Monthly Archives: January 2014
Macbeth is our 13th production and Season Four finale, running January 31-February 2. In this behind-the-scenes peek, Sandy Campbell and Sean Yael-Cox, our Scottish power couple, discuss the secrets to pulling off dark deeds.
Meet the Macbeths:
Tickets available here. Showtimes are Wednesdays-Thursdays at 730 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 and 7 pm.
The San Diego Union-Tribune invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to continue writing her “Macbeth Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the paper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She will be documenting a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. Check out her first installment!
Actor’s Diary: Summoning the ‘sisters’
Intrepid Shakespeare cast member Tiffany Tang talks ‘Macbeth’
By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
January 26, 2014
I peer at page one of my “Macbeth” script and realize that the notes I have scrawled in the margin are utterly undecipherable.
Do we go on the light flash or the cracking noise?
Sigh. Computers have destroyed my ability to create legible penmanship.
I am seated in the fourth row of the Liggett Theater and, as usual, I am flanked by the two other members of my newly founded triumvirate, Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen. Together, we are the Weird Sisters. Like “Heathers” without the color-blocking, we roam rehearsals cackling at private jokes and creating stories about other characters in the play.
Except today. Today, we are gearing up for our first full-cast run-through, and since the witches are charged with that teeny tiny task of opening the entire show, I want to make sure we get this part right.
“So, we go on the light flash?” I ask aloud.
Savvy nods and then whispers something in my ear about a bloody pilot’s thumb. I glance at Erin. Already in witchy telepathic sync, we all smile simultaneously. Christy’s gonna love that.
Although the three of us have been friends for a few years now, the depth of this particular camaraderie still surprises me. When I last met these two on stage, it was during Intrepid’s “Romeo and Juliet” in 2010. I played Lady Capulet, and Savvy was a fierce mama bear Nurse, uber-protective of Erin, who played Juliet.
During that show, our backstage conversations consisted mostly of strategically thrown dirty looks. Now, I have been invited to “rehearsal sleepovers” and find I am part of a creepy underworld posse.
Despite the fact that I am constantly conjuring demonic deeds, things seem friendlier for me in Scotland than they were in Italy.
Christy Yael-Cox, our director, begins the rehearsal, emphasizing that tonight will be a “stumble-through,” which basically means she would like for us all to let ourselves off of our proverbial perfectionistic hooks. The collective breath of relief that ripples through the theater is audible.
Savvy and Erin and I set ourselves onstage. Until this point, the cast has been rehearsing separately in tribes of thanes, Scottish royalty, and supernatural beings, respectively. So, in this moment, we don’t really know what to expect from one another. I have no idea how Sandy Campbell will summon her murdering ministers, nor what kind of king Danny Campbell will prove to be, and I can feel curious eyes upon the witches as we find our places.
This makes sense. Historically, the three witches have been interpreted as everything from giggling schoolgirls to herbalist hags to sexy apparitions. What will our witches turn out to be?
Please let us be scary, I think to myself as I nestle my head into Erin’s shoulder blades, cursing my tendency to end-gain under pressure.
This first scene goes quick as lightning. I relax a bit, confident in what we have brought to the table.
We reappear a few scenes later for our first Macbeth meet and greet. Let’s just say this scene is a more humbling experience. Some staging needs to be reset, and intentions need to be clarified. It will be back to the drawing board at our next rehearsal with Christy.
Act One ends and Monica Perfetto, our stage manager, calls for a break. Erin and Savvy and I lean into each other, conspiring, plotting, wondering if we should include militaristic combat rolls in our blocking.
Andrew Moore, a San Dieguito Academy intern who will be playing Young Siward, approaches our trio.
“You guys are terrifying!” he announces.
We resist the urge to do a group high five and instead smile graciously.
If you ask the cast of Charles Busch’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which will open Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series at the Encinitas Library this evening, how rehearsals have been going, you will find that they’ve all had a similar experience.
“I’m just trying to get through the scenes without laughing,” says Linda Libby, who will be playing Marjorie Taub, the title character of the play. “It’s very unprofessional.”
