The Crucible: A Postmortem by its Directors

In this blog, we take a little breather to reflect back on The Crucible, which closed last month.  We asked co-directors Armin Shimerman & Geoffrey Wade a few questions on their process and experiences, and how co-directing affected and influenced the production.  Their answers are below:

AC: Start us off by talking a little about your relationship to Antaeus. How long have you been with the company? How did you get involved in the first place? When not directing, what’s your role in the company?

photo6GW: My first association with the Company was being cast in The Man Who Had All the Luck in 2000, but it wasn’t until a year, another show (Mercadet), and a lot of volunteer hours later that I actually was asked to join.  When Jeanie Hackett started the Academy I sort of found my niche: first as an observer, then an assistant, and finally as an independent teacher of some of our courses.  I feel my greatest contribution to the company has been in the development of a lot of exciting young talent.  As an actor, for a while there I was nearly the company “relief pitcher,” replacing actors late in the runs of, I think, four plays!  I am also -as much as possible- the sort of official photographer at Antaeus.  That is a tremendously rewarding role because not only do I get to see almost every cast of every show, but I am also able to make some stunning images thanks primarily to the breathtaking commitment of the actors as well as the amazing sets, lights, and costuming of our shows.

photo7AS: Well this first question is strangely a stumper. I had to do some searching in my Quicken files that seem to indicate that I became a member in 2004 or 2005. Time flies when you are having fun. My membership came about because of my participation as a guest in Paul Lazarus and Janet Jones’ development of their work in progress, The Dickens Project. Ironically, back in the 80’s, I had gone to an evening sponsored by Dakin about becoming a member, but my desire for membership alas went no further. Wasn’t good enough, I guess.

I wear so many hats in the leadership of Antaeus. The diagram of what I do starts with my serving on the Board of Directors. I have held that position for many years. From there, we arrive at the fact that I am the chair of the Membership Committee.  The MC is in charge of all things that have to do with membership in the Company, including deciding who we ask to enter, members’ monetary matters, nominations of Artistic Director/s, etc. My long standing there has morphed into my now being the Co-Associate Artistic Director, participating in artistic decisions with the Boys. In addition, I serve on the Governance, Finance, and Executive committees. Plus, like Geoffrey, I teach class for the Academy and once in a blue moon actually act in projects. For me, Antaeus is full time commitment.

AC: You’ve both directed before.  What were some highlights, and how do you think your past work prepared you for The Crucible?

photo17GW:  I directed one show at Antaeus previously (Celebration,) which was quite rewarding for all involved, largely because we all knew each other and were very comfortable with working in a specific style and with a sort of common vocabulary.  Aside from that, my directing here has consisted of working with the students in the Academy classes.  Because they are acting classes (NOT directing, or theory, or theatre history…) I am always looking to find actable solutions to scene work.  No matter what the style or genre or period, the core acting problems are pretty much the same, but finding them can be tricky in the midst of those other elements.  Having to do that in a variety of scenes from a very wide assortment of styles and periods improved my ability to cut to the core of what an actor has to address in a scene.  And dealing with a wide range of abilities in the classes has forced me to develop a flexibility and variety of approaches, to expand my own “acting vocabulary,” if you will, to help actors fulfill their essential -and eternal- task of simultaneously communicating with each other and sharing the experience with an audience.  All of that helped me deal with a large cast who, though all possessed of great ability, naturally had different methods and approaches to the work.  We were asking them to trust us with a very unusual, demanding style while remaining honest and passionately committed to each other and the audience.

AS: Outside of Antaeus, I have directed two different full productions of 12th Night and one of the Scottish play. In addition, I have helmed (as they say) readings of plays for the Antaeus Classic fests. What all have taught me is that casting is 75% of your job as a director. If you get the right actors for the roles, you don’t pull your hair out. (Don’t anyone snicker!!) Also, you learn that Theatre is a mystery and that magic will most likely happen in the last week of rehearsal. Things come together and insights are learned. I had never worked as a director with this caliber of people before Crucible nor for this long and my admiration for this mysterious process is exponentially larger now.

AC:  Before working on this production, what were your thoughts on the play The Crucible? How do you feel about Arthur Miller’s work in general?

photo15GW:  The play, to be perfectly honest, struck me as something of a museum piece.  I wasn’t that familiar with it, I had seen a perfectly serviceable yet not particularly exciting production at a very good regional theater, and I guess I’d read it in school.  I assumed it was about a particular period and didn’t really have much to say to today.  I was wrong, of course.  Miller at his best writes with a humanity, generosity, and accessibility that places him in a very special category.  His voice strikes me as a quintessentially American.  For my taste, he can get self-indulgent and overly earnest on occasion, but when he’s done right his work has an immediacy and power that is powerfully emotional and personal; and that’s the reason I go to the theatre.  And it’s the reason his plays transcend their time and their settings and have become, deservedly, classics.

