Unmasking The Malcontent: v. III

“Well, this disguise doth yet afford me
That which kings do seldom hear, or great men use —

Free speech.” –Malevole, THE MALCONTENT, Act I, Scene III

Swain and Cast playing The Circle Game

Staging rehearsals for The Malcontent are now well underway. We jumpstarted the process through an exercise Liz calls The Circle Game: the entire cast (both actors of each role included) would gather in a circle onstage and act out the entire play, jumping into the playing area when they are called and using the circle as audience, co-conspirators, scenery, offstage noises, etc. One scene (I’ll give you an example) involves Duke Pietro (Bill Brochtrup and Mark Doerr) hunting in the forest with his entourage of lackeys and yesmen, so the rest of us supplied the sounds of offstage huntsmen and barking dogs.

In another scene, JD Cullum (who shares the title role, Malevole, with the equally lovely Bo Foxworth) tried playing a speech to Pietro like a sermon from a revival preacher, and in dutiful turn we became his congregation. I gotta say, it’s a deliciously fun way of and getting everyone working off of each other’s energy every moment of the play, whether you’re in the scene or not. However, it’s also serving another, perhaps more practical purpose (I hope I’m not divulging some great secret here, but I’m almost too geekily excited to care if I am):

Original Blackfriars Theatre, London

It’s important we get used to having an audience on every side at every moment, since Liz and our scenic designer, Tom Buderwitz, are putting audience members on the stage with us. There will be one or two rows of spectators stage right and stage left throughout the entire play. I KNOW.

According to Liz, the common hypothesis is that a lot Jacobean drama played directly with the audience all the time. Certain stages, such as the Blackfriars Theater, are constructed that way, and furthermore the text of the plays of the era (including this one) totally supports that idea. Why fight that when you can embrace it? It’s so much more fun when you think of each speech (of which, hallelujah, there are so many) as an opportunity for the character to step out of his disguise for a moment, to get the audience on his side, to make an argument he will not make aloud for the rest of the play, or to ask for help.

Re-creation of Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA

We played the Circle Game one act at a time (there are five in this play) through the entire play, two times per act, and are now in the process of returning to each scene and re-exploring and refining those primary impulses into repeatable and sensible staging, and blending the impulses of two completely different actors into each character. I’m not going to lie; it can get a little tricky integrating individual styles and techniques in this particular way while remaining respectful of everyone’s time and creative input, but it does seem to me that the balancing act has been managed miraculously thus far by all concerned, and momentum is starting to build as we all continue to get the hang of each other.

With those wheels respectably in motion, today we start staging the dance sequences, officially put down the scripts and pick up the props, and we ladies are getting laced up into rehearsal skirts and corsetry, and yes indeed, I am most excited.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, will be sharing her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the third installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org

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Unmasking The Malcontent: v. II

“Why, man, we are all philosophical monarchs or natural fools.” Malevole, THE MALCONTENT, Act I, Scene 4


 

Tablework with cast of The Malcontent, including Abby Wilde (center)

The cast we’ve assembled is truly fantastic. It’s a wonderful mix of Company members, members of the A2 Ensemble, and illustrious guest artists, and aside from being blindingly talented, they are all delightful, lovely, and frightfully intelligent people.

 

Our first week of rehearsal has primarily been spent going through the script line by line, pencils in hand, dissecting and defining absolutely everything. The thing with classical theater is that you often find yourself working with a script that uses customs, philosophies, and language which seem utterly foreign to modern behavior. Aside from the obvious hurdle of making all of that understandable for the audience, it has to start out by being playable for us. As such, our process for this play began with two straight-forward solid read-throughs, and then roughly 2 days of line by line exploration, the sole purpose of which being to answer the question, “What am I saying here?”

It’s a question that applies to all of us, and it’s not merely a matter of the obscure words (such as Lacedaemonian and lickerous, the one being slang for “whore” and the other meaning “lustful”), but the context in which the phrase is meant (for example, we eventually concluded that the line “one man cannot deserve only to enjoy a beauteous woman” roughly translates to “one man only can not deserve to keep a beauteous woman all to himself; he ought to share” …it’s a delightful play). Our most valuable resource in all this is our wonderful dramaturg,  Antaean Christopher Breyer, who both clarifies the meaning for us and puts it in its appropriate historical context. Discussion is also open to every cast member present, whether they perform in the scene in question or not, so that we can collaboratively draw on each other’s experience.

 

More tablework, from Abby's view.

