Curtis Mueller knows better than to be fooled by simplicity.
When asked to design lights for Intrepid’s production of Oleanna (which is now currently running at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas), he was careful not to presume that a two-person play set in the round would be an easy show to design.
“The challenge with this play is that it’s so focused on just a conversation really, one wouldn’t think that it would be that challenging,” says Curtis. ”But from a lighting perspective, you are really trying to underscore certain moments of the show, depending on that conversation.”
Having designed for Intrepid’s past productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical (2012) and Hamlet, which just closed in February, Curtis was up to the task of switching gears from these bigger ensemble pieces to Mamet’s intimate office wordplay.
“Scenically, we’re in a professor’s office, so we’re trying to figure out ways to make each scene look different, but still not going too far from reality,” he said, explaining that the lighting will play a big part in portraying both the development of the story as well as the passage of time from one act to the next.
“The opening of the show is just a simple conversation,” he says. ”The audience doesn’t know what it’s going to escalate to yet, so we have more of an isolated look to it.”
Using the idea of the office windows and playing with the amount of sunlight coming through the blinds is one way in which Curtis plans to tell the story, although without an actual window onstage to work with, this gets tricky. Enter special effects created by lighting gobos that douse the stage with dappled sunlight on cue.
“By the end of the play, the scene is fully exposed, wider and open,” says Curtis. This brighter lighting also serves to “expose” the action as the play culminates into its most heated moments.
The specifics of these lighting choices will also serve to distinguish each act. Since the actors never leave the space and the set never alters, the challenge is making sure that the audience understands that each act takes place in a different time.
“We made a point that passage of time would affect the lighting design because we don’t want to have the feeling that nothing changes at all – especially with the way the play progresses, and the characters develop, and argument continues,” he says.
Working in the round also presents its own set of challenges, as the designer has to make sure that the actors and the set are cleanly lit from all angles and from all audience perspectives. Additionally, the blocking – or the movement of the actors – is different from a traditional stage, so there is extra pressure for the lighting to be uniform no matter which direction the actor is facing.
Given these challenges, this piece is a far departure from its surface simplicity, Curtis acknowledges. ”We can really strip everything away and focus on the details,” he says. ”I’m actually excited by the simplicity of it.” – T.T.
Oleanna is a special engagement that runs through April 14 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas, CA. Tickets can be purchased here.
To see Francis Gercke and Rachael VanWormer laugh together, you would have no idea that they are just days away from opening one of the most challenging plays they have ever worked on – one that is set intimately in the round, written for only two actors who never leave the stage, and featuring the words of a playwright known for his almost infuriating poetic specificity.
Welcome to the world of Intrepid’s Oleanna, written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet and directed by Intrepid Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael.
Thankfully, these seasoned actors are not intimidated by the task, although they do admit that rehearsals have been equally both daunting and enlightening.
“With Mamet, there is very little room for interpretation,” says Rachael. “Not that he is a dictatorial playwright, but his language is so specific that until you figure out exactly what each word, if not sentence or phrase, means, the rest doesn’t make sense.”
“You have to crack the code,” says Fran. “He seems to be a really thoughtful person, which is crippling to an actor.”
According to TheatreDatabase.com, “the most easily recognizable aspect of Mamet’s style is his sparse, clipped dialogue” reminiscent of Harold Pinter and Samuel Becket. This style is so recognizable, in fact, that it has come to be known as “Mametspeak,” the Orwellian reference invoked, no doubt, to illustrate the pervasiveness of this playwright’s impact.
Wondering what the Mametspeak looks like exactly? Here’s a sampling from page one:
CAROL: You don’t do that.
CAROL: You don’t do…
JOHN: …I don’t, what…?
JOHN: …I don’t for…
JOHN: …forget things? Everybody does that.
CAROL: No, they don’t.
JOHN: They don’t…
JOHN: (Pause) No. Everybody does that.
If you are not quite sure what is happening in this scene, you are not alone. On page, there seems to be much room for speculation. However, according to the actors, the more time spent with the text, the more the playwright’s intention behind each disjointed phrase begins to click into place.
“There a lot of fragmented thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that thought itself is complete. It’s just not expressed in a conventional full sentence,” Rachael explains. “It’s about finding the specificity of what those complete thoughts are and how these three words are different from the next three words. That’s been very frustrating but when you finally break through, it’s very rewarding, and so much of the play falls into place.”
“He’s so specific that the story truly turns, literally turns, on one phrase,” says Fran. “There are certain playwrights that have a reputation for being great playwrights. Mamet is just a really good, smart playwright. There’s not a wasted phrase.”
