Meet the Mechanicals of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical”

Meet the Mechanicals:
(back) Savvy Scopelleti, Brian Imoto, (front) Nathan Riley, Gerilyn Brault, Phil Johnson

Dropping in on the Mechanicals during the early days of rehearsal is not unlike dropping into a cocktail party with old friends – minus the cocktails. And minus any actual history of friendship, for that matter.

It’s true. The five actors who will portray the working class players in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, which previews this week, have bonded so quickly, one would think that they had known each other for years, when in fact they all met at the show’s first rehearsal.

“It is the first time we’ve worked as a group, but not the last,” says Phil Johnson, who will be portraying Bottom. “We’re getting a van.”

To be a Mechanical in A Midsummer Night’s Dream means that you get to be responsible for most of the humor in the play, as the band of hopeful actors gathers and rehearses in the forest, falling prey to the machinations of the Fairies.

“It was really fun for me to be a part of the group that everyone remembers as just the clowns,” says Gerilyn Brault, who will be portraying Peter Quince, the troupe’s director. “It’s been really freeing to work with this amazing group.”

This sentiment is a common one, even to Savvy Scopelleti, who will be reprising the role of Snug, which she portrayed in last summer’s production.

“It’s a different show this year,” she says. “It’s a new cast with new energy…and it really did gel so instantly.”

Thankfully this insta-bonding has created a safe environment of play and experimentation, relieving some of the stress that learning both the Shakespearean text as well as the 60s tunes which will be infused into the show can bring. Brian Imoto, who will be playing Snout and who is also fairly new to Shakespeare, takes solace in the fact that the Mechanicals are supposed to be “amateur actors.”

“It was a relief to me,” he says. “We’re off the hook!”

The group immediately dissolves into laughter, something that happens every thirty seconds or so. After spending more than five minutes with this crowd, you bring to wonder how they actually get anything done in rehearsals, with all of the gut-busting going on.

But no one seems to be worried. For now, this group of talented actors and singers are indulging themselves in their off-stage repartee. It can only come in handy once the curtains open this week. Nathan Riley, who will be playing Flute and ultimately the lovelorn Thisby, barely contains his enthusiasm for his tribe.

“If you’re going to see Midsummer this summer, which I’m pretty sure you will,” he says, “this is the one to see.” — T.T.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical runs July 11-August 18 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas, CA.

Purchase tickets now.

Meet the Cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical”!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical runs July 11-August 18.

Purchase tickets now.

CAMP INTREPID, Week One: A Pirate’s Life for Young Theatre Campers

June 21, 2013 –  Backstage at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre, a scruffy and bearded Erin Petersen, decked out in pirate makeup, looks at her group of scurvy costumed campers and smiles.

“Break a leg,” she says.

Moments later, she is welcoming the audience to the first ever Camp Intrepid performance, courtesy of the Young Actors Theatre Camp.

Erin, who serves as Intrepid’s internship program director, has been mentoring and teaching a small group of 8-15 year-olds for the past week, along with Artistic Director and Director of Education, Sean Cox. Today marks the campers’ final performance: a costumed, choreographed and thoroughly rehearsed production of a pirate musical for parents and friends.

Erin Petersen and the cast of the Young Actors Theatre Camp prepare for their performance.

“I told them if they had a real solid final dress [rehearsal], I’d do the makeup thing,” says Erin, commenting on her penciled-in mustache.

As the audience mills about the theatre finding seats that provide ample room for filming and picture-taking, many are unable to contain their enthusiasm for Camp Intrepid.

“Kenzie loves it, loves it, loves it…triple loves,” says Corrie Anderson, whose eight-year-old daughter is trying theatre camp for the first time, having never participated in drama classes or productions before. “She’s so sad that it’s over. The time flies by.”

Carlsbad resident Whitney DeSpain, whose daughter Abby, 9, plays one of the larger parts in today’s show, agrees.

“Abby adores it,” she says. “She’s having the best time and she loves Erin.” Somewhat of a theatre veteran already, having performed in numerous productions around town, Abby finds the Camp Intrepid experience extremely engaging.

Rachel Kanvesky teaches Abby DeSpain about pirating.

“In fact, she liked it so much, we signed up for the next week of it,” says Whitney.

As the audience settles, Erin takes her seat on the edge of the stage in case she needs to do any last minute prompting during the show. Set against the backdrop of a giant pirate flag, the campers enter the stage and begin a tale of buried treasure, new friendships, and the fun of finding the “pirate” in all of us. Halfway through, the kids burst out in a high seas song and dance number. The audience laughs at pirate puns and tears up when the group of wandering pillagers sings about home.

