For a company whose primary goal is to invigorate the work of Shakespeare, it might seem a curious choice to open the fifth season with a quintessentially American play.
“All My Sons still resonates,” says director Christy Yael-Cox, who chose this play partly because of her love of Arthur Miller and partly because the themes of wartime struggle, family loyalty and ethical dilemmas are still important issues in our modern day society.
“This play is just as relevant now as it was in 1947,” says Brian Mackey, who is portraying Chris Keller, the only son from his family to have returned from the war when the play begins. “The issues that it raises of family and sacrifice and idealism, it’s the same thing that we are dealing with right now.”
The crux of the play is this. Everyone is trying to create and maintain lives of stability and happiness and success. How each character goes about achieving these things is where Miller focuses the microscope. The lines between right and wrong, good and bad, and family and foe become blurred very quickly.
“It’s a plate spinner,” says Tom Stephenson, who is portraying Joe Keller, whose actions in both the past and the present largely determine the direction of the story. “It’s a time when the American Dream is coming to fruition and it’s a very attractive thing and family is really important. Joe Keller sacrifices virtually everything for his family – but he sacrifices others, not necessarily himself.”
Aside from the ethical issues raised by the story, there is also the question of how to continue the pursuit of these idyllic dreams once the truth is unveiled. Iis it possible to forgive? To forget? Is it denial that moves us towards our next moments in life, or is it hope?
Savvy Scopelleti plays Kate Keller, the mother whose character embodies this question.
“Kate totally believes that her lost son is going to come home,” she says. “That causes a lot of undercurrents of tension in the family.”
To watch these characters navigate these bumpy roads while maintaining the veneer of suburban charm is to witness a very intricate dance. How much truth is too much? How authentic is the American Dream? How much of our character does it cost to maintain it and is it even worth it to do so?
“This play is a gigantic mirror that was sent here from 1947,” says Brian Rickel, who plays Frank Lubey, an optimistic, bowtie-sporting neighbor in this suburban town. “There’s a lot in this play that is incredibly relevant today and I think Arthur Miller is really important in the way that he wrote because of that.”
“Arthur Miller wrote for a time beyond himself,” says Tom. “And that’s why this play is the incredible thing that it is.”
All My Sons plays through April 19 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.
“Can we put a curtain in that window?” he asked, pointing to the second story of the onstage house façade. “It will help with the mood we’re trying to create.”
If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a designer on a production of an Arthur Miller play, the answer lies somewhere between realistic authenticity and sneaky, subliminal messaging.
“We’re in the subconscious of the audience,” says Curtis, referring to all of the production design elements that go into making a play come to life onstage. “But hopefully, they won’t know it.
The audience, says Curtis, is not supposed to notice something in particular, like his lighting design. Hopefully, he says, it just blends in with all of the other elements to help tell the story.
For the last two months, while actors have been rehearsing lines and blocking, the designers have been busy creating the world the characters will inhabit for the run of the show. Costumer Kristin McReddie has been scouring vintage clothing stores, Etsy.com and costume rental shops all over town. Prop designer Bonnie Durben has been researching the look and design of 1940s household items. Curtis has been paying a lot of attention to the play of the light throughout the course of one day.
“The play is going to be a slice of life post WWII,” says Kristin. “Hopefully, the audience will take away [from the show] what it looked like and felt like to be alive in that era.”
Set in 1947, “All My Sons” explores the dynamic of the Keller family and their neighbors as they navigate a post-war life and all of the hope and loss entailed in that particular time period. It is one of Miller’s most emotionally gripping plays.
But in order for that emotionally-charged story to unfold, it is necessary to ground the setting in a very realistic place. This means careful attention to detail on the part of the designers who are creating this onstage world.
“This time period is right at a cusp,” explains Bonnie. “There are still people that are old enough that remember the time period, so you have to be very careful about the type of props that you get – that the glass pitcher looks like the glass pitcher their mother had.”
Bonnie’s script is full of notes on these details, the specificity of each item that the characters handle throughout the story. For instance, when a newspaper appears, it is Bonnie’s job to make sure it is exactly the right one.
“The funny papers were different then,” she explains. “They were all in color and they were all brighter and boxed differently. It’s the little things that, really, you don’t notice, but the people in the audience are going to look at it and say, ‘That’s not right. That’s not how I remember it.’”
