Tag Archives: Intrepid Shakespeare
Moonlighting at Intrepid Shakespeare: A Conversation with “The Quality of Life” Director, Kathy Brombacher
Kathy Brombacher is the first to admit that things are a little bit different now than they were a year ago. “My life is a little simpler now that I’m ‘retired,’” she laughs. “It is nice to do one project at a time.”
This time last year, Kathy was wrapping up her 31-year stint as artistic director of Moonlight Stage Productions, her post there historically integral to arts development in North County. Now, as she told the U-T last August, she is finding “a different way to be involved in theatre.” And this week, that involvement includes directing Monday night’s staged reading of Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life.
In Jane Anderson’s play, which was originally commissioned by and had its premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2007, two couples meet on the burned out remains of a Jeannette and Neil’s house in Northern California. The couple has set up a yurt on the land, artistically displaying salvaged items from their lives on nearby trees. They are visited by Jeannette’s cousin, Dinah, and her husband Bill, Midwestern parents grieving over the tragic loss of their daughter.
“Jeannette and Neil are post-intellectuals,” explains Kathy. “They bought this beautiful home in the mountains because of their own spirituality, which is linked to Buddha and appreciating nature.” That they choose to honor the remains of their lives artistically is evidence of their ability to come to grips with their loss in a cheerful way. “They are defiant of the misery that might affect other people,” says Kathy.
By contrast, Dinah and Bill, who have arrived after hearing about the devastation of the fire, live conservatively in their religious and political values. The juxtaposition of these two ideologies creates both tension and humor.
“These are two sets of very different people, looking at life in very different ways,” Kathy explains. “There are lovely threads of humor throughout, but you also begin to see people use humor to escape things that haunt them at night…the things that are always with them.”
Charged with bringing these complex characters to life is a seasoned cast of San Diego notables: Jo Anne Glover and Jeffrey Jones will portray the fire-devastated Northern Californians, while Colleen Kollar Smith and John Tessmer will play the grieving Ohioan visitors.
“The cast is incredible,” enthuses Kathy. “There are a lot of levels of thinking in these characters for the them to discover. It’s a beautiful play to listen to and will be completely in the hands of the actors.” While Kathy is new to working with the majority of the cast, she notes that Colleen grew up doing theatre in North County San Diego. “She’s a gifted lady we claim as our own,” Kathy says, of Colleen’s early theatre days at Moonlight.
These kinds of connections are important, especially to someone who has been so involved in the development of San Diego’s theatre scene. Kathy looks forward to cultivating more of these relationships outside of Moonlight, among them, one with Intrepid Shakespeare.
“I really welcome this opportunity,” she says. “I so completely admire what Intrepid is doing onstage. I just love that Christy and Sean are bringing the classics to the schools and splitting open the idea of what the classics are and approaching Shakespeare in a new way. I have all kinds of respect for them and I hope they flourish and thrive.”
– Tiffany Tang
The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson – a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, June 24. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
Intrepid Co-Founder Sean Cox is no stranger to introducing kids to Shakespeare. As Intrepid’s Education Director, he takes a troupe of professional actors to perform in schools on a regular basis. No matter what level of exposure the students have had, there is always one reaction to Intrepid’s school tour performances: enthusiasm.
“For most of the students, it’s their first Shakespeare play,” says Sean. “But the students are always engaged and laughing and positive throughout the performance. It’s great for the actors, too. Everyone leaves in a good mood.”
Capitalizing on this enthusiasm, Intrepid Shakespeare has partnered with San Dieguito Academy and the City of Encinitas to create a very special selection of offerings for kids this summer – not just one day workshops, but entire weeks of theatre immersion. Sponsored by the San Dieguito Academy Foundation, CAMP INTREPID will feature four different tracks: Young Actors Theatre, Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, and Backstage Camps.