Linda joins a stellar cast this evening in this story about an Upper West Side socialite who craves the richness of a life filled with culture and substance, yet finds herself paralyzed by her own neurosis. Trina Kaplan portrays Marjorie’s mother, Frieda, and Gabriel Mario Cornejo, will break from his stage direction duties to step in as Mohammed, the doorman. Jill Drexler will play Lee Green, a childhood friend who arrives on Marjorie’s doorstep. Ruff Yeager rounds out the cast as Dr. Ira Taub, Marjorie’s allergist husband.
While most of these actors are veterans of Intrepid’s Reading Series, this marks Jill and Gabriel’s debut.
“We’ve all been wanting to work together for a long time,” says Jill with a smile.
Ruff Yeager, who also sits on Intrepid’s Staged Reading Committee and will direct tonight’s reading, says that picking this play to open this year’s series was not a difficult choice.
“It’s a funny play with a lot of surprises,” he says. “I think audiences will be comforted by the familiarity of the family dynamics. The fun of this script is watching this family, who thinks they are very balanced, become completely unbalanced.”
“We get to watch characters go places that most people would never go, even though they might entertain the idea,” says Linda. “Then we get to watch them work out how life continues after that. There’s a passionate neurosis about each of these characters.”
Passion is the name of the game in this “tale,” and even though the issues at hand may seem trifling to an outside audience, the ferocity with which these characters pursue their needs inspires both awe as well as humor.
This can be both great fun and a great challenge for an actor, however.
“The lines are familiar, ones you would hear in your own home,” says Trina. “But one thing you don’t want to do is play the comedy.”
“Charles Busch is a master,” says Ruff. “You have to play the reality of the situation and the high stakes that are written in. The comedy takes care of itself.”
With a note of warning, the cast also clarifies that the humor can lean towards mature audiences. Trina is frank about how many “F-bombs” she uses during the course of the play.
“That’s Yiddish, right?” Gabriel jokes.
“Also,” chimes in Ruff, “clothing will be removed. We can’t tell you what clothing, though.”
With all of these laughs, it’s hard to imagine this cast having more fun performing this reading than they are having in rehearsals. But if there’s one thing aside from the humor that we can expect from this play, they say, it’s the surprises.
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch, a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, January 27. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
Chat with anyone in theatre about “The Scottish Play,” and inevitably there will be some hesitation in saying the actual name aloud.
After all, that is how curses tend to go.
Once upon a time in 1606, the actor who played the first Lady Macbeth died of a fever backstage and a curse was born. Since that time, there have been records of ill-fated actors and production crew with each incarnation of the play, the bad luck often attributed to the “authentic” witches’ chants, the general bloody mayhem of this dark and twisted play, and low lighting.
The cast of Intrepid’s upcoming Macbeth has been dealing in darkness and magic for weeks now as they navigate the swamps of Scotland, sorting out the political intrigue and wiping blood from their hands. But, how did they manage to overcome the curse?
The modern day translation of the superstition goes something like this: You are not allowed to say the word in a theater. If you do, you are required to leave the theatre, turn around three times, spit, swear, and knock to be let back in.
If you are not an actor this may sound ludicrous. If you are an actor, you most likely have one or two or five stories of undertaking these actions yourself or forcing someone else to do so.
There is a loophole. Superstition also says that there are major curse-exceptions if a company is actually performing the play.
Director Christy Yael-Cox was never hesitant about dropping the “M”-bomb from the beginning of the process, and while the rest of the cast seemed relieved to follow suit, that hesitancy to utter the word still remained for some.
What to do? There was only one answer.
Meet the cast of Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth:
“They’re still in there,” she says to me, motioning towards the theater. I nod.
For once, it seems that I am a few minutes early, and while we wait the three of us chat about “American Horror Story: Coven” and whether or not we should schedule a viewing for research purposes. We are interrupted when the theater door opens and Brian Rickel, the actor playing Malcolm, steps into the lobby, packing his script into his bag and calling out thank yous behind him. Savvy and Erin and I look at each other.
