Actor’s Diary: Final Days Backstage Leave Lasting Mental Images

Final Installment Actors Diary Unique energy surrounding play is fleeting yet memorable for the cast of ‘Macbeth’

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T February 16, 2014

(Final installment)

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.

Snapshot.

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.

Snapshot.

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.

Snapshot.

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?!?

Snapshot.

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.

The Intrepid Interns Take Their Stab at ‘Macbeth’

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.

Ben Ellerbrock, left, grills Patrick Duffy about Macduff's emotional arc

Ben Ellerbrock, right, grills Patrick Duffy about Macduff’s emotional arc

“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.”

Robert Biter and Maggie Lombard high-five after their Ross discussion

Robert Biter and Maggie Lombard have a very insightful Ross discussion

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.”

Andrew Moore, left, and Sean Yael-Cox discuss being Macbeth

Andrew Moore, left, and Sean Yael-Cox discuss being Macbeth

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.

Backstage Brims With Fears – and Favorite Moments

UT third articleEven behind the scenes of ‘Macbeth,’ one can’t help getting caught up in the action

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
February 9, 2014

(Third in a series)

“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.

 

macbeth page

Actor’s Diary: Coping With the Opening

Actor's Diary 2 Tiffany‘Freak out moment’ a rite of passage for Tang and her ‘Macbeth’ cast mates

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T

(Second in a series)

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.

Opening. Night.

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.

To-may-to. To-mah-to.

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.

 

macbeth page

Meet the Macbeths

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.

macbeth page

“Macbeth Actor’s Diary” in the U-T San Diego!

UT TiffanyThe 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!

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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

(First in a series)

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.

macbeth page

The Cast of “Allergist’s Wife” Plays It Straight

the tale of the allergist's wife pageIf 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 boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

Encinitas Library

 

Meet the Cast and Curse the Curse

mackers keep calmMacbeth. Macbeth. Macbeth.

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:

An Actor’s Diary: Table Work

ACTOR's diary macbethThe lobby of the Clayton E. Liggett Theater is empty, except for my two witchy counterparts, Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen.

“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.

Our turn.

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.

Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport

Dramaturge Dr. Gideon Rappaport

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.

Macbeth Witches First FolioThe 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.

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An Actor’s Diary: First Read-Through

ACTOR's diary macbethI’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.

First. Rehearsal. 

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.

macbeth scriptMy 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.

WitchesThis 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.

Macbeth cast read throughI 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.

-Tiffany Tang

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.

 

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