Two songs, one dance number, and one swordfight later, the cast – beaming with pride – takes their bows to riotous applause.

“They did an amazing job,” gushes Erin post-show. “I couldn’t have had better group of kids. Really, they were fabulous and so willing to do whatever we asked them to do.”

When commenting on the impact of theatre camp on a child’s academic and social life, Erin cannot say enough, although each time she speaks, she is interrupted by one of her young actors tackling her with a bear hug or shouting far-off strains of “Thank you, Miss Erin!”

Erin and Rachel share hugs and goodbyes.

“It’s just having fun,” Erin begins before the first hug comes in. “But it’s also very validating for the kids. They create a character and work on something together as a team –“ (Bear hug.) “ — and then they have that moment where they show it to people and surprise people with how much they did –“ (Bear hug.) “– in a short amount of time.” (“Thank you, Miss Erin!”)

“They might not think this is a career opportunity,” Erin continues once the hug-waves have subsided, “but the skills they learn in these camps are things they can use in many aspects. We work on tools like voice and movement and articulation, for example. If you are giving a report in front of class, you’d have to use those skills.”

Thanks to a community grant from the City of Encinitas and the Mizel Family Foundation, more students than ever will be able to participate in the camp experience and develop these critical skills. Full and partial scholarships are available for potential campers on a first-come, first-serve basis. (Download an application form.)

Marie-Laure Wagner-Hunsaker, who attended theatre camp when she was young because she was “too shy,” understands the value of this camp experience. “The camp trainers were actors and I remember very clearly the [theatre] exercises we did. I was super excited and super happy when Ari told me about the camp exercises he was doing here. I remember them.” Her son, Ari, 12, brought a little French accent to his part, and proved to be one of the most comedic actors in the bunch.

“Kids recognize the quality of the experience,” Marie-Laure continues. “They work very hard but it’s very fun. Ari says they laugh all day long.”

“This week surpassed my expectations,” says Sean Cox, who couldn’t be happier with the campers’ enthusiasm in this inaugural week of summer camp. “It’s great to discover that we are filling a niche in North County for professional theatre training for kids,” he says.

When cornered by parents about the possibility of offering year-round theatre classes, Sean smiles thoughtfully. “If there’s enough interest, we would be more than happy to continue classes in the winter,” he says. “Right now, we are just thrilled with the response.” — T.T.

Registration for a limited number of spots in upcoming Camp Intrepid sessions is still open, including the two Musical Theatre Camps (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and the Shakespeare Camp. Sessions run through August 16. 

Please email ChristyYael@intrepidshakespeare.com for more information about Camp Intrepid scholarship applications.

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.

“It’s a beautiful play about four people connecting in the midst of great upheaval in their lives,” observes Kathy. “The writing is conveys a sense of compassion and humor in a very real manner.”

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 boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

 

 

Intrepid Announces Scholarship Funding for Summer Campers and an Additional Musical Theatre Camp!

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
Ages: 8-15
June 17-21; July 8-12; July 15-19
Cost: $225/week

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.

Register Here

Musical Theatre Camp:
“You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”

Hours: 9am to 3pm
Ages: 8-16
July 22 – Aug 2
Cost: $450
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
Ages: 14-18
Aug 5-16
Cost: $450
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.

Register Here

Shakespeare Camp: ”Romeo and Juliet”

Hours: 9am to 3pm
Ages: 14-18
July 22 – Aug 2
Cost: $450
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.

Register Here

Don’t forget to apply for available scholarships!  See you all this summer!

 

Three Times, Charm Optional: A Conversation with Life(x)3 Director Shana Wride

“Wouldn’t it be nice to think that our successes are always of our own making and our failures simply fate or the fault of some force we cannot control?”

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 boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAMP INTREPID Gets Official Nod of Approval

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 San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Center and Clayton E. Liggett Theatre

“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.

 

 

 

The Content of Character: A Conversation with Twelfth Night’s Jim Winker and Ross Hellwig

Twelfth Night: A Staged Reading.
Encinitas Library.  Monday, April 22.  6:30 pm.

“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.

Jim Winker plays Malvolio

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?

Ross Hellwig plays Duke Orsino

“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 boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door. $15.

 

Clothed in Controversy: a discussion with Oleanna costumer Jacinda Fischer

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.

Costume sketches for Carol

“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.

Costume sketch for John

“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.

 

 

Intimate Details – A Conversation with Lighting Designer Curtis Mueller

Curtis Mueller, Lighting Designer for Oleanna

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.

Sunlight image for lighting inspiration

“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.

Lighting effects play out in Act One. Photo credit: Daren Scott

“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.