Tag Archives: Christy Yael
Beth Merriman always has a change of clothes with her. Granted, it might be a vintage dress that she would like Jennifer Eve Thorn or Debra Wanger to wear onstage, but nevertheless Beth’s bags are usually stuffed with outfits.
As the costume designer for Intrepid’s upcoming production of Hamlet, Beth is used to toting wardrobe with her at all times – at the moment, the pieces in her pocket range from flowing and feminine to military and structured – all reflective the 1930s. This will be the ninth show she has designed for Intrepid, and she admits that one of the best parts is mixing things up with different historical eras. Thankfully, the Bard provides a backdrop against which the design choices at Intrepid have plenty of room for creativity.
While the basic palate for the company’s Shakespeare productions has always been modern,”we’ve started experimenting with different time periods,” says Beth. “It’s always a challenge and I never know what’s going to happen.”
One of her favorite productions to design for was the recently successful A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, which was set in the doo wop era of the 1960s. Hamlet will be created in a world of the 1930s old Hollywood glamour.
“Christy [Yael, the director] wanted to give it a little bit of a romantic feel,” says Beth. “That Hollywood image really makes the story shine.”
It is an important part of the Intrepid’s mission statement that nothing interfere with the language of the plays – the story is created through the text first, only to be supplemented with production design. In this case, this pre-war era adds to the story, rather than distract the audience’s understanding of it. “We all kind of know Hamlet – vaguely for some people and intimately for some other people,” says Beth. “This design helps make it comfortable for us to go and enjoy the story. We don’t want the costumes to get in the way.”
With the parallels between the Danish royal family and golden-era movie star celebrity, the costuming choices can illuminate the story through the recreation of this familiar period in our history. To dig into this era, Beth had to delve deep into her research books and the internet, picking and choosing images that would help inspire her wardrobe choices. (View Beth’s Pinterest page for Hamlet to see some of her inspiration.)
The choices also help support the idea that this is a closed set – the characters who live in the palace exist apart from the rest of the world and move entirely within in their own circles of influence, free from outside interference. Similarly, the claustrophobic bubble of Hollywood fame can elicit a feeling of isolation that is pertinent to movement of the plot.
The costuming also helps illuminate each character’s journey through this story – the palates changing and shifting with each twist and turn. “We do play with color and we do take each character’s arc in the play into consideration,” says Beth, alluding to the fact that no one really ends up in the same place that he or she started, especially in Hamlet.
To support this, Beth chooses color very carefully. “I always have to check with the set designer beforehand,” she says, in this case referring to talented Sean Fanning. “Since the set is very monochromatic, I wanted brighter colors onstage so that the characters pop a bit.”
Giving life to the canon of Shakespeare plays is always a different experience, depending on the play and the company. Having worked at theaters in Wisconsin, and locally here at The Old Globe and at Asian-American Rep, Beth is happy to have found a creative home working with Intrepid.
“It’s always a challenge and it’s always fun and I get weird texts in the middle of the night,” says Beth. “But Intrepid is a place where I’ve really been able to spread my wings.” - T.T.
Hamlet opens February 2 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.
When I sat down to chat with Wendy and Steven, my first question was the obvious one: Wait. Who is playing whom?
True to form, they began to finish each other’s sentences as they elaborated on their roles as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (respectively), for which they resumed rehearsals this week after the holiday break. In the play, these characters are old friends of Hamlet, who appear after the action of the story has begun, and whose loyalties often appear undecided. Except for a few lines of text, they are never seen apart, but always together, their names confused even by other characters in the play.
Despite a now traditional route of portraying these two as similar personalities, both Wendy and Steven are adamant about director Christy Yael’s approach of distinguishing them.
“Immediately, there’s a challenge to make it your own and different from the other person,” says Steven. “There is no challenge or worthwhileness if you’re just playing Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”
Wendy agrees. “They can be easily disposed of or perceived as filler but, let’s face it, Tom Stoppard wrote an entire play about these characters. Even though they don’t have a ton of dialogue, they are very influential. They are the voice of the people.”
