Tag Archives: Christy Yael
As Titania the Fairy Queen, Jacquelyn Ritz has a very clear idea of the role she plays in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical.
“I like to think of the fairies as Greek gods,” she says.
Her fellow magical misfits agree with her. Occupying the forest throne alongside Jacquelyn sits David McBean as Oberon the Fairy King. Kevin Hafso-Koppman rounds out the fairy trifecta with his gymnastic portrayal of Puck in this Shakespearean classic, reimagined by Intrepid through the sounds of the 60s.
“They are super human beings with super human powers,” elaborates David. “Since the fairies have such power, they seek destruction in a way that’s different from humans. These things that occur in their lives become so much more important to them. And the results of their feelings affect the entire world.”
The main source of fairy angst is Titania’s adoption of a changeling boy, which infuriates Oberon. Titania’s refusal to hand over the boy further stokes Oberon’s fury, inspiring vengeance in the form of a flowery love potion forcing Titania to fall “head over wings” for a Bottom, a Mechanical metamorphosed into a donkey.
“Oberon has no power directly over her, so he can’t change her,” David explains.
And where does trickster Puck fit into this struggle?
“Puck has his foot in both camps – the real world and the fairy world,” says Kevin, elaborating on Puck’s ability to maneuver and help manipulate both the fairy royals and the lost lovers running through the forest. “The whole story and the whole dream are Puck’s flip of the world.”
From this fairy’s perspective, things are certainly topsy-turvy – the human lovers succumb to the magical spells of things supernatural, while the magical monarchs are reduced to petty humanlike spats and acts of retribution.
“I don’t think it’s petty,” chimes in Jacquelyn. “But I’m Titania, so I have to feel that way,” she adds with a smile.
Another topsy-turvy aspect of this Intrepid’s Midsummer revival is the casting. Both David and Kevin were featured in the 2012 production, but in vastly different roles: David played the Mechanical Flute and garnered rave reviews for his “play-within-a-play” Thisbe, while Kevin soared from rope swings as the lover Lysander.
Opportunely, Kevin is able to incorporate this gymnastic ability into Puck.
“This time around we are getting a lot more physical with the role because we are discovering some different things,” he says. “It’s difficult because the last person did something that was so brilliant and so funny and you want to take those little things and put them into your performance, but also create your own thing.“
For Kevin, that “thing” has translated into the construction of a trapeze atop Puck’s perch center stage, from which he is able to incorporate his athletic approach to his heart’s content.
For David, the return to Midsummer also included a role as musical director.
“This time around, I get to be a part of the moments where music adds to the storytelling,” says David. “It’s been a treat for me to be a part of the show in an intimate way and to help the new actors learn the songs. They are so clever and remarkable. It’s been an honor to be directing them.”
For Jacquelyn, who recently relocated from Chicago and is making her San Diego debut with Intrepid, the infusion of music into this play just makes sense.
“Music is a great bridge from this world to something higher,” she says. “When you mix that with Shakespeare, which is another way of taking this world and elevating it through poetry, it just heightens it.”
However, this “heightening” does not serve to exclude the audience from their understanding of the play. In fact, it does just the opposite.
“The music clarifies the relationships,” explains Jacquelyn. “People who maybe don’t know Shakespeare as well, still know music. We know songs, we know how we feel when we are singing to someone else or someone is singing to us. It makes more of a connection.”
These fairies are in flight through August 18. Come see them rock the forest and find your own musical connection.
– Tiffany Tang
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical plays through August 18 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas. Tickets available here.
(Photo credits: Daren Scott)
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.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical runs July 11-August 18.
Purchase tickets now.
How does a summer full of playing Shakespeare, creating stage makeup masterpieces, and mastering stage combat choreography sound? Or perhaps putting together a musical number is more your style? A little improvisation or dance? Or maybe watching your technical vision of a show come to life with one of the most state-of-the-art lighting grids in the city?
If you are between the ages of 8 and 18, your summer of theatre fun starts with Intrepid Shakespeare Company!
CAMP INTREPID lands in Encinitas this month, hosted by the San Dieguito Academy Foundation and the critically-acclaimed professional theatre company. Sessions begin June 17 in Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, Backstage, and Theatre Showcase for Young Actors. And now, Intrepid Shakespeare is pleased to announce that there are full and partial scholarships for summer campers, courtesy of City of Encinitas and Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program! (Interested campers should apply immediately using the CAMP INTREPID Scholarship Form, as the number of scholarships is limited.)
