Tag Archives: Intrepid Shakespeare Company
“At their best, dreamers, and at their worst…dreamers.”
Jason Rennie describes his take on “theatre people” when asked about directing the upcoming staged reading of I Hate Hamlet for Intrepid on Monday evening. According to the playwright, Paul Rudnick, the play is “overrun with theatrical types,” and makes a humorous effort to capture the New York stage scene in all of its gusto and glory.
First performed in 1991, I Hate Hamlet is based on Rudnick’s actual experience renting a New York City apartment that once belonged to legendary actor John Barrymore. After imagining the stories within the walls of the fourth floor Washington Square brownstone, Rudnick decided to bring them to life in a play. Hilarity ensued.
“Some of the experiences in the play are kind of nod to people in his life at the time he was there,” Jason explains, mentioning characters such as Felicia the real estate agent (played by Brooke McCormick) and the Lillian, the theatrical agent (played by Rhona Gold) who is based on a woman who historically romanced Barrymore’s son-in-law within the walls of the apartment in question.
In the story, the main character is an actor who has been offered an opportunity to play Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park. Needless to say, this part requires a little more chops than his regular television gigs, and the appropriate level of panic ensues.
Enter the ghost of John Barrymore.
Ruff Yeager will be portraying Barrymore in Monday’s reading and promises to be less of a handful than the actor who originated the role on Broadway, British thespian Nicol Williamson. In a detailed account for The New Yorker in 2007, Rudnick spelled out the worst-case-scenarios which came to life during the opening of what would be his first play on Broadway, including Williamson’s drunkenness, lewdness, and missed performances. The last straw had occurred when he purposefully struck a fellow actor with a sword during a stage combat scene. That actor promptly left the stage and never returned to the show.
Even though the show’s original opening was somewhat plagued, Jason maintains that it is one of his favorite plays of all time, and that he has been begging Intrepid artistic directors Sean and Christy to consider it for a while. With Hamlet opening February 2 on Intrepid’s mainstage, this first staged reading of the year at the Encinitas Library seemed to be the perfect opportunity to showcase the links between contemporary humor and Shakespeare.
Not up on your Shakespeare? Never fear. You’ll still laugh.
“It’s not so much an insider’s play,” says Jason, “but there are a few inside jokes. It’s a nice tongue and cheek homage to theatre. It allows us to poke fun of ourselves and laugh.”
You might even recognize a line or two, says Jason. “It doesn’t preach on Shakespeare, but the Shakespearean lines that are present do have a wonderful resonance. It reminds us that these speeches in these plays do still have value and meaning.”
Is there any truth to the thought of Hamlet as one of the most daunting plays in the canon? “There is such a heavy connotation with that play,” says Jason. “It carries a great deal of baggage. But at its core, it is still a quintessential revenge tragedy that centers around one young man and the conflict within himself.”
Ultimately, the pursuit of the stage translates now just as much as it did when Hamlet was first performed hundreds of years ago, which is what continues to make theatre and storytelling relevant and universal.
“With theatre, you have to look beyond the reality,” says Jason. “It’s odd because we are preying upon people’s imaginations as much as possible when creating productions.”
He pauses, and then adds, “Yet it is so absolutely necessary for us as human beings to be a part of that.” – T.T.
I Hate Hamlet (a staged reading). Monday, January 28, 6:30 pm wine reception, 7:00 pm performance. Directed by Jason D. Rennie and featuring Ruff Yeager, Jo Anne Glover, Steven Lone, Rhona Gold, and Brooke McCormick. Encinitas Library, Community Room 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024. $15. You must RSVP in advance in order to attend. You may purchase your ticket in advance here or rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash or check at the door. Subscribe to a “Flex-Pass” Subscription Package and save $5. Packages come in 3-Play, 6-Play, 9-Play, or 12-Play passes. If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 295-7541.
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.
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.
A conversation with Scrooge and Scribe about Intrepid’s upcoming holiday staged reading…
“A Christmas Carol is absolutely a ghost story.” Brian Mackey is emphatic as he describes his new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless story, co-written with fellow San Diego actor Rachel van Wormer. The play will be performed as part of Intrepid’s Staged Reading series at the Encinitas Library December 15. Brian will also be directing.
“Even Dickens points out that fact in the introduction,” explains Brian. ”He refers to it a ‘Christmas ghost story.’”
But audiences shouldn’t be worried. Revealing some of the darkness of the tale is just one of the gifts of adapting the story word for word from Dickens – a gift that develops more and more deeply throughout the play.
“The language really is beautiful,” says Brian. ”And this version is literally Charles Dickens onstage.”
While Brian and Rachel’s adaptation doesn’t shy away from some of the darker moments of this tale, it is also very clear about the theme of the story: the transformative and giving spirit of the season.