The summer offerings are a long-awaited collaboration between Intrepid and San Dieguito Academy, an extension of their already successful internship program, which has been in place since Intrepid’s residency began there in 2010. Currently, Intrepid Artists work with interns during the year to create a student version of Intrepid’s mainstage show. This gives students the chance to interact with professional actors and technical directors and put together a culminating performance at the end of the internship. Taking this into a summer program is the next step in theatre education in Encinitas.
“A lot of the kids are looking for summer opportunities, but there’s nothing really in Encinitas that is available, or the cost associated with it is really high,” says Stephanie Siers, San Dieguito Academy’s drama teacher. “Our goal is to offer something that is closer to home and affordable, but still has the same quality that some of camps that are available elsewhere in San Diego.”
“Plus,” she adds, “everyone wants to get up and work on the grid,”
“The grid” to which she refers is a technically-advanced lighting grid which crowns the mainstage theatre space at the $9 million SDA Performing Arts Center. Aptly labeled the “centerpiece” of the San Dieguito Academy campus, the Performing Arts Center boasts both a beautiful, 200-seat indoor theater as well as a state-of-the-art rehearsal space, both designed by performance hall connoisseur architect John Sergio Fisher.
Since its opening in the fall of 2011, both SDA and the City of Encinitas have been searching for opportunities to make this space more available to the community, and Camp Intrepid has provided that outlet.
With the residency of Intrepid Shakespeare as the city’s first professional theatre company, local theatre patrons have been able to enjoy professional performances in the Performing Arts Center throughout the year. Camp Intrepid will provide even more opportunities to bring the arts into the neighborhood through this facility, and the city is eager to support that development.
“One of the 2013 Commission for the Arts goals is to have the community use the new Performing Arts Center at San Dieguito Academy in the summer, when school is not in session,” says Jim Gilliam, arts administrator for the City Manager’s Office. “The first summer arts program to be offered is by Intrepid Shakespeare—we could not be more pleased.”
Beginning June 17 and running through August 19, Intrepid Shakespeare will host a variety of summer theatre arts sessions for a wide spectrum of ages. Thus far, the camps offered will include a Young Actors Theatre Camp (ages 8-15), a Musical Theatre Camp and a Shakespeare Camp (prior experience required, ages 14-18), and a Backstage Camp (ages 14-18). All of the sessions will culminate in a performance and will feature guest artist teachers from local professional theatre companies.
Among the many performing techniques students will experience are audition coaching, movement and dance, and fight choreography, in addition to acting and textual work. Technical campers will have access to the advanced theater facilities, including the state-of-the-art tension grid used for mounting lights that hovers high over the performance space.
Mrs. Siers also hopes that students from the community will discover the opportunities available at San Dieguito Academy by participating in the Summer Theatre Camp and utilizing the facilities. “Our school is known for having an emphasis on the arts,” she explains. “This will be a great opportunity for students to be in our space, meet new people, and to work with the Intrepid Artists.”
Intrepid’s co-founders could not be happier about exposing more kids to Shakespeare and theatre through these summer sessions.
“It’s really inspiring for us who have made this our career to see the younger generation enthusiastic and passionate about theatre and performance and Shakespeare,” says Sean.
While Intrepid will run the theatre camps during the day, they will also be in full production on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, their second show of Season Four, which will rehearse and perform in the evenings. To the City, this presents the perfect marriage of encouraging and celebrating theatre arts.
“The community will participate in daytime theatre camps for children and youth, and in the evening, enjoy performances in the Liggett Theater by our professional theatre company,” says Jim Gilliam. “This new partnership could not be possible without the assistance of the San Dieguito Academy Foundation and the school administration. We hope more arts programs will come online for this summer and are working with local arts organizations.“
“This camp is really an extension of us reaching out into the community,” says Sean. “Ever since we moved to Encinitas, we knew this was something we wanted to do.”
He adds, “Most of us took some sort of drama camp when we were younger, so we know what kind of memories and experiences that can build.” — T.T.