 

“What am I saying here” applies to motivation as well. It’s fascinating to watch each actors different methods of reaching their characters; for example, during table work Bill Brochtrup, who shares the role of Duke Pietro along with Mark Doerr, put the subtext and action of each line into words, revealing the dense language to be a natural reaction grounded in his reality. It sounds like this:

“My lords (listen up, I’m about to say something), the heavy action we intend
Is death and shame (this is getting real), two of the ugliest shapes
That can confound a soul. (This is a really big deal)
Think, think of it.
(Are you with me?)
…Therefore, I do conjure all secrecy; (and now I’m about to change the plan, here)
Let it be as very little as may be, (Do you understand?)
Pray ye, as may be. (Do you agree?)

I wish you could see it; it’s amazing how well it works and how clear the story becomes this way.

The last goal of the tablework is to find the holes in the script, of which there are always a few; for example, the text of King Lear does not specify exactly when and where the Fool meets his end, so our production had to fill that gap through our staging. Similar acts of ingenuity will certainly apply to The Malcontent, and tablework is the perfect place to find those trouble spots and start thinking out our solutions.

You can probably already tell, but I really love tablework; it’s not something I see done in many other places I’ve worked, but I think they’re missing out on something big. For one thing, it alleviates the danger of reaching the end of a run having never had a clue what that one odd line meant (which happens to me as often in contemporary theater as it does in classical), but for another I think it gets everyone on the same page, and helps to build that collaborative attitude you want in a large cast. We’ve kickstarted the process of creating a group interpretation of the play, so that we’ve already begun to know and trust each other before even standing on stage. As of yesterday, we have only just begun putting this play on it’s feet and it is already amazing how well we play together. The staging process continues through this next week, and I promise you shall know all.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, will be sharing her experiences working on our production of
The Malcontent . This is the second installment.

April Shakespeare Workout with Armin Shimerman!

Shakespeare Seen Through the Elizabethan World View

The class will incorporate period thinking, history, religion, language and the classical study of rhetoric and context. You will be given a method of approaching ANY English classical playwright, and an acting technique that will help you explore character and convey meaning to a modern audience. Class will focus on monologue study.

 

Classes will take place Tuesday afternoons,
April 5-26 from 1:30-5:00pm.

For more information:
Deirdre Murphy, Artistic Coordinator, at deirdre@antaeus.org


About Armin Shimerman:

Armin Shimerman

With a degree in English from UCLA, Armin Shimerman apprenticed at the San Diego Old Globe Theater and eventually took over the lead comic roles. He emigrated to New York where within a year he was performing for Joseph Papp in the highly acclaimed production of “3 Penny Opera” at Lincoln Center. Armin went on to work many years on Broadway in “St. Joan” with Lynn Redgrave at the Circle in the Square, “Broadway” with Teri Garr and Glen Close, and finally Richard Rogers’ last musical “I Remember Mama.” Years of work in Regional Theater followed including Stage West, Connecticut Shakespeare Festival, Vermont Champlain Shakespeare Festival, Indiana Repertory, Rutgers’ Mason Gross Theater, Los Angeles Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Tyrone Guthrie Theater, Seattle’s ACT, and the San Diego Repertory Theatre production of “King Lear”. He was nominated for lead performance by the prestigious Los Angeles Ovation Awards for his performance in Pinter’s “The Birthday Party” at the Matrix Theatre. Last year, he returned to San Diego Rep. to play the lead in “Seafarer” and for his performance won the San Diego Critics Award.

Armin moved to Los Angeles in the early 80’s, where he started his television and film career. He has guest starred in over 80 different TV shows and had major recurring roles as Pascal in Beauty and the Beast, Cousin Bernie in Brooklyn Bridge, Tommy Walker in the Invisible Man, Judge Hooper on Boston Legal and, of course, Principal Snyder in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, he is perhaps best known to the public for his seven years as the incorrigible QUARK on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Mr. Shimerman is also a published author: The “34th Rule” ,“Merchant Prince,” “Outrrageous Fortune,” A Capital Offense” . His writings are a product of years of teaching Elizabethan Rhetoric to classical actors and a lifelong study of Shakespeare. Among others, he has taught at UCLA, The Guthrie Theatre, Theatricum Botanicum, the High School for the Performing Arts, Claremont College, and Antaeus. He has directed several of the Bard’s plays. He is currently a board member and director for the Antaeus Theatre Company, L.A.’s classical company.

 

Karianne Flaathen and “The Typists”

Karianne Flaathen is a member of the A2 Ensemble, and the project initiator of the upcoming Last Call for Theater production of The Typists by Murray Schisgal. We’ve asked Karianne a series of questions about her project to allow our friends to get familiar with this upcoming show. We are certainly excited about it!

A2 Ensemble Member, Karianne Flaathen. Photo by Geoffrey Wade

The Typists is not a widely known play. What attracted you to it?