And ultimately, the intentions behind these phrases are what builds into a story. On the surface, the story of this play revolves around a professor and a student who meet to discuss her struggles in his class. However, it is soon clear that much more is going on beyond this seemingly straightforward setup.
“Mamet’s a great storyteller,” says Fran. “You’re compelled to watch. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know what’s going to happen, you can do nothing to stop it and you end up caring for the people who are in the car headed for the major accident.”
Even in the midst of this train wreck, Mamet is very careful not to take sides, especially when the characters become heated in their discussions. While the play might be known for its controversial themes, the actors are clear that it is truly up to the audience members to form their own interpretation of the action – and that their job is to stay out of the way.
“One of the things that we are discovering in rehearsal that is does not serve us as actors to consider the themes,” says Rachael. “Instead, it’s about finding out what’s personally at stake for the individuals at any given time. It might touch on harassment, power, feminism, but that’s never the intention. When these things come up, it’s out of the circumstance.”
“He writes two really smart, really self-assured, and really uncertain people trying to navigate their way through a real crisis that…just happened,” says Fran. “Mamet writes two strongly opposing points of views and then sets the characters in motion.”
So, as the actors consciously avoid influencing the audience’s conclusions about the action of the play, they find they are left with only the essential theatrical tools at their disposal: the words and each other.
“Fran and I have developed an effective means of keeping each other honest,” says Rachael. “You’re forced to hold each other accountable. There’s not a compromise in that, but on the other hand, there’s so much gratitude that there’s someone up there with you.”
She pauses, and then adds, “It boils down theatre to its purest form.” – T.T.
Oleanna opens Saturday April 6 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy – 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.. This special engagement must close April 14. You may purchase tickets here.
Wendy Waddell admits that she was rather unfamiliar with The Price by Arthur Miller when she was invited by Intrepid to direct the next reading in their year-long Staged Reading Series at Encinitas Library. Thankfully, she was not that intimidated by the assignment
“I think I said something like, ‘This is Arthur Miller! You’re giving me Arthur Miller to start with?!’” Wendy laughs as she recounts the request for her directorial debut with Intrepid, which will happen this Monday evening.
Intrepid’s confidence in Wendy’s skills is not misplaced. No matter how short and sweet staged reading rehearsals may be, Wendy is excited about bringing life to Miller’s work, especially since the play itself is somewhat obscure compared with his other offerings.
“It’s typical ‘Miller’ in that it’s a character study,” says Wendy. “In this case, it’s about two brothers who haven’t spoken in years. They come together because their childhood home is being torn down.” In light of that impending event, the brothers must deal with numerous items in the attic that are left over from earlier parts of their lives, and whether or not they will sell them, and for what price. Wendy notes that, in many ways, The Price parallels where we are now economically, with residual hardships from recent events.
“But of course, it’s Miller, so it’s not really about the price of the items,” elaborates Wendy. “It’s about the price of family, of honesty, of pride. What is the cost of not maintaining a relationship?”
This particular playwright turns up more than once in Intrepid’s Staged Reading Series queue, and it is interesting to note that while it is a more contemporary perspective than the traditional Shakespearean fare, Miller’s stories focus as much on language to tell the stories as the Bard.
“Miller is extremely rhythmic,” says Wendy. “There is a lyrical quality to his words and he’s not afraid of using language to make you dig for what is really going on in the scene. He makes you, as the audience, do a little work.”
But the actors aren’t off the hook. “It’s a wonderful challenge for the actors to start peeling away the layers of the onion,” she continues. “You, as the actor, get to create beautiful stuff through his words.”
The actors in question here are a talented group, including Jacob Bruce, Jack Missett, Dale Morris, and Julie Sachs. Wendy admits that casting was a challenge because the play calls for mature actors – all over 50, with one character described as 89.
“I’ve come up with a really good cast, so I’m really excited about that,” she says. “They are sickly talented and will bring their ‘A’ game.”
If there is any thought of a staged reading as being an easy way into directing for this company, Wendy is not entertaining it.
“This is not a well-known play like The Crucible, so there may be less expectations,” she says. “That might give me a little more leeway to interpret the script and clarify my vision for the rhythm, look, and feel of the play.” She also notes that while she admittedly feels “terrified and excited,” the chance to collaborate with Intrepid and with the actors makes everything worth it.
“I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of directors who challenge me,” says Wendy, who was seen last month as Rosencrantz in Intrepid’s Hamlet. “The more I work with them, the more I want to do that for other actors.” She pauses and then adds, “Besides, terror is exciting to me. That’s what makes me grow.” — T.T.