As Wendy and Steven step back into rehearsals this week, they are eager to see their ideas about their roles manifest into action and movement on the stage. Steven, a newbie to Intrepid, and Wendy, a three-show veteran, are finding their excitement about creating these characters paralleling their interest in getting to know each other as actors.
“My first question when I was cast was, ‘Who is my Guildenstern??’” says Wendy, and for a while, there was no answer. Steven, who just moved to San Diego with his family after a yearlong stint at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, had solicited local theatre companies for auditions upon his arrival. He was cast in Intrepid’s reading of Macbeth in October and eventually in Hamlet as well. “All everyone kept telling me during the reading was that I was going to love my Rosencrantz,” he says.
“Did they tell you Rosencrantz was going to be female?” Wendy asks him, curious.
“No, they didn’t right away!” laughs Steven.
As they have become acquainted, Wendy and Steven have also begun the journey of figuring out who their characters are in the context of the production. Both actors agree that there is still a lot of mystery to be unraveled. “We are still figuring out what our rhythm is going to be together,” says Wendy, and Steven agrees, adding that discovering what they are each going to bring is going to be pivotal in creating these two people.
“Often the placement of scenes with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seems like they are not much more than ice breakers,” muses Steven when asked about how these characters fit into the story of the play as a whole. “They come before and after some fairly intense scenes, so it can seem difficult to show their reality as people.”
Wendy elaborates. “The more I reread the play the more I love what these two characters represent,” she says. “They bring Hamlet down to earth and make him accessible to the audience. This is a guy who has goofy friends!”
Whatever the motivations of these characters, it is clear that Wendy and Steven are ready to move from the extensive table work they have been doing for the past month and into the action onstage. While the table work is necessary to clarify intentions and motivations and specific moments of the play, for these two it is walking the walk - in this case, alongside one another – that will truly bring the characters to life.
“I’m a firm believer that I’m as good as my scene partner,” says Wendy. “I need to elevate my game for the other person. I love the idea of it being so seamless and breathing as one machine and telling the story together. I think, as a cast, we are all very invested.”
Steven has no hesitations jumping in with her, even though this is his first production with this crew. “It’s immensely gratifying to come into this group right after studying in Scotland,” he admits. “I’ve been awed to come back to a group of people who work with a process that is so professional and so familiar.”
Wendy is more than happy to put Steven’s mind at ease with regards to his debut show in San Diego.
“This is such a great group – I can’t stress that enough,” she says. “We’re going to have a fun time together. They are a supportive, fun, smart, risk taking group of actors and designers and directors.”
Then, she adds, “Take us all with a grain of salt, though.”
We have a laugh and I thank them for their time. I can’t help but smile when they answer, in unison, “No problem!”
We will see you on stage, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. – T.T.
Hamlet previews January 30 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas. For more information about tickets and showtimes, click here.
Jim Gilliam is supposed to be on vacation.
However, in this moment he is at work, tying up a few things for 2013 before returning to family and year-end festivities. As the City of Encinitas’ Arts Administrator, Jim has one thing on his mind no matter what time of year it is: how to increase the presence of the arts in his city. Lucky for us, Intrepid has become a formidable component in that plan.
With Intrepid’s recently announced series of 12 staged readings to be held monthly at the Encinitas Library, and our ambitious Season Four program, Intrepid is helping fulfill a long term goal for Encinitas as well as for Jim – to increase the presence of live theatre in the city.
“I have my marching orders,” says Jim, based on the 2002 Arts Master Plan for the City of Encinitas, which includes the tenant that “art is an essential element in the life of Encinitas.” A survey in this plan revealed that a whopping 72% of Encinitas residents consider live theatre one of the most preferred arts experiences. Emboldened by that information, the city has spent the last ten years bringing Encinitas more of what it wants.