Even though my fellow witches and I are eager to get down to spell casting, there is one important bridge we must cross before we can begin any cauldron-circling rehearsals: Table work with the dramaturge.
Table work is a highly technical term used in the theatre to refer to the intricate script analysis work that takes place…while sitting at a table. Literally. We all sit down and go over the script together.
While this may seem like a superfluous step in the rehearsal process, it is actually one of the most important elements of putting together a play – especially when working with Shakespeare. It is crucial that all of the actors exist in the same world when they hit the stage for rehearsals, and the development of that world starts with the words.
Dr. Gideon Rappaport, our passionate dramaturge with more Shakespearean research accomplishments on his CV than I can wrap my head around, is already in place at said table when I arrive. He sits on one side with Director Christy Yael-Cox, and, as if we are about to compete in our own mini academic decathlon, Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti, and I take the seats opposite them.
I pull my Macbeth script out of my bag, along with a Bevington edition of the play and, lastly, my First Folio edition of the complete works.
This last is by far my favorite Shakespeare reference book. It’s a worthy tome, hefty in weight as it is in substance, and was edited by my grad school Shakespeare professor, the late Doug Moston. Its cornflower blue cover is worn at the edges, a testament to years of transport and love. From this book, I have learned to unlock the directorial notes Shakespeare has buried in the lines of his characters. Yes, that capital letter is there for a reason. Yes, the discrepancies in spelling are purposeful. No, I can’t always read the 1623 typeset, but it gives me comfort to have it nearby.
I sharpen my pencil. Since the Weird Sisters open the play, we all turn to page one of our scripts.
The key to the witches, says Gideon immediately, is their specific rhythm and meter. Whereas the “normal” speech pattern for most of the characters in the Shakespeare canon is iambic pentameter (think heartbeat rhythm), the witches experiment with an incomplete trochaic tetrameter (think the opposite of a heartbeat rhythm) and accents of iambic trimeter. What all of that basically means is that the witches are going to sound unnatural without us having to do anything but say the words.
Surprisingly, Shakespeare often makes an actor’s job pretty easy.
Before too long, the three of us are finding our voices, and after some stops and starts and corrections, we begin to recite the lines in unison, overemphasizing the rhythm and meter, ensuring that our eventual memorization incorporates the spine-chilling cadence of this specific chant.
After lengthy discussions about our lines, the multi-layered meanings of certain expressions and word choices, and the breakdown of our sentence structures, the three witches spend the balance of the time peppering Gideon and Christy with questions about everything from the nature of our corporeal existence to the political structure of the demonic underworld we serve. We also spend a lot of time on one question in particular that may or may not have a clear answer in this moment: what are we here to accomplish and why?
I look at my script at the end of our hour-long session and review the hastily scribbled marginal notes: “falsehood,” “anti-trinity,” “conduit,” “this toad is very demanding.”
Erin and Savvy and I take deep breaths as we leave the table, slightly overwhelmed by how we are going to translate all of this information into our expression of this dark trio. It is immediately clear that there is only one thing to do between now and our next rehearsal.
We must have a witchy research slumber party.
We agree on a date and time, but before we depart I make one request, “American Horror Story” on my mind.
“No scary movies, okay?” I call to them across the parking lot, and the irony is not lost on me when I explain. “They freak me out.”
– Tiffany Tang
Look for further installments of Tiffany’s “Actor’s Diary” in the Arts Section of this Sunday’s edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, beginning January 26 and continuing on Sundays through February 16. Macbeth previews begin January 31. Tickets can be purchased here.
I’m late, I think as I delicately barrel down the Santa Fe off ramp in Encinitas. The first rehearsal of Intrepid Shakespeare’s Macbeth begins in five minutes and even though I am three minutes away, there is one cardinal rule of the theatre world: Early is on time. On time is late.
I semi-screech into the parking lot at San Dieguito Academy, with whom Intrepid shares the multi-million dollar performing arts venue. I park. I make a new year’s resolution to leave earlier. I take a deep breath.