The Price, a staged reading, will be performed at The Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024 on Monday evening, March 25, 6:30 pm complimentary wine reception, 7:00 pm staged reading. Please RSVP to email@example.com or click here to purchase tickets in advance.
If you ever wondered what life might have been like as an actor in Shakespeare’s time – with the company performing one show while rehearsing another while building sets for yet another – you need look no further than the rigorous morning schedule of Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s Education Tour.
This particular Tuesday tour day begins at 8:30 am on the campus of La Jolla Country Day. This particular company of actors includes Education Director and Intrepid Co-Founder Sean Cox, and Education Artists Scott Farrell, Brian Mackey, Erin Petersen, and Savvy Scopelleti. They assemble quickly, coffee in hand, and begin the well-practiced routine of unloading cars, assembling sets, organizing costumes, and running lines. The first performance on the docket: A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 5th and 6th grade classes at 9:30 am.
Most may not realize the level of production value that arrives with the Intrepid Education Tour. For each performance, three flats are constructed onsite, which, once overlaid with a canvas backdrop hand-painted by artist George Weinberg Harter, set the stage for the action that will unfold. Each show is fully costumed. In fact, the actors will change three or four times in this production of Midsummer – a daunting feat given the 50-minute runtime.
This first hour of the day is spent in this set construction and costume preparation, accompanied by familiar banter and line rehearsals while the actors each carry out their individual component of this well-oiled machine. This is probably one of the most requested performances, and each company member understands his or her place in the choreographed dance of the school tour load-in.
All too soon, students begin to enter the auditorium. Some are intrigued by the new set on stage, some are doubtful about what they are about to watch. Teachers say that most students are surprised when they discover that they like Shakespeare. “When they see it come to life, they are like ‘Oh, cool!,’” says Kathy Hirsch, who teaches 7th and 8th grade English. Today, Mrs. Hirsch dons a velvet cape and lines her hair with Titania-inspired flowers, greeting the assembled students with “Isn’t it fun to play dress up?” This line receives a wave of cheers and Sean steps forward to introduce the play. The first questions to the students are always the same: “How many have seen a Shakespeare play before?” and “What do you think ‘Intrepid’ means?” To the first, a smattering of hands rise from the crowd. To the second, responses ranging from “fast” to “happy” and finally “daring, bold, fearless.”
Midsummer begins with Sean crowning a student sitting in the front row, thus casting him as Theseus, the character to whom he and the other actors will address their initial woes. Soon, we are in the forest, and Sean, once suited as Aegeus, now dresses in a neon green elf-suit for his role as Puck. Erin Petersen, as Hermia, also doubles as Peter Quince, the head of the Mechanical acting troupe. Brian Mackey, as Lysander, also has more than a few laughs as Bottom, while Scott Farrell steps into the roles of Demetrius, Francis Flute, and Oberon. Lastly, Savvy Scopelleti dons horn-rimmed glasses for Helena, an eccentric feathered mask for Titania, and lion headgear for Snug the joiner.
“It’s important for the students to see live theatre,” whispers Mrs. Hirsch, barely audible over the giggles Sean is getting with his Puckish antics. “We love building it into the school day because we want them all to be exposed.”
The young audience continues to be delighted by the antics of the actors onstage, especially vocal when Brian, bedecked in a donkey-eared newsboy cap, performs a ‘donkified” rendition of One Directon’s “That’s What Makes You Beautiful.” During the post-show Q&A, he explains his choice: “The actor playing Bottom in Shakespeare’s time would have performed whatever the most popular tune of the day was. So, I get to choose each time whatever song I think would work.” The other actors comment that they actually never know what song he is going to be singing in the middle of the show, although Brian admits, “I usually ask Erin.”
Mere minutes and umpteen quick changes later, the play is complete and the questions start flying. “Where did you get the donkey hat?” “How do you memorize all of those lines?” and “What are the links between Shakespeare and classical Greece?” The cast answers them in stride, each responding according to his or her own knowledge and experience. Scott, who also gives classroom presentations on medieval and Renaissance history through his Chivalry Today educational program, explains how artists of the late 1500s were enamored with the Classical culture of Greece and Rome, and used its themes as inspiration for their painting, poetry, and drama. At the end of the session, a pre-show question is repeated: “How many of you have seen a Shakespeare play?” And at this point, of course, everyone gets to raise their hands.