“We know how important it is to provide the younger generation with access to the arts,” said Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael. “We just want to be sure that we are reaching everyone who is interested and give them the opportunity to be involved.” Artistic Director Sean Cox has been equally clear about the importance of Intrepid’s mission to expose students to the arts, attributing his lifelong involvement in the theatre to interests that were nurtured at summer drama camps. “We know what kind of memories and experiences they can build,” he said.
Joining Intrepid’s core of teaching artists, visiting professionals from the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and other major regional theatre companies will also teach specific sessions in a variety of theatrical areas, including fight choreography, stage makeup, movement, and audition technique. Each camping session ends with a performance.
Due to popular demand, Intrepid has also announced that an additional Musical Theatre Camp has been added to the summer schedule. High school-aged drama students have the opportunity to rehearse and perform 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, while the younger drama campers (ages 8-16) can now participate in an earlier summer session which will culminate in a performance of the musical You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Registration is now open for the following sessions:
Young Actors Theatre Camp
Hours: 9am to 3pm
June 17-21; July 8-12; July 15-19
In a fun and creative environment, campers develop theatre skills, gain confidence and develop social skills through collaboration and performance. Professional teaching artists lead classes focused on acting, singing, scene study, fight choreography, dance, improv, stage makeup, and mask work. The week will culminate in a showcase performance for friends and family. The campers will be divided into two age groups: 8-11 & 12-15. This is the perfect week-long camp for students with varying degrees of theatre experience, from zero to intermediate.
Early Drop-off and Extended Day Programs are available for the Young Actors theatre camp. You may pay in person by cash or check on the first day of camp but you must pre-register for these extra services. Campers may be dropped off as early as 8:00am and must by picked up by 5:00pm.
Early Drop-Off / Weekly rate $40 ($8/day) or $10 drop-in
Extended Day / Weekly rate $50 ($10/day) or $15 drop-in
For more details about the early drop-off and extended day programs, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page.
Musical Theatre Camp:
“You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”
Hours: 9am to 3pm
July 22 – Aug 2
Duration: Two Weeks
Campers will be cast in and rehearse a musical (You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown) that will be performed at the end of the two week session. Throughout the rehearsal process, professional guest artists will be brought in to mentor and work with the campers on audition technique, acting a song, character movement, dance and more. The professional guest artists hail from such organizations as La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe Theatre, Moonlight Stage Productions, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and Cygnet Theatre.
Musical Theatre Camp:
“25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
Hours: 9am to 3pm
Duration: Two Weeks
Campers will be cast in and rehearse a musical (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) that will be performed at the end of the two week session. Throughout the rehearsal process, professional guest artists will be brought in to mentor and work with the campers on audition technique, acting a song, character movement, dance and more. The professional guest artists hail from such organizations as La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe Theatre, Moonlight Stage Productions, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and Cygnet Theatre.
Shakespeare Camp: ”Romeo and Juliet”
Hours: 9am to 3pm
July 22 – Aug 2
Duration: Two Weeks
Campers will be cast in and rehearse a Shakespeare play (Romeo and Juliet) that will be performed at the end of the two week session. Throughout the rehearsal process, professional guests artists will be brought in to mentor and work with the campers on fight choreography, advanced acting, voice and speech, character movement, audition technique, and more. The professional guest artists hail from such organizations as The Old Globe Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Kingsmen Shakespeare Company, Texas Shakespeare Festival, and Intrepid Shakespeare Company.
Don’t forget to apply for available scholarships! See you all this summer!
Shana Wride is thoughtful as she considers her upcoming stint at Intrepid Shakespeare as director of Yasmina Reza’s Life(x)3. An established actor and director, this is the first time she has directed any of Reza’s plays, but she has always found the writing both challenging and haunting.
“Something about her work makes you think about it once it’s done,” says Shana. “It’s not until you walk away that you begin to ask the questions.”
Life(x)3 will be no exception. Stocked with a brilliant cast – Jessica John, Melissa Fernandes, Mark Pinter and Andrew Oswald – the play revolves around two couples and an unexpected dinner party. What makes this particular telling unique is that the story is told three times – each from a different character’s point of view.
“The conceit that we see an evening from three different angles with three different outcomes is intriguing,” says Shana.” I love that she uses this approach to examine how subtle shifts in our perception and response can drastically alter the outcome of our lives. I find that both exciting and absolutely terrifying.”