AS: If in the future, someone writes a bibliography of my life, there will be at least one chapter on my playing John Proctor in High School. That inexplicable event (I had no interest in acting prior to it) birthed my subsequent existence. It is 40 plus years later and the amber glow of nostalgia still colors my appreciation of the play. I remembered it as a powerful piece about an individual’s fight against tyranny and authority. I remembered it packed a wallop. I remembered the poetry of the language: “Massachusettes is a beauty in the Spring.” But of course, I was a teenager then and the Crucible spoke to me that way. All teenagers see themselves as John Proctor types: fighting injustice,speaking beautifully. But, the older Miller seems to have always seen himself that way, and, whether it is in Death of a Salesman, All my Sons, or American Clock, he stands up like Spartacus,  against wrong-doing and the tidal pull of complacency. His use of the American vernacular and simple shared human experiences makes for enchanting songs that we harken after, are enthralled by, and clamor to hear more. Through these two qualities, he fulfills the classical requirement of Drama: to educate and entertain.

AC:  How did you prepare for co-directing? What were some of your fears gong into the process?  What were you looking forward to?

GW:  We talked in general about the play, what were the major themes for us, how we saw the central characters.  We basically knew long before we started that our ideas about the piece were either the same or near as dammit.  I’m sure that’s the reason Armin chose to have me take over the direction of the reading we did in July of 2012 when he had to leave part way thru the process.  Our preparation largely consisted of one of us saying, “I’ve always thought thus-and-so about that scene,” and the other replying, “I couldn’t agree more… !”  The major conceptual choice was always Armin’s, but since I was willing to work within that concept we were always in sync.  We did make some explicit agreements beforehand about who would do the blocking, how we would handle scene-work and so on because it is so important for there to be one voice in charge in those situations.  My fears going into it centered around the more practical aspects of directing: deadlines, budgets, scheduling, design decisions… all the disparate elements that must come together with the acting, which is the area where I was always most comfortable.  I looked forward to working with the actors, of course, but also the collaborations with the designers.  I’m always excited by the prospect of sketching out my incomplete and hazy concepts to a creative artist such as a sound designer, for instance, who then develops a concrete entity -something you can see or hear- which becomes what I was trying to express, but so much more.  You find yourself getting not just an incremental improvement to the production, but a whole order of magnitude. 

AS: Geoff and I did not prepare in any conscious way to co-direct. Though our strong friendship over the course of years reassured us that it was emotionally possible. I did not expect nor were there ever any ego clashes. Our collaboration started by chance in our co-directing the Classic Fest reading of the Crucible. I knew of his astounding work with the Academy students, and, when I unexpectedly half way thru rehearsal had to attend a memorial back East, I asked him to take my place. I came back to see masterful directorial contributions of pace, striking character simplicity, and minor blocking changes that I loved. These directorial improvements made the whole production run smoother and I honestly did not know if I would have had the expertise to instigate them. So when asked to direct the Crucible, I reminded the Ads that it had been the result of both our work and lobbied for a co-directorship. They agreed almost immediately. To my recollection, Geoff and I never spoke of nor really decided on what areas of direction each of us would lead. Responsibilities and artistic choices just magically fell into place. Though, I think we agreed I would do initial blocking which included the presentational style while he took on the arduous chore of scheduling as well as spokesman at the collective note sessions. However, we both gave individual acting notes to members of both casts and incredibly 96% of the time our thoughts on acting and stress were identical – or so the actors led us to believe. Certainly, we attended designer confabs together though I believe I was more influential with the Set design while he made more decisions about Sound and Lighting. I think we were equally opinionated about Costumes. I must say we did have some differences of opinion about casting and I want to believe I won more than I lost.  We spoke almost daily prior to rehearsal and were Siamese twins during the months of rehearsal.

photo3My one big fear was that the actors would try to manipulate us by treating us like parents. In other words, if not getting what you wanted from Dad, going to Mom and getting permission there. But Geoff’s and my POV was so consistent with each other that I am not aware of that strategy ever working – or for that matter being used. We were perfect gentlemen with each other, always respecting what the other had to say. With two directors giving direction, another fear was that that the actor would get too much guidance thrown at her/him. This is why we chose to let only one of us give collective notes with the other bursting in when he felt the need.

As for hopes, I think we both had hopes that with two directors and two casts we could split up the casts at times with separate directors and thus save time with rehearsals. But that benefit never fleshed out. Though, a short trip out of town for me, allowed Geoff to have both casts to himself for a weekend. My personal fear that my lack of directing experience would be a detriment to the show was supplanted by the hope and actuality that Geoff was there with me, advising, leading, and helping with decisions.

AC: In your opinion, how does directing with another person affect the process? What are some unexpected strengths or discoveries? What are some drawbacks?

DSC_0733GW:  It is impossible to generalize because this was a case of Armin and my being -weirdly- of one mind about nearly every aspect of the production.  Without meaning to speak for Armin, my perception was that there was not an aspect where either of us would have been uncomfortable with the other making a major decision on anything; casting, design, or execution.  The greatest strength is, of course, the collaborative nature of the thing.  We could bounce ideas of each other, amplify the best and modify the weaker ones, and emerge with an assured vision that resisted second-guessing because we had already gone through that process.  We each had the other’s back.  The drawbacks were relatively minor; there were times we disagreed about blocking, occasional line readings, even the design of the damn poppet.  I did not get “my way” 100% of the time, nor, I suspect, did Armin.  But when we did disagree, one or the other would defer, believing (and again, I am speaking for myself) that honestly, it wasn’t worth going to the mat or this or that detail.  You discover that there is, indeed, more than one perfectly valid way to say a line (tho’ perhaps not more than the two Armin and I were offering….!)

