Tag Archives: Brian Mackey
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.
“It’s all about that inspiration and that spark and then seeing it all the way to delivery,” says Graham. In this case, it is a speech.
“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.
“The show is more about Sean and the cast and their relationship with him. It’s about the people around Sean and his own muses and creative influences,” says Graham.
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.
Catch Hamlet before it closes. Final performances Saturday, 3 and 8 pm, and Sunday, 2 and 7 pm. Clayton E. Liggett Theatre, Encinitas.
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.
Three ghosts. One actor. Don Pugh reflects on his multiple identities in this weekend’s A Christmas Carol.
Diplomatically, Don Pugh admits that he is not necessarily drawn to one ghost over another. The fact that he is playing Marley’s Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the Ghost of Christmas Present in Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading of A Christmas Carol is more “a heck of a lot of fun” than anything perplexing. Still, Don did have a few reservations in determining his interpretation of each spirit.
“I didn’t want to go too far,” says Don. ”It’s important not to take away from Dickens’ story.”
While casting one actor as the three main ghosts helps to keep the cast size down, director Brian Mackey saw some wisdom in the choice as well. In short, he was eager to capitalize on Don’s talents and admits that this actor has some great insights into the spirits who set the stage for Scrooge’s transformation.
“The challenge is in portraying the Ghost of Christmas Past,” says Brian, who also adapted the script, along with fellow actress Rachel van Wormer. In truth, Dickens is a touch vague in his depiction of this particular spirit, and Brian and Rachel – in an effort to remain true to the story – tried to translate descriptions such as “like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man” and “from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light” into something workable. Enter Don Pugh, who admittedly portrays this character “differently than anyone else.” How exactly? We will have to wait for the reading to find out if there will actually be a flame-head on stage.
“There are engrained and established preconceptions about Marley’s Ghost and The Ghost of Christmas Present already,” says Pugh. ”Past is the only enigma.”
Don is happy to be able to illuminate Dickens’ words, commenting on the ability of Brian and Rachel’s adaptation to let them flow, changing them as little as possible. He also feels that the play captures the mysticism of the time in which it was written, when the hauntings of spirits would not necessarily be a supernatural tale, but a cautionary one.
“People thought they had these spirits about them,” says Don of his research. ”It was a dark time, literally and figuratively.”
While he has played The Ghost of Christmas Present once before, this is the first time he has taken on these multiple roles. It was the variety of the parts that drew him to the challenge, and is also what he has had the most fun with so far.
“But it’s the words of Dickens that are the most important,” says Don, underlining Intrepid’s mission to use the text as the primary source of inspiration and interpretation. And what story do these particular words tell?
“The beauty of Christmas to lighten up people’s lives,” Don says simply.
With or without a flame-head remains to be seen. – T.T.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by Brian Mackey and Rachel van Wormer, will be performed as a staged reading at the Encinitas Library, Saturday December 15, 5:30 pm reception, 6:00 pm reading. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or purchase tickets online here. $10.
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. The play will be performed as part of Intrepid’s Staged Reading series at the Encinitas Library December 15. 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 27 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 15 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.
The opening night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical is at last upon us.
Despite months of casting and development, weeks of rehearsal, and days of previews, it is tonight’s performance has been circled on everyone’s calendar from the very beginning. That’s definitely enough to make theatre people a little nervous. But, it might make them a little superstitious as well.
Well-known are the traditional superstitions of the theatre that date back to Shakespeare’s day and before. For instance, it is bad luck to whistle in the theatre, mostly because in the past whistling was used to communicate between the sailors who were hired to run the ropes and flies from the catwalks during a show. A misplaced whistle could be a dangerous thing. And of course, most people know never to say the real name of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” in a theatre; however, if you ask any actors what the “cure” for this misstep is, you will get a different answer each time: “Turn in a circle three times, throw salt over your shoulder, go outside and curse. Or is it run around the theatre three times? Wait, do you throw the salt over your right or left shoulder?” And, yes, it’s true that everyone says “break a leg” instead of “good luck” before a show.
Given the superstitious nature of this environment, we thought it might be fun to see how some of our actors approach opening night, or any of the regularly superstitious habits they practice to through the run of the show. As we are also doing a play about magic and mystery, it seemed only fitting that we find out about the magic that takes place offstage as well.
At first glance, most of the company denied having any opening night traditions or habits at all. However, eventually some ritualistic practices did emerge. And, one thing is very clear – every actor has very specific feelings about opening night.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” says Eddie Yaroch (Peter Quince). “There is this terrific tension, like you are clacking up the metal chain that leads to your first line on stage. Once that first line is said, everything lets go and the show runs itself.” Traditionally, Eddie will repeat his first line to himself over and over again as he’s getting ready to go on, anticipating that moment.
Tom Stephenson (Bottom) agrees. “It’s like being the groom at a wedding. Excitement and terror before you go on, then lots of fun after you’re on stage.”
They both decided that opening night audiences were the best: “It’s opening night – the crowd cheers for you.”
Other actors focus more on their preparation for their roles to shake the performance nerves. Rin Ehlers (Helena) takes a walk through her blocking upon arrival at the theatre to solidify her character’s journey in her mind. Savvy Scopelleti (Snout) tunes into the perspective of her character – an immigrant needing to belong – by repeating a handful of key phrases to herself in her Russian accent during the hours before going onstage.