Yasmina Reza, a two-time Tony Award winning French playwright, unpacks these types of themes throughout her work – the dissolution of relationships, the misunderstandings that reveal deep-rooted psychological tendencies, the truth behind socially-acceptable behavior. Her work has been seen all over the world, translated for the English stage most often by playwright Christopher Hampton. Recently, her play God of Carnage was also adapted for film.
“What motivates me most is writing about people who are well brought up and yet, underneath that veneer, they break down,” Reza told The Observer early last year. “Their nerves break down. It’s when you hold yourself well until you just can’t any more, until your instinct takes over. It’s physiological.”
“It is all about the text but it’s also – which is really exciting to me – about what’s underneath,” says Shana, referring to the play’s revelations. “The tension becomes a character in the play.”
The staged reading format of Monday’s performance lends itself to exposing this tension. With simplified staging, the actors – and the audience – are free to focus more on the subtleties of the text. As is traditional with the staged reading format, there is minimal rehearsal time, putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the actors when it comes to both preparing their parts and also staying in the moment during the reading.
“You’re forced to do everything very quickly and to make those choices quickly,” says Shana of the format. “We are really lucky to have the cast we have. These are four really amazing San Diego actors.”
Thankfully so, as Reza’s work seems like quite a balancing act, requiring not only the creation of this tension, but also an acknowledgment of the play’s humor. Yes, humor. Shana is reassuring that even though the tone can be stark, there are plenty of uplifting moments in the storytelling.
“[Reza] doesn’t worry too much about cheering you up, but at the same time it’s funny – brutally funny,” says Shana. “Her humor comes from how ridiculous life can really be.”
Yasmina Reza’s own analysis of her work absolves her of any responsibility for her characters’ behavior – humorous or not.
“We ask writers to have a vision of the world, to take positions,” she says. “I don’t like to do that because I want to be able to write characters who have different takes on life and for them to be convincing.”
Shana might disagree, describing Reza’s work as “challenging” and Reza as the type of writer who wants an audience look at their own behaviors.
“In Life(x)3, she’s asking: Are we at the mercy of our surroundings or are we contributing to them?” observes Shana. “It’s something we don’t want to look at sometimes because we might be more responsible than we want to admit.”
Ultimately, both playwright and director might agree that this self-analysis accomplishes the goal of the play.
“You leave the experience asking questions about how you live your own life,” says Shana. “I think that’s very powerful.”
– Tiffany Tang
Life(x)3 by Yasmina Reza, a staged reading. Monday, May 20. Encinitas Library. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
Intrepid Co-Founder Sean Cox is no stranger to introducing kids to Shakespeare. As Intrepid’s Education Director, he takes a troupe of professional actors to perform in schools on a regular basis. No matter what level of exposure the students have had, there is always one reaction to Intrepid’s school tour performances: enthusiasm.
“For most of the students, it’s their first Shakespeare play,” says Sean. “But the students are always engaged and laughing and positive throughout the performance. It’s great for the actors, too. Everyone leaves in a good mood.”
Capitalizing on this enthusiasm, Intrepid Shakespeare has partnered with San Dieguito Academy and the City of Encinitas to create a very special selection of offerings for kids this summer – not just one day workshops, but entire weeks of theatre immersion. Sponsored by the San Dieguito Academy Foundation, CAMP INTREPID will feature four different tracks: Young Actors Theatre, Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, and Backstage Camps.
The summer offerings are a long-awaited collaboration between Intrepid and San Dieguito Academy, an extension of their already successful internship program, which has been in place since Intrepid’s residency began there in 2010. Currently, Intrepid Artists work with interns during the year to create a student version of Intrepid’s mainstage show. This gives students the chance to interact with professional actors and technical directors and put together a culminating performance at the end of the internship. Taking this into a summer program is the next step in theatre education in Encinitas.
“A lot of the kids are looking for summer opportunities, but there’s nothing really in Encinitas that is available, or the cost associated with it is really high,” says Stephanie Siers, San Dieguito Academy’s drama teacher. “Our goal is to offer something that is closer to home and affordable, but still has the same quality that some of camps that are available elsewhere in San Diego.”