“Intrepid is helping us realize this longstanding preference of the residents to experience live theatre,” says Jim. ”Until they showed up, we didn’t have a professional theatre company. And now, they are the first arts organization we are working with to launch our new initiative with the library to offer more arts programming.”
With the recent hire of a full-time facility attendant, the spacious community room at the Encinitas Library is now available for use by local groups in the evening hours. Many organizations will request the space, and Intrepid was offered the opportunity to present a staged reading series, taking place on the fourth Monday evening of every month. The series begins January 28th with I Hate Hamlet – a humorous nod to the fact that Hamlet will open on the mainstage at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre a few days later.
“Intrepid has taken on this project with 12 evenings booked,” says Jim. ”They are offering a terrific mix of plays.”
“Plus,” he adds, “they offer delicious, home cooked appetizers at the reception, award-winning plays, professional actors and director, in a terrific local setting, what more could one want at the very affordable price of $15. What more could you ask for?”
For our part, we are happy to oblige. — T.T.
Intrepid’s Staged Reading Series begins on January 28th and runs through November 25, with readings on the fourth Monday of each month. There will also be a reading of A Christmas Carol on Saturday December 14. For a complete list of plays or information on purchasing a subscription, click here.
The Encinitas Library is located at 540 Cornish Drive.
Dear Friends and Supporters of Theatre:
As we approach this holiday season, we would like to thank you all for your generous support of Intrepid Shakespeare Company. We have come a long way in a short amount of time and it’s all thanks to YOU, our audience, donors, subscribers and cheerleaders. We are writing today in the hope that you might be able to help a younger audience who may not be as fortunate as you.
Did you know that, in addition to producing exciting, original productions of Shakespeare plays and modern classics, we at Intrepid Shakespeare Company are passionate about bringing Shakespeare to life for younger audiences. Over the past three years, Intrepid has had the pleasure of working with over 20,000 students at over 50 schools throughout San Diego County. Both students and teachers love the programs that we offer and embrace how it brings Shakespeare to life.
Shakespeare is a mandatory part of the curriculum in California schools. Our Shakespeare For A New Generation program gives teachers the tools and skills to make Shakespeare come alive for students. When studying Shakespeare in its intended environment of live performance, students of all learning abilities excel in their understanding of his plays. Most critically, students with learning disabilities and students for whom English is their second language are given a window of understanding into these plays that they couldn’t have otherwise. As one teacher said, “Shakespeare would be horrified to learn that students were being handed books to learn his plays. These plays have to be performed to be understood.”
Unfortunately, the students who need us most are at schools that have little to no funding for programs like ours. Here is what a teacher from San Ysidro (a Title One school ten minutes from the border) said about Intrepid’s Education Tour:
San Ysidro was fortunate to get funding last year for this program but now much of that funding is gone.
At a time when arts funding has been drastically cut from schools, our program brings live theatre to students who might never have access to it otherwise. It also helps improve English as a second language skills in students of all ages.
We need your help. Our goal is to go to the 12 schools that have the greatest need for our programs but can’t afford it. The cost of this is $13,200. To reach our goal, we ask that you make a tax deductible donation and join our cause of making Shakespeare accessible and available to the students that need it the most. Donate HERE.
Thank you for your support,
Christy & Sean
As a donor, you’ll receive donor benefits!
will be recognized on Intrepid’s website
and in the program for our upcoming mainstage productions.
For any donation over $500…
the donor will receive complementary tickets
to opening night of one of Intrepid’s upcoming productions.
For any donation over $2500…
the donor and a guest will be invited to
one rehearsal for any show in Season Four.
For more information about Season Four, please click here.
If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 652-5011
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.
On October 29, Intrepid will host a staged reading of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Macbeth, just in time for Halloween festivities. While the play was picked for its darker thematic content, this is also the first time Intrepid has revisited it since the company’s inaugural performance in 2009.
