Moonlighting at Intrepid Shakespeare: A Conversation with “The Quality of Life” Director, Kathy Brombacher
Kathy Brombacher is the first to admit that things are a little bit different now than they were a year ago. “My life is a little simpler now that I’m ‘retired,’” she laughs. “It is nice to do one project at a time.”
This time last year, Kathy was wrapping up her 31-year stint as artistic director of Moonlight Stage Productions, her post there historically integral to arts development in North County. Now, as she told the U-T last August, she is finding “a different way to be involved in theatre.” And this week, that involvement includes directing Monday night’s staged reading of Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life.
In Jane Anderson’s play, which was originally commissioned by and had its premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2007, two couples meet on the burned out remains of a Jeannette and Neil’s house in Northern California. The couple has set up a yurt on the land, artistically displaying salvaged items from their lives on nearby trees. They are visited by Jeannette’s cousin, Dinah, and her husband Bill, Midwestern parents grieving over the tragic loss of their daughter.
“Jeannette and Neil are post-intellectuals,” explains Kathy. “They bought this beautiful home in the mountains because of their own spirituality, which is linked to Buddha and appreciating nature.” That they choose to honor the remains of their lives artistically is evidence of their ability to come to grips with their loss in a cheerful way. “They are defiant of the misery that might affect other people,” says Kathy.
By contrast, Dinah and Bill, who have arrived after hearing about the devastation of the fire, live conservatively in their religious and political values. The juxtaposition of these two ideologies creates both tension and humor.
“These are two sets of very different people, looking at life in very different ways,” Kathy explains. “There are lovely threads of humor throughout, but you also begin to see people use humor to escape things that haunt them at night…the things that are always with them.”
Charged with bringing these complex characters to life is a seasoned cast of San Diego notables: Jo Anne Glover and Jeffrey Jones will portray the fire-devastated Northern Californians, while Colleen Kollar Smith and John Tessmer will play the grieving Ohioan visitors.
“The cast is incredible,” enthuses Kathy. “There are a lot of levels of thinking in these characters for the them to discover. It’s a beautiful play to listen to and will be completely in the hands of the actors.” While Kathy is new to working with the majority of the cast, she notes that Colleen grew up doing theatre in North County San Diego. “She’s a gifted lady we claim as our own,” Kathy says, of Colleen’s early theatre days at Moonlight.
These kinds of connections are important, especially to someone who has been so involved in the development of San Diego’s theatre scene. Kathy looks forward to cultivating more of these relationships outside of Moonlight, among them, one with Intrepid Shakespeare.
“I really welcome this opportunity,” she says. “I so completely admire what Intrepid is doing onstage. I just love that Christy and Sean are bringing the classics to the schools and splitting open the idea of what the classics are and approaching Shakespeare in a new way. I have all kinds of respect for them and I hope they flourish and thrive.”
– Tiffany Tang
The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson – a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, June 24. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
How does a summer full of playing Shakespeare, creating stage makeup masterpieces, and mastering stage combat choreography sound? Or perhaps putting together a musical number is more your style? A little improvisation or dance? Or maybe watching your technical vision of a show come to life with one of the most state-of-the-art lighting grids in the city?
If you are between the ages of 8 and 18, your summer of theatre fun starts with Intrepid Shakespeare Company!
CAMP INTREPID lands in Encinitas this month, hosted by the San Dieguito Academy Foundation and the critically-acclaimed professional theatre company. Sessions begin June 17 in Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, Backstage, and Theatre Showcase for Young Actors. And now, Intrepid Shakespeare is pleased to announce that there are full and partial scholarships for summer campers, courtesy of City of Encinitas and Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program! (Interested campers should apply immediately using the CAMP INTREPID Scholarship Form, as the number of scholarships is limited.)
“We know how important it is to provide the younger generation with access to the arts,” said Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael. “We just want to be sure that we are reaching everyone who is interested and give them the opportunity to be involved.” Artistic Director Sean Cox has been equally clear about the importance of Intrepid’s mission to expose students to the arts, attributing his lifelong involvement in the theatre to interests that were nurtured at summer drama camps. “We know what kind of memories and experiences they can build,” he said.
Joining Intrepid’s core of teaching artists, visiting professionals from the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and other major regional theatre companies will also teach specific sessions in a variety of theatrical areas, including fight choreography, stage makeup, movement, and audition technique. Each camping session ends with a performance.