“Plus,” she adds, “everyone wants to get up and work on the grid,”
“The grid” to which she refers is a technically-advanced lighting grid which crowns the mainstage theatre space at the $9 million SDA Performing Arts Center. Aptly labeled the “centerpiece” of the San Dieguito Academy campus, the Performing Arts Center boasts both a beautiful, 200-seat indoor theater as well as a state-of-the-art rehearsal space, both designed by performance hall connoisseur architect John Sergio Fisher.
Since its opening in the fall of 2011, both SDA and the City of Encinitas have been searching for opportunities to make this space more available to the community, and Camp Intrepid has provided that outlet.
With the residency of Intrepid Shakespeare as the city’s first professional theatre company, local theatre patrons have been able to enjoy professional performances in the Performing Arts Center throughout the year. Camp Intrepid will provide even more opportunities to bring the arts into the neighborhood through this facility, and the city is eager to support that development.
“One of the 2013 Commission for the Arts goals is to have the community use the new Performing Arts Center at San Dieguito Academy in the summer, when school is not in session,” says Jim Gilliam, arts administrator for the City Manager’s Office. “The first summer arts program to be offered is by Intrepid Shakespeare—we could not be more pleased.”
Beginning June 17 and running through August 19, Intrepid Shakespeare will host a variety of summer theatre arts sessions for a wide spectrum of ages. Thus far, the camps offered will include a Young Actors Theatre Camp (ages 8-15), a Musical Theatre Camp and a Shakespeare Camp (prior experience required, ages 14-18), and a Backstage Camp (ages 14-18). All of the sessions will culminate in a performance and will feature guest artist teachers from local professional theatre companies.
Among the many performing techniques students will experience are audition coaching, movement and dance, and fight choreography, in addition to acting and textual work. Technical campers will have access to the advanced theater facilities, including the state-of-the-art tension grid used for mounting lights that hovers high over the performance space.
Mrs. Siers also hopes that students from the community will discover the opportunities available at San Dieguito Academy by participating in the Summer Theatre Camp and utilizing the facilities. “Our school is known for having an emphasis on the arts,” she explains. “This will be a great opportunity for students to be in our space, meet new people, and to work with the Intrepid Artists.”
Intrepid’s co-founders could not be happier about exposing more kids to Shakespeare and theatre through these summer sessions.
“It’s really inspiring for us who have made this our career to see the younger generation enthusiastic and passionate about theatre and performance and Shakespeare,” says Sean.
While Intrepid will run the theatre camps during the day, they will also be in full production on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, their second show of Season Four, which will rehearse and perform in the evenings. To the City, this presents the perfect marriage of encouraging and celebrating theatre arts.
“The community will participate in daytime theatre camps for children and youth, and in the evening, enjoy performances in the Liggett Theater by our professional theatre company,” says Jim Gilliam. “This new partnership could not be possible without the assistance of the San Dieguito Academy Foundation and the school administration. We hope more arts programs will come online for this summer and are working with local arts organizations.“
“This camp is really an extension of us reaching out into the community,” says Sean. “Ever since we moved to Encinitas, we knew this was something we wanted to do.”
He adds, “Most of us took some sort of drama camp when we were younger, so we know what kind of memories and experiences that can build.” — T.T.
For more information and to register for Camp Intrepid, click here. Camps will be held on the campus of San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas. June 17 – August 16. One or two week sessions, depending upon track. Ages 8-18.
“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
Fabian quips this line in Act Three of Twelfth Night, and both Jim Winker and Ross Hellwig – two actors featured in Monday’s staged reading of the play – would agree that Shakespeare has a way of shedding light on the spaces where art and life overlap, imitate, and illuminate. In this play, in particular, he has created a cast of colorful characters for this purpose, characters who constantly find themselves peeling back the layers of living.
“That’s the glory of Shakespeare,” says UCSD Professor Emeritus Jim Winker who will be playing Malvolio, the “narrow-minded and mean-spirited” steward to the Lady Olivia. “We’ve all got something to bring to each part. It’s like onion layers unfolding, depending upon the actors playing the roles.”
Jim is no stranger to unpacking the Bard. In addition to his accomplished acting resume which includes numerous Shakespeare productions and an Associate Artist designation at the Old Globe, Jim taught classical texts in UCSD’s Department of Theatre and Dance for 25 years. He was recently approached by Christy Yael and Sean Cox, artistic directors at Intrepid, to take their actors through scansion workshops during rehearsals for their main stage productions. He is looking forward to taking the stage on Monday as an Intrepid cast member.
