Tag Archives: Brian Mackey
Brian Mackey, director of the next installment of Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series Monday evening at the Encinitas Library, says this is the main reason he chose to include Twelve Angry Men in this year’s lineup.
“When I was asked to come up with a list of plays I would like to see read, Twelve Angry Men was one of the first on my list,” he says. “The thought of getting together twelve of some of my absolute favorite male actors in San Diego was too much to pass up.”
The play features in “juror order” (hold on to your seats!) Eddie Yaroch, Robert Biter, Matt Scott, Eric Poppick, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Danny Campbell, Brian Rickel, Tom Stephenson, Jim Chovick, Tim West, Patrick McBride and Jonathan Sachs. San Diego has never seen a theatrical experience quite like this one.
Written by Reginald Rose in 1955 and made famous with the 1957 film adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, Twelve Angry Men remains one of the cornerstones of American theatre, tackling issues of democratic justice as well as the inner workings of the process that delivers that justice. The entire piece is set in the jury room of a murder trial where the fate of the defendant is deliberated over a 90-minute time frame.
But according to Brian, this play is less about the trial and more about the jurors themselves.
“There is something very primitive about this piece,” says Brian. “It deals with how men interact with each other. Who is the top dog? How do you prove yourself to the rest of the pack? Do you have the courage to stand alone? Those questions are timeless.”
Eric Poppick, who will be portraying Juror #4 (the characters are all identified by their numbers), agrees that the story is an analysis of the ensemble of actors and what their dialogue – or silence – may reveal.
“What I’ve always loved about the play is that there are very different personalities involved,” says Eric, “and even the quiet ones can stand out because they have a vote and they can make or break our decision.”
The setting of the jury room provides the structure in which these personalities can be revealed, while also uncovering the power play of the justice system. For this reason, Twelve Angry Men has remained significant for analysts of both American theatre as well as the American legal system.
“…The processes of social influence and persuasion that take place during deliberation are intricate and powerful,” says Dr. Brian Bornstein in his article The Jury’s Trials. “The jury is not just the sum of its parts…the deliberation process itself illustrates the importance of understanding how groups reach a consensus, as well as how individual jurors form impressions and judgments.”
“For someone who’s never sat in a jury room, it is quite interesting to see the dynamics and see how the decisions are made or change and are re-made,” says Eric, agreeing that the setting provides for the tension of the play. “Trial scenes are riveting especially when you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
How this dramatic tension unfolds theatrically and accessibly is a testament to the quality of the play’s writing. According to Brian, it is the tempo of the conversation and the musicality of the dialogue that heighten the action of the play – and expose the inner thoughts of each character.
“They are forced to look at inside themselves and confront who they are and what they believe,” says Brian. “That can be a difficult thing. Many of the men discover things they would rather see buried.”
Having to do that in a room full of strangers would probably make any of us a little bit angry. Thankfully, we have a room full of amazing actors to do it for us.
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, April 28. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
“As sad as Scrooge is in the beginning of his journey, there is just as much joy at the end. It’s a joyful thing to see someone really change and change for the better. It’s one of the most uplifting things to see in your life.”
Ron Choularton, who has played the character of Ebenezer Scrooge over 25 times, never tires of delving into the true meaning of Dickens’ oft-performed ghost story. He will again be gracing the stage at the Encinitas Library this Saturday evening as Intrepid presents its 2013 Staged Reading Series finale, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by local actors Brian Mackey and Rachael van Wormer.
“It’s the story of a second chance,” adds Ron.
Read more about Ron’s Scrooge and Brian Mackey’s direction here.
In addition to enjoying the last staged reading of 2013, please explore the shows on the docket for Intrepid Shakespeare’s Season Five. Subscriptions to our mainstage productions make the perfect holiday gift! Additionally, we will have subscriptions to the 2014 Staged Reading Series available, as well as gift certificates for our adult classes in Shakespeare and scene study. Bring home some theatre this holiday season and help support our growing programs which bring Shakespeare into the classroom. Thank you and happy holidays!
