurred in Sydney, when I left my university for a year to study theatre there. This experience changed my life and I am so grateful for the opportunity. My current adventure involves writing reviews for the Fringe Festival while working at Antaeus while I figure out what’s next. 

AC: What’s your background in theatre?

I grew up attending community theater rehearsals with my dad and I think the spark just grew from there. I love learning everything there is to know about theatre. I have experience in stage management, directing, producing design, and acting. I love being challenged to try new things and I see myself as a “filler.” This is a term that I came up with to describe my willingness to do anything that is needed for a successful production, even if that means I have to do outside research and learn a new task.  I honestly never thought I could make a career out of theatre, but there are so many opportunities.

AC: How did you discover Antaeus?

I walked by Antaeus last year while attending a Hollywood Fringe show actually. I was headed towards J.E.T. Studios and saw a crowd of people lined up so I thought this was for the show I was seeing. To my dismay, I was a few doors down from where I was meant to be, but this led to a new discovery. After a bit of research and the recommendation from the Theatre @ Boston Court and my friend Dennis Baker, I decided to apply for their LA Arts County Internship position.

BCAC: Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing at Antaeus this summer.

As the production intern at Antaeus, I will be stage managing part two of the season’s Classic Fest as well as some other office and production work. I am looking forward to sitting in on classes and play readings to see how the company’s process works. I have already had the privilege of spying in on a Cross-Gartered Bard class and it’s amazing what happens with Shakespeare does a little gender twist. Their artistic collaboration with classic texts and modern storytelling techniques are very inspirational and enlightening.  I am also in love with the company’s library and can’t wait to spend a lot of time in it.

AC: How has the internship been going so far?

Having to stage manage four productions at once is not the easiest task, but I have enjoyed getting to know so many talented people. There are always things happening at Antaeus, from classes, to readings and rehearsals and it has been fun observing. I have learned a lot about initiating project with fellow enthusiasts in order to get a show up.

AC: What is your favorite thing about Antaeus?

I have loved watching the process that Antaeus takes to produce projects. It is very much a collaborative and lengthy once, but each show is rooted in the passion of the company. First a play proposal goes through a First Read where the play’s initiator rounds up a group to sit and read the play and discuss it. If a project has good reviews it then moves onto ClassicsFest for a staged reading of the show. Each stage allows for a better understanding of the play among the whole company for better or for worse.

AC: What is your favorite play, and why?

This is a multi-faceted question because there are so many different types of “favorite”.

(We wish this were her production of The Tempest. Goth Shakes)

(We wish this were her production of The Tempest. Goth Shakes)

My favorite play that I have performed in was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This particular production was a devising project that used Shakespeare’s text as a foundation for the show. We incorporated acrobatics, puppetry, original music, but kept the original language and toured to local high schools. I was not the biggest fan of the script at the beginning of the process, but the more we dove into the text, the more I came to love it. I also appreciated the ensemble atmosphere of the rehearsal space and left inspired to create new works.

The Children at the Theatre @ Boston Court was the most beautiful production I have ever been a part of. It was so intricately designed. Every technical element pointed to something different in the story, whether it was the car door masking fridge or the storm sound effects reflecting that of a drowning steel object, everything had purpose. I’m not going to lie, even I didn’t understand half of it until about 4 weeks into the show, but I am so glad I was able to be a part of this wonderful team.

I was fortunate to attend a Sport for Jove production, Macbeth, while I was in Sydney and that is by far the best production I have ever seen. This company performs site specific theatre all around the city, producing phenomenal works performed by talented actors. This particular production was set during World War II on a farm. The war scenes took place in the farm’s barn and the audience was seated on hay barrels in the middle of the fight! We then followed Macbeth back to his home and sat on his porch listening to the family and neighbors unravel all that happened. I had never been engulfed in story until this show.

 The Cagebirds by David Campton was my favorite piece to direct. It is a avant-garde piece reflecting what happens when someone questions the majority. I placed the six main women in a locked room with a barred window set in the 50s. Each was obsessed with some womanly chore and planted on a stool. As the women became agitated by new ideas they caused havoc in the room ultimately leading to a murder. I don’t want to be a director that continues to recycle the same show over and over again, but I would love the opportunity to direct it again, especially now that I have more experience.

