Costuming a Shakespearean Spoof

The A2 Ensemble’s production of Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” by Tom Willmorth averages at least 10 characters per actor.  That’s approximately 60 characters in all that need to be clothed… for a ridiculously tiny budget.  Costume designer Alexandra Goodman stepped up to the challenge and surpassed all expectations with her ingenuity and talent.  Oh, and she did it pro bono.  For a more in depth look into the insanity that was her last few weeks, see her responses to our questions below. Fun fact.  All of the photos featured in this blog were taken by… wait for it… Alexandra Goodman!

AC: This is your first time costume designing a show. What attracted you to it?

AG: 6 actors, 30 characters, 100 dollars.  Sounds like a reality show challenge, doesn’t it?

AC: All the actors have to play several roles, how did you go about distinguishing different persona?

AG: This was a huge hurdle.  There are six actors to play 30 roles and finding a ‘base character” for each actor was a real stumper.  To begin with, I made a bunch of spread sheets, lists, quick-change plots, and character breakdowns to see what angle was best to start from, but I scrapped all that and just looked at two classifications: Roman & English.  John Apicella wanted some classic Roman-ish elements due to text references, but he also said anachronisms may fly freely.  And also to come under budget and accommodate the quickest quick changes I think have ever been written, the idea of creating reversible costumes was formed!  I’m very proud of these, by the way!

AC: Are there similarities in acting and designing? What are they? What are the most interesting differences?

AG: There are no similarities whatsoever.  Acting is a feeling-oriented endeavor, designing is a thinking-oriented one.  Even though they are both crafts that you can learn, I have discovered that costuming
requires a hell of a lot of thought and now I have much more respect for designers– I think what they do is waaaaaayyyy harder than acting!

AC: What was your experience like working on this?

AG: I loved it because I got to troll thrift stores using someone else’s money (an activity I do all too often with my own meager funds) and have the satisfaction of completing a project on time and within a budget.  I was super conscious of what the actors felt about their costumes and what I could do to make them happy, even if that meant I had to figure out a way to make an re-usable adult diaper.  Also, this was an opportunity to step up and show a little love for A2 in a different capacity, and create a memorable experience for all us
ensemble members, on and off the stage.

AC: Can you apply what you have learned to your acting?

AG: Well, what I’ve learned actually applies to the fantastic cast– no matter what ridiculous thing your costumer makes you wear, milk it for all the mileage you can!  That’s what my Phycus peeps do and it’s truly a side-splitting sight to behold!

AC: Is there a costume piece that you are the most proud of?

AG: My favorite piece is a little over the top– ok, really over the top. I’ll leave you with just this, if you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about: boob scarf. [Editor’s note:  why leave it to the imagination when we have pictures?!]

What are the rest of the cast and production team saying about the costumes?  Here are the highlights:

“Never did I think I would wear a catsuit and sock boobs in one show.  Thank you, Alexandra!”  ~Belen Green, Player Three

“Never did costumes that cost a nickel look so good and smell so…” ~Adam Meyer, Producer

“Alex’s costumes make my acting look huge.” ~Jason Thomas, Player Six

“Compared to Alex Goodman, Project Runway is about as boring as listening to Death Cab for Cutie on repeat.”  ~Deirdre Murphy, Producer & Sound Designer

A2 Member, Alexandra Goodman, momentarily puts down the needle to chat with us about Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” by Tom Willmorth, directed by John Apicella.  Make your reservation at  Suggested Donation $10


A2 does Shakespeare’s “King Phycus”

We asked cast member Buck Zachary to talk to us a little about Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” by Tom Willmorth, opening tomorrow night as the next installment of A2 Last Call for Theater.  We asked the questions, he crafted the answers, we checked for typos and grammatical errors, he expressed his dismay at our lack of faith in his syntax skills… and now we leave it to you to make of the play what you will.

**Please note:  the original Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” is a full length entertainment with an intermission… which we amorally (and potentially lethally) hacked to pieces for our own evil purposes… with the reluctant yet game permission of the playwright.  Read the original.  It has all the good bits.**

AC: Tell us about the play, and your part(s) in it?