For more information and to register for Camp Intrepid, click here. Camps will be held on the campus of San Dieguito Academy, 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas. June 17 – August 16. One or two week sessions, depending upon track. Ages 8-18.
“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
Fabian quips this line in Act Three of Twelfth Night, and both Jim Winker and Ross Hellwig – two actors featured in Monday’s staged reading of the play – would agree that Shakespeare has a way of shedding light on the spaces where art and life overlap, imitate, and illuminate. In this play, in particular, he has created a cast of colorful characters for this purpose, characters who constantly find themselves peeling back the layers of living.
“That’s the glory of Shakespeare,” says UCSD Professor Emeritus Jim Winker who will be playing Malvolio, the “narrow-minded and mean-spirited” steward to the Lady Olivia. “We’ve all got something to bring to each part. It’s like onion layers unfolding, depending upon the actors playing the roles.”
Jim is no stranger to unpacking the Bard. In addition to his accomplished acting resume which includes numerous Shakespeare productions and an Associate Artist designation at the Old Globe, Jim taught classical texts in UCSD’s Department of Theatre and Dance for 25 years. He was recently approached by Christy Yael and Sean Cox, artistic directors at Intrepid, to take their actors through scansion workshops during rehearsals for their main stage productions. He is looking forward to taking the stage on Monday as an Intrepid cast member.
While Malvolio – whose name can be translated as “ill will” – is typically seen as somewhat of a fool, Jim stresses the importance of recognizing his complexities. “For all of his general creepiness,” says Jim, “he’s a vulnerable guy. Shakespeare has given him to us in a wonderful package where he has balanced out all sides of him.”
Even though the turn of events in the story don’t favor Malvolio for the better, Jim observes that because of these complexities of character, audiences don’t automatically dismiss him. ”We end up having some feeling for him,” he observes. “He’s got depth and feeling and complications.”
“He’s forgivable because he’s relatable,” says Ross Hellwig of his own character, Duke Orsino – the melancholy lover who’s “more in love with the idea of love” than the object of his affections. Similarly to Malvolio and many of the characters in Twelfth Night, Orsino takes a position of authority on a subject – in his case, the idea of love – but soon discovers that he is the one who has a lot to learn.
“One of the things I think is fun about Orsino,” explains Ross, “is that he imagines himself the most knowledgeable about love and women because he’s in the midst of this incredible passion for this woman. He’s in the midst of these scenes with Viola and educating her about what love is and - he’s really wrong. It ends up being the other way around – that she was teaching him about love.”
“Spoiler alert,” he adds.
And what is it like to play these complex people onstage?
“Characters who have deluded images of themselves can be a lot of fun,” says Ross, who is a graduate of the Old Globe/USD MFA Program and has worked on numerous Shakespeare productions in San Diego and Los Angeles. “And these characters are all so colorful. They are unique and full of life and the fun of the piece is seeing what kind of trouble they will get into.”
Trouble is definitely not out of the question for the staged reading format. With mere hours of rehearsal and script in hand, actors are required to perform to full production standards. While this process is not for the faint of heart, both Jim and Ross note that the “quickness” of the staged reading arena forces the company to focus on what is important: the words and each other.
“It goes fast,” says Jim. “You have to pay attention and get all of your tools ready to go. You have to be ready to improvise. It’s a wonderful challenge for an actor.”
“One of the great things about staged readings of Shakespeare is that everything you need to know in a Shakespeare play is in the text,” notes Ross. “All you need is the language. It’s the blessing and the challenge.”
To that end, Jim endorses Intrepid’s fast-paced and text-centered approach to the plays they read and produce.
“They pay great attention to the language,” says Jim. “What I love about them is that they are not afraid of it. They get on with it and they don’t play down to their audiences. They trust that they don’t have to hand it to us on a tray.”
In a time when it seems as though we are shortening our language use every day, it may seem remarkable that audiences understand Shakespeare as well as they do. But the themes and passions and logical twists are surprisingly accessible, mostly because we recognize our own lives in the machinations onstage.