While Christy Yael and Sean Cox, co-artistic directors, will not be reprising their roles (that honor goes to the fabulous Linda Libby and awesome David Cochran Heath), they took a moment to reminisce about their first production as a company in 2009.
“Macbeth was an experiment,” says Sean. “We started the company wanting to do Shakespeare in a small space, but there was a chance that the idea of keeping it intimate might not work.” Therefore, they brought in some Shakespeare heavyweights to help them develop their concept, including Sean’s mentor Jonathan McMurtry and Macbeth co-director Jason D. Rennie.
Intrepid has always been focused on the text of Shakespeare’s plays, and to Sean and Christy, the idea of performing them intimately enhances this concentration, coloring the words with layers of emotional development that might not be possible on a grander scale where production value could overwhelm communication.
“Shakespeare gives you everything,” is their mantra. “We always try to go back to the text because he gives you all the answers – he’s there directing you throughout the play. You just have to find it.” Now, this seems like a no-brainer, but back in 2009, they weren’t so sure their audiences would be on board with their intimacy issues.
Thankfully, their experiment worked. The play, then performed at the theatre space at 6th and Penn, played to full houses and even included a couple of midnight shows.
Both Christy and Sean admit that this first production was a huge learning experience that often felt like trial by fire. Nevertheless, with the conclusion of the run, they knew they had solidified their future in producing Shakespeare.
“Macbeth was huge because we had just started the company, so…it was everything.”
Admittedly for Sean, there are things he would love to try again or do differently with regards to playing the title role. He seems open to the idea of one day tackling it again.
And would Christy every consider reprising Lady M? “Never again,” she says definitively, with a small shudder. Apparently, inside Lady Macbeth’s head is a very dark place to be, indeed.
Both are thrilled to pass the proverbial torch to Linda and David and witness them bring these characters to life in Monday’s reading. Directed by Jason D. Rennie, there are chances, of course, that shadows of the original production may decide to haunt the performance…but, really, what’s Macbeth without a little shadows and haunting? — T.T.
Macbeth (a staged reading) – starring Linda Libby and David Cochran Heath – directed by Jason D. Rennie – Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas – Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door. Reception at 6:30 pm, reading at 7:00 pm.
When it comes to preparing for his next stint onstage, Sean Cox, co-artistic director and founding member of Intrepid, freely admits that he’s “properly terrified.”
Even though Hamlet doesn’t open until next year, the focus of the company has already moved towards this next project. For Sean, that means that he’s only weeks away from beginning rehearsals on one of the most challenging roles of his career.
He shouldn’t fret. After all, in some ways, it seems he’s been preparing for this his entire life: “I’ve watched it so many times and heard it so many times and I’ve thought about it for years and years,” he says. One of his earliest acting class memories even has him playing the gravedigger at 13.
But Hamlet is also about life experience, and for Sean the past few years have seen not only the formation of a theatre company, but also marriage to co-founder Christy Yael and the birth of his first child. It seems fitting that this play is happening now when Sean is looking at life so differently.
“Hamlet asks those questions that we all ask: right, wrong, afterlife, immortality…all of those simple and honest questions that are in silent dialogue in our own head all the time,” says Sean.
This is also the reason why Hamlet is such an intimidating role to pick up. For it to work, “it has to be simple, honest, and in the moment,” he says. For Intrepid, this intimacy will be further emphasized by the fact that they will be performing Hamlet in the round. “There’s no place to hide,” he says. “Literally. It’s exciting and it’s completely and totally terrifying.”
To hear Sean talk about his research for the role is to imagine him constantly tripping over books and recordings and DVDs of various Shakespearean performances. “With Shakespeare, I’ve always been about devouring and watching every movie version, every audio version,” he says. With Hamlet, “there are books and books and books. There are literally hundreds of books.” He’s been on a constant mission, it seems – dissecting the research, analyzing the greats, philosophizing on interpretation.