AS: Well, duh, its less demanding! You don’t have to personally attend all pre-production meetings. You can skip rehearsals for auditions or life-emergencies without disrupting the actors’ artistic growth. You can have a peer to bounce ideas off. And you don’t always have to be the one to make the final –God awful-decisions.  Of course, you need to either have a soul mate as your co-director or a Prince of tact. Luckily, I had both. But the opposite is an easy scenario to visualize. (Etta and Gabe did a hilarious job of picturing that in our video send-up.) One of the problems of a performer participating in double casting is the actor’s ego (fear) that he/she is not as good nor getting as much attention as his/her partner. That problem can materialize for co-directors as well. Are the actors listening to him more? Do they like him better? Are my insights as good as his? Is he doing as much work as I am? All these nasty demonic imaginings passed infrequently through my mind. And happily were exorcized almost immediately. That said, there were a handful of times where I regretfully compromised on a POV when Geoff would give a heartfelt opposite direction to an actor. Even though, I felt he was wrong; he was usually being passionate about it with the actor and it was not worth the disruption of confusing the actor or demonstrating a lack of cohesiveness. With it over, I must say that of those few times of discord, he was either absolutely dead on or the further exploration in rehearsal proved me right. A win-win situation for my messy ego and for the show. The drawback of course would be if this difference of opinion was happening all the time and your tongue was macerated because you had bitten it way too many times. Or if you had disgraced your partner and made him a less than credible leader in the eyes of the cast. People always asked, “But how can you have one artistic vision if you have two directors?” The easy answers for us are that we mostly saw things the same way or we respectfully compromised or we lived with two visions. The latter situation always presents itself in the Theater since the director and the actor have two separate imaginations and, though they lovingly collaborate, they will never be identical. This scenario is even further warped when you have two casts with their respective choices.

AC: 2 directors and a double cast.  This means that essentially 2 directors and 2 actors were working on one role at any given time.  How did this generally work?

photo10GW:  Generally worked very well, I’d say.  You might get a different answer from the actors, especially if you promised them anonymity…  As I said, Armin and I were agreed on the character’s arcs and the basic characteristics we thought they should embody.  It worked best by letting one of us work on any given scene with the other guy present to offer clarification or a slightly different way of approaching a question or problem.  So we -by and large- spoke with one voice.  Another interesting thing: there were occasions where one of us might reach a sort of impasse with an actor, and it was great having a collaborator to deal with that.  Not exactly good-cop/bad-cop, but close.

AS: Exactly the same as two casts working with one director on one role. My reasons are understandable from what I have said above.

DSC_0879That said, sometimes when working with double casts, one actor will prefer a radically different approach/blocking to a moment from that of her partner or for that matter from the director. Those conflicts rarely showed up in our production. I will opine that was so because we had talked in detail about the arcs of the characters. Or that we were so ruthless about the presentational blocking, the casts preliminarily acceded a lot of the blocking choices to Geoff and me.  We may have inadvertently blunted early artistic choice –though I hope never artistic discussion. However, later in rehearsal when the style was less foreign to the ensemble, there were some desires for minor differences of approach and blocking. If I felt that the differences were manageable and we still told the same story, I would okay playing it differently. As long as everyone in the scene in each cast knows that Actor X is going to play it one way while on another evening Actor Y will do something else, all will run smoothly.

One of the great exceptions to double casting is the genuine wisdom that the 5-6 weeks of rehearsal are about an actor building a unique relationship with his fellow characters in the play. This is time consuming and essential for a fully realized production. Therefore with two casts, the spanner in the works is that an actor is constantly having to modify the understanding of a growing character-relationship by the mere fact that one must of necessity have a different chemistry with different actors playing the same character. I am told it is confusing and wastes rehearsal time as one waits to rehearse a scene sufficiently with alternates. This is pitfall of the double cast system. The only way in my mind to mitigate the problem is to have each actor studiously observe not only her double rehearsing a scene but also the other combinations of people in her scene – while her alternate works, watching a scene in the audience during rehearsal like a director. This enormous extra work can be made easier for the actor by familiar past collaborations/friendships with fellow actors in a long-standing ensemble.  That familiarity will do much. The less arduous way would be to separate ensembles completely after opening and let the usual simmering process take place. But though we name certain combinations of actors and ask them to be cohesive as a cast unit, the necessities from the Industry in Los Angeles enforce absences and require Antaeus to mix and match.

AC:  In general, what are your thoughts on Antaeus’ “partner casting,” both as a director and as an actor?