There is also something to be said for camaraderie among cast members. Especially on opening or closing night, Lauren King (Hermia) feels it’s important to acknowledge the company’s journey and usually tries to make little gifts or write little notes for her castmates. “The first professional show I ever did, someone did that for me,” Lauren says. “I’ve never forgotten that.”
Brian Mackey (Demetrius) and Kevin Koppman-Gue (Lysander) share similar approaches to dealing with their opening night nerves. “I like to be social and joke around with everyone until the second before I step onstage,” says Kevin. “The more I’m in my head about the show, the more chance there is for me to flub up.” Brian also tries to avoid the nervousness that infiltrates the dressing rooms as showtime nears. “People are pacing,” he says. “I read Sports Illustrated.”
“There’ s something special about opening night,” says Taylor Peckham (Puck/Musical Director). “I like to get dressed up and celebrate it.”
We couldn’t agree more, Taylor. Here’s to an auspiciously amazing opening night. Break a leg!!
Dateline: Rehearsal. Wednesday, August 29, 745 pm
‘Twas the night before previews
And in the Clayton E. Liggett
Were just the sounds of fine-tuning
And a director shouting, “I dig it!”
The rope swings were hung
From the stage grid with care
In hopes that “knot spacing”
Was finally secure.
Patrick was tucked
In the sound booth and gave
Life to the piano
When Taylor would wave.
And what was there left
on the list to complete?
Sharon just smiles and says,
“I can’t feel my feet.”
The actors run round
In costumes and curls
Rehearsing their harmonic
It was nigh around eight
When the last rehearsal began
The bower finally hung
As the actors filed in.
The company’s final attempt
To make everything right
Knowing tomorrow’s first preview
Would be a memorable night.
Once a show opens to the public, it is every theatre company’s hope that the performances seem effortless and smooth. However, the road to awesome is paved with…well, technical rehearsals. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, has been fairy-wing-deep in tech rehearsals all weekend as we prepare for our first preview on August 30. For the non-thespian crowd, tech days are the very last of the rehearsals – the ones right before the first preview and right after the actors have completely finished setting their movement on the stage. During these final days, the lighting cues, sound cues, and any other technical elements of the show are layered in. These rehearsals are typically lengthier than any others, as it takes time to – not only decide what works best for each and every moment of the play – but also to actually make each and every moment happen.
Basically, it looks like this: actors waiting around to take their places on stage for particular scenes, production crew members randomly popping out of lighting grids, sound cues filtering through the speaker system at odd times during the three or four or eight hours in the theatre that day. The stage is always dark, except for the lekos and fresnels blinking through programmed cues. The stage is also quiet, so those who need to convey information to the directors or stage manager from all corners of the theatre can do so efficiently. The actors give way to the production team, who are coloring and creating the world in which they all will be living for the next four weekends.
To give a real behind-the-scenes glimpse into a technical rehearsal, though, there is only one person you need to talk to: the stage manager, aka the boss of the show once it opens. We caught up with Sharon Strich, Intrepid’s resident stage manager, and asked her to give us her moment to moment schedule from one day in her life on this technical rehearsal weekend. She obliged with one caveat: “This post might scare people.” How crazy can one day of rehearsal be? Well, for one thing, we forgot she had other things to do – like a day job.
Hold onto your seats, folks. – T.T.
A Day in the Life, by Sharon Strich – Saturday August 25, 2012
1:30am (yes, you read that right) – Wake up to do pre-rehearsal work on script and other paperwork.
4:00am – Leave for work at Starbucks.
9:20am – Finish work at Starbucks. Head to the theatre with really strong caffeine in hand.
9:45am – Set up the theatre for tech rehearsal, including my tech table, where I will live for the next few days.
10:00am – Tech rehearsal officially starts.
10:38am - Mic fittings, check fairy sound cues, organize company.
11:30am – Begin cue to cue lighting and sound rehearsal starting with Act II, scene i.
12:33pm – Break. Place glow tape on the set so the actors don’t kill themselves in the dark.
12:44pm - Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act II, scene i.
2:08pm – Break. Safety walk with John (Oberon) through his path to the catwalk during Act II, scene ii. Treacherous.
2:24pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act II, scene ii.
3:21pm – Break. Check progress of the set in the shop. Coming along nicely!
3:27pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal of Act II, scene ii.
3:54pm - Costume time!
5:00pm – Dinner break. Run for Starbucks, altoids, and chocolate; eat a sandwich for “dinner”; prep the ropes that will be moved later; talk through lighting cues with Curtis (lighting designer); talk about Puck’s pants with Christy (co-director) and Beth (costumer).
6:20pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act III, scene i.
7:39pm – Break. Talk through more lighting cues with Curtis.
7:51pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act III, scene ii.
9:04pm – Break. Work lighting looks for the chase sequence. Very cool.
9:18pm – Continue cue to cue, starting with Act IV, scene i.
9:46pm – Actors released. Scenic work begins with awesome members of the crew.
9:50pm - Work through lighting shifts for the chase. Magical!
10:15pm - Re-hang two upstage ropes, discuss the plan and pick a paint color for Titania’s bower, paint the wood on the ladders and the Puck nest, cover the stairs in fabric and jute, paint the ﬂoor, start to dress the Puck nest, realize we need more jute for Puck nest, hang the front curtain.
2:30am – End of day. Head home.
3:15am – Once home, write rehearsal report and send to production staff, send any necessary production related e-mails, work on paperwork.
4:00am – Find my pillow before I hit the floor, pretty sure I will hit the snooze button when my alarm goes off in two hours.