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens will be read on Saturday, December 14, at the Encinitas Library (540 Cornish Drive). 530 pm holiday reception, 600 pm reading. $15. Please rsvp to email@example.com
Fran Gercke, Brian Mackey, Shana Wride, and Ruff Yeager sit at a table. No, they are not planning world domination via the theatre, although given the breadth and depth of their collective experience, that task would not be too far out of their reach.
Instead, they are thoughtfully pondering a lengthy list of plays, both classical and contemporary, written by a wide range of playwrights. They have been tasked with one simple challenge.
When Intrepid first opened its doors in 2009, along with the mainstage productions came the idea of staged readings – opportunities to hear plays in an intimate setting, presented by accomplished actors, lead by passionate directors, and accented with flavorful wine and tasty hors d’oeuvres.
The success of these sporadic readings was so much that, this time last year, the City of Encinitas offered Intrepid a standing spot in the ocean-view community reading room at the Encinitas Library in which to present an yearlong season of staged readings.
“Intrepid is helping us realize this longstanding preference of the residents to experience live theatre,” said City of Encinitas Arts Administrator Jim Gilliam of the city’s first and only professional theatre company.
Now, one year later, as 2013 and the inaugural season of the Staged Reading Series winds to a close, Intrepid and the City can see a plethora of accomplishments in the creative wake of this communal endeavor.
Among the playwrights featured this year were the likes of Moisés Kaufman, Jane Anderson, John Patrick Shanley, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, and, of course, William Shakespeare. The monthly readings on the whole hired more than 80 talented local actors, as well as eight directors culled from the most influential players across San Diego’s ever-expanding theatre scene.
For many, participation in a staged reading marked a debut with the company. Other faces were more recognizable to the subscribers who regularly attended the readings as well as the mainstage productions. Audiences embraced the readings, returned month after month, and were rarely hesitant to offer standing ovations at the conclusion of any given evening.
With this success of the series, the City was eager to renew the staged reading series contract with Intrepid for 2014. However, Artistic Directors Sean and Christy Yael-Cox knew that if Intrepid was to commit to another year, they had to harness and build upon the sense of community involvement the readings had inspired.
That’s when the idea of a Staged Reading Committee came into being. Instead of Sean and Christy deciding the playlist for a year, the reading series would be handled by a team of respected actors and directors who, from the benefit of their varied perspectives, would create, direct, and cast the 2014 season of staged readings for Intrepid.
Cut to the lengthy list of plays. While these four San Diego theatre notables may be scratching their heads about the 2014 compilation, one thing is certain. They are all excited to be at the table.
“I love the idea of committee-based theatre,” says Shana Wride, who directed the reading of Yasmina Reza’s “Life(x)3” this year. “To be part of a group of like-minded talented people and be allowed such a wonderful creative outlet is a real treat.”
In addition to choosing plays that are favorites, the team has endeavored to pick selections that are new to them and, hopefully, to audiences. This is one of the advantages of working as an ensemble and acquainting fellow committee-members with unfamiliar plays.
Fran Gercke, most recently seen as John in Intrepid’s mainstage production of “Oleanna,” says this is one of the best parts of the process.
“I am excited about the ability to read new work and hopefully introduce the audience to a whole host of characters and a whole world they’ve not known before, about which they’ve no ideas, no preconceptions,” says Fran, who directed the reading of Sam Shepard’s “Geography of a Horse-Dreamer” this past year. “It’s always fun when there’s a thriller aspect, a who-done-it quality to every story so that you’re always wondering where is this going and how is this going to end. New stories provide that.”
While a staged reading is rehearsed, it is comparatively easier to present than a mainstage show. Therefore, the opportunity to perform big budget plays in this simplified environment – leaving much to the imagination – is also appealing.
“It is amazing to me how just listening to a play can, and has, elicited such strong, positive responses from audience members,” says Brian Mackey, who directs the yearly reading of “A Christmas Carol,” the reading series season finale.
Fran agrees. “I get caught up in staged readings because they invite me, almost magically and with little effort, to imagine much of what is happening,” he says. “That’s not so common anymore.”
From collaboration to imagination, the staged reading series is ultimately an opportunity to do the thing that everyone loves to do.