GW:  I remain ambivalent as an actor, but I can now fully understand why directors pretty much dislike it.  In purely practical terms, it makes scheduling a nightmare and therefore rehearsal necessarily becomes a catch-as-catch-can procedure.  The greatest loss is that there is never enough time to rehearse a scene properly. Scheduling fell entirely on my shoulders so I can say unequivocally that having to accommodate so many conflicts leads unavoidably to insufficient rehearsal time.  Most actors were understanding and did their best (sometimes giving extraordinary performances on very little rehearsal), yet some complained explicitly and at length about not having enough stage time, even as they took advantage of having a double to miss considerable amounts of rehearsal.  Additionally, the imperative to give every actor his voice in rehearsal and reach compromises -or workable separate solutions- means that functionally you have less than half the rehearsal period to set the play.  Obviously, it gets done, the results are excellent, and the coverage makes the grief palatable, but I would have to think long and hard before doing it again.

DSC_0847AS: As an actor, I find partner casting to be an enormous help when rehearsing a play. Primarily, because if it is true partner casting –meaning have as good an actor as you or better-, you can have two major talents working in tandem to solve the puzzle that is your character. This is done through conversation, but more effectively by sitting in the audience and watching your character play the scene. From this vantage point, you can get a sharper realization as to how your character fits into the scene, into the play- what his purpose is and how the audience will perceive his presence. This awareness typically comes late in usual rehearsals, but arrives early with partner-casting. It is an enormous shortcut in the character’s unfolding and your creative exploration. Moreover, having a peer partner, you can steal his good choices and call them your own. In addition, you can trash the ones that he does that don’t sit well with you. Leaving artistic reasons aside, partner casting allows me the luxury of missing rehearsals so that I can audition for more lucrative work, for attending to personal crises, for doing a film or TV show, or for illness. I can do all that without the attendant guilt of letting the production down because my partner will be there. Needless to say, all that goes for missing performances as well.

There are those who abhor the very thought of what I just said. Because they want no part of another actor’s investigation of their character. I find that attitude small-minded and adolescent. The director/s, the designers, and your fellow actors always impinge on your investigation. It’s never just yours. Now if your partner is not truly a peer, then double-casting will be futile. Because not only is one not getting any creative help from your partner, but you’ve now lost potentially half your rehearsal time to a lame duck. And you may have to struggle to undo unwise blocking choices because of him. But even so, I stand by my previous statement that you should still be able to suss out your character’s place in the play more readily.

Now how do I feel about partner-casting as a director. In short, I don’t like it. You have to cut short your rehearsal of a scene because you must give the other team equal time to rehearse. Equity gives you too little time to rehearse as it is. You are required to juggle not one, but two casts availabilities. While in casting, you invariably have two people for a role and you find one slightly better than the other. You have to invariably explain some minor detail twice because one cast member didn’t watch his partner rehearse the scene. You have to deal with potential personality conflicts between partners. You have to clutter your precious rehearsal time with being fair to all partners. And you have to sit through two enormously nervous first night openings. As a producer, I dislike it even more because the Theater has to pay for two sets of costumes, two casts’ salaries, and twice as many cast comps. If you are only a director, you have no insight into the shortcuts partner casting provides the actors (mentioned above) because that’s not on your radar. And most importantly, because when assembling casts, you must sometimes scuttle a great cast a little by being required to put a less successful actor in with stronger ones-in order to balance out the two casts. The lack of rehearsal time only exacerbates that. It’s this fact of not having an ideal cast that scares me about Antaeus’ chances of being a world class Theater. Because on any night, an audience will not see a perfect show. A very good one, yes. But not World Class.

As a director at Antaeus, there is only one good artistic reason to agree to direct a partner-cast production. That is the chance to work with twice as many good people and see twice as much work blossoming.

AC:  This production of The Crucible was quite presentational, in that the actors spoke mostly out to the audience rather than each other.  How did this style come about, and how do you think it ultimately worked?

photo1GW:  The style, the concept were Armin’s, so I’ll leave the details of that answer to him.  I’ll only say that it came about because of the reading, done in what has come to be known as the “Frank Dwyer” style of connecting through the audience for a reading rather than trying to speak to another actor at a music stand, thereby reducing a performance to nothing but profiles.  I think it worked exceptionally well in this production, which is not to say it’s a one-size-fits-all approach to staging.  Our intention was always to let people hear the play anew, to scrape away the varnish of the expected, accepted approach and allow the burnished text -as filtered through the emotional commitment of superb actors- affect the audience in a challenging way.  There is no doubt in my mind that we accomplished exactly what we set out to do, and by and large the audiences members had the sort of bracing, invigorating experience with the play that we hoped they would.  

