Tag Archives: Erin Petersen

An Actor’s Diary: Table Work

ACTOR's diary macbethThe lobby of the Clayton E. Liggett Theater is empty, except for my two witchy counterparts, Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen.

“They’re still in there,” she says to me, motioning towards the theater. I nod.

For once, it seems that I am a few minutes early, and while we wait the three of us chat about “American Horror Story: Coven” and whether or not we should schedule a viewing for research purposes. We are interrupted when the theater door opens and Brian Rickel, the actor playing Malcolm, steps into the lobby, packing his script into his bag and calling out thank yous behind him. Savvy and Erin and I look at each other.

Our turn.

Even though my fellow witches and I are eager to get down to spell casting, there is one important bridge we must cross before we can begin any cauldron-circling rehearsals: Table work with the dramaturge.

Table work is a highly technical term used in the theatre to refer to the intricate script analysis work that takes place…while sitting at a table. Literally. We all sit down and go over the script together.

While this may seem like a superfluous step in the rehearsal process, it is actually one of the most important elements of putting together a play – especially when working with Shakespeare. It is crucial that all of the actors exist in the same world when they hit the stage for rehearsals, and the development of that world starts with the words.

Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport

Dramaturge Dr. Gideon Rappaport

Dr. Gideon Rappaport, our passionate dramaturge with more Shakespearean research accomplishments on his CV than I can wrap my head around, is already in place at said table when I arrive. He sits on one side with Director Christy Yael-Cox, and,  as if we are about to compete in our own mini academic decathlon, Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti, and I take the seats opposite them.

I pull my Macbeth script out of my bag, along with a Bevington edition of the play and, lastly, my First Folio edition of the complete works.

This last is by far my favorite Shakespeare reference book. It’s a worthy tome, hefty in weight as it is in substance, and was edited by my grad school Shakespeare professor, the late Doug Moston. Its cornflower blue cover is worn at the edges, a testament to years of transport and love. From this book, I have learned to unlock the directorial notes Shakespeare has buried in the lines of his characters. Yes, that capital letter is there for a reason. Yes, the discrepancies in spelling are purposeful. No, I can’t always read the 1623 typeset, but it gives me comfort to have it nearby.

I sharpen my pencil. Since the Weird Sisters open the play, we all turn to page one of our scripts.

Macbeth Witches First FolioThe key to the witches, says Gideon immediately, is their specific rhythm and meter.  Whereas the “normal” speech pattern for most of the characters in the Shakespeare canon is iambic pentameter (think heartbeat rhythm), the witches experiment with an incomplete trochaic tetrameter (think the opposite of a heartbeat rhythm) and accents of iambic trimeter. What all of that basically means is that the witches are going to sound unnatural without us having to do anything but say the words.

Surprisingly, Shakespeare often makes an actor’s job pretty easy.

Before too long, the three of us are finding our voices, and after some stops and starts and corrections, we begin to recite the lines in unison, overemphasizing the rhythm and meter, ensuring that our eventual memorization incorporates the spine-chilling cadence of this specific chant.

After lengthy discussions about our lines, the multi-layered meanings of certain expressions and word choices, and the breakdown of our sentence structures, the three witches spend the balance of the time peppering Gideon and Christy with questions about everything from the nature of our corporeal existence to the political structure of the demonic underworld we serve. We also spend a lot of time on one question in particular that may or may not have a clear answer in this moment: what are we here to accomplish and why?

I look at my script at the end of our hour-long session and review the hastily scribbled marginal notes: “falsehood,” “anti-trinity,” “conduit,” “this toad is very demanding.”

Erin and Savvy and I take deep breaths as we leave the table, slightly overwhelmed by how we are going to translate all of this information into our expression of this dark trio. It is immediately clear that there is only one thing to do between now and our next rehearsal.

We must have a witchy research slumber party.

We agree on a date and time, but before we depart I make one request, “American Horror Story” on my mind.

“No scary movies, okay?” I call to them across the parking lot, and the irony is not lost on me when I explain. “They freak me out.”