“He’s the heart of our culture,” says Jim. “The plays teach us so much about what it is to be human. Each time you see one, you learn something about who you are.”
This extraordinary class will be in session on Monday evening. – T.T.
Twelfth Night: A Staged Reading. Monday, April 22. Encinitas Library. 6:30 pm wine reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please purchase tickets in advance or rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door. $15.
“Auditioning is the most unnatural and unrealistic job interview ever.”
Christy Yael, Producing Artistic Director for Intrepid, is quick to admit this. Having just finished two full days, approximately eleven consistent hours, of open call auditions for Intrepid’s upcoming Season Four this past weekend, she is also quick to state that she is optimistic and impressed at the skill level of those who walked through the door.
“We saw so many talented people this weekend,” she says with enthusiasm, “really talented people.”
With the company entering its fourth year, Christy is now a veteran of the rigors of the open call, an especially demanding process for both directors and actors alike. And the requirements for Intrepid’s audition were nothing short of daunting. Non-musical actors were asked for two contrasting monologues, while musical theatre auditioners were invited, in addition to performing a monologue, to sing both a selection from the 1960s as well as one from Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, a composer traditionally regarded as one of the most complex and challenging musicians in the American songbook.
“The two required musical pieces are so drastically different,” says Christy, “that it really gives us a good idea of a person’s abilities.”
Veteran musical theatre actress Kathi Copeland was unfazed. Having performed in musicals since the age of 16, when she was cast in a pre-Broadway tour of “The Me Nobody Knows,” Kathi feels a certain comfort level with these types of requirements. Although, she admits, she would probably never recommend auditioning with a Sondheim piece unless it was specifically requested.
“Every audition is different,” says Kathi, who was attending an Intrepid open call for the first time. “It’s just important to prepare, prepare, prepare. You never know how it’s going to go once you get in there.”
There are many variables that could affect a singing audition – the pianist’s tempo, the acoustics of the space, and one’s level of nervousness, for instance. The singing voice, sometimes more vulnerable than the speaking voice, is likely to reflect all of these conditions, and therefore it is important to prepare as many things as one can control ahead of time. “Always take the time to talk to the accompanist about tempo,” advises Kathi. “Don’t forget that it’s your moment to shine.”
Veteran actor and accomplished theatre artist Tim West agrees that the same advice would apply to non-musical auditioners. “It was my first open call for monologues in a decade, so though I prepared I lacked that practiced feeling,” he says, although clarifying that it was perhaps for the best. “I’ve grown less concerned with choices per se and more concerned with trying to find the moment.”
It’s this type of attitude that Christy appreciates the most. Although she finds herself more often in the director’s chair these days, she was once attending the same sorts of open calls as an actor. “At the time, it helped me to think of it as an opportunity to do some work,” she says. “There are stakes involved, but it’s an invested audience with potential payoff.”
For her part as a director, Christy pays close attention to those auditioning, looking for specific elements in the presentations. “With the Shakespeare, it’s a combination of the acting ability and how the verse is handled,” she says, “and all that that entails. I could talk for hours about just that.”
Surprisingly, she says, she has found that many with musical theatre backgrounds were more adept at handling Shakespearean verse than their resumes might suggest. “They are both heightened forms of expression,” she says, noting that one’s ability to act through verse or through music can be both daunting and tricky.
“I just have a tremendous amount of respect for actors,” she says. “It’s hard work and it’s vulnerable work and that’s a heady combination.”
While being on the director’s side of the table is definitely preferably, Christy’s acting background also helps her create a safe space for potential auditioners. Both Kathi and Tim agreed that the process was painless. “Christy was one of the most gracious auditors I’ve ever performed for,” says Tim. “It’s such a difficult thing, to make people feel warmly welcomed while maintaining professional decorum. I am glad I chose this audition to return to the practice. I’ll try never to miss an opportunity at Intrepid.”
