Initiating Macbeth

Mirron Willis & Rob Nagle in Les Blancs, CF10

There’s a tradition at Antaeus that gave me pause when I arrived here a month ago and that’s the tradition of Project Initiator. While we list each project’s initiator in all of our marketing materials, we rarely explain what exactly it means. Next week’s Work in Process is “Macbeth” (is it ok to type that in a theater???) and Rob Nagle, both Macbeth himself and the Project Initiator, helped me understand this concept and why it’s such a fundamental part of our work here. “One of the most empowering parts of being a member of the Antaeus Company is the ability to initiate a project. Since the star of our company is the acting ensemble itself, we are encouraged to find projects for the ensemble. It doesn’t matter whether they are obscure works or famous ones. In order for us to start the process of exploring a work, the project has to have an initiator — I guess you could think of me as Macbeth’s sponsor.”

For this play in particular, Rob was able to point to the exact moment when he knew “Macbeth” was right for Antaeus. “I was standing around with three fellow company members in one of their kitchens during a birthday party in January. We were brainstorming about some of the projects that were being considered for the coming season, and I was confused by some of the choices that were in the running for possible productions,” Rob told me. When one of his friends asked what production he’d like to do, his immediate response was “Macbeth.” As the rest of his friends all signaled their excitement, he knew it was a good idea. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment idea though. “I’d been thinking of and hoping to revisit the play somehow. My wife has been gently nudging me for the past several years. I had the good fortune to explore the Scottish play when I was an undergraduate at Northwestern University, in a production under the direction of Bud Beyer. That must’ve been 1991 or so. It’s such an amazing gift to revisit it twenty years later, and to find more & more layers to a play I thought I knew rather well.”

Rob joked of initiating “Macbeth” that “I suppose it means you can lay the blame squarely on me if you don’t like what you see,” but even he has to admit everything Antaeus does is a collaboration, even from the point of view of the project initiator. He spoke highly of Jessica Kubzansky, the director of “Macbeth,” and how grateful he was to have the opportunity to work with her. “I also owe a huge debt to two actresses at Antaeus who’ve given of their time and explored this play with me in the past several months: Avery Clyde & Dana Green. I’m a very lucky man, and a very lucky actor.”

I found myself remembering how much I too love “Macbeth” as I listened to Rob’s comments on the play and the process thus far. One of the greatest things about seeing an Antaeus production during ClassicsFest is this shared discovery or re-discovery of a great work and that passion starts with the initiation of the piece and doesn’t stop until the journey is complete. As Rob himself said, “I am falling in love with the play all over again. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Summer Intern and Columbia University MFA Candidate Jen Hoguet is keeping you up-to-date on all things ClassicsFest this summer at Antaeus. She can be reached via email at jen@antaeus.org or followed on twitter @JHoToGo …..

Tweeting in the Theater.. Yay or Nay?

Trying to find innovative ways to market classic theater is no mean feat and it’s something we all struggle with Antaeus. As I was checking in with Kendra Chell, who is appearing in next week’s performance of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” our conversation couldn’t help but stray to her day job as Company and Administrative Manager of Antaeus. That means the duty typically falls to her figure out how to attract new audiences to Antaeus shows. If you follow us on twitter, you’ve been following her. In addition to being a talented actress (If you don’t believe me, watch her steal the scenes she has in “Long Day’s…”), Kendra is passionate about Antaeus shows reaching as wide an audience as possible. As the person who sits next to her, I can vouch for how hard she works in pursuit of this goal.