As the students depart, the cast reassembles, quickly draping luxurious red fabric over the canvas flats and revealing a built in “window” center stage which will play as a balcony. Next on the docket: Romeo and Juliet for the 7th and 8th graders at 11:30 am. Costumes are re-organized and Scott takes the cast through the stage combat sequences – everyone seems to be involved in one, as apparently, when you are doubling and tripling roles in Romeo and Juliet, the chances of being involved in a Verona street brawl are very high. Erin takes a moment to whack a prop knife against her palm in an effort to get the “blood” inside to drain properly. Sean checks to make sure his Mercutio tattoo sleeves can’t be seen under his Lord Capulet suit coat. Lines are run again during this transition period and again, almost too soon, students are filing into the auditorium.
This is an eager bunch, and student Arielle Algaze grabs a front row seat. “I saw Hamlet twice,” she says immediately, referencing Intrepid’s most recent mainstage production. While she admits that Romeo and Juliet is not her favorite play (“that’s King Lear”), she also states emphatically that Mercutio is her favorite character in the canon because of his humor. “He is an interesting and uniquely funny character.” When asked if she and her classmates are looking forward to the performance, she thinks for a moment and then responds. “To put something on stage and to evoke something from an audience takes risk,” she says. “So, I think theatre is something everyone should be exposed to.“
This “one-hour traffic” of the lovers’ tragedy begins and Erin and Brian immediately evoke nervous giggles and calls of “woooo” when they share their first kiss on the dance floor. Swordfights ensue – cautiously, due to the proximity of the audience – and before long, Nurse has wept, Friar has waxed philosophical, Mercutio has fallen, and the Capulet tomb is laden with bodies. Applause erupts and the actors quickly gather their thoughts for another round of questions from the crowd.
“Understanding Shakespeare is really empowering for the students, especially when it is relevant to their lives,” says fifth grade teacher Angela Lathem-Ballard, who has studied teaching techniques at the Globe in London and introduces Shakespeare into her classes on a regular basis. “Studying these plays and watching these performances gives kids a safe entrance into the arts – kids who would never take a risk normally.” As if on cue, a group of students who are studying Macbeth in class decide they would like to perform the witches’ scene for the actors. The aspiring thespians show off their skills and the actors respond with enthusiastic cheers as the last “fire burn and cauldron bubble!” echoes through the auditorium.
The future Shakespearean starlets disperse, and the actors begin the breakdown of the set – again, a well-rehearsed dance where everyone has a part. Even though the performances are done for the day, the work is not. As the actors gather their sets and props, they rehearse lines for the newest addition to their school tour lineup, Hamlet, which will be performed in Los Angeles in two weeks’ time. A scene perhaps not so dissimilar from Shakespeare’s original company of King’s Men: curtains are folded, flats dismantled, and costumes boxed while strains of “to be or not to be” flow through the now empty theatre. — T.T.
For information on the Intrepid Education Tour or the upcoming Camp Intrepid this summer, click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Auditioning is the most unnatural and unrealistic job interview ever.”
Christy Yael, Producing Artistic Director for Intrepid, is quick to admit this. Having just finished two full days, approximately eleven consistent hours, of open call auditions for Intrepid’s upcoming Season Four this past weekend, she is also quick to state that she is optimistic and impressed at the skill level of those who walked through the door.
“We saw so many talented people this weekend,” she says with enthusiasm, “really talented people.”
With the company entering its fourth year, Christy is now a veteran of the rigors of the open call, an especially demanding process for both directors and actors alike. And the requirements for Intrepid’s audition were nothing short of daunting. Non-musical actors were asked for two contrasting monologues, while musical theatre auditioners were invited, in addition to performing a monologue, to sing both a selection from the 1960s as well as one from Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, a composer traditionally regarded as one of the most complex and challenging musicians in the American songbook.
“The two required musical pieces are so drastically different,” says Christy, “that it really gives us a good idea of a person’s abilities.”
Veteran musical theatre actress Kathi Copeland was unfazed. Having performed in musicals since the age of 16, when she was cast in a pre-Broadway tour of “The Me Nobody Knows,” Kathi feels a certain comfort level with these types of requirements. Although, she admits, she would probably never recommend auditioning with a Sondheim piece unless it was specifically requested.
“Every audition is different,” says Kathi, who was attending an Intrepid open call for the first time. “It’s just important to prepare, prepare, prepare. You never know how it’s going to go once you get in there.”
There are many variables that could affect a singing audition – the pianist’s tempo, the acoustics of the space, and one’s level of nervousness, for instance. The singing voice, sometimes more vulnerable than the speaking voice, is likely to reflect all of these conditions, and therefore it is important to prepare as many things as one can control ahead of time. “Always take the time to talk to the accompanist about tempo,” advises Kathi. “Don’t forget that it’s your moment to shine.”