Buck Zachary NOT in costume (no, he is). Photo by Holly Abel

BZ: I’ve been describing Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” to people as “Shakespeare via Mel Brooks” (which I hope Mr. Willmorth would take as the highest compliment).  It throws several of The Bard’s most recognizable characters into a blender with a healthy scoop of wackiness and dumps it all out on the stage.  It manages both reverence and irreverence in the most delightful way.  We have six actors playing upwards of thirty roles.  There’s kings, ghosts, lovers, clowns, epic battles, live music, a play within a play, mistaken identities, plenty of mayhem.  I have the distinct pleasure of switching back and forth between Brutus, Richard of Gloucester, Goldenberg (think Guildenstern), and the Earl of… ahem…  Athol.

AC: What makes this show great for the A2 Ensemble?

BZ: SKP is the type of show that really gives every actor the chance to “chew the scenery,” as it were, but also relies very heavily on the chemistry of the ensemble.  And because of the abbreviated rehearsal period, we really had to click from day one.  Fortunately, because of Antaeus and A2, we’ve all had opportunities to work together in the past and we had no trouble at all hitting our stride.

Buck with Belen Greene as “Macbetty.” Photo by Kendra Chell

SKP is also a wonderful foil to Antaeus’s current production of Macbeth.  As well as sharing a set and an actor, SKP borrows some major plot points directly from “The Scottish Play.”  While you need not have seen one to thoroughly enjoy the other, I think an audience member who has seen “Mackers” will find some fun surprises in SKP that other audience members might not get.

Ultimately, SKP is a rapid fire comedy that’s really going to keep the audience on their toes.  No one should have trouble staying alert for an hour for our late night shows, and for our prime time Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they’ll start their evening with a great show and still have plenty of time to hit up the local Tiki bar!

AC: If you could use one word and a sound effect to describe SKP, what would they be?
BZ: “Zounds!”  And the low, descending, two-tone blast of a ocean barge.

The famous baguette-pineapple scene with Buck & Patrick Wenk-Wolff. Photo by Holly Abel

AC: What gag makes you groan the most in the show?
BZ:  Ha!  I hope this question doesn’t give people the wrong impression of the play!  Most of the humor is actually very smart.  There are those moments though.  I’m actually a big fan of the “groaners.”  I don’t want to spoil anything in the play, but I’ll share one of my favorite exchanges that has actually been cut (strictly for time).  I include it here in all it’s groan-inducing glory.  Juliet asks her cockney Nurse about Susan, the Nurse’s daughter, who sadly died in birth, entangled in the Nurse’s cord (a great setup, I know…).

Abby Wilde (NOT as Juliet – which she also plays – but as a wizened old Roman hag). Photo by Kendra Chell

JULIET:  Didst thou just say I played with Susan, Nurse?

NURSE:  Lordie lord, you did!  Thou wert inseparable.
JULIET:  You said she died in neonatal noose.
NURSE:  But thou did love her so, my heart did break
To from your arms my little angel take.
You’d romp for hours, playing seek and hide.

Gross?  Sure.  Funny?  I sure think so!  There’s nothing quite that dark left in the show, but the there’s plenty left to gleefully cringe at!

AC: Have there been any offstage comments, bloopers or happenings that rival the play in hilarity?
BZ: No… all the comments, bloopers and hilarity have happened onstage, and I hope they continue to do so!  If we make the audience laugh half as much as we make each other laugh in rehearsal, we’ll have a great show on our hands!  It’s almost become a game of who can make who break first.  There are a couple of moments built in where we get to briefly improvise, or milk a particular bit, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s “go time.” I think a large part of SKP’s charm is going to be watching us try to keep it together while it brazenly charges forward.

AC: What has been unique about working on this show? The challenges?
BZ: SKP certainly offers its fair share of challenges, not the least of which has been the language.  As laugh-a-minute and slapstick as SKP is, it’s also beautifully and tightly versed in iambic pentameter, adding to its authenticity.  While keeping it light and quick apace, we’re also forced to be very meticulous with the words.  It plays a wonderful trick on the audience that way, often mixing the low brow with a brilliant attention to detail.

