Monthly Archives: February 2013

Casting Doubt

When actors approach their roles, the first order of business is to wholeheartedly believe in their characters’ actions and decisions without judgment. But, how is an actor expected to do so – without reservation –  when the title of the play is Doubt? The cast of Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading sheds some light on the matter.

“This whole play is painted in shades of gray,” says Tom Hall, who will play Father Flynn, the priest who is accused of impropriety at a small parish school. The school’s principal and accuser, Sister Aloysius – who will be played by Trina Kaplan – is driven by her conviction, despite a lack of concrete evidence. “There is no black and there is no white,” says Tom. “And that’s sort of the beauty of it.”

Tom Hall in King John
Photo credit: Daren Scott

Although set in 1965, Doubt was written in 2004 and playwright John Patrick Shanley won both the Pulitzer and the Tony for his work. Even though the words “genius” and “brilliant” are bandied about in the theatre world, says Tom, there is no “doubt” that this play is genius.  And brilliant.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it, long after I had read it,” he says.

Yolanda Franklin, who will be playing Mrs. Muller, mother of the first black student at the school who finds her family affected by the accusation, agrees. “Audiences are in for something,” she says. “Especially if they are hearing the play for the first time. I was blown away when I read it. The writing is that great.”

“Also, the play is so timely,” mentions Trina, commenting on the current investigations within the Catholic Church. “It’s interesting to revisit this show when so much has come out.”

Although the action unfolds within the setting of a parish and the organization of the church, the actors are also quick to point out that it is still immediately accessible, even without church familiarity, because the issues are so real.

Erin Petersen in Romeo and Juliet
Photo credit: Daren Scott

“It actually has very little to do with religion, and more to do with human nature,” says Erin Petersen, who will be playing novice nun Sister James. “It’s not just about faith, but about faith in humanity and the desperate need we sometimes have to believe in people.”

To that end, each character seems very representative of very specific – and very opposing – viewpoints. Tom points out that as the Second Vatican Council was closing in 1965, there was immense upheaval in the traditional processes of the church. Throughout Doubt, there is a theme of change, of progression, and of old-versus-new that is immediately relatable.

“Father Flynn sort of embodies what was going on in the church at that time, which was the controversial march towards progression,” he says, whereas the character of Sister Aloysius is more steeped in tradition. “It doesn’t matter how these two meet, they are going to clash.”

Trina agrees that her character is absolutely driven in her conviction. “She’s so driven yet still sympathetic,” she explains. “Her heart is in the right place, but she’s on a mission. The more I study her, the more questions I have about her.” She pauses, and then adds, “The more I doubt.”

“It’s actually sort of written as a thriller,” Tom explains, referring to the play’s hooded development of the facts as well as the twists and turns taken by both the plot and the characters.

“I, for one, am enjoying my detective work,” says Yolanda, elaborating on her research for her role and her analysis of the time period of the play, the civil rights issues, and the protective feelings a mother would have towards her son when he already has a lot of cards stacked against him. “She just wants what is best,” she says.

True to its title, nothing is certain in this story, which only makes the characters all the more fascinating to play and to watch. If anything is without doubt, it is that audiences will continue talking about it long after Trina speaks the last words.

“At the end, the playwright is basically saying, ‘Discuss,’” says Tom. “‘Everything you need to know is right there. I’m not going to give you an easy answer.’ This play is intended to provoke a conversation.” — T.T.

The staged reading of Doubt will be held Monday, February 25, 630 pm wine reception, 7 pm reading at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Tickets $15 and can be purchased here or reserved by emailing boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and paying at the door. 

 

Documenting Denmark…an interview with filmmaker Graham Sheldon

It is the opening night of Hamlet and the cast has gathered on the stage for some last minute words from director Christy Yael. Everyone is chatting nervously, in various stages of ready – curlers in hair, costume pieces being buttoned, makeup half applied. One hour until showtime.

Sitting in the audience while this preshow unfolds is a man with a camera, camouflaged by stillness, quietly recording the jittery bustle. The actors, while aware of his presence, don’t acknowledge it. Perhaps they are too nervous. Or, perhaps, they are simply used to it.

For the past few months, Graham Sheldon and his crew have been shadowing Sean Cox, who stars as Hamlet, on his journey of creating the character of the Danish prince. An Emmy-nominated documentarian, Graham is developing a television pilot that will take an in depth look into the creative process of various artistic talents. It is titled “Muse” and Sean is the show’s first inspiration.

“We wanted to start off with the theatre,” explains Graham, who credits the series’ co-creator, Rin Ehlers, with the idea for the show. Working with Sean as he goes through his natural journey as Hamlet seemed like a good idea for the first episode, as both he and Rin had already worked with Intrepid in a theatrical capacity. This familiarity with the company and the key players gave them the perfect setting within which to cultivate this new idea.

“Plus,” says Graham, “the first show had to be a great story. You can’t go wrong with Hamlet.”