The search for period-appropriate costumes is just as specific, says Kristin, who had to research, not only the look of that decade’s fashion, but also how wartime permeated even the closets of these characters.
“In the 1940s, everything was tailored to be more fitted towards the body,” she explains. “They had to use less fabric because all of that wool and cotton was going to the war effort. So it’s going to be interesting to see how the actors are going to adapt their blocking to the costumes and the clothing.”
Arthur Miller extends this specificity into the story’s lighting design as well, having confined the play’s action to a 24-hour time period. This means that Curtis has spent a lot of time contemplating his role as the show’s timekeeper.
“The lighting design is going to drive the entire show forward because it takes place in one day,” explains Curtis. “When you think about it, time doesn’t stop, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the pacing of the show corresponds to where we are in time.”
Despite all of this intricately detailed work, at the end of the day, success for the designers means that their contribution does not stand out on its own, but rather gracefully augments the storytelling of the play.
“I think what makes a successful show in general is something that people can always relate to,” says Curtis. “I think this show does a great job of doing that along with providing an emotional story. I hope the audience leaves feeling everything that we put out there for them.”
All My Sons plays March 27-April 20 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.
Francis Gercke is thoughtful as he tries to describe the tone of Neil LaBute’s most recent theatrical offering, ‘In a Forest, Dark and Deep,’ which will be read Monday evening as the next installment of Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series at the Encinitas Library. Fran is set to direct and perform in this two-character, one-act play.
“The play opens with lightning,” he continues, “so the whole thing contains a sort of electric pop.”
While this 2011 play may not yet be as widely known as some of LaBute’s previous work, such as ‘reasons to be pretty’ or ‘The Shape of Things,’ it nevertheless contains all of the hallmarks one would expect from this particular playwright’s M.O.: compelling dialogue, intimate relationships and that general sense of dis-ease which permeates a seemingly everyday storyline.
“LaBute tends to write about regular people on the extremes,” says Fran, “and he does it without the audience ever really knowing where he’s going.”
In this play, these “regular people” happen to be siblings, which is a very interesting and very specific relationship. Brother and sister Bobby and Betty meet up in the woods because Betty has urgently requested her brother’s help to clear out her cabin that she has been renting to a student. Together, they box and bag, sort and pack. And, as with any family relationship, this activity of “cleaning out the stuff” does not solely refer to piles of books and belongings. Soon, the past begins to filter into the room as well.
“What is unique about this play is that both siblings rely on and then deny the memories they have of one another,” explains Jessica John, who will be portraying Betty. “As an audience member, you find yourself wondering which one of them has the more accurate story and then wondering whether they are manipulating one another or simply remembering things in a skewed way. It’s a terrific device for story telling because it is so disorienting and completely fascinating.”
Fran agrees. “As the play rolls on, you‘re trying to figure out who is telling the truth about the past and who has accurate information about what happened,” he explains. “The way LaBute writes is so compelling. Things are never explained; they are only suggested. The play holds both potential and surprise.”
As both Fran and Jessica have siblings in their own lives, they are quick to agree that a unique bond exists within a family dynamic. Jessica especially understands this bond, perhaps, because she is a twin.
“There is nothing like a sibling,” says Jessica, identifying her sister as the “living scrapbook” of her life. “She remembers things about me that I don’t remember! I find that kind of creepy and awesome all at once. But, they are also her memories of me and thus flawed in that way.”
“As sibling, we all share the same DNA, but we are all so radically different,” says Fran of his own brother and sisters. “We have had such different responses to different situations.”
It is the manipulation of these assumptions that perhaps challenges the audience’s expectations of this story. This is a familiar theme in LaBute’s work, and one that is not always embraced.
“With every play that he writes, there is a thrilling reception and also a wide criticism,” says Fran. “It’s the sign of a writer who is not afraid to enter into conversations that may not be ‘polite.’ He tends to touch upon subjects that not many playwrights tackle.”
“He seems so drawn to the darker sides of the human condition,” says Jessica. “So there is a ton of cringe-worthy, can’t-take-my-eyes-off-of-this moments in all of his plays. The thing I like about this work, in particular, is that he actually seems to be exploring the more human sides of people in a dark situation.”