The cast of SKP (most of them – the others are changing). Photo by Kendra Chell.

Of course there’s the obvious challenge of playing multiple characters, each with a different costume, physical persona and dialect, and often not having much time at all to switch between them.  Add to that the six physical entrances and exits to the stage that we often have to sprint between and the dozens of props we have to keep track of, and it’s going to be a pretty chaotic hour for us.  I’m sure something will go awry every night, but if we do our job, no one will notice.  🙂

All that being said, a special “kudos” also needs to go out to our dedicated production team, especially Alexandra Goodman, our costumer.  With each actor playing several distinct characters, often with mere seconds to change from one to the other, she certainly has her work cut out for her.

AC: You came from Chicago not that long ago.  Do you remember the first production of SKP?  Did you have a chance to see it?  Have you seen anything else that Strange Tree has done?
BZ: I moved to LA just a few months before their original production of SKP opened and Strange Tree really started to make a name for themselves.  So… no, no, and sadly… no.  I know a couple of the insanely talented people associated with the company though, and I hope to get back and see something of theirs soon!

AC: What makes Chicago theater different from Los Angeles theater and vice versa?
BZ: There are pros and consto both, but I think what it boils down to is Chicago is a town primarily for theater actors, and LA is primarily a town for film and television actors.  And rightfully so.  There are a lot of great projects being filmed in Chicago, and a lot of great theatre happening in LA, but basically, in my experience, that’s the way it is.  The Chicago theatre community isn’t as influenced by the cut-throat (for lack of a better term) element of “the biz” as what I see in Los Angeles.  I consider myself pretty fortunate to have

He’s right about that “tightly knit” feeling. Photo by Alexandra Goodman.

fallen in with Antaeus so soon after moving from Chicago.  It really has a tightly knit feeling of an artists’ community that a lot of Los Angeles seems to be lacking.  And it’s inspiring, as someone who wants to make a career out of acting, to be surrounded by theatre artists who have been able to make a living as film and television actors and still find time to tread the boards every now and then.  What LA may lack in community though, it makes up for in opportunity.  If you have an idea for a show or a film, and you’re passionate and willing to work, there is SOMEONE who will help you make it happen here.

AC: If you could say anything to Tom Willmorth right now, what would it be?
BZ: I’d grasp his forearm manfully and whisper a sweet “Hey Nonny” in his ear… the one that works.

AC: What would your mother say about this production?
BZ: She’d love it!  But she’d like my parts best.  :0)

A2 Member
, Buck Zachary, patiently answers our questions on Shakespeare’s “King Phycus” by Tom Willmorth, directed by John Apicella.  Make your reservation at  Suggested Donation $10

Double Double: On Acting in Macbeth

At the end of our final dress rehearsal, before first preview, we were addressed by our fearless and brilliant leader, Jessica Kubzansky. In more or less words told us, “gorgeous work everybody, now we’ve got to go faster!”  Or rather, close up our cues.  This moment made me laugh to myself.  I thought, how strange, up until this very moment, I hadn’t been thinking of this show as a show.  We haven’t had enough time to think of silly little trifles, such as, ‘will the audience get it?’, ‘how do I look?’ and other concerns that do nothing but stifle the life of the work.

Brian Tichnell as Malcolm. With Ian Littleworth & Peter Van Norden. Photo by Daniel Blinkoff.

The conditions of performing a play at Antaeus, allow us to focus only on what truly matters, because time to judge ourselves is a luxury we cannot afford.  And I think that is nothing but a good thing.  Risky? Sure.  But at the very least, and honest attempt to make something real, for no other purpose than that in itself.  Because nothing else matters.

Double casting? Double toil and trouble.  40 actors, all with incredible talent, technical proficiency, and, most important, heartfelt passion for art. We come together with no time, into a box, not big enough for all of us at once, and let loose chaotic ecstasy.  Or strive for it.