“I think that’s why people come back to it again and again and why it’s appropriate for the holidays,” says Brian. ”We are able to witness one man’s transformation from a curmudgeon to someone lighthearted. It’s a touching, powerful story of a man changing his life.”
So powerful, in fact, they knew it was necessary to find the right actor to handle Scrooge – both in the dark times as well as in the light. Not everyone can be convincing at both ends of the story.
The choice turned out to be simple one. Ron Choularton has been discovering and rediscovering this tale since childhood, when English television used to air it every Christmas Eve, featuring Alastair Sim. To date, he has played a part in 27 performances and readings of A Christmas Carol.
“There was a time when I was yearning to get old enough to play Scrooge,” says Ron of his days as Marley’s Ghost and Bob Crachit.
What keeps drawing him to this tale?
“As sad as Scrooge is in the beginning of his journey, there is just as much joy at the end. It’s a joyful thing. To see someone really change and change for the better – it’s one of the most uplifting things to see in your life,” says Ron. He adds, “It’s the story of a second chance – one that most people never get.”
To that end, Ron is charged with the task of creating the horrible, penny-pnching, and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and leading the audience through this transformative journey. He feels that Dickens is right not to shy away from the darkness that weighs on Scrooge in the opening scenes.
“It’s a fable,” he says. ”Everyone in Scrooge’s life has left him, so his love of money is really about his fears of abandonment. The ghosts are teachers and their job is to scare the you-know-what out of Scrooge. Gradually, he realizes these things he’s forgotten about and forgotten to do. The transformation from darkness to light is not something that should be taken lightly.”
Brian agrees. ”There is also an urgency about that journey,” he says. ”Marley is basically saying, ‘You have tonight to save your soul.’”
Despite the grave themes present in the story, both Scrooge and scribe are confident that audiences of all ages will enjoy the performance. ”There is some really funny stuff in there,” says Ron. ”It is an amazing thing to see children who are affected by the story.”
Something tells us that Scrooge won’t be the only one transformed by the end of the night. — T.T.
A Christmas Carol, directed by Brian Mackey, adapted by Brian Mackey and Rachel van Wormer, and featuring Ron Choularton as Ebenezer Scrooge, plays on Saturday, December 15 at 530 pm at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Dr.
Director Jason Maddy discusses Simon, Shakespeare, and situational comedy…
Jason Maddy pauses before he responds to the question of whether or not working on Neil Simon is similar to working on Shakespeare.
“I think there’s parallels in all great writers,” he finally says. ”There’s always a path to the characters somewhere in the writing. You just have to find it.”
Charged with the task of directing Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading of Barefoot in the Park, Jason is thankful that these parallels do, in fact, exist. While he has taken a turn on stage playing the character of Paul, directing this Simon classic is another story entirely.
“It’s different viewing the story through the eyes of other characters,” he explains. ”Because I played Paul once, he will always be a part of me. But the story is really Corie’s. It’s her journey. The rest of the characters are a part of that journey.”
Barefoot in the Park is set in New York City in the new brownstone apartment of Corie and Paul, who are newlyweds. Hilarity ensues as they manage parents, neighbors, and the challenges of their new married relationship. While on Broadway in the 1960s, it was nominated for three Tony Awards and became Neil Simon’s longest running production, with over 1,500 performances.
Jason cites many connections between Shakespeare and Simon, and he would know, having taken the stage with Intrepid in both Macbeth and Richard II. While his Shakespeare work here has been of a somewhat darker nature, he feels confident in his abilities to handle Simon’s somewhat lighter fare, partly because of these connections and his own past experience with the play. He points out that most of us know Neil Simon better than we think we do, as this playwright has perhaps contributed more to our social understanding of comedy than we realize.
“He’s the father of situational humor,” he says. ”We owe a lot of our understanding of how comedy works to his writing.”
Addressing the comedy is also part of the challenge, however, especially in a staged reading format. ”Some actors go over the top, and some actors are too natural. It’s exciting to help them walk that tightrope between honesty and comic timing.”
But most of all, the parallels to Shakespeare land within the text. Just as Intrepid’s mission statement cites the importance of the playwright’s words as the main source of illumination, Jason takes this approach with Simon as well.
“The play is really in the rhythm of the words. Once we find Simon’s pace within the situation and the text, that is when we find the story.”
Shakespeare probably wouldn’t have said it better. – T.T.
Barefoot in the Park (a staged reading). Wednesday, December 5. Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door. Reception at 7:00 pm, reading at 7:30 pm.
On the heels of our fabulous reading of Macbeth on Monday evening, and on the eve of Halloween, we thought it especially appropriate to address the one thing that all theatre has in common: superstition.