This exploration is painstakingly detailed, amplified by the fact that the entire play takes place in one evening and in just one setting. The Aristotelian unities of time, place and action may not be regularly applied in contemporary playwriting, but Fran believes that the rigidity of this structure compels the right energy for this story.
“[The playwright] has basically nailed his foot to the floor and said, ‘I can’t leave this room and neither can these characters, so we are going to figure this out right here, right now,’” says Fran.
“There’s a sort of ‘slow motion car crash’ quality to his work,” adds Jessica. “With LaBute, audiences can always be prepared to see character studies of truly watchable, messed-up, interesting and complex people.”
“His writing also makes me laugh inappropriately,” Fran admits.
But as these characters move through the action of the story, it is that inappropriate laughter and that ‘car-crash’ tension that truly charge the tone of the play with the electricity that keeps audiences riveted.
“Just like any good thriller or horror movie,” says Fran, “it’s not the ‘scares’ that frighten you. It’s the quiet, quiet moments, when you’re one step closer to something unexpected happening.”
‘In a Forest, Dark and Deep’ by Neil LaBute, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, March 24. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
The theater is quiet as Savvy Scopelleti says the last line of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. And then, for a few moments, no one moves. Finally, scripts are closed, chairs are adjusted, and deep breaths are taken.
It is the first read-through rehearsal for the cast of Intrepid’s Season Five opener, and even though it is also the first time this group of actors has come together, already there is an undeniable feeling of camaraderie here.
Already, it feels like family.
Christy Yael-Cox concludes the read-through with a few parting thoughts – about Miller, about wartime, about freedom from the past. The actors adjourn, minds and hearts full of Miller’s poignant dialogue.
“This play is so important and still so relevant today,” says Christy, “which is both sad and fascinating.”
Written on the heels of World War Two, All My Sons opened on Broadway in 1947 and put Arthur Miller on the map as a legitimate voice in American theatre. Inspired by a story he heard about a young woman from the Midwest who turned in her father for manufacturing and selling defective aircraft parts to the U.S. Army, All My Sons carefully navigates the aftermath of wartime through a handful of small town neighbors discovering that soldiers are not the only ones who bear battle scars.
“We tend to romanticize the past,” says Christy of this particular post-war era. “This play tells a different story, and Miller’s ability to craft the language to tell this story is just stunning.”
Arthur Miller’s personal experiences are also palpable in the telling of this story. Even though he never served in the war (he was rejected from the Army for a medical condition), Miller wrote amply in his memoir, Timebends, of his own disconnectedness to his society while battles were raging overseas.
“I was walking through the city in wartime feeling the inevitable unease of the survivor,” he writes. “The city I knew was incoherent, yet its throttled speech seemed to implore some significance for the sacrifices that drenched the papers every day.”
Eventually, this disconnect would manifest itself into the creation of a play. He describes himself during that time as “a stretched string waiting to be plucked, waiting, as it turned out, for All My Sons.”
The reception for the Broadway opening of the play was charged. While it received a New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1947, citing its “frank and uncompromising presentation of a timely and important theme” and Miller’s “genuine instinct for the theater,” it was also banned by the Civil Affairs Division of the American Military Government from being presented overseas. Word was that Miller was accused of trying to attack American capitalism, which was a message that could not be exported in this particular era of anti-Communist intensity.
However, Miller’s extraordinary use of language and the honest portrayal of the world he creates in All My Sons has enabled the play to survive through and past the history into which it was born. Christy sees this universalism as a touchstone for Intrepid Shakespeare Company.
“The characters are relatable and realistic because they are so deeply and humanly flawed,” she says. ”In this way, the writing reminds me of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s themes and the humanity behind his plays are still so resonant for us. This play is the same.”
“Also, it’s funny,” she adds. “There’s a lot of humor. It’s a very human thing, that even in crisis, we can find things to laugh about. Shakespeare understood that. And so did Miller.”
– Tiffany Tang
All My Sons plays March 27-April 20 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.
“There is a bold, timeless, pulse in Abundance that is centered in the heart of a woman.”
Director and Intrepid Staged Reading Committee Member Shana Wride is unbridled in her admiration of playwright Beth Henley and this 1990 offering, which first debuted at the Manhattan Theatre Club to critical acclaim.