We are never allowed to get comfortable, or even arrive at the same page.  Like a Pollock painting, we just smatter all of our ideas and experience into a smorgasbord of action and emotion.  It creates a diversity of takes on how to approach the text and interpret the action.  There is a variety of people in our Macbeth world, with different tempos and cadences and energies.  Just like real life.

What has made this process so rewarding, and at the same time frightening, is that we are at no point as a cast, able to see the play as a final product.  The play is not the thing.  The work is the thing.  We have nothing to hold on too, but our own devices.   We can only continue honest and diligent investigation.  Sure we can watch our double counterparts perform the play, but I always think of this, not as a way to learn what the play looks like, but a conversation between actors, through choices.  Often times, watching your double, creates more questions than it does answer them.

Double casting also takes away, or lessens the ego.  No role belongs to anyone.  No propriety, no entitlement.  Nothing but the work.

Brian Tichnell leads Birnam Wood to Dunsinane. Photo by Daniel Blinkoff.

Theater is not a product.  In the general, we are asked, as artists, to funnel our talents, to funnel our calling, into a capitalist paradigm.  A play is not commodity.  Too often, plays are actors getting together, to show their “take” on it, a dislplay of clever ideas…of “concepts.” (or even worse, the play is an actor’s showcase in order to get industry work)

Directors try to parallel it to something contemporary.  To make it “relevant”  To show how “clever” you can make a Shakespeare play.  People are so obsessed with relevancy, especially with regards to the particular political or cultural climate.  Let’s show how Julius Caesar is like Obama.  Soooo relevant.   Oh my god, Romeo and Juliet are texting each other! These are shallow choices, intended to mask a lack of understanding of the value of theatre.  These plays are bigger and deeper than our own 2012 culture and societal problems.  They are bigger and deeper than Elizabethan culture!  These plays speak to a universal theme, deeper than specific time and place.  (make no mistake, I love contemporary design in plays, and even moments that can serve to mirror our current situation, but when that’s the only thing the play has got going?, a modern twist?, then the play is hollowed out, impotent)

In my humble opinion, what we do in the theatre is not necessarily a creation or a presentation as it is an invocation.  It is the goat song.  It is spiritual in nature. It is a deed without a name.  You can’t make the play happen.  There is no nailing it. You can only search for it.  Hope that you are blessed enough to have its depth and complexity reveal itself to you.  You can’t do Macbeth, but you can let Macbeth do you.   That’s right, I said it.

So that’s what we are truly inviting people to see.  A process.  An attempt to generate fire and rage and heartache, as only the human spirit can generate.  We are inviting people to witness and become enveloped in the story, and the sorcery.  We might fail. If we should fail? Then we fail, but screw our courage to sticking place and we’ll not fail.

Christian Barillas as Malcolm. With Armin Shimerman & Daniel Blinkoff. Photo by Daniel Lamm

The work of the entire cast is so inspiring, and no one lets up, never letting their ass rest on their laurels.  Continuous investigation.  From our brilliant Macbeths, to Young Siwards, to the inspiring and tender work of my double, Christian Barillas: all have put their heart into the work.

Sure we still have time to sew together all the careful heartfelt choices and chances that each of our 40 person cast is making, and try to make it not too long, for the sake of those who like to go to plays to complain about how long it is.   But the work, it will continue to grow and discover and breathe and when people come to see it, I hope they do not observe it and evaluate it in terms of goods and bads, but are rather swept up by it, forgetting that the play is even a play at all, that actors are even actors, that stories are stories, and are carried away by the gentle, relentless iambic beat of each beautiful word, seeking to unearth the complexity and beauty of everything.  Every thing.

No big deal.  A little preachy, maybe? A bit all over the place, absolutely.  But it’s what I believe.  I’m probably completely and absolutely wrong.  But so are you.

A2 Member, Brian Tichnell, on acting in the Antaeus production of Macbeth, directed by Jessica Kubzansky.  Brian shares the role of Malcolm with guest artist Christian Barillas.  Tickets are now on sale.