AS: AAAAH the perennial question. How did it come about? I’m asked that constantly and I hope because people liked it or, at least, were intrigued.  Like many creative choices, it incubated in me long before I was aware of it. Without going into all the History, Bo Foxworth and Ann Noble asked me to direct their Classic Fest presentation to the Crucible. You know from reading this wordy blog that I have been a member of Antaeus for a long time. Because of that, I have seen a slew of readings done at our Theater. One of the things I am sure of is that readings are most successful when there is very little blocking and when the actors for the most part stand and deliver. What we call the Frank Dwyer method. That means facing front and rarely inter-acting with their fellows visually. One still has to genuinely hear the cues, process them, and honestly respond.  I was committed to that style and so adhered to it while working on the reading. To that end, I had the cast sit in a semi-circle around the playing area that was only furnished with a large table and one/two chairs. We had no budget and I swear by ‘less is more’. I love the theatrically of that simplicity. It is what essentially makes Theater different from the visual complexity of film or Tv (that and language). When the characters would enter into a scene, they would either stand at their chairs or take a meaningful position in relationship to the table and what it symbolized. For sight lines and so as not to upstage the actors placed further downstage from the semi-circle, I asked the actors to just look forward even when they were talking to characters standing behind them. Because it was a reading with books in hands, the audience never questioned the non-naturalness of the presentation. They were all familiar with readings of plays done with music stands or just having the actors sit in a semi-circle and reading from their scripts. You walk into a Theatre and the presence of scripts gives this presentational style license.  I have often been told, by Antaeus patrons, that sometimes these types of readings are more powerful than other theaters’ full productions done with large budgets and clever devises. What I didn’t need to be told and what was obvious from the audiences’ reactions to the Classic Fest read was the power of Miller’s play and the audience’s immediate and electrifying reaction to our presentation and the play’s impact. People who had witnessed many other productions in the past raved about the power of our reading and its immediacy.  I saw that the simplicity and directness of our reading matched and heightened the language and personal choices of those of  the play’s.

Time passed. The Antaeus Artistic Directors asked me to direct a full production with the caveat that it have the same presentational style. It was a bold choice. No one knew for sure whether the freedoms and permissions of a reading would be equally embraced in a full production (no books in hand, no seats in a semi-circle). It worked for me. If you saw it, you have to make your own evaluation.

photo4The second part of the question is less factual, more epistemological. (Sorry, I’m a classical actor; I love language.) I believe the success of our out-front presentational style is due to several factors. Some reasons have to do with the play, some to do with Antaeus . 1) Miller has given us what is essentially a courtroom drama. Certainly, the court, people’s feelings about court, the power of the court, the consequences of court actions, the distinct members of the court, and the arguments to be presented to the court are the crux of the evening. The presentational style consciously promotes that concept by having all the characters seem like lawyers presenting their different beliefs and testimonies to a jury composed of the audience. 2) Acting as a jury, the audience is reluctantly brought into the play. The actors are talking to them and they are being forced to come out of their safety in the dark and form an opinion of each character’s testimony.  They are being asked not just to listen, but also to decide about what they are hearing. They have no choice; the character is staring right at them. 3) Our house is highly raked which even for the young makes hearing difficult at times. The presentational style does away with the audience missing words because an actor has turned away or, in an emotional clinch, spoken too softly.  With our approach, not a word of the play is lost or can be avoided. 4) We chose not to do the play in the time period of Salem 1693 with well-recognized Puritan costumes and regalia. Every 4th grade student knows that period of American history was marked by a repressive Church/State that subjugated the people living under its sway. So we had the dilemma of creating a believable repressive society that fostered the same feelings of impotence and suspicion without the visual cues of a Puritan society.  I believe our presentational style -where no one really looked at each other – was an excellent alternative in explaining that religious oppression. Hale is called “blind” by one of the characters and so he is in the first two scenes. But all the characters are blind early on and only slowly come to “see” the truth. We decided to illustrate that blindness and only shatter it at intimate or uncontrollable instances. 5) And lastly, it was my agenda to showcase the company that I so admire and am proud of.  Only actors of a high caliber and commitment could dare and succeed at throwing out convention and demonstrating how to tell a theatrical story in a radically new way.  Their talents and commitment shown through even when we took away the prime prop of an actor’s performance – seeing and reacting to their fellow actors’ performance. They overcame this undeniably unfair disadvantage as well as their own questions of the efficacy of this approach to give performances that will live in our memories.  Their emotional life and classical technique flew like arrows directly to the heart. Their talents gave our unique concept “more weight.” Do I think it ultimately worked? Yes, on so many levels.

AC:  What would you like to direct next? What’s your dream production?

photo8GW: Ooooo, toughie, that one!  I’d like to do a Shaw.  I love the way Ayckbourn combines rollicking humour with the most profound longing and melancholy… I’d love to have a go at one of his.  I daren’t be specific about a dream production; seems like a pretty good way to assure it will never happen.

AS: That’s an easy answer. I have no idea. But I know my dream production would be directing my multi-talented wife, Kitty Swink.

Kitty in some Shakespeare. That would be Love’s Labour’s Found.

AC:  Would you ever co-direct again?

GW:  If the partner and the show were right.  It strikes me as a very delicate combination of egos and status and complimentary strengths all in service of a play and cast that would stand up to this unusual treatment.  Some theatre god was smiling on me when Armin chose to invite me aboard this project.

AS: Sure, if I had Geoff or a Geoff clone.
He’s easy to clone. You know he’s very skinny.

And what are Mr. Shimerman and Mr. Wade doing now that the trials are over?