While Malvolio – whose name can be translated as “ill will” – is typically seen as somewhat of a fool, Jim stresses the importance of recognizing his complexities. “For all of his general creepiness,” says Jim, “he’s a vulnerable guy. Shakespeare has given him to us in a wonderful package where he has balanced out all sides of him.”
Even though the turn of events in the story don’t favor Malvolio for the better, Jim observes that because of these complexities of character, audiences don’t automatically dismiss him. ”We end up having some feeling for him,” he observes. “He’s got depth and feeling and complications.”
“He’s forgivable because he’s relatable,” says Ross Hellwig of his own character, Duke Orsino – the melancholy lover who’s “more in love with the idea of love” than the object of his affections. Similarly to Malvolio and many of the characters in Twelfth Night, Orsino takes a position of authority on a subject – in his case, the idea of love – but soon discovers that he is the one who has a lot to learn.
“One of the things I think is fun about Orsino,” explains Ross, “is that he imagines himself the most knowledgeable about love and women because he’s in the midst of this incredible passion for this woman. He’s in the midst of these scenes with Viola and educating her about what love is and - he’s really wrong. It ends up being the other way around – that she was teaching him about love.”
“Spoiler alert,” he adds.
And what is it like to play these complex people onstage?
“Characters who have deluded images of themselves can be a lot of fun,” says Ross, who is a graduate of the Old Globe/USD MFA Program and has worked on numerous Shakespeare productions in San Diego and Los Angeles. “And these characters are all so colorful. They are unique and full of life and the fun of the piece is seeing what kind of trouble they will get into.”
Trouble is definitely not out of the question for the staged reading format. With mere hours of rehearsal and script in hand, actors are required to perform to full production standards. While this process is not for the faint of heart, both Jim and Ross note that the “quickness” of the staged reading arena forces the company to focus on what is important: the words and each other.
“It goes fast,” says Jim. “You have to pay attention and get all of your tools ready to go. You have to be ready to improvise. It’s a wonderful challenge for an actor.”
“One of the great things about staged readings of Shakespeare is that everything you need to know in a Shakespeare play is in the text,” notes Ross. “All you need is the language. It’s the blessing and the challenge.”
To that end, Jim endorses Intrepid’s fast-paced and text-centered approach to the plays they read and produce.
“They pay great attention to the language,” says Jim. “What I love about them is that they are not afraid of it. They get on with it and they don’t play down to their audiences. They trust that they don’t have to hand it to us on a tray.”
In a time when it seems as though we are shortening our language use every day, it may seem remarkable that audiences understand Shakespeare as well as they do. But the themes and passions and logical twists are surprisingly accessible, mostly because we recognize our own lives in the machinations onstage.
“He’s the heart of our culture,” says Jim. “The plays teach us so much about what it is to be human. Each time you see one, you learn something about who you are.”
This extraordinary class will be in session on Monday evening. – T.T.
Twelfth Night: A Staged Reading. Monday, April 22. Encinitas Library. 6:30 pm wine reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please purchase tickets in advance or rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door. $15.
Curtis Mueller knows better than to be fooled by simplicity.
When asked to design lights for Intrepid’s production of Oleanna (which is now currently running at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas), he was careful not to presume that a two-person play set in the round would be an easy show to design.
“The challenge with this play is that it’s so focused on just a conversation really, one wouldn’t think that it would be that challenging,” says Curtis. ”But from a lighting perspective, you are really trying to underscore certain moments of the show, depending on that conversation.”
Having designed for Intrepid’s past productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical (2012) and Hamlet, which just closed in February, Curtis was up to the task of switching gears from these bigger ensemble pieces to Mamet’s intimate office wordplay.
“Scenically, we’re in a professor’s office, so we’re trying to figure out ways to make each scene look different, but still not going too far from reality,” he said, explaining that the lighting will play a big part in portraying both the development of the story as well as the passage of time from one act to the next.
“The opening of the show is just a simple conversation,” he says. ”The audience doesn’t know what it’s going to escalate to yet, so we have more of an isolated look to it.”
Using the idea of the office windows and playing with the amount of sunlight coming through the blinds is one way in which Curtis plans to tell the story, although without an actual window onstage to work with, this gets tricky. Enter special effects created by lighting gobos that douse the stage with dappled sunlight on cue.
“By the end of the play, the scene is fully exposed, wider and open,” says Curtis. This brighter lighting also serves to “expose” the action as the play culminates into its most heated moments.
