Antaeus Diary: Gregory Itzin on KING LEAR

For the last several months, Antaeus Shakespeare Thursdays have been focused on KING LEAR. While not officially billed as preparation for our Summer 2010 production of KING LEAR, having the chance to delve deeply into the text will only enrich our work when it comes time to mount the play.

Ensemble company member Gregory Itzin initiated the LEAR sessions, which began with a full down & dirty reading of the play. After that, we spent each LEAR night combing through the text, inch by inch, exploring, debating, laughing and – often – surprising ourselves with where the discussions led. Now that the process is coming to a close tonight with our last LEAR session, I asked Greg to lay down some candid thoughts about the journey…which in turn yield some interesting insights into the Antaean process.

~Tamara

At the beginning of the process of working on Lear I felt that I/we could be on a bit of a mission. This is, after all, a classical company, and as I said in an opening email salvo in a looonnnnng missive about “mission statement” and objectives (not always realized but I have always enjoyed where it has gone week by week), a Classical Company SHOULD be working on arguably THE master theatrical work in the English language. I wanted to dig deep, as deep as time and inclination and focus and ability would allow, and I figured the Antaeus crowd was just the group to tackle it.

The first hurdle, and perhaps the toughest one to clear, was casting the first, cold, reading. The personnel shifted right up to the evening of the event, and, as I recall, some people were pressed into service with little or no prep. But the first night’s reading went swimmingly, perhaps as well or better than could have been hoped for, and everyone seemed energized by the outing.

Since then, in a way, it has been harder to muster the kind of, oh, let us say drive and ego excitement that a “performance” has built-in, because everyone likes to do their work for an audience. “Just” coming and doing text work, with no immediate production in mind, made it a bit more difficult to excite people into showing up and participating.

Also, I think people thought that they could come and would come later, or somewhere along the way, and many did make it a sporadic habit. But after you miss X amount of the event, I think it gets harder to make yourself come. “They’ll be so far ahead of me.” “I don’t want to feel I am coming late to the party.” This and time and schedules that are all over the map: it is a company of, hopefully, working actors after all.

BUT every week yielded some tremendously valuable or at least scintillating information, many things were learned, and, fortunately, the presence of always a core contingency kept the momentum going forward. Also, the fact that Dakin [Matthews] came in with his wealth of knowledge and his experience with the play itself was a joyous addition to the goings on. Armin [Shimerman] and Peter Van Norden’s presences in the early goings were a steadying, insightful help, as they have invaluable experience with the piece and definite opinions about how to skin the cat. Everybody’s input and curiousity and enthusiasm and talent and expertise as Shakespearean actors and just plain actors was a joy to behold. This is quite a bunch.

SO we learned a lot, or talked a lot, uncovered many approaches to many characters. How much of this will stay in the brain pan remains to be seen, but a worthier undertaking I cannot quite imagine. It was always a place to go to do something different than anything else I was/am doing with my life. AND working on something I love in a way I love is pretty damn special.

So I thank one and all for being excited by the project and for the approbation I received, since I am writing this, after all. I hope, and I sense it was, a worthwhile use of your talent and time.

Sincerely, and with love and respect,
Gregory Itzin

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