– Tiffany Tang

Look for further installments of Tiffany’s “Actor’s Diary” in the Arts Section of this Sunday’s edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, beginning January 26 and continuing on Sundays through February 16. Macbeth previews begin January 31. Tickets can be purchased here.

macbeth page

So Cool! Camp Intrepid Opens for the Winter

When someone says “theatre camp,” there are certain ideas that immediately spring to mind: fun, friendship, laughter, marshmallows. Erin Petersen, however, one of the main teachers of last summer’s inaugural sessions of Camp Intrepid, offers a different idea.

Necessity.

“Drama camp is a safe sanctuary where kids will be praised for thinking outside of the box,” Erin says. “Kids can be super hard on themselves about their performance and how they feel, especially now with everyone being bullied. The theatre is a creative place to go to escape from that pressure.”

Camp Intrepid represents the evolution of Intrepid Shakespeare’s Education Department, which currently includes year-round school tours and seasonal adult classes taught by local theatre professionals, including Intrepid Artistic Directors Sean and Christy Yael-Cox and special guest artists, like comedic actor Phil Johnson.

Last summer, Sean and Christy were overwhelmed by the positive response from both campers and parents to the first camp sessions of the summer. Some kids even enrolled in multiple sessions in order to continue their theatre experience.

Erin Petersen and the summer campers prepare for their performances.

“She’s addicted,” said Whitney DeSpain, of her daughter Abby’s interest in theatre, which grew even more during her multiple camp sessions. Abby was recently invited to perform in A Christmas Carol, Intrepid’s 2013 Staged Reading Series finale at the Encinitas Library.

Because of the wild popularity of the summer camp, Intrepid has created a winter incarnation of Camp Intrepid’s Young Actors Theatre Camp, with sessions starting January 10 and February 21 at the Encinitas Community Center. The winter camp will meet Friday afternoons and will run for five weeks. As with the summer camp, each session will culminate in a performance. (Click here for registration information.)

While it may seem daunting, putting together an entire show in such a short amount of time is exhilarating for campers, says Erin.

“The kids almost seem surprised at how good their shows go. There is always that moment of wondering if it’s going to be a train wreck and then realizing that, no, they’re actually really good at it.”

Erin and Rachel share hugs after the summer performance.

“It goes to show how much these kids care,” she continues. “This summer, the campers really took it upon themselves to know their character, their lines, and have it all motivated to make their end product the best it could be.”

While the admiration in Erin’s voice is clear, she is also adamant that it is not the performance that is the most important part of the theatre camp experience. It is the tools the campers learn to use while rehearsing and performing that matter.

“Everything we work on shows up in all different aspects of life,” she says. “For instance, public speaking, teamwork, confidence-building are all tools you can use even if you don’t choose to do theatre in the future.”

For that reason, kids of all theatre experience levels are welcome, and the balance of the newcomers with the more seasoned actors provide a chance for campers to learn from each other as well as from their professional teachers. This diversity made the summer productions sing – both literally and metaphorically.

A summer camp performance

“A lot of the campers had done some musical theatre, but in every camp there was at least one or two kids who had never done it before,” explains Erin. “There was always one or two who were terrified on the first day. Eventually, they rose to every challenge that we threw at them, and there was a lot – costumes, sets, tech. We try not to take away the magic of the theatre, but rather show them what’s behind the curtain, and how we use these tools to put it together.”

In turn, Intrepid also learned about its own ability to run a theatre camp, which – just like theatre – came with its own set of surprises.

“No matter how much you prepare, you are never prepared,” laughs Erin. “The unthinkable will always happen – for instance, bee stings. But we were able to roll with everything.”

Now Intrepid is eager to take their summer offering a step further, perhaps inspired by one young camper who announced he would be starting a petition for year-round drama camp.

“The camp surpassed our expectations,” says Sean, who is also Intrepid’s Director of Education. “We were all amazed at how much the kids could accomplish in such a short amount of time. Now we see that people are asking for it so we will do our best to deliver.”

– Tiffany Tang

Located at the Encinitas Community Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024. Fridays 3:30p – 5:00p, Session One: Jan 10 – Feb 7; Session Two: Feb 21 – Mar 21; Cost: $190/session. Register here.

 

 

 

 

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

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

“Break a leg,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Kanvesky teaches Abby DeSpain about pirating.