Buried Child by Sam Shepard, Miss Julie by Strindberg and Gross Und Klein by Botho Strauss are also on my favorites list.

Anna headshotAnna Hodgson is The Antaeus Company’s LA Arts Commission 2013 Summer Intern. She recently graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a B.A. in Theater Arts.

This Summer: ClassicsFest 2013 Part Two!

This summer, take a little break from the Salem witch trials.  Antaeus presents to you staged readings on all sorts of topics: angry young men, assassination, architecture, megalomania, idealism… and extremely large noses.  Join us for ClassicsFest Part Two!

Bess_DanielJun 23 & 24*, 7pm
LOOK BACK IN ANGER by John Osborne
Initiated by Daniel Bess & Linda Park, Directed by Jamie Wollrab

Park_LindaLook Back in Anger, written by John Osborne, first premiered at London’s Royal Court in 1956, where it was met with harsh criticism for its incendiary treatment of highly autobiographical material. According to Alan Stilltoe – another writer of the time – “John Osbourne didn’t contribute to British Theatre, he set up a landmine and blew it up.”  The piece, which gifted us with the moniker “angry young man,” still resonates today with its dissection of that ineffable longing to be loved.

*6pm Potluck Supper before the Monday performance.  In the Antaeus library. $15 donation or bring a dish!

Nagle_Rob 2013Jun 30 & July 1, 7p
OUR AMERICAN HAMLET by Jake Broder
Initiated by Rob Nagle, Directed by Darin Anthony

1866. Broadway. Edwin Booth, the greatest actor of the nineteenth century, prepares to take the stage as Hamlet, less than a year after his brother assassinated President Lincoln.  This brand new play from the mind of playwright Jake Broder begs the question: for the past century and a half, have we been blaming the wrong brother?

ERB_Nicole 2012July 7 & 8, 7pm
THE MASTER BUILDER
by Henrik Ibsen
Initiated by Nicole Erb & Elizabeth Swain, Directed by Elizabeth Swain

Swain_ElizabethHenrik Ibsen’s tale of ambition, madness and desire.  At the height of architect Halvard Solness’ power and success, a mysterious young woman appears, forcing him to face both the consequences of his quest for greatness and his growing fear that his creative powers are dwindling. Since its publication in 1892, some have argued that this is Ibsen’s most autobiographical play. Some insist it is merely a psychological study of one man’s rise to and fall from power. Join us for a reading of this extraordinary work and decide for yourself.

Cullum_JD_July 14 & 15, 7pm
CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostand, adapted by Emily Frankel
Initiated by JD Cullum, Directed by Robert Goldsby

Cyrano is a disappointed idealist. Dealt an unlucky hand in the nose department, he’s like a traumatized teenager who “just can’t deal.” Cyrano is also a figure of outsized proportions:  an intrepid warrior, an impromptu poet and an altruist… but with a tragic failing.  In a lean adaptation by playwright Emily Frankel, performed by a cast of sixteen, the fate of this extraordinary man is written in his own words: “The nose is the man… is Cyrano!”

http://www.antaeus.org for more information
Suggested donation: $10

A Game Called Life: Aggeler Arts Education Program

by John Prosky, Company Member

Every day we play a game called life.
It’s a battle between Lucifer and Jesus
The messed up thing is we’re the pieces
And during war, there is no recess….