I was first introduced to The Typists through its companion piece The Tiger a few years ago. The Tiger is just so raw and compelling, with great humor as well as an underlying danger throughout. It’s a great piece, which deals with the everyman, his sense of failure (both within himself and from society as a whole), as well as the class difference between him and the female character in it. So after that, I couldn’t put the book down. I was further inspired and moved by The Typists, because it’s really a play that I think everyone, no matter where they’re from or what their social background is, can relate to on some level. I think that’s what attracts me to it, besides being brilliantly written! It deals with universal human issues – and what is really interesting too, is that Schisgal’s work (including these two pieces) was first produced in London in 1960. It then continued to be produced all over Europe, as well as Israel, before it finally made it to New York in 1963. As a newcomer at the time, he found it pretty much impossible to get in the door here at home, so on his way through London one summer, without much optimism, he handed in a couple of his short plays to a small theatrical group there. He was completely surprised when they contacted him almost at once telling him his pieces would be produced–and then they kept asking for more!

What themes in The Typists do you find to be the most compelling?

Oh, there are so many… I suppose the tragicomedy aspect of it is one part. The sense of having dreams and aspirations, but not fulfilling them. The sense of love and loss and trying to carve out one’s own identity while society and other family members’ influences loom large. Wanting to hide, wanting to get away, or simply just wanting something ELSE, but not knowing exactly what, or how to find it… Feeling paralyzed within society, just unable to move in any direction.

These are issues relatable to most people I think, or certainly to me!

What do you most look forward to when working on this play?

I think… all of the above! And also the physical aspects of the play, and really using the language. Exploring all the relationships – the one on stage and the many off-stage ones… It’s just a really juicy piece, with lots of layers. It’s a real privilege to work on this kind of material, especially with the caliber of people I get to work with on this particular production – the great team behind the scenes, as well as my co-actor, Drew Doyle, and then being directed by Rob Nagle. It’s just a real privilege all around!

What do you think makes this play relevant today?

On the dust jacket of the first edition of this play, The Typists is described as: “timeless in its vision of human suffering and aspiration” – I suppose that kind of says it all. It really is timeless, and will always be relevant in the same way Chekhov will always be relevant. It quite simply deals with the human condition of the everyman, with the ups and the downs, the tragedy and the comedy, love, laughter, tears and regrets – it never gets old.

Flaathen, performing with Antaeus. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

Is there anything about this play that poses a particular challenge for you?

Besides the whole thing??!! I suppose the aging aspect of it. The play moves through time, so finding the subtle nuances of the changing physicality that comes with that aging. When you’re not yet old, I think it can be easy to fall into a mannered idea of what ‘old’ looks and feels like – so trying to avoid that will be a definite challenge!

How long have you worked with The Antaeus Company?

I was first made aware of Antaeus when I moved to LA in 2006. Daniel Bess, who I went to college with, told me about the company and invited me to attend a ClassicsFest rehearsal he was in – I then attended two of his staged readings, and promptly came back to see more and more! I knew after that summer that this was a place I wanted to be a part of, on whatever level they would let me, so I got on their mailing list and nearly a year later I received an e-mail about forthcoming auditions for Classical Styles. Thankfully they accepted me into the class, and then I was asked to join A2 in 2008!

What do you most enjoy about the experience you have had with Antaeus?

The sense of community, and having an artistic base. That’s always something that was missing for me before. Acting is an unpredictable life and business at the best of times, so to have some kind of a constant in the midst of it all, and to be around people who know and trust your work, and you theirs, is invaluable! AND being able to work on some of the best plays ever written – whether through fully staged readings, or just sitting in the library among other actors whose work always inspires you – is just always a true gift!

Starring Karianne Flaathen and Drew Doyle, directed by Antaeus Company Member Rob Nagle. Performances run April 7th, 8th and 9th at 11:00pm, and April 10th at 2:00pm. Reservations are free. For tickets: www.antaeus.org

Unmasking The Malcontent: v.I

Antaeus began rehearsals for The Malcontent this week, the first production of our 2011 / 20th Anniversary Season. A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, has joined the cast, and will be sharing her experiences working on this production. We at Antaeus think this is a great way for our friends and patrons to get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes process of getting a production up and running. Here is the first installment of Abby’s blog series:

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde Photo: Karianne Flaathen

This week, we begin rehearsals for John Marston’s The Malcontent, the first play of the upcoming season at The Antaeus Company, and I must tell you all: I am feeling mighty excited. Since first taking Classical Styles with Antaeus in 2008, I’ve played in a ton of readings, workshops, and 2nd stage productions, but The Malcontent is my first step onto the Mainstage, which will be different than anything I’ve done here before. For starters, we’ll have a much longer run than I’m used to, and we’ll have a set built especially for us. But the aspect that’s the most new and unknown to me is that it will be my first time working with the Antaeus double-casting system.