The New York Times has categorized it as a “Western epic,” although one that has never been seen before. Instead of the predominantly male histories that define America’s saga of westward expansion, this tale is told through the eyes of the women – specifically two mail-order brides.
“Let’s face it, most plays do not come from the female perspective,” says Shana. “[Beth Henley] has an amazing gift for creating female characters who are tough and fragile, hilarious and heartbreaking, fully loaded complicated beings.”
Centered in the high plains of Wyoming in the 1860s, the play explores the lives of two women who have come to the American West in search of new beginnings in marriages to husbands they have yet to meet. Their friendship provides the backdrop for an unromanticized exploration of the ideal of westward expansion.
“Beth captures the subtle humor beautifully, as well as the idea of selling this fantasy and blind hope for a better life in the West,” says Jacque Wilke, who will portray Macon, one of the brides. “The friendship between these two vastly different women and the bond that forms is one that only a woman could understand and voice so eloquently.”
Joining Jacque onstage will be Kelly Iversen as Bess, the other half of this play’s quarter-century friendship, as well as other San Diego notables Tom Hall, Jonathan Sachs and Sean Yael-Cox.
“I love Beth Henley’s characters because they seem so out there at first and then you realize they’re completely you – or your neighbor or your mom,” says Kelly. “And she doesn’t tell you who to root for. There’s no clear-cut hero or villain. She creates very human people in extreme circumstances and you as the audience get to decide what you think of them.”
In fact, readings rely heavily on the audience’s imagination, both to interpret the message of the play as well as to imagine the staging. For the cast and director, this can present both an opportunity as well as a challenge.
“Play readings are difficult things to pull off,” says Shana, who also directed Yasmina Reza’s Life(x)3 for Intrepid last year. “You have practically no rehearsal and you get no bells or whistles to tell the story – just the language.”
Thankfully, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley is no stranger to captivating dialogue. Karen Bovard of the Hartford Courant notes in a recent review of the play during its run at Hartford Stage that Henley’s language is “snappy” and “crackles with personality.” Shana agrees.
“This is a story [audiences] have not heard before. It is a play that encourages you to think in wide, open spaces. It is also ridiculously funny without losing anytime delivering a very important message. Abundance lends itself beautifully to being read aloud.”
Abundance by Beth Henley, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, February 24. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase reading series subscriptions here.
Read more about this production in the U-T and get a round of up the ‘Actor’s Diary’ here.
By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T February 16, 2014
Closing weekend, much like opening weekend, arrives with its own set of rituals. Backstage, there is an air of finality. Cast members are getting antsy for their next projects. Directors are scheduling rehearsals for future shows. The life of the play, while it continues with gusto onstage, wanes in the wings.
It is about this time when I frantically begin looking around me, desperate to capture fleeting moments of this creative camaraderie. Unfortunately, trying to maintain the unique energy of a play after its final curtain is like trying to prevent an apparition-possessed witch from disappearing into the night. It just doesn’t work very well.
Some things will be easy to let go of. For instance, it has been over three weeks since I’ve worn nail polish, earrings, or my favorite perfume. I will be happy to not have to pick prosthetic glue boogers out of my pillow in the morning or wash glow-in-the-dark goop out of my hair each night. Scratching my nose without the aid of a Q-tip poked up my prosthetic face nostril will also be a relief (and I realize that might have been too much information).
Other things, however, won’t be so easy to release.
Tonight, Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti and I sit at our dressing tables to begin our 45-minute makeup routine. While we have tried a variety of background makeup-applying soundtracks, the only one that ever seems to be right is the *NSync Pandora station. Rin Ehlers Sheldon, who plays Lady Macduff, laughs when she hears it, dubbing it “typical girl dressing room music.” I stretch my prosthetic nose over my face while we all harmonize to “Bye Bye Bye.”
I take a mental snapshot. While we cannot hold onto the moments, I think to myself, we can retain the memories. I eagerly begin to search for more.
Sandy Campbell, who plays Lady Macbeth, glides into the dressing room. “Hello, my witchy witches!” she says. Later, we will help her through multiple quick-changes as she entertains/kills the king. We decide we make a pretty dark trio of ladies-in-waiting.