Veteran actor and accomplished theatre artist Tim West agrees that the same advice would apply to non-musical auditioners. “It was my first open call for monologues in a decade, so though I prepared I lacked that practiced feeling,” he says, although clarifying that it was perhaps for the best. “I’ve grown less concerned with choices per se and more concerned with trying to find the moment.”
It’s this type of attitude that Christy appreciates the most. Although she finds herself more often in the director’s chair these days, she was once attending the same sorts of open calls as an actor. “At the time, it helped me to think of it as an opportunity to do some work,” she says. “There are stakes involved, but it’s an invested audience with potential payoff.”
For her part as a director, Christy pays close attention to those auditioning, looking for specific elements in the presentations. “With the Shakespeare, it’s a combination of the acting ability and how the verse is handled,” she says, “and all that that entails. I could talk for hours about just that.”
Surprisingly, she says, she has found that many with musical theatre backgrounds were more adept at handling Shakespearean verse than their resumes might suggest. “They are both heightened forms of expression,” she says, noting that one’s ability to act through verse or through music can be both daunting and tricky.
“I just have a tremendous amount of respect for actors,” she says. “It’s hard work and it’s vulnerable work and that’s a heady combination.”
While being on the director’s side of the table is definitely preferably, Christy’s acting background also helps her create a safe space for potential auditioners. Both Kathi and Tim agreed that the process was painless. “Christy was one of the most gracious auditors I’ve ever performed for,” says Tim. “It’s such a difficult thing, to make people feel warmly welcomed while maintaining professional decorum. I am glad I chose this audition to return to the practice. I’ll try never to miss an opportunity at Intrepid.”
Christy maintains that the excitement of finding new talent keeps her consistently invested throughout the audition process. “The thing that maybe people don’t realize is how optimistic we are going into auditions,” she explains. “We have high hopes and expectations that everyone is going to be fantastic and incredibly talented. We are not looking for what’s wrong – we are looking for what’s right.” — T.T.
When actors approach their roles, the first order of business is to wholeheartedly believe in their characters’ actions and decisions without judgment. But, how is an actor expected to do so – without reservation – when the title of the play is Doubt? The cast of Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading sheds some light on the matter.
“This whole play is painted in shades of gray,” says Tom Hall, who will play Father Flynn, the priest who is accused of impropriety at a small parish school. The school’s principal and accuser, Sister Aloysius – who will be played by Trina Kaplan – is driven by her conviction, despite a lack of concrete evidence. “There is no black and there is no white,” says Tom. “And that’s sort of the beauty of it.”
Although set in 1965, Doubt was written in 2004 and playwright John Patrick Shanley won both the Pulitzer and the Tony for his work. Even though the words “genius” and “brilliant” are bandied about in the theatre world, says Tom, there is no “doubt” that this play is genius. And brilliant.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it, long after I had read it,” he says.
Yolanda Franklin, who will be playing Mrs. Muller, mother of the first black student at the school who finds her family affected by the accusation, agrees. “Audiences are in for something,” she says. “Especially if they are hearing the play for the first time. I was blown away when I read it. The writing is that great.”
“Also, the play is so timely,” mentions Trina, commenting on the current investigations within the Catholic Church. “It’s interesting to revisit this show when so much has come out.”
Although the action unfolds within the setting of a parish and the organization of the church, the actors are also quick to point out that it is still immediately accessible, even without church familiarity, because the issues are so real.
“It actually has very little to do with religion, and more to do with human nature,” says Erin Petersen, who will be playing novice nun Sister James. “It’s not just about faith, but about faith in humanity and the desperate need we sometimes have to believe in people.”
To that end, each character seems very representative of very specific – and very opposing – viewpoints. Tom points out that as the Second Vatican Council was closing in 1965, there was immense upheaval in the traditional processes of the church. Throughout Doubt, there is a theme of change, of progression, and of old-versus-new that is immediately relatable.
“Father Flynn sort of embodies what was going on in the church at that time, which was the controversial march towards progression,” he says, whereas the character of Sister Aloysius is more steeped in tradition. “It doesn’t matter how these two meet, they are going to clash.”
Trina agrees that her character is absolutely driven in her conviction. “She’s so driven yet still sympathetic,” she explains. “Her heart is in the right place, but she’s on a mission. The more I study her, the more questions I have about her.” She pauses, and then adds, “The more I doubt.”
“It’s actually sort of written as a thriller,” Tom explains, referring to the play’s hooded development of the facts as well as the twists and turns taken by both the plot and the characters.