GW: I spent the summer acting at a couple theater in New England.  Actually had to leave LA long before CRUCIBLE closed, which was a very frustrating, but unavoidable turn of events.  Happily, I was acting in two-hander, EDUCATING RITA, that was an absolute dream production.  Just a coincidence, but with only two actors, one director, and eight hours a day to work it was about as far from the rehearsal frenzy of CRUCIBLE as you can get!  But I regret missing those final CRUCIBLE performances as I know it went from strength to strength and the actors were making “something rich and strange” indeed, far beyond what was already a compelling piece of theatre.

AS: Just returned from Vegas from four days of Star Trek conventionering. Before that, England and Austria where we ate up the scenery. Looking forward to teaching and finally writing the last pages of my Historical novel, The Toadeater. Oh, and I am campaigning to be a delegate at the first SAG/AFTRA convention. Life is full.


WADE_GEOFFREYShimerman_ArminCompany Members Armin Shimerman & Geoffrey Wade co-directed this summer’s production of The Crucible. Next up for Antaeus is Corneille’s The Liar, adapted by David Ives and directed by Casey Stangl. Tickets now on sale at http://www.antaeus.org

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Antaeus Salon Series Focuses on THE LIAR

That’s right!  Our “Behind the Curtain” Salon Series returns this Fall, and this time we pull back the curtain on all aspects of The Liar, focusing on topics such as its style, verse & historical context.  The Salon Series will take place in the Antaeus library Monday evenings 7 -10pm – 5 roundtable lectures/discussions led by 5 experts in their respective fields.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN SALONS
Monday evenings, 7-10p in the Antaeus Library
A series of 5 roundtable discussions focusing on various aspects of our upcoming production of Corneille’s The Liar (adapted by David Ives,) moderated by experts in their fields.
Each week features a new moderator and topic.
(Limit 15 participants per class.  Please contact deirdre@antaeus.org to reserve your spot!)
The Liar previews 10/3 – 10/9 and opens on 10/10

FLEUR DE LIS package 5 Salons (plus preview ticket to The Liar)
Workshop Fee: $225

PLACE ROYALE package 3 Salons  (plus preview ticket to The Liar)
Workshop Fee: $140

INDIVIDUAL classes
$50/class (plus preview ticket to The Liar)

SEPT 16                    The Style: Farce & Verse in The Liar
Moderated by David BRIDEL

SEPT 23                    The Words: On Adaptation and Translation
Moderated by Lillian GROAG

SEPT 30                   The World: Society & Culture in 17th Century France
Moderated by Prof. Malina STEFANOVSKA

OCT 7                       The Players: On Acting Corneille Past & Present
Moderated by Robert GOLDSBY

OCT 14                     The Story: The Real Scoop on The Liar
Moderated by Prof. David RODES

 

David BridelDAVID BRIDEL As a director and playwright, David Bridel has garnered acclaim from his native UK to Israel to both coasts of the USA; the LA Times describes him as “the real thing, one of the most ambitious, scholarly and vastly challenging voices on the current theatrical scene.” His choreography credits range from operas such as Salome in Munich and Ariadne Auf Naxos in LA, both directed by Academy-Award winner William Friedkin, to the recent international smash-hit Il Postino, starring Placido Domingo, which has enjoyed sold-out runs in LA, Paris, Vienna, Mexico City, Santiago and Madrid. Meanwhile Bridel has traveled extensively in the US, China, Australia and Brazil, connecting his own organization The Clown School with many luminaries in the field, including David Shiner and LUME Teatro. His productions have twice been nominated for the LA Weekly Theatre Awards; he is the winner of an Entertainment Weekly Special Events Award for his his commedia dell’arte direction in The School of Night at the Mark Taper Forum, an Anna Sosenko Award for Musical Theatre; and he was recently awarded a prestigious Zumberge Grant for his ambitious project Clowns Across Continents. He has contributed to American Theatre Magazine and is a published playwright. His solo play, Sublimity, will be seen in Los Angeles and at the United Solo Festival in New York this Fall. David is an Associate Dean and the Associate Director of the MFA in Acting in the School of Dramatic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Lillian GroagLILLIAN GROAG works in the theatre as an actress, writer and director. Her acting credits include Broadway, Off Broadway, Mark Taper Forum, and regional theatres throughout the country.  She has directed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Old Globe Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Mark Taper Forum’s Taper Too, New York City Opera, Chicago Opera Theatre, Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Center Stage, The People’s Light and Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory, Milwaukee Repertory, Missouri Repertory, Seattle Repertory, Glimmerglass Opera, Asolo Repertory Theatre, San Jose Repertory,  A.C.T. in San Francisco, The Juilliard School of Music, Florentine Opera, Kentucky Opera,  Arizona Opera, the Sundance Institute Playwrights’ Lab, the Virginia Opera, Opera San Jose and the Company of Angels.  Her plays The Ladies of the Camellias, The White Rose (AT&T award for New American Plays), The Magic Fire (Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays), Menocchio and Midons have been produced variously by the Old Globe Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Kennedy Center, The Guthrie Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory, Denver Center, The Shaw Festival, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Northlight Theatre, the WPA Theatre, Seattle Repertory, the Asolo Theatre, The Wilma Theatre, The People’s Light and Theatre Company, and The Shaw Festival.   Abroad:  Mexico City, Junges Theatre in Bonn, Landesbuhne SachsenAnhalt in Eisleben, Shauspielhaus in Wuppertal, Hessisches Landestheater in Marburg, Shauspielhaus in Stuttgart, Teatro Stabile di Bolzano, (National Tour) in Italy, and Tokyo.  She has done translations and adaptations of Lorca, Feydeau, Musset, Marivaux and Molnar, produced at the Guthrie, the Mark Taper Forum Taper II, and Missouri Rep.  She is an Associate Artist of the Old Globe Theatre. The Ladies of the Camellias, Blood Wedding, The White Rose and The Magic Fire have been published by Dramatists Play Service.  Up coming:  A Nervous Splendour, adaptation, from Frederic Morton’s book, Carmen at Opera Omaha.  Aimee And Jaguar, at A.C.T. and Northwestern University, War Music at the Getty Museum in LA.  Master’s and PhD degrees from Northwestern University in Romance Languages and Literature, Theatre Thesis,  and an Honorary PhD from Lake Forest College.