Before the show, I give Andrew Moore, our San Dieguito Academy intern who plays Young Seward, a high-five and tell him again that geometry is not the devil incarnate. Eric Parmer, who plays Angus, offers that geometry might, in fact, be the devil incarnate, but that it’s still important to do well in it. Dylan Nalbandian, who plays Macduff’s Son, doesn’t seem convinced. I talk quinoa recipes with Christian Payne, who plays Fleance, because he is a vegan who hates quinoa and I take that as a challenge.
The show begins, and the witches and I move in perfect sync with our first heartbeat to our own relief. I mentally give our stage manager, Monica Perfetto, a thumbs-up. This opening sound/movement coordination is the result of our carefully cultivated psychic prowess.
I exit the stage in blackness and almost crash into Rob Biter, who plays Ross and is waiting in the wings for his scene. Even though this happens every night, I never stop to apologize because I have an epic run to the other side of the theater for my next entrance. Plus, on the way, I have to stop at the prop table to grab my pig intestines. Rob understands.
I am doing ballet turns in the hallway, because that is how a witch spends her downtime, and Jim Chovick, who plays Seyton, begins chatting with me extensively about dance. Weeks ago, in the darkness of our tech rehearsals, I inadvertently gave him a minor heart attack when I stepped out of the wings in full witchy makeup and whispered, “hello.”
During intermission, Brian Rickel, who plays Malcolm, and I chat about narrative archetypes. I tell Tyler Jones, who has just finished murdering Banquo, that the blood on his cheek looks like a poinsettia. Fran Gercke emerges from the dressing room, and I wonder how much chocolate syrup is in the blood that drenches his face tonight. Patrick Duffy, who plays Macduff, holds a backstage door open for me and smiles. I immediately blush because why is he so handsome?!?
During Act Two, Danny Campbell shakes his head at Erin and me as we do a small tap routine backstage while waiting for the final scene of the play.
During curtain call, I meet Sean Yael-Cox, co-artistic director and lead actor, center stage for our bows. He is understandably exhausted, having spent his last 15 minutes of stage time in a marathon brawl. And yet, once offstage, I can already see him making mental notes of what needs to happen in the next few days.
Costumes will be stored. Thrones will be relocated. Chandeliers will be disconnected. Rehearsal schedules for “All My Sons,” Intrepid’s Season Five opener, will be emailed out to a new cast working on a new play with a new life all its own.
Snapshot … end scene.
The U-T San Diego invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth ”Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the newspaper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She documented a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 16, 2014.
Andrew Moore, a San Dieguito Academy intern who is playing Young Seward in Intrepid’s current production of ‘Macbeth,’ sits in the green room listening to the first act of the show through the monitor. Unconsciously, he begins to mutter some of the lines being spoken by Sean Yael-Cox onstage. He knows them well, which is fortunate, because on Saturday afternoon he will step onto the same stage where Intrepid performs. However, he will not be wearing Young Seward’s soldier coat. He will be wearing Macbeth’s crown.
Since the inception of its partnership with San Dieguito Academy, Intrepid has offered an acting internship program to theater students. Under the direction of Sean, as well as Erin Petersen, the interns rehearse and produce an accompanying production of the theater company’s current mainstage show.
As part of this process, the interns spend a few rehearsal hours with their professional counterparts acting in Intrepid’s ‘Macbeth,’ peppering them with questions about how to approach their roles and overcome their challenges.
“I’m really jealous that they got this experience,” says Patrick Duffy, who plays Macduff in Intrepid’s production. “I never got to do this when I was in school. It’s really important to get all of these perspectives.”
Patrick’s intern counterpart, high school junior Ben Ellerbrock, agrees. “Sean and Erin give you a different perspective on what professional theater looks like and how it’s run,” he says. He particularly enjoyed discussing the emotional expectations of Macduff throughout the course of the play with Patrick.
“Macduff is kind of like this big surly guy,” Ben says. “You wouldn’t expect him to have much emotion. But you get to see him as a completed character.”
“He has a lot of heightened language and we talked about how to embrace that,” says Patrick. “Ben had some good insights about how this stoic hero, this staunch fierce character, breaks down.”
Maggie Lombard, a sophomore who will be playing Ross in the intern production, first discovered Intrepid when the company came through her junior high school on an education tour and also just completed a summer session of Camp Intrepid. She says that this internship has taught her more than just how to analyze Shakespeare.