The specifics of these lighting choices will also serve to distinguish each act. Since the actors never leave the space and the set never alters, the challenge is making sure that the audience understands that each act takes place in a different time.
“We made a point that passage of time would affect the lighting design because we don’t want to have the feeling that nothing changes at all – especially with the way the play progresses, and the characters develop, and argument continues,” he says.
Working in the round also presents its own set of challenges, as the designer has to make sure that the actors and the set are cleanly lit from all angles and from all audience perspectives. Additionally, the blocking – or the movement of the actors – is different from a traditional stage, so there is extra pressure for the lighting to be uniform no matter which direction the actor is facing.
Given these challenges, this piece is a far departure from its surface simplicity, Curtis acknowledges. ”We can really strip everything away and focus on the details,” he says. ”I’m actually excited by the simplicity of it.” – T.T.
Oleanna is a special engagement that runs through April 14 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas, CA. Tickets can be purchased here.
To see Francis Gercke and Rachael VanWormer laugh together, you would have no idea that they are just days away from opening one of the most challenging plays they have ever worked on – one that is set intimately in the round, written for only two actors who never leave the stage, and featuring the words of a playwright known for his almost infuriating poetic specificity.
Welcome to the world of Intrepid’s Oleanna, written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet and directed by Intrepid Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael.
Thankfully, these seasoned actors are not intimidated by the task, although they do admit that rehearsals have been equally both daunting and enlightening.
“With Mamet, there is very little room for interpretation,” says Rachael. “Not that he is a dictatorial playwright, but his language is so specific that until you figure out exactly what each word, if not sentence or phrase, means, the rest doesn’t make sense.”
“You have to crack the code,” says Fran. “He seems to be a really thoughtful person, which is crippling to an actor.”
According to TheatreDatabase.com, “the most easily recognizable aspect of Mamet’s style is his sparse, clipped dialogue” reminiscent of Harold Pinter and Samuel Becket. This style is so recognizable, in fact, that it has come to be known as “Mametspeak,” the Orwellian reference invoked, no doubt, to illustrate the pervasiveness of this playwright’s impact.
Wondering what the Mametspeak looks like exactly? Here’s a sampling from page one:
CAROL: You don’t do that.
CAROL: You don’t do…
JOHN: …I don’t, what…?
JOHN: …I don’t for…
JOHN: …forget things? Everybody does that.
CAROL: No, they don’t.
JOHN: They don’t…
JOHN: (Pause) No. Everybody does that.
If you are not quite sure what is happening in this scene, you are not alone. On page, there seems to be much room for speculation. However, according to the actors, the more time spent with the text, the more the playwright’s intention behind each disjointed phrase begins to click into place.
“There a lot of fragmented thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that thought itself is complete. It’s just not expressed in a conventional full sentence,” Rachael explains. “It’s about finding the specificity of what those complete thoughts are and how these three words are different from the next three words. That’s been very frustrating but when you finally break through, it’s very rewarding, and so much of the play falls into place.”
“He’s so specific that the story truly turns, literally turns, on one phrase,” says Fran. “There are certain playwrights that have a reputation for being great playwrights. Mamet is just a really good, smart playwright. There’s not a wasted phrase.”
And ultimately, the intentions behind these phrases are what builds into a story. On the surface, the story of this play revolves around a professor and a student who meet to discuss her struggles in his class. However, it is soon clear that much more is going on beyond this seemingly straightforward setup.
“Mamet’s a great storyteller,” says Fran. “You’re compelled to watch. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know what’s going to happen, you can do nothing to stop it and you end up caring for the people who are in the car headed for the major accident.”
Even in the midst of this train wreck, Mamet is very careful not to take sides, especially when the characters become heated in their discussions. While the play might be known for its controversial themes, the actors are clear that it is truly up to the audience members to form their own interpretation of the action – and that their job is to stay out of the way.
“One of the things that we are discovering in rehearsal that is does not serve us as actors to consider the themes,” says Rachael. “Instead, it’s about finding out what’s personally at stake for the individuals at any given time. It might touch on harassment, power, feminism, but that’s never the intention. When these things come up, it’s out of the circumstance.”
“He writes two really smart, really self-assured, and really uncertain people trying to navigate their way through a real crisis that…just happened,” says Fran. “Mamet writes two strongly opposing points of views and then sets the characters in motion.”
