Tag Archives: Intrepid Shakespeare Company

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. 

 

Documenting Denmark…an interview with filmmaker Graham Sheldon

It is the opening night of Hamlet and the cast has gathered on the stage for some last minute words from director Christy Yael. Everyone is chatting nervously, in various stages of ready – curlers in hair, costume pieces being buttoned, makeup half applied. One hour until showtime.

Sitting in the audience while this preshow unfolds is a man with a camera, camouflaged by stillness, quietly recording the jittery bustle. The actors, while aware of his presence, don’t acknowledge it. Perhaps they are too nervous. Or, perhaps, they are simply used to it.

For the past few months, Graham Sheldon and his crew have been shadowing Sean Cox, who stars as Hamlet, on his journey of creating the character of the Danish prince. An Emmy-nominated documentarian, Graham is developing a television pilot that will take an in depth look into the creative process of various artistic talents. It is titled “Muse” and Sean is the show’s first inspiration.

“We wanted to start off with the theatre,” explains Graham, who credits the series’ co-creator, Rin Ehlers, with the idea for the show. Working with Sean as he goes through his natural journey as Hamlet seemed like a good idea for the first episode, as both he and Rin had already worked with Intrepid in a theatrical capacity. This familiarity with the company and the key players gave them the perfect setting within which to cultivate this new idea.

“Plus,” says Graham, “the first show had to be a great story. You can’t go wrong with Hamlet.”

The series is intended to explore the artist’s path through all sorts of different mediums – sculpting, painting, dance, music, and the like, and each episode will focus on one artist’s journey, taking the audience through a practical and visceral experience of that artist’s world. Typically, this journey will center around one specific creative aspect, such as the cultivation of one particular painting or dance piece.

“It’s all about that inspiration and that spark and then seeing it all the way to delivery,” says Graham. In this case, it is a speech.

“We’re trying to show the play developing through the microcosm of one monologue,” says Graham.  “Since the episode is only going to be 22 minutes, one of the harder things will be making Hamlet accessible in that time.”

This also means introducing the show’s viewers to the terminology of the various artistic mediums without being too didactic. Graham insists that the show will not be about learning the jargon of the stage or focusing on the technical aspects of creating theatre, even though, for example, not everyone will know what a cue-to-cue is while they are showing footage from the technical rehearsals.

“The show is more about Sean and the cast and their relationship with him. It’s about the people around Sean and his own muses and creative influences,” says Graham.

To that end, Graham plans to shoot footage at Sean’s home, capturing some of this private life with his family, and see how he spends time developing the part away from the theatre and in balance with his other points of focus. “Intrepid really is a family company,” observes Graham, citing it as one of the aspects which drew him to the spotlighting it in the first place.

Another thing that Graham and his crew quickly realized about this company is that, with the multiple hats that Sean wears as Artistic Director and Director of Education, he is not always the easiest person to pin down. Or to locate, for that matter.

“We spent a half hour in the theatre one day just trying to find him,” laughs Graham, describing one of the rehearsals they were shooting. “This is such a fast moving production and Sean is all over the place, running around the entire building, doing 30 things at once.” They finally put actor Brian Mackey, who plays Laertes, on “Sean-Watch,” so he could help them keep an eye on their artist.

“Sean has so much energy that just keeping up with him has been the biggest challenge,” says Graham, who has interviewed everyone from ex-CIA agents to Cern physicists for his past projects.

Of course, it’s never easy to truly capture reality. Having cameras documenting one’s every move can be a little daunting, especially in a rehearsal space where actors need to feel free to explore. “Sean and Christy were a little hesitant about the idea at first,” admits Graham. “I would be too. Having cameras around is never an easy thing. But they’ve been really receptive to it and we’ve tried to maintain the fly on the wall method.” He pauses and then adds, “We’ll find out at the end if we’ve been successful.”

For now, Graham and his crew have shot hours and hours of footage and he looks forward to editing it into a finished product. If all goes well, “Becoming Hamlet” will be coming out very soon.  – T.T.