Kendra Chell in 2008's ClassicsFest production of The Rover

One of Kendra’s latest ideas is our Tuesday Night Tweet Night. All Tuesday nights during ClassicsFest are Company Nights, open only to Antaeus Company members. These Company Nights are a great way for everybody to come together and support each other’s work. Plus, it’s always nice to have an audience to laugh and cheer during the final dress rehearsal (I accidentally typed “stress rehearsal,” which I think is Freudian.). We’re taking advantage of these evenings, an amalgamation of an actual performance and a rehearsal, to try out live tweeting. Every Tuesday night, we have a crew of Antaeus tweeters, give or take a few special guests, live tweet the performance. This means they tweet their comments on the show as it’s actually happening. Maybe they quote a line, maybe they note a particularly fantastic performance of a scene, maybe they just want to remind all people in the tweetverse that Harry Groener, who is playing Feste in “Twelfth Night,” recurred on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” They can tweet whatever they want, so long as they tag it with the hashtag “#cf11” which allows all the tweets to be linked up (Check out Tweeting 101 and Twitter Glossary if this is all Greek to you.). In order to keep disruption to a minimum, all the tweeters sit in the back row, so the light won’t bother other audience members or actors on stage, and they keep the phones on silent.

Kendra was inspired by other theaters around the country to bring Tweet Nights to Antaeus and I think it’s a great idea. Already, it’s inspired discussions on twitter about Antaeus and we think these discussions are encouraging new people to check out our theater. Unfortunately, not every actor agrees and there’s been some unexpectedly passionate pushback from the company. “I think people liken it to answering their phone or a phone going off in the theater, which I’m not a fan of either,”  Kendra said, “but there have been some very very strong reactions that do surprise me, bordering on absolute fury, and it’s been interesting.” However, management has taken the stance that we need to forge ahead with this new initiative and we’ve done everything possible to make the actors understand why it is we’re trying this and why we think it’s important. As Kendra put it, “on the whole, people have been supportive once we’ve had our conversations about it though and once I explain that it brings awareness to the company and about ClassicsFest and doesn’t degrade their art.”

Kendra is appearing in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” which will be our third go at the Tuesday Night Tweet Night and I asked if she was nervous to be on the other side of the twitter feed, so to speak. “As the person that’s implemented it, I feel pretty okay with, though if they got to sit in the front row and tweet whenever wherever, as opposed to a controlled environment on a designated evening, I’d have a problem with it. It’s interesting with ‘Long Day’s…’ because it’s a long, heartbreaking play, whereas the other two shows we’ve already done are on the lighter side. I’m curious to see what they choose to comment on.”

What do you think about Tuesday Night Tweet Night? We’d love to hear your thoughts! And if you’re interested in becoming a Tuesday Night Tweeter, please DM our twitter account @AntaeusCompany.

Summer Intern and Columbia University MFA Candidate Jen Hoguet is keeping you up-to-date on all things ClassicsFest this summer at Antaeus. She can be reached via email at jen@antaeus.org or followed on twitter @JHoToGo …..

ClassicsFest 2011 Opens Tonight!

It’s Opening Night! Not just for “The Doctor’s Dilemma,” but for ClassicsFest 2011! We couldn’t be more excited here in the office as we put together the finishing touches on an exciting summer. From food trucks to tweet nights to ticket deals, be sure to follow us on Twitter to keep up with the special events happening at each performance (@AntaeusTheater).

This week, I spoke to Jessica Olson, the costume designer of ClassicsFest, to hear how things are going with next week’s show, “Twelfth Night.” I also checked back in with Robert Pine to see how he was feeling about “The Doctor’s Dilemma” opening night, especially after the compressed rehearsal period. “Obviously, there are compromises that have to be made as we get closer to doing this for an audience since our time is short,” Robert commented. “But we make discoveries every day.  I am quite pleased with where we are now and think by the time we have an audience we will have a most entertaining show.” He wasn’t feeling any pressure about the opening until I made the mistake of commenting on it. Oops.

Alexandra Goodman and Joe Delafield in last year's ClassicsFest production of "Arcadia," assistant costume designed by Jessica Olson (photo by Ehrin Marlow)

As for “Twelfth Night,” they’re one week away from their opening night and Jessica’s keeping busy, working on this show as well as the other ClassicsFest shows. “On a Classicsfest production, a costume designer is presented with a variety of challenges,” she noted. “For one thing, you have over six shows to costume. This includes working with that many different directors & stage managers all of whom have vastly differing work and artistic styles. Luckily, the design team remains the same, so that work dynamic is a constant. For ‘Twelfth Night’ in particular, I face several challenges.”

