The Antaean Brain: An Assistant Director’s POV

The company of Mrs. Warren's Profession at Antaeus. Photo by G. Wade

The company of Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Antaeus. Photo by G. Wade

I’m not really sure the first time that Antaeus came into my consciousness, but the company has been one that I’ve wanted to work with for a while: especially because of the urging of some of my mentors, who have all been involved in one way or another. I participated in an Antaeus “down and dirty reading” of James Joyce’s The Dead, a collaboration between the Antaeans and the USC cast of the production that I worked on in college. Now that I’m involved with Antaeus in an official capacity, I have the opportunity to see just how this unique company is able to keep the pulse of classical theater alive in Los Angeles.

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Seeing Double? Bill Brochtrup & Arye Gross share the role of Praed. Photo by G. Wade

One of the things that Antaeus is known for is their use of partner casting; double casting each role and performing with rotating casts through the run of each of their productions. As I watch the rehearsal process unfold, there are several things about the rehearsal process that are illuminated. First, I’ve always been told that no one will hand you anything in life. That seems a broad generalization but there is a piece of truth in it for #MrsWP (the production’s Twitter handle). If an actor is not prepared to work (which, astoundingly, every single actor in this cast always is), the other actor is able to jump in and work. This pushes the rehearsal process along much faster than it normally might. Second, the opportunity to watch the play run its course and then to step into it and experience the journey for yourself is a chance usually only afforded to understudies. Now, it is one afforded to each member of every Antaeus production. The chance for self-reflection is paramount in any rehearsal process and the Antaeans take full advantage.

Daniel Bess & Rebecca Mozo in rehearsal. Photo by G. Wade

Daniel Bess & Rebecca Mozo in rehearsal. Photo by G. Wade

We’re deep into rehearsals for #MrsWP and I’m sort of starting to figure out what I’m doing here. It’s an interesting position to be coming into an established group of people who all have a very similar vocabulary and working method, or “Antaean brain” as I like to call it. This being my first production experience out of college, it’s interesting to segue from an academic/education atmosphere to one that is strictly professional with all attention focused towards the show that will open in a month and a half. What I’ve come to realize over the last few weeks working with Antaeus and the lovely #MrsWP-ers is that this experience is not for me to learn how to negotiate the waters of a Shaw play, however rough and rugged they are, but rather to learn how to translate the vocabularies of fifteen different people into something that I am able to understand and work with, a skill that will be one of the most valuable I will ever learn.

The vernacular of laughter: Director Robin Larsen with Dramaturg Christopher Breyer. Photo by G. Wade

The vocabulary of laughter: Director Robin Larsen. Photo by G. Wade

When you work on a production in college, the performances are really the last thing that’s worried about. It’s about process; it’s about learning. It’s about learning different ways into different pieces and exploring different working methods so that one may ultimately figure out how the hell to make headway in what may seem like an impenetrable work. The one thing that is different is the vocabulary. At USC, everyone works with the same vocabulary, normally the one of the director. If I were to walk into a certain rehearsal and mention that an actor should maintain the fixed point or cultivate a curiosity about their secondary activity, there would be no confusion. Coming to Antaeus, I’m learning how to translate the vocabularies of everyone in the room into my own working vernacular and communicate effectively on several different wavelengths. I’m slowly realizing that this is not a skill to take for granted.

Kaufer_ZachZach Kaufer is our fantastic assistant director on the Spring 2013 production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  Zach was very pleased to learn we don’t  “partner cast” our production team. Tickets are now on sale: www.antaeus.org

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An Academy Interlude: PULL it, sir

In 1962, Albee took Broadway by surprise with what became one of his most famous plays. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was an enormous success, running for a total of 644 performances and thereby firmly establishing Albee as a major playwright. It also sparked impassioned controversy amongst the critics, many who attacked the work for its destructive theme. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and yet the committee decided not to bestow this award on it because of the controversy. Some members of the committee who supported Albee’s nomination resigned in protest. Nonetheless, he did receive the New York Drama Critics Award and Tony Award for the play.

listen. the word ‘pulitzer’ is pronounced ‘PULL it sir’. there is no liquid u. you already knew that? great. you didn’t? cool. neither did i. until i took rob nagle’s class, pulitzer prize winners of the 20th century.

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Danielle in Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Scene Night Spring 2013.

when asked to write a blog post about my experience in the class, my first thought was ‘wow, i’ve always wanted to write a blog post.’ and i don’t remember what my second thought was, but i’m really very happy to have this topic as my first assignment.

Rob Nagle 2011

Rob Nagle teaching (or just staring at 2 pieces of paper? You decide.)

not only is rob a phenomenal human; he’s a well-rounded, passionate, knowledgeable, empathetic teacher. with each class, he brought his own humanity and humility. he created an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust and a space to be unafraid. he facilitated a community. one of the things i appreciate most about rob and his teaching is that he’s completely unpretentious (is that my passive-aggressive way of saying i’ve taken class from pretentious teachers? i don’t know – it could be. is it pretentious that i’m writing this blog in all lowercase? nobody is perfect. okay?). rob was consistently prepared. before each scene went up, he provided thorough information about the play and playwright. he engaged us in dialogue about each playwright’s background and when the play was written and how those things inform the play and (more often than not) provide wonderful insight into the world of the characters.

A Pulitzer Prize Winning Class!  (and Santa)

A Pulitzer Prize Winning Class! (and Santa)

as someone who considers herself relatively knowledgeable when it comes to plays, i was pleasantly surprised to find out just how little i know. 81 plays have won the pulitzer prize for drama since 1918. that is so many plays. to make this more manageable, rob created a survey before class began – a survey which listed every play and offered a place for us to check off one of three boxes: ‘i know it well’ ‘i know of it…’ and ‘no idea.’ this, for me, was a great place to begin. rob took such time in looking at the class surveys. he narrowed the list down to around 20 plays. he gave us complete freedom to choose our scenes and he made thoughtful and appropriate suggestions when someone asked for recommendations. he gave us a structure within which to play, which is something i have always found tremendously important in artistic work.

rob was always available for questions and completely approachable. he was flexible in his teaching approach, knowing that what works for one student might not work for another. he knew when to push and when to back off. and of course it’s all about the process and not about the result, but our final scene presentations were great. they were really great.

oh, and santa claus was there. the real one. see picture for proof.

thank you.

THORPE_DanielleAcademy member Danielle Thorpe rhapsodizes on Santa Claus & the wonder that is Rob Nagle – Moderator Extraordinaire.  For more information on the Antaeus Academy, please visit our website: www.antaeus.org/theacademy.html