Antaean Kitty Swink coaches Aggeler student

Antaean Kitty Swink coaches Aggeler student

-Brandon, Aggeler Student

In their own words, the young men of Aggeler are from a place of “carrying a weapon to be safe,” yet they’re also from “video games and imagination.”  The same young man in a certain moment of the class will strike you as a boy and in the next moment strike you as a man.  In the span of two minutes one of these young men can go from making a remarkably insightful and intelligent observation about Shakespeare to fighting with another guy over a chair he claimed he was sitting in. They are not in a lockdown prison, yet by law they are considered “incarcerated.” In fact, almost everything about these young men is in a state of constant flux.  The only thing that is consistent about them…truly consistent… is their willingness to tell the truth about themselves (even though they are not always willing to tell the truth about why they are late or what happened to their notebook and I’m sure a bevy of other things).  That willingness to tell the truth about their addiction, their abuse, their crimes, or parental neglect is an act of searching.  Because the example of “character” in their lives is so inconsistent, it seems to me that must be what they are searching for.  By character, I do not mean the actor’s definition of the word, I mean “character” in the Dr. Martin Luther King definition of the word; as in “The content of…..”

Sample NotebookOur work and lesson plan with these young men has two focuses.  One focus is exposure to Shakespeare, and we do that with the best Antaeus has to offer – its actors. The Antaeus team picks a character’s subplot from one of Shakespeare’s plays – one that we think these young men can relate to – and then we come into the facility and two or three Antaeus actors perform that character’s soliloquies and scenes.  We then ask the young men to write in first person about what they just saw.  We do improvs and theater games based on the character’s experiences and struggles, and start a discussion about the moral lesson that Shakespeare was trying to explore with this given character.

Over the past four years of our program, subplots touched on include: the step brothers Edmund and Edgar from King Lear, Macbeth from Macbeth, and the character arc of Prince Hal from three of Shakespeare’s history plays: Henry 4 Part 1, Henry 4 Part 2 and Henry 5. Our Antaeus actors performed Prince Hal’s full character arc from party-boy drunk who hangs out with the wrong guys (the ones who convince Prince Hal to join them in a mugging) to the Hero-King who delivers the St. Crispin’s Day speech.   In the pure pedagogy of studying Shakespeare, these young men get something that all teenagers sitting in an English classes studying Shakespeare don’t get.  They get to study Shakespeare through the component of performance.

I guess if you tell a kid he’s nothing but useless
He’s gonna grow up abused and useless
In art – me and Edmund are alike
I’d be called a bastard if lived then right
I’ll admit I’m a barn accident
But I was born of nature a strong creator
And Shakespeare I feel my Edmund’s pain
The only thing I got from my father was his last name
And my stepbrother gets more love it’s insane.
And to think today you love all your kids the same
So Bill since you’re sitting in the corner
If Edmund don’t get a happy ending you’re a goner

-2009 Response to Edmund in King Lear

Ramón de Ocampo explains Shakespeare

Ramón de Ocampo explains Shakespeare

Our other focus is an exercise we call “event that changed my life.” All of us have those defining moments when something significant happens, or we make a decision that changes our life.  Those events define us.  These young men have a lot of those events, MANY more than other young men their age.  For this exercise, we ask the students to write that life-changing event down in class using two sensory memories from that event. Then we pair them up, and they share the events with the group – the idea is that each guy tells tell his partner’s life-changing event as if it were his own.  In other words, they tell their partner’s story to the group in the first person.  This exercise teaches what an actor does: he embodies someone else’s story. The more fully the actor does that, the better an actor he is.  There is also a therapeutic side to this exercise; in these populations of at-risk young men, it builds a sense of empathy.

20130524174906In the ten years I have led this exercise, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a young man discover something hugely significant.

Program cover for the final culmination, drawn by an Aggeler student

Program cover for the final culmination, drawn by an Aggeler student

They talk about a sudden recognition of the consequences of their actions, they comfort each other if one of them breaks down, and most importantly they realize that the guy who they previously considered the “other”(different race, rival gang member, just someone they hate, etc.) is someone who has the same problems, issues, dreams, and heartbreak as they have.

If part of the “content of character” for a young man includes the knowledge of self and empathy for others, then Shakespeare and the theater is a good tool for these brave young men to start their search.

Presume not,
that who I was is me,

‘Cause I can be, whatever it is,
I want to be.

-Chorus Hook for Culmination Performance

Prosky_JohnAntaeus Company Member John Prosky heads up our Arts Education programming at William Tell Aggeler Opportunity High School, an ongoing class that uses Shakespeare to reach at-risk youths. 

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