The series is intended to explore the artist’s path through all sorts of different mediums – sculpting, painting, dance, music, and the like, and each episode will focus on one artist’s journey, taking the audience through a practical and visceral experience of that artist’s world. Typically, this journey will center around one specific creative aspect, such as the cultivation of one particular painting or dance piece.

“It’s all about that inspiration and that spark and then seeing it all the way to delivery,” says Graham. In this case, it is a speech.

“We’re trying to show the play developing through the microcosm of one monologue,” says Graham.  “Since the episode is only going to be 22 minutes, one of the harder things will be making Hamlet accessible in that time.”

This also means introducing the show’s viewers to the terminology of the various artistic mediums without being too didactic. Graham insists that the show will not be about learning the jargon of the stage or focusing on the technical aspects of creating theatre, even though, for example, not everyone will know what a cue-to-cue is while they are showing footage from the technical rehearsals.

“The show is more about Sean and the cast and their relationship with him. It’s about the people around Sean and his own muses and creative influences,” says Graham.

To that end, Graham plans to shoot footage at Sean’s home, capturing some of this private life with his family, and see how he spends time developing the part away from the theatre and in balance with his other points of focus. “Intrepid really is a family company,” observes Graham, citing it as one of the aspects which drew him to the spotlighting it in the first place.

Another thing that Graham and his crew quickly realized about this company is that, with the multiple hats that Sean wears as Artistic Director and Director of Education, he is not always the easiest person to pin down. Or to locate, for that matter.

“We spent a half hour in the theatre one day just trying to find him,” laughs Graham, describing one of the rehearsals they were shooting. “This is such a fast moving production and Sean is all over the place, running around the entire building, doing 30 things at once.” They finally put actor Brian Mackey, who plays Laertes, on “Sean-Watch,” so he could help them keep an eye on their artist.

“Sean has so much energy that just keeping up with him has been the biggest challenge,” says Graham, who has interviewed everyone from ex-CIA agents to Cern physicists for his past projects.

Of course, it’s never easy to truly capture reality. Having cameras documenting one’s every move can be a little daunting, especially in a rehearsal space where actors need to feel free to explore. “Sean and Christy were a little hesitant about the idea at first,” admits Graham. “I would be too. Having cameras around is never an easy thing. But they’ve been really receptive to it and we’ve tried to maintain the fly on the wall method.” He pauses and then adds, “We’ll find out at the end if we’ve been successful.”

For now, Graham and his crew have shot hours and hours of footage and he looks forward to editing it into a finished product. If all goes well, “Becoming Hamlet” will be coming out very soon.  – T.T.

Designing Denmark…Sean Fanning on Setting HAMLET’s Stage

Sean Fanning, Set Designer for Hamlet

Sean Fanning doesn’t like scenery.

This may seem strange, considering he is the set designer for Intrepid’s current production of Hamlet, but when you hear Sean’s take on bringing Shakespeare to life, you might understand.

“It’s all about the words,” says Sean, a statement that is music to Intrepid’s ears. “You could do Shakespeare the way it’s written on a bare stage and it’s powerful because it’s so imaginative.”

To that end, Sean has created literal space on the stage at the Clayton E. Liggett for the “rottenness” of Denmark to play out. With the mere suggestion of a finished room, the landscape of the stage serves multiple purposes throughout the production without the necessity of changing sets or disguising scenery. Soaring colonnades meet ceilings which disappear into thin air, both uplifting the regality of the space as well as suggesting the distemper of the action to come.

“I see other plays that are more contemporary that rely so much on having to actually show people in location,” says Sean. “In Shakespeare, yes, it’s episodic, and yes, we’re going from place to place, but we don’t rely on all the typical conventions.”

In other words, Sean lets the audience have a say in each location, projecting their own ideas of the graveyards, the ships, the secret rooms of the palace, and the sites of hauntings onto the canvas of his design.

“Shakespeare demands so much,” he says. “If you really tried to physically transport people from location to location, you would lose some of the magic.” Best to rely on the words to carry the scene, he says. And based on the high praise he has already received (local press has hailed Sean as an unsurprisingly “in-demand designer”), he’s obviously on the mark.

“Shakespeare is one of my favorite things to do,” says Sean, who also designs all of the MFA productions at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. Hamlet is his inaugural show at Intrepid.

Sean’s design for Hamlet also captures the challenge of the thrust stage, where the audience is closer to the action, rather than gathered behind the fourth wall of a typical proscenium stage. This adds to the tension of the play, as actors have the space to move through and around the set’s dimensions without the necessity of facing all of the viewers at all times. Sean has ensured that the actors always have what they need, providing built-in places for them to sit, lie down, and hurdle over. The actors help create the locations, and Sean emphasizes, “that’s what’s so magical about it.”

“There is a sense of barrenness that the actors can fill with the words,” says Sean. “So, to me, some of the most beautiful sets are bare stages.”  – T.T.

Catch a quick interview with Sean Fanning and see his path to creating Hamlet:

Hamlet runs through February 17 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas.  Tickets can be purchased here.