It works like this: Antaeus is a large company filled with immensely talented professional actors, which presents two major problems. First, you have more talent to choose from than you would under normal circumstances get to use, and secondly, anyone in your cast might be called away to another gig at any time during the run of the show (lots of the company members have recurring or series regular roles on popular TV shows, for instance — Susan Sullivan, Emily Bergl, and own humble self to name but a few). So Antaeus has made double-casting an official part of it’s process: two actors share a role, getting an equal number of performances (nobody’s in the “B Cast” and nobody’s an “understudy”), and stepping in and out of either cast as professional circumstances demand. The other major advantage is that throughout the rehearsal process you and your double get to share developments to your character that you might never have found on your own, allowing you to deepen and develop your character in all sorts of new and exciting sorts of ways. Not only are you allowed to steal insights from another actor, it’s practically required.

Abby as the Foley Artist for "The Thin Man" Photo: Geoffrey Wade

I’ve been cast in the role of Emilia, a role I’m sharing with the brilliant and lovely Joanna Strapp. Emilia is a young lady in the court, constantly in the company of her best friend Bianca (Blythe Auffarth and Marisol Ramirez) and her mentor in all things gossip and intrigue, Maquerelle (Saundra McClain and Lynn Milgrim). I’ve begun to privately think of the three of them as castmembers of “The Real Housewives of Genoa.” We’ll see if I’m right when rehearsals are underway. For now, though, I’m afraid that’s all from me; it’s a great big world out there with lines to learn and essays on Jacobean drama to read. See you next week!

The Antaeus Company announces 2011 Line-Up

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lucy Pollak (for media only)
(818) 887-1499 lucy@lucypr.com

Hot on the heels of LADCC Award for “Outstanding Season” in 2010, The Antaeus Company announces 2011 line-up.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA – March 16 2011 – The Antaeus Company will offer double-cast productions of The Malcontent by John Marston and Peace in Our Time by Noël Coward in 2011, as well as a new installment of ClassicsFest, Antaeus’ signature, six-week festival of classical work. Presenting classical plays in Los Angeles since 1991, the company known as L.A.’s classical theater ensemble offered an inaugural season in 2010 that garnered the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle’s (LADCC) Polly Warfield Award for Outstanding Season at last Monday’s awards ceremony.

“This year, once again, we chose productions based on ongoing work we’ve been developing over the past year or two,” explains Antaeus artistic director Jeanie Hackett. The Malcontent was the hit of last summer’s ClassicsFest; and we’ve been working on Peace in our Time for over two years. Both plays use a wide range of actors, and are great vehicles for our ensemble company. And this summer’s ClassicsFest is full of gems-in-process.”

The Malcontent is John Marston’s viciously funny, filthy and surprising Jacobean masterpiece. The former Duke of Genoa takes the disguise of the outrageous Malevole (the titular Malcontent) to spy on the corrupt foibles of the new Duke and his unctuous cronies. Disguises, false deaths, seductions, deceptions, and adulteries all drive the plot of this enormously entertaining play. Elizabeth Swain will direct. Performances will take place May 5 through June 19, with previews beginning April 28.

Until now a biennial event, Antaeus’ popular festival of the classics, the vehicle through which the company develops much of its work, is going annual. Classicsfest 2011 marks Antaeus’ sixth, six-week “smorgasbord” of actor-initiated workshops, readings, and special events: a different project will take place almost every night of each week, July 12 through August 19.
Peace in Our Time is Noël Coward’s one and only anti-war propaganda play. Directed by Casey Stangl and choreographed by Harry Groener (recipient of the LADCC award for Performance for the title role in last season’s production of King Lear), Antaeus presents a new adaptation by company member Barry Creyton of this rare Coward work that has never before been produced in the U.S. What might life in England have been like if the Nazis had won the Battle of Britain? Performances are set for October 20 through December 11, with previews beginning October 13.

The Antaeus Company strives to keep classical theater vibrantly alive by presenting professional productions with a top-flight ensemble company of actors. Taking their company name from the Titan who gained strength by touching the Earth, Antaeus members – many of whom are familiar to movie and television audiences – regain creative strength by returning to the wellspring of their craft: live theater performances of great classical plays. All Antaeus productions are fully double cast, with two equally talented actors sharing every role. This means that audiences rarely see an understudy and frequently come back to see each show a second time in order to see the same play in the hands of an equally good but very different set of actors. Members of the company and its board span a wide range of age, ethnicity and experience; they have performed on Broadway, at major regional theaters across the country, in film and television, and on local stages, and are the recipients of multiple accolades including Tony, Los Angeles and New York Drama Critics Circle, Ovation, LA Weekly, and Back Stage Garland nominations and awards.

For more information about The Antaeus Company and the 2011 Season, call 818-506-5436 or visit online at www.antaeus.org.

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