Due to popular demand, Intrepid has also announced that an additional Musical Theatre Camp has been added to the summer schedule. High school-aged drama students have the opportunity to rehearse and perform 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, while the younger drama campers (ages 8-16) can now participate in an earlier summer session which will culminate in a performance of the musical You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Registration is now open for the following sessions:
Young Actors Theatre Camp
Hours: 9am to 3pm
June 17-21; July 8-12; July 15-19
In a fun and creative environment, campers develop theatre skills, gain confidence and develop social skills through collaboration and performance. Professional teaching artists lead classes focused on acting, singing, scene study, fight choreography, dance, improv, stage makeup, and mask work. The week will culminate in a showcase performance for friends and family. The campers will be divided into two age groups: 8-11 & 12-15. This is the perfect week-long camp for students with varying degrees of theatre experience, from zero to intermediate.
Early Drop-off and Extended Day Programs are available for the Young Actors theatre camp. You may pay in person by cash or check on the first day of camp but you must pre-register for these extra services. Campers may be dropped off as early as 8:00am and must by picked up by 5:00pm.
Early Drop-Off / Weekly rate $40 ($8/day) or $10 drop-in
Extended Day / Weekly rate $50 ($10/day) or $15 drop-in
For more details about the early drop-off and extended day programs, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page.
Musical Theatre Camp:
“You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”
Hours: 9am to 3pm
July 22 – Aug 2
Duration: Two Weeks
Campers will be cast in and rehearse a musical (You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown) that will be performed at the end of the two week session. Throughout the rehearsal process, professional guest artists will be brought in to mentor and work with the campers on audition technique, acting a song, character movement, dance and more. The professional guest artists hail from such organizations as La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe Theatre, Moonlight Stage Productions, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and Cygnet Theatre.
Musical Theatre Camp:
“25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
Hours: 9am to 3pm
Duration: Two Weeks
Campers will be cast in and rehearse a musical (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) that will be performed at the end of the two week session. Throughout the rehearsal process, professional guest artists will be brought in to mentor and work with the campers on audition technique, acting a song, character movement, dance and more. The professional guest artists hail from such organizations as La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe Theatre, Moonlight Stage Productions, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and Cygnet Theatre.
Shakespeare Camp: ”Romeo and Juliet”
Hours: 9am to 3pm
July 22 – Aug 2
Duration: Two Weeks
Campers will be cast in and rehearse a Shakespeare play (Romeo and Juliet) that will be performed at the end of the two week session. Throughout the rehearsal process, professional guests artists will be brought in to mentor and work with the campers on fight choreography, advanced acting, voice and speech, character movement, audition technique, and more. The professional guest artists hail from such organizations as The Old Globe Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Kingsmen Shakespeare Company, Texas Shakespeare Festival, and Intrepid Shakespeare Company.
Don’t forget to apply for available scholarships! See you all this summer!
Shana Wride is thoughtful as she considers her upcoming stint at Intrepid Shakespeare as director of Yasmina Reza’s Life(x)3. An established actor and director, this is the first time she has directed any of Reza’s plays, but she has always found the writing both challenging and haunting.
“Something about her work makes you think about it once it’s done,” says Shana. “It’s not until you walk away that you begin to ask the questions.”
Life(x)3 will be no exception. Stocked with a brilliant cast – Jessica John, Melissa Fernandes, Mark Pinter and Andrew Oswald – the play revolves around two couples and an unexpected dinner party. What makes this particular telling unique is that the story is told three times – each from a different character’s point of view.
“The conceit that we see an evening from three different angles with three different outcomes is intriguing,” says Shana.” I love that she uses this approach to examine how subtle shifts in our perception and response can drastically alter the outcome of our lives. I find that both exciting and absolutely terrifying.”
Yasmina Reza, a two-time Tony Award winning French playwright, unpacks these types of themes throughout her work – the dissolution of relationships, the misunderstandings that reveal deep-rooted psychological tendencies, the truth behind socially-acceptable behavior. Her work has been seen all over the world, translated for the English stage most often by playwright Christopher Hampton. Recently, her play God of Carnage was also adapted for film.
“What motivates me most is writing about people who are well brought up and yet, underneath that veneer, they break down,” Reza told The Observer early last year. “Their nerves break down. It’s when you hold yourself well until you just can’t any more, until your instinct takes over. It’s physiological.”
“It is all about the text but it’s also – which is really exciting to me – about what’s underneath,” says Shana, referring to the play’s revelations. “The tension becomes a character in the play.”