“I, for one, am enjoying my detective work,” says Yolanda, elaborating on her research for her role and her analysis of the time period of the play, the civil rights issues, and the protective feelings a mother would have towards her son when he already has a lot of cards stacked against him. “She just wants what is best,” she says.
True to its title, nothing is certain in this story, which only makes the characters all the more fascinating to play and to watch. If anything is without doubt, it is that audiences will continue talking about it long after Trina speaks the last words.
“At the end, the playwright is basically saying, ‘Discuss,’” says Tom. “‘Everything you need to know is right there. I’m not going to give you an easy answer.’ This play is intended to provoke a conversation.” — T.T.
The staged reading of Doubt will be held Monday, February 25, 630 pm wine reception, 7 pm reading at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Tickets $15 and can be purchased here or reserved by emailing email@example.com and paying at the door.
It is the opening night of Hamlet and the cast has gathered on the stage for some last minute words from director Christy Yael. Everyone is chatting nervously, in various stages of ready – curlers in hair, costume pieces being buttoned, makeup half applied. One hour until showtime.
Sitting in the audience while this preshow unfolds is a man with a camera, camouflaged by stillness, quietly recording the jittery bustle. The actors, while aware of his presence, don’t acknowledge it. Perhaps they are too nervous. Or, perhaps, they are simply used to it.
For the past few months, Graham Sheldon and his crew have been shadowing Sean Cox, who stars as Hamlet, on his journey of creating the character of the Danish prince. An Emmy-nominated documentarian, Graham is developing a television pilot that will take an in depth look into the creative process of various artistic talents. It is titled “Muse” and Sean is the show’s first inspiration.
“We wanted to start off with the theatre,” explains Graham, who credits the series’ co-creator, Rin Ehlers, with the idea for the show. Working with Sean as he goes through his natural journey as Hamlet seemed like a good idea for the first episode, as both he and Rin had already worked with Intrepid in a theatrical capacity. This familiarity with the company and the key players gave them the perfect setting within which to cultivate this new idea.
“Plus,” says Graham, “the first show had to be a great story. You can’t go wrong with Hamlet.”
The series is intended to explore the artist’s path through all sorts of different mediums – sculpting, painting, dance, music, and the like, and each episode will focus on one artist’s journey, taking the audience through a practical and visceral experience of that artist’s world. Typically, this journey will center around one specific creative aspect, such as the cultivation of one particular painting or dance piece.
“We’re trying to show the play developing through the microcosm of one monologue,” says Graham. “Since the episode is only going to be 22 minutes, one of the harder things will be making Hamlet accessible in that time.”
This also means introducing the show’s viewers to the terminology of the various artistic mediums without being too didactic. Graham insists that the show will not be about learning the jargon of the stage or focusing on the technical aspects of creating theatre, even though, for example, not everyone will know what a cue-to-cue is while they are showing footage from the technical rehearsals.
To that end, Graham plans to shoot footage at Sean’s home, capturing some of this private life with his family, and see how he spends time developing the part away from the theatre and in balance with his other points of focus. “Intrepid really is a family company,” observes Graham, citing it as one of the aspects which drew him to the spotlighting it in the first place.
Another thing that Graham and his crew quickly realized about this company is that, with the multiple hats that Sean wears as Artistic Director and Director of Education, he is not always the easiest person to pin down. Or to locate, for that matter.
“We spent a half hour in the theatre one day just trying to find him,” laughs Graham, describing one of the rehearsals they were shooting. “This is such a fast moving production and Sean is all over the place, running around the entire building, doing 30 things at once.” They finally put actor Brian Mackey, who plays Laertes, on “Sean-Watch,” so he could help them keep an eye on their artist.
“Sean has so much energy that just keeping up with him has been the biggest challenge,” says Graham, who has interviewed everyone from ex-CIA agents to Cern physicists for his past projects.
Of course, it’s never easy to truly capture reality. Having cameras documenting one’s every move can be a little daunting, especially in a rehearsal space where actors need to feel free to explore. “Sean and Christy were a little hesitant about the idea at first,” admits Graham. “I would be too. Having cameras around is never an easy thing. But they’ve been really receptive to it and we’ve tried to maintain the fly on the wall method.” He pauses and then adds, “We’ll find out at the end if we’ve been successful.”
For now, Graham and his crew have shot hours and hours of footage and he looks forward to editing it into a finished product. If all goes well, “Becoming Hamlet” will be coming out very soon. – T.T.
Sean Fanning doesn’t like scenery.