Ruff Yeager, who portrayed John Barrymore in this year’s reading of Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet,” says it simply. “I am looking forward to working with incredible actors on a play I really love.”
Add in a little wine and cheese, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a successful 2014 Staged Reading Series.
– Tiffany Tang
Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series
presented at the Encinitas Library
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch
Abundance by Beth Henley
In a Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
A Number by Caryl Churchill
Private Lives by Noel Coward
Defiance by John Patrick Shanley
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Seminar by Theresa Rebeck
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Mapping Shepard: A conversation with Fran Gercke, “Geography of a Horse Dreamer” staged reading director
“The great thing about a Sam Shepard play is that you don’t know where you’re going or where you’re going to end up. You just know that you took a wild ride.”
Fran Gercke, director of Monday evening’s staged reading of Geography of a Horse Dreamer at the Encinitas Library, pauses a moment before he adds, “And if it’s done well, you want to go again.”
It’s hard to imagine that anything wouldn’t be done well in this reading, with such a formidable cast assembled under Fran’s leadership. Brian Mackey, Tom Stephenson, Tom Hall, Eric Poppick, Jon Sachs, and Jake Rosko will be bringing to life the story of the horse dreamer, whose winning predictions capture the interest of some local mobsters keen on exploiting his talents for big payoffs.
“It’s the story of a wonderfully wacked out, incoherent group of people who get together to solve a problem,” says Fran. “Shepard calls it a ‘mystery,’ but there is no Poirot in this story.”
But there is more here than just your run-of-the-mill struggle for power, says Fran. Although it has been described as a riff on DH Lawrence’s story “The Rocking Horse Winner,” Geography of a Horse Dreamer could also be seen as an unpacking of American culture, as well as an exploration of hope and…dreaming.
“We’re all chasing the ‘American dream,’ but whose dream is that?” Fran says, pointing out one of the most pervasive notes in Shepard’s anthology. “Our quest for authenticity is always based on an image we saw somewhere, or what our grandparents told us about our cultural heritage. When we distort ourselves to match the image we are chasing, we find we don’t like the distortion. It doesn’t feel real.”
However, this struggle for achievement is also part of our cultural landscape, he continues, part of our own “geography” of dreaming. Our only hope lies with the artists, who take on almost shamanic powers in Shepard’s plays.
“In Shepard’s landscape, if you are referred to as an artist, watch out,” says Fran. “You have magical powers, and ones that you probably can’t control yet.”
In Geography, the artist is the dreamer.
“It’s not a perfect play,” says Fran, but it is perhaps the first play where Shepard begins to define his voice. We see the beginning notes of his later, more iconic plays like True West and Curse of the Starving Class.
“Shepard has a really wonderful and goofy sense of humor,” Fran says, mentioning that during rehearsals this week, one of the actors described the play as an amalgamation of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and John Waters.
“Basically he says, let’s have a lot of fun and put people on stage you would never want to run into in real life.”
– Tiffany Tang
Geography of a Horse Dreamer by Sam Shepard – a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, July 22. 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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
A conversation with Scrooge and Scribe about Intrepid’s upcoming holiday staged reading…
“A Christmas Carol is absolutely a ghost story.” Brian Mackey is emphatic as he describes his new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless story, co-written with fellow San Diego actor Rachel van Wormer. Brian will also be directing.
“Even Dickens points out that fact in the introduction,” explains Brian. “He refers to it a ‘Christmas ghost story.’”
But audiences shouldn’t be worried. Revealing some of the darkness of the tale is just one of the gifts of adapting the story word for word from Dickens – a gift that develops more and more deeply throughout the play.
“The language really is beautiful,” says Brian. “And this version is literally Charles Dickens onstage.”
While Brian and Rachel’s adaptation doesn’t shy away from some of the darker moments of this tale, it is also very clear about the theme of the story: the transformative and giving spirit of the season.
“I think that’s why people come back to it again and again and why it’s appropriate for the holidays,” says Brian. “We are able to witness one man’s transformation from a curmudgeon to someone lighthearted. It’s a touching, powerful story of a man changing his life.”