Marina StefanovskaMALINA STEFANOVSKA: Professor and presently Chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies has published two books on the French court, politics and society as seen through the eyes of memoir authors of the 17th and 18th century (Saint-Simon, un historien dans les marges, Paris 1998; La politique du cardinal de Retz: passions et factions, Paris, 2007). She has also widely published on French theater,  historiography and memoirs, and co-edited a book on “Self and Space in Early Modern European Cultures (Toronto, 2012). She is presently working on Casanova’s Memoirs and, in her spare time, on her own.

GOLDSBY_Robert recolorROBERT GOLDSBY: has worked in theatre for over sixty years as actor, director, professor, administrator, producer, translator, master teacher, scholar and author. For 30 years (from 1957), he taught acting, dramatic literature and directing in the Dramatic Art Department at the University of California at Berkeley. In the late 1960s, Goldsby was an actor, resident stage director and conservatory director from the beginnings of San Francisco’s celebrated American Conservatory Theater. Additioanlly, Goldsby was a founding director of the legendary Berkeley Stage Company (1974-1984), introducing many important new plays and playwrights to America. Since then, having re-located to Los Angeles, he has worked as actor and director at the major university and professional theatres of the region. Goldsby’s directing credits include work in New York, Paris, Marseille, San Francisco, Berkeley, and points in-between, for a total of 153 productions, including 46 plays from the classical cannon. As both director and scholar, Goldsby has been particularly devoted to Molière, and he has directed 15 productions of 11 of Molière works, some in his own translations. Goldsby has recently published his first book, Molière On Stage: What’s So Funny (Anthem Press: London). He holds a B.A. in French and Comparative Literature from Columbia and an M.F.A. in Acting from Yale. He most recently directed the ClassicsFest 2013 reading of Cyrano de Bergerac for Antaeus, starring JD Cullum.

David RodesDAVID RODES: In 1972 David Rodes received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and in 1995 he was decorated by the French government for his contributions to French intellectual activities. He has held Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and Danforth graduate fellowships and in 1968 received a Ph. D. from Stanford University in English Literature. He has taught Shakespeare and 16-18th Century Theater in UCLA’s Department of English since 1966 and has been a consultant for various international stage, film, and television projects on classical theater. In 1994 he and A. R. Braunmuller completed an influential interactive CD-ROM project on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” From 1989 – 2004, Rodes was the director of UCLA’s prestigious collection of fine art prints, drawings, and photographs, the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, located at the UCLA Hammer Museum. The Grunwald Center’s 40,000 works of art on paper include notable old master works, landscape prints and drawings, 19th-century caricature, French modernist prints and artists’ books, and German Expressionist drawings, prints, and books. Under Rodes’s directorship–and guided by the Center’s associate director and senior curator Cynthia Burlingham–the Center has produced such notable exhibitions and catalogues as “Moonlight Theater: Prints and Related Works by Carlos Almaraz” (1991); “The French Renaissance In Prints” (1994); and “Picturing Childhood: Illustrated Childrens’ Books, 1550-1990″ (1997). Rodes now sits on its board of directors.

This Summer: ClassicsFest 2013 Part Two!

This summer, take a little break from the Salem witch trials.  Antaeus presents to you staged readings on all sorts of topics: angry young men, assassination, architecture, megalomania, idealism… and extremely large noses.  Join us for ClassicsFest Part Two!

Bess_DanielJun 23 & 24*, 7pm
LOOK BACK IN ANGER by John Osborne
Initiated by Daniel Bess & Linda Park, Directed by Jamie Wollrab

Park_LindaLook Back in Anger, written by John Osborne, first premiered at London’s Royal Court in 1956, where it was met with harsh criticism for its incendiary treatment of highly autobiographical material. According to Alan Stilltoe – another writer of the time – “John Osbourne didn’t contribute to British Theatre, he set up a landmine and blew it up.”  The piece, which gifted us with the moniker “angry young man,” still resonates today with its dissection of that ineffable longing to be loved.

*6pm Potluck Supper before the Monday performance.  In the Antaeus library. $15 donation or bring a dish!