This may seem strange, considering he is the set designer for Intrepid’s current production of Hamlet, but when you hear Sean’s take on bringing Shakespeare to life, you might understand.
“It’s all about the words,” says Sean, a statement that is music to Intrepid’s ears. “You could do Shakespeare the way it’s written on a bare stage and it’s powerful because it’s so imaginative.”
To that end, Sean has created literal space on the stage at the Clayton E. Liggett for the “rottenness” of Denmark to play out. With the mere suggestion of a finished room, the landscape of the stage serves multiple purposes throughout the production without the necessity of changing sets or disguising scenery. Soaring colonnades meet ceilings which disappear into thin air, both uplifting the regality of the space as well as suggesting the distemper of the action to come.
“I see other plays that are more contemporary that rely so much on having to actually show people in location,” says Sean. “In Shakespeare, yes, it’s episodic, and yes, we’re going from place to place, but we don’t rely on all the typical conventions.”
In other words, Sean lets the audience have a say in each location, projecting their own ideas of the graveyards, the ships, the secret rooms of the palace, and the sites of hauntings onto the canvas of his design.
“Shakespeare demands so much,” he says. “If you really tried to physically transport people from location to location, you would lose some of the magic.” Best to rely on the words to carry the scene, he says. And based on the high praise he has already received (local press has hailed Sean as an unsurprisingly “in-demand designer”), he’s obviously on the mark.
“Shakespeare is one of my favorite things to do,” says Sean, who also designs all of the MFA productions at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. Hamlet is his inaugural show at Intrepid.
Sean’s design for Hamlet also captures the challenge of the thrust stage, where the audience is closer to the action, rather than gathered behind the fourth wall of a typical proscenium stage. This adds to the tension of the play, as actors have the space to move through and around the set’s dimensions without the necessity of facing all of the viewers at all times. Sean has ensured that the actors always have what they need, providing built-in places for them to sit, lie down, and hurdle over. The actors help create the locations, and Sean emphasizes, “that’s what’s so magical about it.”
“There is a sense of barrenness that the actors can fill with the words,” says Sean. “So, to me, some of the most beautiful sets are bare stages.” – T.T.
Catch a quick interview with Sean Fanning and see his path to creating Hamlet:
Hamlet runs through February 17 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas. Tickets can be purchased here.
“At their best, dreamers, and at their worst…dreamers.”
Jason Rennie describes his take on “theatre people” when asked about directing the upcoming staged reading of I Hate Hamlet for Intrepid on Monday evening. According to the playwright, Paul Rudnick, the play is “overrun with theatrical types,” and makes a humorous effort to capture the New York stage scene in all of its gusto and glory.
First performed in 1991, I Hate Hamlet is based on Rudnick’s actual experience renting a New York City apartment that once belonged to legendary actor John Barrymore. After imagining the stories within the walls of the fourth floor Washington Square brownstone, Rudnick decided to bring them to life in a play. Hilarity ensued.
“Some of the experiences in the play are kind of nod to people in his life at the time he was there,” Jason explains, mentioning characters such as Felicia the real estate agent (played by Brooke McCormick) and the Lillian, the theatrical agent (played by Rhona Gold) who is based on a woman who historically romanced Barrymore’s son-in-law within the walls of the apartment in question.
In the story, the main character is an actor who has been offered an opportunity to play Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park. Needless to say, this part requires a little more chops than his regular television gigs, and the appropriate level of panic ensues.
Enter the ghost of John Barrymore.
Ruff Yeager will be portraying Barrymore in Monday’s reading and promises to be less of a handful than the actor who originated the role on Broadway, British thespian Nicol Williamson. In a detailed account for The New Yorker in 2007, Rudnick spelled out the worst-case-scenarios which came to life during the opening of what would be his first play on Broadway, including Williamson’s drunkenness, lewdness, and missed performances. The last straw had occurred when he purposefully struck a fellow actor with a sword during a stage combat scene. That actor promptly left the stage and never returned to the show.
Even though the show’s original opening was somewhat plagued, Jason maintains that it is one of his favorite plays of all time, and that he has been begging Intrepid artistic directors Sean and Christy to consider it for a while. With Hamlet opening February 2 on Intrepid’s mainstage, this first staged reading of the year at the Encinitas Library seemed to be the perfect opportunity to showcase the links between contemporary humor and Shakespeare.
Not up on your Shakespeare? Never fear. You’ll still laugh.
“It’s not so much an insider’s play,” says Jason, “but there are a few inside jokes. It’s a nice tongue and cheek homage to theatre. It allows us to poke fun of ourselves and laugh.”