So, as the actors consciously avoid influencing the audience’s conclusions about the action of the play, they find they are left with only the essential theatrical tools at their disposal: the words and each other.
“Fran and I have developed an effective means of keeping each other honest,” says Rachael. “You’re forced to hold each other accountable. There’s not a compromise in that, but on the other hand, there’s so much gratitude that there’s someone up there with you.”
She pauses, and then adds, “It boils down theatre to its purest form.” – T.T.
Oleanna opens Saturday April 6 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy – 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.. This special engagement must close April 14. You may purchase tickets here.
“Auditioning is the most unnatural and unrealistic job interview ever.”
Christy Yael, Producing Artistic Director for Intrepid, is quick to admit this. Having just finished two full days, approximately eleven consistent hours, of open call auditions for Intrepid’s upcoming Season Four this past weekend, she is also quick to state that she is optimistic and impressed at the skill level of those who walked through the door.
“We saw so many talented people this weekend,” she says with enthusiasm, “really talented people.”
With the company entering its fourth year, Christy is now a veteran of the rigors of the open call, an especially demanding process for both directors and actors alike. And the requirements for Intrepid’s audition were nothing short of daunting. Non-musical actors were asked for two contrasting monologues, while musical theatre auditioners were invited, in addition to performing a monologue, to sing both a selection from the 1960s as well as one from Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, a composer traditionally regarded as one of the most complex and challenging musicians in the American songbook.
“The two required musical pieces are so drastically different,” says Christy, “that it really gives us a good idea of a person’s abilities.”
Veteran musical theatre actress Kathi Copeland was unfazed. Having performed in musicals since the age of 16, when she was cast in a pre-Broadway tour of “The Me Nobody Knows,” Kathi feels a certain comfort level with these types of requirements. Although, she admits, she would probably never recommend auditioning with a Sondheim piece unless it was specifically requested.
“Every audition is different,” says Kathi, who was attending an Intrepid open call for the first time. “It’s just important to prepare, prepare, prepare. You never know how it’s going to go once you get in there.”
There are many variables that could affect a singing audition – the pianist’s tempo, the acoustics of the space, and one’s level of nervousness, for instance. The singing voice, sometimes more vulnerable than the speaking voice, is likely to reflect all of these conditions, and therefore it is important to prepare as many things as one can control ahead of time. “Always take the time to talk to the accompanist about tempo,” advises Kathi. “Don’t forget that it’s your moment to shine.”
Veteran actor and accomplished theatre artist Tim West agrees that the same advice would apply to non-musical auditioners. “It was my first open call for monologues in a decade, so though I prepared I lacked that practiced feeling,” he says, although clarifying that it was perhaps for the best. “I’ve grown less concerned with choices per se and more concerned with trying to find the moment.”
It’s this type of attitude that Christy appreciates the most. Although she finds herself more often in the director’s chair these days, she was once attending the same sorts of open calls as an actor. “At the time, it helped me to think of it as an opportunity to do some work,” she says. “There are stakes involved, but it’s an invested audience with potential payoff.”
For her part as a director, Christy pays close attention to those auditioning, looking for specific elements in the presentations. “With the Shakespeare, it’s a combination of the acting ability and how the verse is handled,” she says, “and all that that entails. I could talk for hours about just that.”
Surprisingly, she says, she has found that many with musical theatre backgrounds were more adept at handling Shakespearean verse than their resumes might suggest. “They are both heightened forms of expression,” she says, noting that one’s ability to act through verse or through music can be both daunting and tricky.
“I just have a tremendous amount of respect for actors,” she says. “It’s hard work and it’s vulnerable work and that’s a heady combination.”
While being on the director’s side of the table is definitely preferably, Christy’s acting background also helps her create a safe space for potential auditioners. Both Kathi and Tim agreed that the process was painless. “Christy was one of the most gracious auditors I’ve ever performed for,” says Tim. “It’s such a difficult thing, to make people feel warmly welcomed while maintaining professional decorum. I am glad I chose this audition to return to the practice. I’ll try never to miss an opportunity at Intrepid.”
Christy maintains that the excitement of finding new talent keeps her consistently invested throughout the audition process. “The thing that maybe people don’t realize is how optimistic we are going into auditions,” she explains. “We have high hopes and expectations that everyone is going to be fantastic and incredibly talented. We are not looking for what’s wrong – we are looking for what’s right.” — T.T.