The staged reading format of Monday’s performance lends itself to exposing this tension. With simplified staging, the actors – and the audience – are free to focus more on the subtleties of the text. As is traditional with the staged reading format, there is minimal rehearsal time, putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the actors when it comes to both preparing their parts and also staying in the moment during the reading.
“You’re forced to do everything very quickly and to make those choices quickly,” says Shana of the format. “We are really lucky to have the cast we have. These are four really amazing San Diego actors.”
Thankfully so, as Reza’s work seems like quite a balancing act, requiring not only the creation of this tension, but also an acknowledgment of the play’s humor. Yes, humor. Shana is reassuring that even though the tone can be stark, there are plenty of uplifting moments in the storytelling.
“[Reza] doesn’t worry too much about cheering you up, but at the same time it’s funny – brutally funny,” says Shana. “Her humor comes from how ridiculous life can really be.”
Yasmina Reza’s own analysis of her work absolves her of any responsibility for her characters’ behavior – humorous or not.
“We ask writers to have a vision of the world, to take positions,” she says. “I don’t like to do that because I want to be able to write characters who have different takes on life and for them to be convincing.”
Shana might disagree, describing Reza’s work as “challenging” and Reza as the type of writer who wants an audience look at their own behaviors.
“In Life(x)3, she’s asking: Are we at the mercy of our surroundings or are we contributing to them?” observes Shana. “It’s something we don’t want to look at sometimes because we might be more responsible than we want to admit.”
Ultimately, both playwright and director might agree that this self-analysis accomplishes the goal of the play.
“You leave the experience asking questions about how you live your own life,” says Shana. “I think that’s very powerful.”
– Tiffany Tang
Life(x)3 by Yasmina Reza, a staged reading. Monday, May 20. Encinitas Library. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
Intrepid Co-Founder Sean Cox is no stranger to introducing kids to Shakespeare. As Intrepid’s Education Director, he takes a troupe of professional actors to perform in schools on a regular basis. No matter what level of exposure the students have had, there is always one reaction to Intrepid’s school tour performances: enthusiasm.
“For most of the students, it’s their first Shakespeare play,” says Sean. “But the students are always engaged and laughing and positive throughout the performance. It’s great for the actors, too. Everyone leaves in a good mood.”
Capitalizing on this enthusiasm, Intrepid Shakespeare has partnered with San Dieguito Academy and the City of Encinitas to create a very special selection of offerings for kids this summer – not just one day workshops, but entire weeks of theatre immersion. Sponsored by the San Dieguito Academy Foundation, CAMP INTREPID will feature four different tracks: Young Actors Theatre, Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, and Backstage Camps.
The summer offerings are a long-awaited collaboration between Intrepid and San Dieguito Academy, an extension of their already successful internship program, which has been in place since Intrepid’s residency began there in 2010. Currently, Intrepid Artists work with interns during the year to create a student version of Intrepid’s mainstage show. This gives students the chance to interact with professional actors and technical directors and put together a culminating performance at the end of the internship. Taking this into a summer program is the next step in theatre education in Encinitas.
“A lot of the kids are looking for summer opportunities, but there’s nothing really in Encinitas that is available, or the cost associated with it is really high,” says Stephanie Siers, San Dieguito Academy’s drama teacher. “Our goal is to offer something that is closer to home and affordable, but still has the same quality that some of camps that are available elsewhere in San Diego.”
“Plus,” she adds, “everyone wants to get up and work on the grid,”
“The grid” to which she refers is a technically-advanced lighting grid which crowns the mainstage theatre space at the $9 million SDA Performing Arts Center. Aptly labeled the “centerpiece” of the San Dieguito Academy campus, the Performing Arts Center boasts both a beautiful, 200-seat indoor theater as well as a state-of-the-art rehearsal space, both designed by performance hall connoisseur architect John Sergio Fisher.
Since its opening in the fall of 2011, both SDA and the City of Encinitas have been searching for opportunities to make this space more available to the community, and Camp Intrepid has provided that outlet.
With the residency of Intrepid Shakespeare as the city’s first professional theatre company, local theatre patrons have been able to enjoy professional performances in the Performing Arts Center throughout the year. Camp Intrepid will provide even more opportunities to bring the arts into the neighborhood through this facility, and the city is eager to support that development.
“One of the 2013 Commission for the Arts goals is to have the community use the new Performing Arts Center at San Dieguito Academy in the summer, when school is not in session,” says Jim Gilliam, arts administrator for the City Manager’s Office. “The first summer arts program to be offered is by Intrepid Shakespeare—we could not be more pleased.”