You might even recognize a line or two, says Jason. “It doesn’t preach on Shakespeare, but the Shakespearean lines that are present do have a wonderful resonance. It reminds us that these speeches in these plays do still have value and meaning.”
Is there any truth to the thought of Hamlet as one of the most daunting plays in the canon? “There is such a heavy connotation with that play,” says Jason. “It carries a great deal of baggage. But at its core, it is still a quintessential revenge tragedy that centers around one young man and the conflict within himself.”
Ultimately, the pursuit of the stage translates now just as much as it did when Hamlet was first performed hundreds of years ago, which is what continues to make theatre and storytelling relevant and universal.
“With theatre, you have to look beyond the reality,” says Jason. “It’s odd because we are preying upon people’s imaginations as much as possible when creating productions.”
He pauses, and then adds, “Yet it is so absolutely necessary for us as human beings to be a part of that.” – T.T.
I Hate Hamlet (a staged reading). Monday, January 28, 6:30 pm wine reception, 7:00 pm performance. Directed by Jason D. Rennie and featuring Ruff Yeager, Jo Anne Glover, Steven Lone, Rhona Gold, and Brooke McCormick. Encinitas Library, Community Room 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024. $15. You must RSVP in advance in order to attend. You may purchase your ticket in advance here or rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash or check at the door. Subscribe to a “Flex-Pass” Subscription Package and save $5. Packages come in 3-Play, 6-Play, 9-Play, or 12-Play passes. If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 295-7541.
Beth Merriman always has a change of clothes with her. Granted, it might be a vintage dress that she would like Jennifer Eve Thorn or Debra Wanger to wear onstage, but nevertheless Beth’s bags are usually stuffed with outfits.
As the costume designer for Intrepid’s upcoming production of Hamlet, Beth is used to toting wardrobe with her at all times – at the moment, the pieces in her pocket range from flowing and feminine to military and structured – all reflective the 1930s. This will be the ninth show she has designed for Intrepid, and she admits that one of the best parts is mixing things up with different historical eras. Thankfully, the Bard provides a backdrop against which the design choices at Intrepid have plenty of room for creativity.
While the basic palate for the company’s Shakespeare productions has always been modern,”we’ve started experimenting with different time periods,” says Beth. “It’s always a challenge and I never know what’s going to happen.”
One of her favorite productions to design for was the recently successful A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, which was set in the doo wop era of the 1960s. Hamlet will be created in a world of the 1930s old Hollywood glamour.
“Christy [Yael, the director] wanted to give it a little bit of a romantic feel,” says Beth. “That Hollywood image really makes the story shine.”
It is an important part of the Intrepid’s mission statement that nothing interfere with the language of the plays – the story is created through the text first, only to be supplemented with production design. In this case, this pre-war era adds to the story, rather than distract the audience’s understanding of it. “We all kind of know Hamlet – vaguely for some people and intimately for some other people,” says Beth. “This design helps make it comfortable for us to go and enjoy the story. We don’t want the costumes to get in the way.”
With the parallels between the Danish royal family and golden-era movie star celebrity, the costuming choices can illuminate the story through the recreation of this familiar period in our history. To dig into this era, Beth had to delve deep into her research books and the internet, picking and choosing images that would help inspire her wardrobe choices. (View Beth’s Pinterest page for Hamlet to see some of her inspiration.)
The choices also help support the idea that this is a closed set – the characters who live in the palace exist apart from the rest of the world and move entirely within in their own circles of influence, free from outside interference. Similarly, the claustrophobic bubble of Hollywood fame can elicit a feeling of isolation that is pertinent to movement of the plot.
The costuming also helps illuminate each character’s journey through this story – the palates changing and shifting with each twist and turn. “We do play with color and we do take each character’s arc in the play into consideration,” says Beth, alluding to the fact that no one really ends up in the same place that he or she started, especially in Hamlet.
To support this, Beth chooses color very carefully. “I always have to check with the set designer beforehand,” she says, in this case referring to talented Sean Fanning. “Since the set is very monochromatic, I wanted brighter colors onstage so that the characters pop a bit.”
Giving life to the canon of Shakespeare plays is always a different experience, depending on the play and the company. Having worked at theaters in Wisconsin, and locally here at The Old Globe and at Asian-American Rep, Beth is happy to have found a creative home working with Intrepid.
“It’s always a challenge and it’s always fun and I get weird texts in the middle of the night,” says Beth. “But Intrepid is a place where I’ve really been able to spread my wings.” - T.T.
Hamlet opens February 2 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.