“This program has taught me dedication,” says Maggie. “With Shakespeare and theatre roles, I try to get as in depth as possible – I research and I plan and I try all these different approaches. That also shows in my work outside of theater.”
Robert Biter, who will play Ross in Intrepid’s production, was happy to add to Maggie’s academic approach by encouraging her to explore the character’s humanity.
“I encouraged her to go below the surface emotionally and take the experience of acting on a more personal level,” says Robert, “so that she could gain insight and some self awareness and knowledge that would serve her well.”
Some of the discussions were a relief. Andrew and Sean, as the Macbeths, tackled the play’s challenging speeches in their discussions.
“It made me realize that I’m not insane, that other people have the same problems with the role that I do,” says Andrew. “The speeches are going to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated. But Sean and I traded tips.”
While Intrepid is focused on giving the interns a picture of a professional theater company, the students who participate generally have a diversity of interests, including those outside of the arts.
“I don’t know what I want to do with my life yet,” says Ben, who is considering studying both the humanities and the sciences. “This internship is giving me an idea of what life would be like if I pursued a career in theater. I’m taking this heavily into consideration in the next year when I decide where to apply to colleges.”
Sean nods when he hears this.
“We’re not standing up there encouraging everyone to only pursue a career in theatre,” he says “You can learn a lot from this work whatever path you choose.”
The intern production of ‘Macbeth’ will run Saturday at 12 noon and Sunday at 11 am in the Clayton E. Liggett Theater. Open to the public. Donations will be accepted to benefit the SDA Theatre Department.
By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
February 9, 2014
“Have you had any nightmares?”
Rin Ehlers Sheldon, who is playing Lady Macduff, asks the question, and I think about it for a moment before answering.
“No,” I say. “Being a witch is actually not as scary as you might think.”
It’s the middle of Act One of “Macbeth,” and I am in the dressing room cleaning makeup brushes while Rin and I chat. Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti and I, aka “The Weird Sisters,” don’t reappear until the second act, so we have a little down time to tidy up from our onslaught of preshow makeup insanity.
Through our dressing room television monitor, we hear the voice of Danny Campbell as King Duncan, arriving with his entourage at the Macbeth residence onstage. Savvy laughs. She always gets a kick out of how gracious Duncan is in this scene, considering what is about to happen to him.
We are in the second week of our run, and things backstage have become somewhat routine. We know when to help others quick change, where to set our props and how to remove prosthetic face glue in a timely manner.
But these particular moments backstage are perhaps my favorite. Not because I especially enjoy cleaning makeup brushes in the dressing room, but because of these conversations. And also because of what’s about to happen next.
Wait for it, I think. 3 … 2 … 1 …
The dressing room door bursts open and Sandy Campbell, who is playing Lady Macbeth, runs into the room. I step out of her way as she makes a beeline for the sink, hands bloody from her recent assassination scene. As she scrubs, the sink turns a sickly shade of red. I can’t help but smile.
“Out, damned spot,” I say.
We all chuckle. It’s an old joke. If I don’t actually say it every night, I definitely think it in my head. Sandy finishes her ablutions and heads to the costume rack.
“Nightgown, nightgown, nightgown,” she mutters.
Again, I smile, and I remember why this is one of my favorite parts of the night. It’s because, in this moment, if I look at her frantic actions just right, I find myself caught up in the world of the play.
It is no longer Sandy rinsing red-dyed cornstarch from her hands and searching for her next costume. It is Lady Macbeth shedding her guilt. It is no longer Sandy worried about making her next entrance on time. It is Lady Macbeth, fraught with the darkness that will eventually overtake her. Every night, I am witness to this character going through the machinations of covering up her dark and evil deeds.
Maybe I spoke too soon about the nightmares.
As Sandy heads to the stage, I take a deep breath and head up to the sound booth. I have my own harrowing backstage moment to prepare for.
No, it’s not killing swine or filleting fenny snakes. It’s worse.
It’s positioning a chandelier. While standing on a see-through floor. Twenty feet in the air.
Once in a while, actors are called upon to do a bit of backstage work during scene transitions. However, when I said yes to this particular transition, I had no idea that it would involve heart palpitations and profuse armpit sweat.