Beginning June 17 and running through August 19, Intrepid Shakespeare will host a variety of summer theatre arts sessions for a wide spectrum of ages. Thus far, the camps offered will include a Young Actors Theatre Camp (ages 8-15), a Musical Theatre Camp and a Shakespeare Camp (prior experience required, ages 14-18), and a Backstage Camp (ages 14-18). All of the sessions will culminate in a performance and will feature guest artist teachers from local professional theatre companies.
Among the many performing techniques students will experience are audition coaching, movement and dance, and fight choreography, in addition to acting and textual work. Technical campers will have access to the advanced theater facilities, including the state-of-the-art tension grid used for mounting lights that hovers high over the performance space.
Mrs. Siers also hopes that students from the community will discover the opportunities available at San Dieguito Academy by participating in the Summer Theatre Camp and utilizing the facilities. “Our school is known for having an emphasis on the arts,” she explains. “This will be a great opportunity for students to be in our space, meet new people, and to work with the Intrepid Artists.”
Intrepid’s co-founders could not be happier about exposing more kids to Shakespeare and theatre through these summer sessions.
“It’s really inspiring for us who have made this our career to see the younger generation enthusiastic and passionate about theatre and performance and Shakespeare,” says Sean.
While Intrepid will run the theatre camps during the day, they will also be in full production on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, their second show of Season Four, which will rehearse and perform in the evenings. To the City, this presents the perfect marriage of encouraging and celebrating theatre arts.
“The community will participate in daytime theatre camps for children and youth, and in the evening, enjoy performances in the Liggett Theater by our professional theatre company,” says Jim Gilliam. “This new partnership could not be possible without the assistance of the San Dieguito Academy Foundation and the school administration. We hope more arts programs will come online for this summer and are working with local arts organizations.“
“This camp is really an extension of us reaching out into the community,” says Sean. “Ever since we moved to Encinitas, we knew this was something we wanted to do.”
He adds, “Most of us took some sort of drama camp when we were younger, so we know what kind of memories and experiences that can build.” — T.T.
For more information and to register for Camp Intrepid, click here. Camps will be held on the campus of San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas. June 17 – August 16. One or two week sessions, depending upon track. Ages 8-18.
“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
Fabian quips this line in Act Three of Twelfth Night, and both Jim Winker and Ross Hellwig – two actors featured in Monday’s staged reading of the play – would agree that Shakespeare has a way of shedding light on the spaces where art and life overlap, imitate, and illuminate. In this play, in particular, he has created a cast of colorful characters for this purpose, characters who constantly find themselves peeling back the layers of living.
“That’s the glory of Shakespeare,” says UCSD Professor Emeritus Jim Winker who will be playing Malvolio, the “narrow-minded and mean-spirited” steward to the Lady Olivia. “We’ve all got something to bring to each part. It’s like onion layers unfolding, depending upon the actors playing the roles.”
Jim is no stranger to unpacking the Bard. In addition to his accomplished acting resume which includes numerous Shakespeare productions and an Associate Artist designation at the Old Globe, Jim taught classical texts in UCSD’s Department of Theatre and Dance for 25 years. He was recently approached by Christy Yael and Sean Cox, artistic directors at Intrepid, to take their actors through scansion workshops during rehearsals for their main stage productions. He is looking forward to taking the stage on Monday as an Intrepid cast member.
While Malvolio – whose name can be translated as “ill will” – is typically seen as somewhat of a fool, Jim stresses the importance of recognizing his complexities. “For all of his general creepiness,” says Jim, “he’s a vulnerable guy. Shakespeare has given him to us in a wonderful package where he has balanced out all sides of him.”
Even though the turn of events in the story don’t favor Malvolio for the better, Jim observes that because of these complexities of character, audiences don’t automatically dismiss him. ”We end up having some feeling for him,” he observes. “He’s got depth and feeling and complications.”
“He’s forgivable because he’s relatable,” says Ross Hellwig of his own character, Duke Orsino – the melancholy lover who’s “more in love with the idea of love” than the object of his affections. Similarly to Malvolio and many of the characters in Twelfth Night, Orsino takes a position of authority on a subject – in his case, the idea of love – but soon discovers that he is the one who has a lot to learn.
“One of the things I think is fun about Orsino,” explains Ross, “is that he imagines himself the most knowledgeable about love and women because he’s in the midst of this incredible passion for this woman. He’s in the midst of these scenes with Viola and educating her about what love is and - he’s really wrong. It ends up being the other way around – that she was teaching him about love.”
“Spoiler alert,” he adds.
And what is it like to play these complex people onstage?
