Tag Archives: Intrepid Shakespeare Company

Mapping Shepard: A conversation with Fran Gercke, “Geography of a Horse Dreamer” staged reading director

Fran Gercke directs
Monday night’s reading of
Geography of a Horse Dreamer

“The great thing about a Sam Shepard play is that you don’t know where you’re going or where you’re going to end up. You just know that you took a wild ride.”

Fran Gercke, director of Monday evening’s staged reading of Geography of a Horse Dreamer at the Encinitas Library, pauses a moment before he adds, “And if it’s done well, you want to go again.”

It’s hard to imagine that anything wouldn’t be done well in this reading, with such a formidable cast assembled under Fran’s leadership. Brian Mackey, Tom Stephenson, Tom Hall, Eric Poppick, Jon Sachs, and Jake Rosko will be bringing to life the story of the horse dreamer, whose winning predictions capture the interest of some local mobsters keen on exploiting his talents for big payoffs.

“It’s the story of a wonderfully wacked out, incoherent group of people who get together to solve a problem,” says Fran. “Shepard calls it a ‘mystery,’ but there is no Poirot in this story.”

But there is more here than just your run-of-the-mill struggle for power, says Fran.  Although it has been described as a riff on DH Lawrence’s story “The Rocking Horse Winner,” Geography of a Horse Dreamer could also be seen as an unpacking of American culture, as well as an exploration of hope and…dreaming.

“We’re all chasing the ‘American dream,’ but whose dream is that?” Fran says, pointing out one of the most pervasive notes in Shepard’s anthology. “Our quest for authenticity is always based on an image we saw somewhere, or what our grandparents told us about our cultural heritage. When we distort ourselves to match the image we are chasing, we find we don’t like the distortion. It doesn’t feel real.”

However, this struggle for achievement is also part of our cultural landscape, he continues, part of our own “geography” of dreaming. Our only hope lies with the artists, who take on almost shamanic powers in Shepard’s plays.

“In Shepard’s landscape, if you are referred to as an artist, watch out,” says Fran.  “You have magical powers, and ones that you probably can’t control yet.”

In Geography, the artist is the dreamer.

“It’s not a perfect play,” says Fran, but it is perhaps the first play where Shepard begins to define his voice. We see the beginning notes of his later, more iconic plays like True West and Curse of the Starving Class.

“Shepard has a really wonderful and goofy sense of humor,” Fran says, mentioning that during rehearsals this week, one of the actors described the play as an amalgamation of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and John Waters.

“Basically he says, let’s have a lot of fun and put people on stage you would never want to run into in real life.”

– Tiffany Tang

Geography of a Horse Dreamer by Sam Shepard – a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, July 22. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

Meet the Mechanicals of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical”

Meet the Mechanicals:
(back) Savvy Scopelleti, Brian Imoto, (front) Nathan Riley, Gerilyn Brault, Phil Johnson

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.

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.

Intrepid Announces Scholarship Funding for Summer Campers and an Additional Musical Theatre Camp!

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
Ages: 8-15
June 17-21; July 8-12; July 15-19
Cost: $225/week

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.

Register Here

Musical Theatre Camp:
“You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”

Hours: 9am to 3pm
Ages: 8-16
July 22 – Aug 2
Cost: $450
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
Ages: 14-18
Aug 5-16
Cost: $450
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.

Register Here

Shakespeare Camp: ”Romeo and Juliet”

Hours: 9am to 3pm
Ages: 14-18
July 22 – Aug 2
Cost: $450
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.

Register Here

Don’t forget to apply for available scholarships!  See you all this summer!

 

Three Times, Charm Optional: A Conversation with Life(x)3 Director Shana Wride

“Wouldn’t it be nice to think that our successes are always of our own making and our failures simply fate or the fault of some force we cannot control?”

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 boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clothed in Controversy: a discussion with Oleanna costumer Jacinda Fischer

In designing costumes for Intrepid’s currently production of Oleanna, Jacinda Fischer only had two challenges on her mind.

The first was power.

“I love the idea of the power struggle between the characters,” says Jacinda. “They both change so much throughout the show… it’s really fun and challenging and interesting to play with that.” David Mamet’s play, known for its lightning fast, often overlapping dialogue as well as for its sudden and dramatic reversals, does its best to leave the audience in a quandary as to whom they are rooting for in the end. This teetering balance is especially treacherous in the capable hands of seasoned actors Francis Gercke and Rachael VanWormer.

Set in the round, Oleanna is three acts with no intermission – truly an 80-minute showdown that begins with what seems to be ‘business as usual’ and ends with the unexpected. Jacinda’s task of portraying these power shifts begin with setting a very impartial stage.

Costume sketches for Carol

“At the beginning of play, we really want to keep it neutral so that people come in without assumptions,” explains Jacinda. “Then, as things start changing, the biggest challenge is finding that shift in balance without influencing the audience and how they feel about the characters.”

To that end, at the top of Act One, Rachael’s character, Carol, is dressed in pants and a comfortable sweater, typical perhaps of a college student who spends too much time at the library. Fran, as John the professor, dons an academic three-piece suit, also fulfilling an expected idea of how this world of higher education functions. However, Jacinda points out that there is a constant battle between the expected and the assumed, especially when it comes to theatrical dress.