So powerful, in fact, they knew it was necessary to find the right actor to handle Scrooge – both in the dark times as well as in the light. Not everyone can be convincing at both ends of the story.
The choice turned out to be simple one. Ron Choularton has been discovering and rediscovering this tale since childhood, when English television used to air it every Christmas Eve, featuring Alastair Sim. To date, he has played a part in 28 performances and readings of A Christmas Carol.
“There was a time when I was yearning to get old enough to play Scrooge,” says Ron of his days as Marley’s Ghost and Bob Crachit.
What keeps drawing him to this tale?
“As sad as Scrooge is in the beginning of his journey, there is just as much joy at the end. It’s a joyful thing. To see someone really change and change for the better – it’s one of the most uplifting things to see in your life,” says Ron. He adds, “It’s the story of a second chance – one that most people never get.”
To that end, Ron is charged with the task of creating the horrible, penny-pnching, and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and leading the audience through this transformative journey. He feels that Dickens is right not to shy away from the darkness that weighs on Scrooge in the opening scenes.
“It’s a fable,” he says. “Everyone in Scrooge’s life has left him, so his love of money is really about his fears of abandonment. The ghosts are teachers and their job is to scare the you-know-what out of Scrooge. Gradually, he realizes these things he’s forgotten about and forgotten to do. The transformation from darkness to light is not something that should be taken lightly.”
Brian agrees. “There is also an urgency about that journey,” he says. “Marley is basically saying, ‘You have tonight to save your soul.’”
Despite the grave themes present in the story, both Scrooge and scribe are confident that audiences of all ages will enjoy the performance. “There is some really funny stuff in there,” says Ron. “It is an amazing thing to see children who are affected by the story.”
Something tells us that Scrooge won’t be the only one transformed by the end of the night. — T.T.
A Christmas Carol, directed by Brian Mackey, adapted by Brian Mackey and Rachel van Wormer, and featuring Ron Choularton as Ebenezer Scrooge, plays on Saturday, December 14 at 530 pm at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Dr.
Dr. Gideon Rappaport sits at the end of a long table onstage at the Clayton E. Liggett, head bowed in concentration. On his left, the new Arden Edition of Hamlet, edited by Harold Jenkins, lies open on the table. On his right, a working draft of the script for Intrepid’s upcoming production of Hamlet is stacked neatly. Pencil in hand, he glances repeatedly from one to the other, flipping pages, making small notations, and nodding his head. But most of all, he’s listening.
On the other end of the table sits the cast, who have come together for the first read through of the play that will be mounted at the end of January. Even though this is technically their first rehearsal together, relationships and intentions have already begun to develop. The actors spend the evening trying out the words, pronouncing them trippingly on the tongue, and looking to Gideon, who will act as dramaturge for this production, for any adjustments. By the end of the rehearsal, he has individual notes for each player, as well as a few technical reminders for the whole cast: “Don’t hit the helping verbs. Seek out antithesis. Don’t emphasize pronouns.”
While most of the actors are Shakespearean veterans, Gideon is more than qualified to deliver his instruction. Currently an English teacher at La Jolla Country Day School, he has also taught Shakespeare in hallowed academic halls around the country, including on the campuses of Hamilton College, SUNY Cortland, Concordia University, and the University of New Hampshire. His Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Brandeis University doesn’t hurt his reputation as a Shakespearean guru, either. Neither does the quote from the Bard that serves as the outgoing voicemail greeting on his cell phone.
Gideon’s stint as Intrepid’s dramaturge comes at an auspicious time. He is currently putting together a new annotated edition of Hamlet for students, teachers, actors, and directors which will feature Shakespeare’s text on one side, with his own commentary on the other. This commentary will feature everything from thematic notes to definitions, language insights, contextual analysis, and other relevant information. Needless to say, Gideon is currently fully entrenched in this project, and will therefore quickly and easily impart his readily available Danish prince knowledge upon anyone within earshot. “Just tell me when to stop talking,” he says often, and with a smile.