Designing Denmark…Sean Fanning on Setting HAMLET’s Stage

Sean Fanning, Set Designer for Hamlet

Sean Fanning doesn’t like scenery.

This may seem strange, considering he is the set designer for Intrepid’s current production of Hamlet, but when you hear Sean’s take on bringing Shakespeare to life, you might understand.

“It’s all about the words,” says Sean, a statement that is music to Intrepid’s ears. “You could do Shakespeare the way it’s written on a bare stage and it’s powerful because it’s so imaginative.”

To that end, Sean has created literal space on the stage at the Clayton E. Liggett for the “rottenness” of Denmark to play out. With the mere suggestion of a finished room, the landscape of the stage serves multiple purposes throughout the production without the necessity of changing sets or disguising scenery. Soaring colonnades meet ceilings which disappear into thin air, both uplifting the regality of the space as well as suggesting the distemper of the action to come.

“I see other plays that are more contemporary that rely so much on having to actually show people in location,” says Sean. “In Shakespeare, yes, it’s episodic, and yes, we’re going from place to place, but we don’t rely on all the typical conventions.”

In other words, Sean lets the audience have a say in each location, projecting their own ideas of the graveyards, the ships, the secret rooms of the palace, and the sites of hauntings onto the canvas of his design.

“Shakespeare demands so much,” he says. “If you really tried to physically transport people from location to location, you would lose some of the magic.” Best to rely on the words to carry the scene, he says. And based on the high praise he has already received (local press has hailed Sean as an unsurprisingly “in-demand designer”), he’s obviously on the mark.

“Shakespeare is one of my favorite things to do,” says Sean, who also designs all of the MFA productions at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. Hamlet is his inaugural show at Intrepid.

Sean’s design for Hamlet also captures the challenge of the thrust stage, where the audience is closer to the action, rather than gathered behind the fourth wall of a typical proscenium stage. This adds to the tension of the play, as actors have the space to move through and around the set’s dimensions without the necessity of facing all of the viewers at all times. Sean has ensured that the actors always have what they need, providing built-in places for them to sit, lie down, and hurdle over. The actors help create the locations, and Sean emphasizes, “that’s what’s so magical about it.”

“There is a sense of barrenness that the actors can fill with the words,” says Sean. “So, to me, some of the most beautiful sets are bare stages.”  – T.T.

Catch a quick interview with Sean Fanning and see his path to creating Hamlet:

Hamlet runs through February 17 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas.  Tickets can be purchased here.

Rennie on Rudnick and the Relevance of Shakespeare

Jason D. Rennie directs
I Hate Hamlet

“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.

Playwright Paul Rudnick
Photo by Claire Holt

“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.

Image from The New Yorker 2007

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.”

John Barrymore as Hamlet
image from Shakespearean.com

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 boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash or check at the door. Subscribe to a “Flex-Pass” Subscription Package and save $5.  Packages come in 3-Play6-Play9-Play, or 12-Play passes.  If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 295-7541.

 

 

Trappings and Suits…Beth Merriman on Costuming HAMLET

Beth Merriman, Costume Designer

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.

Carole Lombard as Gertrude inspiration

“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.

Sketch of costume design for the Gravedigger

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.

Staging the Arts in Encinitas

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 tenet 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 Haunt for the Holidays

Ron Choularton as Scrooge

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. 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.

Brian Mackey directs, shown above in Hamlet with Jennifer Eve Thorn. Photo: Daren Scott

“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 28 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 14 at 530 pm at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Dr.  

 

Barefoot and Banter

Jason Maddy, pictured here in Macbeth,
changes pace with Barefoot in the Park

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.

A Superstitious All Hallow’s Eve

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.

“Superstition Wordle” by gtshakespeare

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.

Directing, Creepifying, & Casting Minions of Evil

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?

Jason D. Rennie and Danny Campbell
(RICHARD II 2011 – photo Daren Scott)
For Monday night’s MACBETH reading,
Jason directs while Danny witches it up.

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.”

“The Three Witches From Macbeth”
by Alexandre-Marie Colin (1798-1873)

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.

Macbeth (a staged reading). 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.