One of the most famous superstitions is, of course, the curse of Macbeth. Historically, many an accident or bit of unfortunate luck has fallen upon productions of this particular play. Researchers suggest many logical explanations for this, of course. The most popular is that, with this being Shakespeare’s shortest and bloodiest play, it seems it would be the easiest to add to a repertory season at the last moment as a surefire seat-filler. Therefore, back in the day, it was often mounted as a last ditch effort to save a dying theatre company, and eventually came to be associated with a company’s eventual demise. Additionally, this last-minute mounting often resulted in an under-rehearsed company, and with the extensive amount of swordplay and stage combat present in this particular script, one can imagine that accidents would not be uncommon.
Also, the play was written during the height of the witchcraft scare, when publications about demonology were rampant. Lastly, some say that the witches in the script utter actual incantations, which leads to a cloak of evil surrounding the play. Oh, and the play was cursed by Jacobean necromancers. Let’s not forget that one.
Whatever the actual cause, the curse of Macbeth has survived the centuries. Rarely will you find an actor who is entirely comfortable even uttering the name of the play in casual conversation for fear of raining down bad luck. Even though avoidance of the word is technically only a necessity when speaking of it inside of an actual theater, the habit is difficult to break. Instead, “The Scottish Play” is the preferred term, although caveats exist if a company is actually performing the play.
What to do if you accidentally say the “M” word inside of a theatre while not working on a production of it? The reigning antidote is to “leave the house, turn around widdershins (counterclockwise) three times, swear, and knock to be readmitted.” (Best write that down or save it in your phone, because no one ever really remembers when the time comes.)
Other famous theatre superstitions? Read on for a rather complete list of “dos and don’ts” to keep productions lucky and actors safe, thanks to The Steppenwolf “Watch & Listen” blog and The Guardian‘s Theatre Blog. One wonders if it is even possible to put on a play while adhering to all of these rules….
Happy Halloween! — T.T.
1. Always step out of your dressing room with your left foot.
2. Absolutely no knitting backstage.
3. Always say “break a leg” and never “good luck.”
4. Never wear blue, yellow, or green onstage.
5. Never use real jewelry, real mirrors, or real flowers onstage.
6. Never clean out your makeup box.
7. Always wind a found thread around your finger.
8. Never whistle in a theater.
9. Never have more than two lit candles in your dressing room.
10. Always leave the ghost light lit.
11. Apply your makeup with a rabbit’s foot.
12. Never bring peacock feathers into the theater.
13. Never wear brand new makeup on opening night.
14. Never place shoes or hats on chairs or tables inside of the dressing room.
15. Never open a play on a Friday.
16. Never speak the last line of the play before opening night.
When Jason D. Rennie was tapped to direct the upcoming staged reading of MACBETH at the Encinitas Library this Monday, he could not help but recall his first co-directing stint with Intrepid in 2009. “This particular play mixes nostalgia and significance for all of us,” he says.
How does directing a staged reading of this play differ from co-directing Intrepid’s inaugural production three years ago?
Well, for one thing, the original Intrepid production ran about 90 minutes and was played with only seven actors. Monday’s staged reading allows for a little more flexibility – a few more actors have been cast, which means less doubling (or tripling) roles, and more of the text has been captured in some significant scenes.
Plus, it’s Halloween, which means that Jason was very excited to “creepify” the show, adding back in the character of Hecate as well as the witches (who were disembodied voices offstage in 2009).
“The play is psychologically horrific,” he says, “and the witches are the physical embodiment of the evil that dwells in the world, and possibly within each of us. I wanted to embrace the atmosphere of spooking and haunting that comes with this time of year by accentuating the eerie and occult nature of Hecate and the Weird Sisters.”
That shouldn’t be difficult. Shakespeare’s witches have been portrayed throughout time as various incarnations of creepy, and Monday’s reading shouldn’t be any different with Savvy Scopelleti, Steve Grawrock, and Danny Campbell stepping into the roles. Molly O’Meara will be illuminating the role of Hecate.
“These witches are more than just pointy hats,” says Savvy, commenting on the conjuring spells used by her character. “Shakespeare wrote their language in a way that is constantly spiraling, the trochaic meter setting them apart from other characters in the play. It’s utterly fascinating.”
Is she creeped out by portraying a Weird Sister? She hesitates.
“If I believed in witches and spells, I would be creeped out, definitely,” she decided. “But this is all just pretend, right?”
Of course. But Jason’s direction sprinkles the play with ethical ponderings for those of us in the non-pretend world, as well.
“However I highlight their presence as the minions of evil, the fact is that the witches do not actually commit any evil – they merely awaken the ambition within Macbeth and stoke that flame until it consumes him. The truly unsettling spookiness of the play is that it forces us as spectators to wonder whether such dark forces lay dormant within ourselves and, if kindled, could we withstand them?”
A appropriately haunting thought, indeed. — T.T.
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.