Costume sketch for John

“It’s very difficult to keep things neutral because, even with something as simple as color, people will have an assumption about a person they see based on what they wear, what colors they wear, what type of clothing they wear,” says Jacinda. “So, it’s very important to communicate where the actor’s character is at, and how they are feeling at that point, instead of saying ‘This is what I want the audience to feel when they look at them.’”

Along with input from director Christy Yael and insight from the actors, Jacinda began to form a plan as to how this story would evolve onstage through the costumes. However, there were more than thematic considerations to take into account.  There were technical ones as well.

“Because it is set in the round, everything needs to look very clean,” she points out, noting that each seat in the house will offer a different perspective on the players. Plus, each act takes place after significant passages of time, an element which makes the costume changes even more important. While quick changes between scenes are not uncommon for actors, they traditionally happen in the wings off stage and with a lot of assistance.

Not possible with Oleanna. In this play comprised of a continual conversation, the first and only time Fran and Rachael ever leave the stage is after the curtain call.

Which brings us to the second thing that Jacinda had on her mind when designing Oleanna: theater magic.

“The costume changes have to happen onstage, in the dark, in a few seconds,” she says with a mischievous smile.

Challenge accepted.     — T.T.

Oleanna plays tonight at 7:30 and runs through Sunday only. Must close April 14. You may purchase tickets here. Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fe Road in Encintas.

 

 

Intimate Details – A Conversation with Lighting Designer Curtis Mueller

Curtis Mueller, Lighting Designer for Oleanna

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.

Sunlight image for lighting inspiration

“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.

Lighting effects play out in Act One. Photo credit: Daren Scott

“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.

 

 

Mastering Mamet

Francis Gercke and Rachael VanWormer
Photo credit: Daren Scott

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.
JOHN: …I…?
CAROL: You don’t do…
JOHN: …I don’t, what…?
CAROL: …for…
JOHN: …I don’t for…
CAROL: …no…
JOHN: …forget things?  Everybody does that.
CAROL: No, they don’t.
JOHN: They don’t…
CAROL: No.
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.  

 

 

“The Price” Comes With Change

Wendy Waddell as Rosencrantz
in Intrepid Shakespeare’s Hamlet
(Photo: Daren Scott)

Wendy Waddell admits that she was rather unfamiliar with The Price by Arthur Miller when she was invited by Intrepid to direct the next reading in their year-long Staged Reading Series at Encinitas Library. Thankfully, she was not that intimidated by the assignment

“I think I said something like, ‘This is Arthur Miller!  You’re giving me Arthur Miller to start with?!’” Wendy laughs as she recounts the request for her directorial debut with Intrepid, which will happen this Monday evening.

Intrepid’s confidence in Wendy’s skills is not misplaced.  No matter how short and sweet staged reading rehearsals may be, Wendy is excited about bringing life to Miller’s work, especially since the play itself is somewhat obscure compared with his other offerings.

“It’s typical ‘Miller’ in that it’s a character study,” says Wendy. “In this case, it’s about two brothers who haven’t spoken in years. They come together because their childhood home is being torn down.” In light of that impending event, the brothers must deal with numerous items in the attic that are left over from earlier parts of their lives, and whether or not they will sell them, and for what price. Wendy notes that, in many ways, The Price parallels where we are now economically, with residual hardships from recent events.

“But of course, it’s Miller, so it’s not really about the price of the items,” elaborates Wendy. “It’s about the price of family, of honesty, of pride. What is the cost of not maintaining a relationship?”

This particular playwright turns up more than once in Intrepid’s Staged Reading Series queue, and it is interesting to note that while it is a more contemporary perspective than the traditional Shakespearean fare, Miller’s stories focus as much on language to tell the stories as the Bard.

“Miller is extremely rhythmic,” says Wendy. “There is a lyrical quality to his words and he’s not afraid of using language to make you dig for what is really going on in the scene. He makes you, as the audience, do a little work.”

But the actors aren’t off the hook. “It’s a wonderful challenge for the actors to start peeling away the layers of the onion,” she continues. “You, as the actor, get to create beautiful stuff through his words.”

The actors in question here are a talented group, including Jacob Bruce, Jack Missett, Dale Morris, and Julie Sachs. Wendy admits that casting was a challenge because the play calls for mature actors – all over 50, with one character described as 89.

“I’ve come up with a really good cast, so I’m really excited about that,” she says. “They are sickly talented and will bring their ‘A’ game.”

If there is any thought of a staged reading as being an easy way into directing for this company, Wendy is not entertaining it.

“This is not a well-known play like The Crucible, so there may be less expectations,” she says. “That might give me a little more leeway to interpret the script and clarify my vision for the rhythm, look, and feel of the play.”  She also notes that while she admittedly feels “terrified and excited,” the chance to collaborate with Intrepid and with the actors makes everything worth it.

“I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of directors who challenge me,” says Wendy, who was seen last month as Rosencrantz in Intrepid’s Hamlet. “The more I work with them, the more I want to do that for other actors.” She pauses and then adds, “Besides, terror is exciting to me. That’s what makes me grow.” — T.T.

The Price, a staged reading, will be performed at The Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024 on Monday evening, March 25, 6:30 pm complimentary wine reception, 7:00 pm staged reading. Please RSVP to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com or click here to purchase tickets in advance.

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.