Nagle_Rob 2013Jun 30 & July 1, 7p
OUR AMERICAN HAMLET by Jake Broder
Initiated by Rob Nagle, Directed by Darin Anthony

1866. Broadway. Edwin Booth, the greatest actor of the nineteenth century, prepares to take the stage as Hamlet, less than a year after his brother assassinated President Lincoln.  This brand new play from the mind of playwright Jake Broder begs the question: for the past century and a half, have we been blaming the wrong brother?

ERB_Nicole 2012July 7 & 8, 7pm
THE MASTER BUILDER
by Henrik Ibsen
Initiated by Nicole Erb & Elizabeth Swain, Directed by Elizabeth Swain

Swain_ElizabethHenrik Ibsen’s tale of ambition, madness and desire.  At the height of architect Halvard Solness’ power and success, a mysterious young woman appears, forcing him to face both the consequences of his quest for greatness and his growing fear that his creative powers are dwindling. Since its publication in 1892, some have argued that this is Ibsen’s most autobiographical play. Some insist it is merely a psychological study of one man’s rise to and fall from power. Join us for a reading of this extraordinary work and decide for yourself.

Cullum_JD_July 14 & 15, 7pm
CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostand, adapted by Emily Frankel
Initiated by JD Cullum, Directed by Robert Goldsby

Cyrano is a disappointed idealist. Dealt an unlucky hand in the nose department, he’s like a traumatized teenager who “just can’t deal.” Cyrano is also a figure of outsized proportions:  an intrepid warrior, an impromptu poet and an altruist… but with a tragic failing.  In a lean adaptation by playwright Emily Frankel, performed by a cast of sixteen, the fate of this extraordinary man is written in his own words: “The nose is the man… is Cyrano!”

http://www.antaeus.org for more information
Suggested donation: $10

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.

MWP_031small

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

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 …

Unmasking The Malcontent: v. XIII

“Speak low; pale fears suspect that hedges, walls, and trees have ears.”

Malevole, THE MALCONTENT, Act III Scene 3

The set for The Malcontent was built in imitation of the Blackfriars’ Theater where the play was first produced in 1604; in light of that, our stage is dressed with heavy wood paneling, richly brocaded curtains, and ten seats on stage divided into boxes on either side. I feel confident in saying that never have seats caused more contention in Antaeus history. It seems that people have a general hesitance to enjoy the play from what they perceive as the interrogative glare of the stage lights, seated in the midst of the action 50 other people are watching from the comparative safety and anonymity of the house.

Mark Doerr and his captivated audience. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

This is not to say that all of our audience feels this way; many who show doubts about their seating arrangement at the top of the show have grown to love it by intermission, and returning audience members have often asked to be seated in the “splash zone” their second time around. But though it is a small faction that opts out of the spotlight, it is a powerful one; as a cast, it’s hard not to feel just a little abandoned when the stage manager comes backstage at intermission to let us know that the boxes will be somewhat emptier in Act 2 as a group seated there has asked to be relocated.

I think I get it; the box seats put you on the wrong side of the fourth wall, in grave danger of the sudden assault of Audience Participation (capitalization mine). If you’ve come to the theater for a polite evening of serious classical drama*, you may have absolutely no interest in being led in some sort of audience-wide call-and-response, or being singled out to stand onstage and speak lines yourself, or in any way being made to look ridiculous amongst the other theater-going folk. I can absolutely understand that, and I have good news: we don’t do anything like that to our audience. There is no Audience Participation portion to our show. In that respect, be assured that the seats onstage are completely safe. They are not, however, safe from audience participation in the lowercase sense, anymore than any other seat in the whole house would be.

JD Cullum offers shoe to audience members. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

The style of playwriting that The Malcontent comes out of is that of rhetoric. There is hardly a speech in this play in which the speaker is not actively trying to change someone’s mind or win someone to his side; sometimes it’s just another character onstage, but almost always it is the audience. Why is this? Because the audience is the one character in the play that never exits, and so has a stake in every moment of the action. The audience is the one character in the play who never speaks, and so the speaker can lay bare his most private thoughts without interruption. The audience is the one character who hears all of the villain’s deepest schemes as well as all of the hero’s highest hopes, and so when the play is over, the audience will be the only voice of reputation to leave the theater after and to tell others who was right and who wrong, who lost and who won. Characters in plays of this style speak to the audience with a powerful need for assistance, or understanding, or absolution, or all of the above, because the audience is the best (and sometimes, only) listener the play will afford them. Through the course of the play, the audience is the dearest friend, the coldest judge, and the most impartial ear.

So don’t let the box seats frighten you if that’s where you find yourself this weekend; the characters in this play need to be heard, hated, loved, forgiven, condemned, admired, despised by someone, and they need it at every possible minute — and as such they need the audience close at hand, all around them. When you are seated onstage, it is for no other reason than because the characters need you there to hear them out. That’s why we love to see you there, and why we hate to see you go.

*The Malcontent is most assuredly not a “polite evening of serious classical drama.” Reviews have described it as wildly funny, bawdy, Pythonesque, biting, rollicking, suprisingly contemporary, and a Jacobean poetry slam; but I digress.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, continues to share her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent. This is the thirteenth installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org