Jessica has been working with Claudia Weill, the director of “Twelfth Night,” to help determine the concept for this production, since Shakespeare plays can fit well into so many different time periods – a blessing and a curse. As Jessica describes it, “choosing a concept/era that fits not only the play, but also the cast, theater, & message the director wishes to convey can be tricky. For this play in particular you have the challenge of presenting the class differences between a variety of different character groups that interface with one another. Another obvious and immediate challenge is how to make Viola & Sebastian similar enough in appearance to be mistaken for one another. And of course, there is the famous trick on Malvolio that involves him being ‘cross-gartered’ a plot device that has challenged costumers for centuries. Cross gartering belongs to a very specific time period. If the play is not set in that time period, the costume designer must come up with a solution that works in that era. Finally, Claudia would like Viola & the Captain to appear in wet garments when they begin the show. Wet clothing always presents a challenge as it must be dried so no mold grows, and must not drip so that the floor does not become hazardous. It’s also a health concern for the actors appearing repeatedly in wet garments.”

“It’s wonderful to have an opportunity to work with all these directors,” Jessica told me, “It’s an excellent way to meet and network and it allows all of us to work on classical pieces that are not frequently produced. Additionally, it allows me to work at Antaeus, a theatre of which I am a passionate supporter, and of course, it’s rewarding because I get to spend my time doing something I love.” We’re so excited to kick off an amazing summer filled with fantastic productions and wonderful collaborators, all as passionate and talented as Jessica and Robert.

Summer Intern and Columbia University MFA Candidate Jen Hoguet is keeping you up-to-date on all things ClassicsFest this summer at Antaeus. She can be reached via email at jen@antaeus.org or followed on twitter @JHoToGo …..

The Process of a Work in Process

Opening ClassicsFest 2011 is The Doctor’s Dilemma, George Bernard Shaw’s take on whether or not medicine should be a profit-driven business. Over one hundred years later, the debate is still raging and we’re thrilled to present Shaw’s perspective.

Featured in this production is Antaeus Company Member, Robert Pine, pictured at left with Nike Doukas in last season’s Cousin Bette (photo by Michele K. Short). Robert’s impressive career encompasses work on stage, in film and in tv, but he is probably best known to audiences as Sgt. Joe Gertraer from CHIPS. In The Doctor’s Dilemma, Robert plays Sir Patrick Cullen, a distinguished doctor, skeptical of his friend and fellow physician, Sir Colenso Ridgeon, and his supposed cure for consumption.

I spoke to Robert about his experience thus far working on a ClassicsFest Work in Process. He noted that, “as opposed to a full out production, the approach is basically the same except for the obligation to memorize the lines which in regards to time is a significant difference.” Learning lines is definitely not one of Robert’s favorite activities, but working on the show script in hand doesn’t keep Robert or the rest of the cast from going in depth with the play. As Robert describes it, “exploring the text is always the first thing in any consideration of a play and Antaeus has always stressed the text which is why I like working with this company so much. Usually when we start we sit around a table and slowly go through the play and stop frequently to ask questions and explore whatever might arise.  That could be a discussion of the period, the particular customs, the language or the ideas which the text stimulates.  Anything is up for grabs.  I have always loved this part of the process.” The great thing about ClassicsFest is the depth of the process for these workshop productions. Antaeus actors don’t do anything halfway and part of the thrill of seeing a Work in Process is the ability to focus on the world class acting, with few distractions.

In short, to use Robert’s own words, “The Doctor’s Dilemma deals with timeless issues such as class differences, the super-inflated egos of self important men and hypocrisy.  All are put on a skewer and roasted by Shaw’s considerable wit and intelligence.  All of this contributes to a very enjoyable journey.” I personally can’t wait to take the journey of The Doctor’s Dilemma – and the journey of ClassicsFest 2011! It’s going to be a great summer.

Summer Intern and Columbia University MFA Candidate Jen Hoguet is keeping you up-to-date on all things ClassicsFest this summer at Antaeus. She can be reached via email at jen@antaeus.org or followed on twitter @JHoToGo …