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

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

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

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

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

Erin and Rachel share hugs and goodbyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Education Tour-de-Force

Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen in the school tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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.

Preparing the set for the day’s performances

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.

Students react to Midsummer‘s love story

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.”

Savvy Scopelleti as Helena

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.”

Brian Mackey as Bottom

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.”

The cast during post-show Q&A

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.

Who has seen a Shakespeare play?

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.

Arielle Algaze looks forward to R&J

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.“

Fight choreographer Scott Farrell as Tybalt

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.

Erin Petersen and Brian Mackey
as the tragic lovers

“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 seancox@intrepidshakespeare.com.

 

Casting Doubt

When actors approach their roles, the first order of business is to wholeheartedly believe in their characters’ actions and decisions without judgment. But, how is an actor expected to do so – without reservation –  when the title of the play is Doubt? The cast of Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading sheds some light on the matter.

“This whole play is painted in shades of gray,” says Tom Hall, who will play Father Flynn, the priest who is accused of impropriety at a small parish school. The school’s principal and accuser, Sister Aloysius – who will be played by Trina Kaplan – is driven by her conviction, despite a lack of concrete evidence. “There is no black and there is no white,” says Tom. “And that’s sort of the beauty of it.”

Tom Hall in King John
Photo credit: Daren Scott

Although set in 1965, Doubt was written in 2004 and playwright John Patrick Shanley won both the Pulitzer and the Tony for his work. Even though the words “genius” and “brilliant” are bandied about in the theatre world, says Tom, there is no “doubt” that this play is genius.  And brilliant.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it, long after I had read it,” he says.

Yolanda Franklin, who will be playing Mrs. Muller, mother of the first black student at the school who finds her family affected by the accusation, agrees. “Audiences are in for something,” she says. “Especially if they are hearing the play for the first time. I was blown away when I read it. The writing is that great.”

“Also, the play is so timely,” mentions Trina, commenting on the current investigations within the Catholic Church. “It’s interesting to revisit this show when so much has come out.”

Although the action unfolds within the setting of a parish and the organization of the church, the actors are also quick to point out that it is still immediately accessible, even without church familiarity, because the issues are so real.

Erin Petersen in Romeo and Juliet
Photo credit: Daren Scott

“It actually has very little to do with religion, and more to do with human nature,” says Erin Petersen, who will be playing novice nun Sister James. “It’s not just about faith, but about faith in humanity and the desperate need we sometimes have to believe in people.”

To that end, each character seems very representative of very specific – and very opposing – viewpoints. Tom points out that as the Second Vatican Council was closing in 1965, there was immense upheaval in the traditional processes of the church. Throughout Doubt, there is a theme of change, of progression, and of old-versus-new that is immediately relatable.

“Father Flynn sort of embodies what was going on in the church at that time, which was the controversial march towards progression,” he says, whereas the character of Sister Aloysius is more steeped in tradition. “It doesn’t matter how these two meet, they are going to clash.”

Trina agrees that her character is absolutely driven in her conviction. “She’s so driven yet still sympathetic,” she explains. “Her heart is in the right place, but she’s on a mission. The more I study her, the more questions I have about her.” She pauses, and then adds, “The more I doubt.”

“It’s actually sort of written as a thriller,” Tom explains, referring to the play’s hooded development of the facts as well as the twists and turns taken by both the plot and the characters.

“I, for one, am enjoying my detective work,” says Yolanda, elaborating on her research for her role and her analysis of the time period of the play, the civil rights issues, and the protective feelings a mother would have towards her son when he already has a lot of cards stacked against him. “She just wants what is best,” she says.

True to its title, nothing is certain in this story, which only makes the characters all the more fascinating to play and to watch. If anything is without doubt, it is that audiences will continue talking about it long after Trina speaks the last words.

“At the end, the playwright is basically saying, ‘Discuss,’” says Tom. “‘Everything you need to know is right there. I’m not going to give you an easy answer.’ This play is intended to provoke a conversation.” — T.T.

The staged reading of Doubt will be held Monday, February 25, 630 pm wine reception, 7 pm reading at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Tickets $15 and can be purchased here or reserved by emailing boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and paying at the door.