Picture it. You are two stories in the air, standing on “the grid,” which is basically a layer of industrial-strength chicken wire positioned under the lights. This “floor” beneath you is not only see-through, but it actually bounces with each step you take. Every time you move, you expect to free-fall toward the stage far below you.
Have I mentioned my fear of heights?
I take my place next to crew members Cortney Cloud and Phillip Boudrias. Together, as the music changes, we unclamp the lights and pull up the chandelier cabling until it sits where it needs to be. I am amazed that, while my nightly pit stains are still evident and my hand muscles are sore, I now handle this task like a pro.
Plus, I’ve discovered a little perk. From this vantage point, I can watch one of the most intense fighting sequences of the play unfold directly below me. I linger on the grid as J. Tyler Jones, Francis Gercke, Jim Chovick, Brian Rickel and Christian Payne begin to duke it out onstage.
No, I think. Nightmares aren’t a problem. Between bearing witness to routine violence, conquering severe acrophobia and — oh yeah — performing nightly in a Shakespeare play, there is really nothing left to be afraid of.
The U-T San Diego has invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute 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. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 9, 2014. Tickets for Macbeth can be purchased here.
By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
From offstage, I watch as the Act Two banquet scene of “Macbeth” unfolds. Of all the unnatural things in this play, Fran Gercke’s Ghost of Banquo might be the most alarming, which is saying a lot coming from a witch. I clutch my cauldron to my chest as I watch.
It is our last run-through before we have an audience, and I am trying not to think about what comes next.
Actors have many personal traditions when it comes to opening a show. Some like to arrive at the theater early and walk through all of their movements on stage. Some like to write special notes to cast members and crew. Some keep to themselves, meditating on their character’s motivations so that they are fully present when the lights go up.
For me, I typically find that vomiting is the main constituent of my opening-night routine.
Welcome to what I like to call the “Freak Out Moment,” which is a very technical term for that moment of recognition in the rehearsal process when actors realize that they are actually about to perform a play. On stage. In front of people.
Of course, if you ask us, it is that moment when we suddenly become nervous about baring our open hearts and impassioned souls to the world to shed light on the nature of humanity.
This may seem odd. After all, it would make sense that an actor would be fully aware of the circumstances that he or she was getting into. Yet, there is always that one moment when it all seems to be just a little too much and — bam! — nonsensical arguments about where to exit or how impossible that costume quick-change is seem to manifest out of nowhere during the last moments of rehearsal. Simple things, under pressure, become intricately complex.
If memory serves, during grad school, I had a 15-minute argument with my director about how to properly cover my face onstage during the transition into a Shakespearean death scene:
“I am going to whisk the shroud over my head and then bring it down over my face.”
“I don’t think you should whisk the shroud.”
“I want to whisk it. It will look cleaner and more choreographed.”
“You’re dead. There is no expectation of choreography.”
It seemed very important at the time.
But now I see it for what it really was: my night-before-opening, I’m-gonna-die, Freak Out Moment. It was not about the shroud. It was about the misconception that if I could just get the details of the scene planned perfectly, then that whole vulnerable acting thing would just magically fall into place.
I often wonder what level of OCD I would qualify for if I input these symptoms into WebMD.
Sean Yael-Cox, who plays the title role in our production, confided in me that his Freak Out Moment typically happens about three weeks before each show. Like clockwork, at this time, he earnestly asks his wife, director Christy Yael-Cox, to consider recasting him. Christy smiles when she hears this, offering that her own Freak Out Moment typically happens a week before the show opens, specifically, the night before technical rehearsals begin.
Offstage, I take a deep breath and stare down at my cauldron. Fran exits, and I step into the vom, a term for an entrance to the stage, to prepare for my scene. The fact that “vom” is short for “vomitorium” is not lost on me. Rumor has it that ancient Romans used these passageways to purge their full bellies during great feasts so they could continue dining. Although sources have since dispelled this theory, it still feels quite appropriate to me as I watch the onstage banquet scene come to a close and feel my belly do a somersault.
I look up and see Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen across from me in the wings, holding their own cauldrons. We make eye contact.
Just like the march of Great Birnam Wood, I think to myself, opening night will come, no matter how freaked out about it I am. But at least I’m not alone.
Erin cries out, Savvy nods to me and we enter the stage together.
The U-T San Diego has invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute 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. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 2, 2014. Tickets for Macbeth can be purchased here.