I don’t care how experienced of an actor you are, there is a certain weight of anticipation that accompanies the first full cast read-through of a script. This is the first time the entire company is assembled. This is the moment when you meet your fellow colleagues, designers, directors. And as an actor, this is your first opportunity to “shine,” even though, in truth, absolutely nothing is expected from you.
My head races with the inevitable paranoia: Will they like me? Will they think me talented? Prepared enough? Too prepared? Is my scansion correct? Will they be able to tell? Wait, I can’t remember if I am supposed to pronounce the “t” in “fillet.”
I have an MFA in Acting, and yet tonight I am absurdly concerned that my potentially unimpressive delivery of what is basically a recipe for really gnarly jambalaya is going to blacklist me from the San Diego acting community as an untalented fraud.
Welcome to the headspace of an actor.
Today, I am a witch. Witch #2, to be exact, thank you very much, get it right. I have performed in seven Shakespeare productions in my lifetime, one of which has been Macbeth. This last performance was in 2000 on the Lower East Side of New York City with the Cry Havoc Company. In this incarnation, I was also a witch, although technically a “witch familiar,” which basically meant I was a sex-tainted surrogate-witch who would handle all of the human interaction, leaving the “real witches” to do the behind-the-scenes spell casting stuff. In short, I got to vamp around the stage in shiny silver pants and red lipstick. I expect this production of Macbeth to be…different from that.
This time, I am a full-fledged witch in the company of two formidable actors: Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen. I know these women. I know these women well. The first play I was cast in upon my return to San Diego in 2010 was Intrepid’s Romeo and Juliet, where I played Lady Capulet to Erin’s Juliet, with Savvy holding ranks as her maternal nurse confidante.
Needless to say, this time I am looking forward to being on the inside of the inside jokes.
I enter the theater. The space is bare except for a few long tables center stage and a plethora of chairs. Everyone is here: actors, production crew, interns. A diverse mix of these factions mill about, chatting and hugging. Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport sits at the table, surrounded by his own copies of Macbeth, pouring over the Intrepid script, his pencil moving quickly. Monica Perfetto, stage manager extraordinaire, is passing out scripts.
The production crew is settling at one end of the table. The San Dieguito Academy interns are starting to fill in the house seats. I notice that Savvy is already seated at the table and has marked out chairs next to her for Erin and me. This is indeed going to be different, I think, taking my place with the same glow I would display had my seventh grade BFF saved me a spot at the popular kids’ cafeteria lunch table.
I peruse the gang, waving hellos. I know a few people in this cast, I realize. Tyler, who will play Lennox, did a production of New Play Café’s Simply Sci Fi with me at Big Kitchen this summer. Danny Campbell, who will play Duncan, and Dr. Robert Biter, who will play Ross, both worked with me on Terra Nova, an Intrepid staged reading, in 2011. Others, I am not familiar with, but I know that inevitably by the end of this process, we will be best buds. People wonder why I have so many Facebook friends. This is why.
Sandy Campbell, who will play the coveted role of Lady Macbeth, seats herself a few places down from me. I watch her stalker-like for a moment as she settles into her chair. Was anyone ever so graceful?
Savvy turns to me suddenly and launches into a summary of her current witch-related research. I hesitate, glancing furtively around the room. Having this conversation would be the geekdom equivalent of showing up with my lines memorized. No one likes an overachiever. But soon, we are bandying about demonology, 16th century herbalist, dissonant musical interval, and Greek mythological figure factoids. My inner nerd gains a little confidence. I start talking animatedly about Furies. Two chairs down, Tyler eyes us with curiosity. So much for operating on the geeky down low.
Christy steps up to the table, now strewn with script and reference book and water bottle accouterment, and announces the plan for the evening. I settle in. I let go of my expectations for this evening, for myself. My nerves begin to dissipate, the same way that I know they will in that moment before I step onstage for opening night in a few weeks’ time. Because, after all, tonight is just another kind of beginning.
Macbeth previews January 31. Tickets can be purchased here. Look for further installments of Tiffany’s rehearsal chronicle in the Sunday Arts Section of the San Diego Union-Tribune, beginning January 26.