Some of Sean’s discoveries? Kenneth Branagh’s audio recording is way better than his film version, Ian McKellen says you have to be a bit of a comedian to play the title role, and when you put McKellen and Simon Russell Beale side by side, it’s impossible to tell who does the role better, even though they are totally and completely different. Ask Sean about his favorites and he doesn’t hesitate when he describes seeing Mark Rylance play Hamlet at the Globe as “the best theatrical performance of anything ever.”
But what do these great actors say about the actual experience of playing Hamlet? “They are like ‘Oh, it changes your life!’” says Sean. “It’s this momentous occasion. And it’s intimidating to go into it like that but I think most parts are…they change you in a way…if you’re putting yourself into each role, then each one affects you.”
Isn’t having these performances swirling around in his head a little distracting? “There’s no one way to do it,” he muses. “Every one is totally different, totally, totally different and yet it works. There is a reason why they say there are as many Hamlets as there are actors.”
But, even for a seeming veteran like him, the part of the Danish prince doesn’t come without its fair share of gauntlets.
“Hamlet is everything,” he says, animatedly. “He’s got this enormous amount of dialogue and he goes on this emotional roller coaster throughout the play and then he’s got this big old huge sword fight at the end.
“Jonathan McMurtry has said to me that playing these great roles is like training to be an Olympic athlete,” says Sean, quoting a favorite mentor. “So, yeah, not intimidated at all.”
Rehearsals officially start in December, but when asked about his schedule, Sean simply says, “I feel like I started a very, very long time ago.” — T.T.
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.
“…Swift as a shadow, short as any dream; brief as the lightning in the collied night…” (I.i)
Closing weekend descends upon us, and we are stunned that we are preparing to sing our last “So Happy Together!” Even though this production has moved swiftly though performance phase, we are so thrilled to have pulled off our Shakespearean musical motif with flair and sh’boom. But before we start patting ourselves on our own creative backs, we thought it might be a good idea to take a journey down a Shakespeare-inspired lane. Maybe these previous concoctions of Midsummer and music need a nod from our 60s set list as well.
Shakespeare penned MND in the 1590s and included some fairy lyrics for his flighty characters. But how long would it be before the idea of a full-fledged musical would enter the picture?
Meet Henry Purcell and his 1692 semi-opera, The Fairy Queen, which kept most of Bill’s original text but infused the play with masques to illuminate its themes of love and marriage, including one featuring the Greek goddess Hymen. Shockingly, it was widely misunderstood by Restoration Era audiences.
Unshockingly, David Garrick also had to have his operatic Midsummer say. His opera, entitled The Fairies, premiered in 1755 and featured only the storylines of the forest (sorry, Mechanicals!). All singing, all the time, there were 28 added airs, duets, and choruses in addition to the recitatively-crooned dialogue. Reception was mixed, but a publication called The Tuner deemed it “a laudable attempt to encourage native musical Productions.” (Future musical productions thank you for the vote of confidence!)
Moving forward…some midsummer trivia! Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s famous “Wedding March” was written in 1842 as incidental music for a German production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Writing the music to accompany this play actually spanned the composer’s entire lifetime, as he was 17 years old when he penned the overture and then completed the score a few years before his death.
Over the years, Mendelssohn’s music has also been choreographed into ballet by masters like Marius Petipa, George Balanchine, and Frederick Ashton.
Of course, in modern times, there have been a slew of looser adaptations which have woven music through the storyline of this play. Recently, the off-Broadway hit, The Donkey Show, featured the basic storyline set to 70s-era disco music, dance club style.
Which brings us to our own little corner of the Shakespearean musical anthology – an intermingling of nostalgia and poetry that has been tugging heartstrings and garnering smiles of familiarity since our opening two weekends ago. And it’s no wonder – when the cast sings about fairy tale love on summer nights in between their soliloquies and witty banter, the flow is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that infusing Midsummer with music isn’t what Shakespeare had intended all along. After all, wasn’t he the first to point out that “life could be a dream”? – 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!!