“Characters who have deluded images of themselves can be a lot of fun,” says Ross, who is a graduate of the Old Globe/USD MFA Program and has worked on numerous Shakespeare productions in San Diego and Los Angeles. “And these characters are all so colorful. They are unique and full of life and the fun of the piece is seeing what kind of trouble they will get into.”
Trouble is definitely not out of the question for the staged reading format. With mere hours of rehearsal and script in hand, actors are required to perform to full production standards. While this process is not for the faint of heart, both Jim and Ross note that the “quickness” of the staged reading arena forces the company to focus on what is important: the words and each other.
“It goes fast,” says Jim. “You have to pay attention and get all of your tools ready to go. You have to be ready to improvise. It’s a wonderful challenge for an actor.”
“One of the great things about staged readings of Shakespeare is that everything you need to know in a Shakespeare play is in the text,” notes Ross. “All you need is the language. It’s the blessing and the challenge.”
To that end, Jim endorses Intrepid’s fast-paced and text-centered approach to the plays they read and produce.
“They pay great attention to the language,” says Jim. “What I love about them is that they are not afraid of it. They get on with it and they don’t play down to their audiences. They trust that they don’t have to hand it to us on a tray.”
In a time when it seems as though we are shortening our language use every day, it may seem remarkable that audiences understand Shakespeare as well as they do. But the themes and passions and logical twists are surprisingly accessible, mostly because we recognize our own lives in the machinations onstage.
“He’s the heart of our culture,” says Jim. “The plays teach us so much about what it is to be human. Each time you see one, you learn something about who you are.”
This extraordinary class will be in session on Monday evening. – T.T.
Twelfth Night: A Staged Reading. Monday, April 22. Encinitas Library. 6:30 pm wine reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please purchase tickets in advance or rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door. $15.
In designing costumes for Intrepid’s currently production of Oleanna, Jacinda Fischer only had two challenges on her mind.
The first was power.
“I love the idea of the power struggle between the characters,” says Jacinda. “They both change so much throughout the show… it’s really fun and challenging and interesting to play with that.” David Mamet’s play, known for its lightning fast, often overlapping dialogue as well as for its sudden and dramatic reversals, does its best to leave the audience in a quandary as to whom they are rooting for in the end. This teetering balance is especially treacherous in the capable hands of seasoned actors Francis Gercke and Rachael VanWormer.
Set in the round, Oleanna is three acts with no intermission – truly an 80-minute showdown that begins with what seems to be ‘business as usual’ and ends with the unexpected. Jacinda’s task of portraying these power shifts begin with setting a very impartial stage.
“At the beginning of play, we really want to keep it neutral so that people come in without assumptions,” explains Jacinda. “Then, as things start changing, the biggest challenge is finding that shift in balance without influencing the audience and how they feel about the characters.”
To that end, at the top of Act One, Rachael’s character, Carol, is dressed in pants and a comfortable sweater, typical perhaps of a college student who spends too much time at the library. Fran, as John the professor, dons an academic three-piece suit, also fulfilling an expected idea of how this world of higher education functions. However, Jacinda points out that there is a constant battle between the expected and the assumed, especially when it comes to theatrical dress.
“It’s very difficult to keep things neutral because, even with something as simple as color, people will have an assumption about a person they see based on what they wear, what colors they wear, what type of clothing they wear,” says Jacinda. “So, it’s very important to communicate where the actor’s character is at, and how they are feeling at that point, instead of saying ‘This is what I want the audience to feel when they look at them.’”
Along with input from director Christy Yael and insight from the actors, Jacinda began to form a plan as to how this story would evolve onstage through the costumes. However, there were more than thematic considerations to take into account. There were technical ones as well.
“Because it is set in the round, everything needs to look very clean,” she points out, noting that each seat in the house will offer a different perspective on the players. Plus, each act takes place after significant passages of time, an element which makes the costume changes even more important. While quick changes between scenes are not uncommon for actors, they traditionally happen in the wings off stage and with a lot of assistance.
Not possible with Oleanna. In this play comprised of a continual conversation, the first and only time Fran and Rachael ever leave the stage is after the curtain call.
Which brings us to the second thing that Jacinda had on her mind when designing Oleanna: theater magic.
“The costume changes have to happen onstage, in the dark, in a few seconds,” she says with a mischievous smile.
Challenge accepted. — T.T.
Oleanna plays tonight at 7:30 and runs through Sunday only. Must close April 14. You may purchase tickets here. Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fe Road in Encintas.
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.