So, what exactly is it about Hamlet that makes this play so discussion-worthy? Easy. “It’s the single most misunderstood play of Shakespeare’s,” says Gideon. “People over the years have gone wrong about what it is really about.” He attributes this misunderstanding to the shifting priorities of society and the changing relevance of religion and spirituality.
“It’s a deeply spiritual play,” he continues. “It’s Shakespeare’s examination of how to live well in a morally complex universe where the choices seem unclear. How do you do the right thing when there seems to be paradoxical explanations of what that is? Hamlet’s story is a test case which generalizes to universal significance.”
Of course, that is a lot for a new cast to take in on the first rehearsal, and after some lengthy discourse on wood carving metaphors, the nature of evil, and revenge play traditions, Gideon finally takes a breath. “Of course, we have plenty of time to talk more about all that,” he says.
Aside from the questions of spirituality and universal significance, Gideon acknowledges that there is always one question on everyone’s mind when they are trying to unravel the tangled layers of Shakespeare’s longest play: Is Hamlet mad?
Well, Dr. Rappaport?
Gideon smiles the cryptic smile of a teacher who knows the answer but doesn’t want to give his students too much information.
“He definitely flies into passions,” he says carefully. “But, he also has moments of reason…” We get it, Professor. We’ll talk after the show. — T.T.
Hamlet previews on January 26 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas.
Audiences leapt to their feet night after night throughout this past closing weekend of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical. It was just the kind of reception that the company had been hoping for from their very first rehearsals – and one that was often repeated throughout the run of the show. Apparently, there was much magic in the music, and many of those who entered the theater new to Shakespeare left wondering what took everyone so long to infuse it with catchy tunes.
“It really makes it so accessible,” one theater-goer said, grinning from ear to ear as she left the theater humming “So Happy Together.” Another patron noted that he had been to the show three times. “I never saw the same play twice,” he said, referring to the energy and acrobatics of the actors and the music. “It was different each time.” Another audience member was regretful that she waited until closing to see the show because it was something she would have liked to share with others and to see again. “Oh, well,” she said. “I’m sad it’s over.”
She’s not the only one. After months of time spent in these characters, it takes a minute sometimes for the actors to step away – not only from the show, but from each other. “I’ll miss everyone,” says Sandy Campbell with a bittersweet smile, as the actors gathered in the lobby to greet family and friends after the final performance. “This show has really grown and we’ve grown together.”
Savvy Scopelleti agrees. “It’s really blossomed,” she says.
Eddie Yaroch weighs in. “The best stage entrance in any play I’ve ever done,” he says, referencing his cruising “Life Could Be a Dream” basketed bicycle ride.
Taylor Peckham admits that he now considers himself a Shakespeare veteran. Remarkably, this stint as Puck (as well as being the musical director of the entire show), was Taylor’s first experience performing the Bard. “And I’m not the only one,” he says, puckishly, looking across the lobby at David McBean, Sandy Campbell, and Lauren King.
Tom Stephenson ponders the nomadic nature of theatre as he glances around the bustling lobby. “It’s always like this,” he says. “You develop camaraderie for such a short, intense time. Then you may not see someone for three years, until you do another show together. But, we’ll always have this – this show will always connect us.”
It is certainly hard to let go of something that has been such an investment of time, talent, and energy. But it has to happen. And in the theatre world, it happens quickly. The company is already looking forward to beginning rehearsals for the next production, Hamlet, which opens in January. And no, Hamlet will not be a musical, even though the question has been posed by at least one audience member at almost every performance.
But there is one more step to complete before this next journey can begin.
Silently observing the festivities in the lobby, electric drill in hand, Michael McKeon, set designer, waits patiently for his cue. “Strike,” as it’s known in the theatre world, is usually a group effort, taking place immediately after the last show, when everyone comes together to dismantle the set. Already some actors have changed into sweats and sneakers to help with the impending task. There is no room for sentimentality about holding onto things in this place. Once the last bow is taken, it is time to move on.
Spotting Sean Cox, co-artistic director of the company, Michael calls out over the crowd, “Is it time?”
A few hours later – sets broken, curtains packed, rope swings untied – it’s as if nothing has happened here. The stage is once again bare, awaiting its next adventure. — T.T.