Christy maintains that the excitement of finding new talent keeps her consistently invested throughout the audition process. “The thing that maybe people don’t realize is how optimistic we are going into auditions,” she explains. “We have high hopes and expectations that everyone is going to be fantastic and incredibly talented. We are not looking for what’s wrong – we are looking for what’s right.” — T.T.
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
When I sat down to chat with Wendy and Steven, my first question was the obvious one: Wait. Who is playing whom?
True to form, they began to finish each other’s sentences as they elaborated on their roles as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (respectively), for which they resumed rehearsals this week after the holiday break. In the play, these characters are old friends of Hamlet, who appear after the action of the story has begun, and whose loyalties often appear undecided. Except for a few lines of text, they are never seen apart, but always together, their names confused even by other characters in the play.
Despite a now traditional route of portraying these two as similar personalities, both Wendy and Steven are adamant about director Christy Yael’s approach of distinguishing them.
“Immediately, there’s a challenge to make it your own and different from the other person,” says Steven. “There is no challenge or worthwhileness if you’re just playing Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”
Wendy agrees. “They can be easily disposed of or perceived as filler but, let’s face it, Tom Stoppard wrote an entire play about these characters. Even though they don’t have a ton of dialogue, they are very influential. They are the voice of the people.”
As Wendy and Steven step back into rehearsals this week, they are eager to see their ideas about their roles manifest into action and movement on the stage. Steven, a newbie to Intrepid, and Wendy, a three-show veteran, are finding their excitement about creating these characters paralleling their interest in getting to know each other as actors.
“My first question when I was cast was, ‘Who is my Guildenstern??’” says Wendy, and for a while, there was no answer. Steven, who just moved to San Diego with his family after a yearlong stint at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, had solicited local theatre companies for auditions upon his arrival. He was cast in Intrepid’s reading of Macbeth in October and eventually in Hamlet as well. “All everyone kept telling me during the reading was that I was going to love my Rosencrantz,” he says.
“Did they tell you Rosencrantz was going to be female?” Wendy asks him, curious.
“No, they didn’t right away!” laughs Steven.
As they have become acquainted, Wendy and Steven have also begun the journey of figuring out who their characters are in the context of the production. Both actors agree that there is still a lot of mystery to be unraveled. “We are still figuring out what our rhythm is going to be together,” says Wendy, and Steven agrees, adding that discovering what they are each going to bring is going to be pivotal in creating these two people.
“Often the placement of scenes with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seems like they are not much more than ice breakers,” muses Steven when asked about how these characters fit into the story of the play as a whole. “They come before and after some fairly intense scenes, so it can seem difficult to show their reality as people.”
Wendy elaborates. “The more I reread the play the more I love what these two characters represent,” she says. “They bring Hamlet down to earth and make him accessible to the audience. This is a guy who has goofy friends!”
Whatever the motivations of these characters, it is clear that Wendy and Steven are ready to move from the extensive table work they have been doing for the past month and into the action onstage. While the table work is necessary to clarify intentions and motivations and specific moments of the play, for these two it is walking the walk - in this case, alongside one another – that will truly bring the characters to life.
“I’m a firm believer that I’m as good as my scene partner,” says Wendy. “I need to elevate my game for the other person. I love the idea of it being so seamless and breathing as one machine and telling the story together. I think, as a cast, we are all very invested.”
Steven has no hesitations jumping in with her, even though this is his first production with this crew. “It’s immensely gratifying to come into this group right after studying in Scotland,” he admits. “I’ve been awed to come back to a group of people who work with a process that is so professional and so familiar.”
Wendy is more than happy to put Steven’s mind at ease with regards to his debut show in San Diego.
“This is such a great group – I can’t stress that enough,” she says. “We’re going to have a fun time together. They are a supportive, fun, smart, risk taking group of actors and designers and directors.”
Then, she adds, “Take us all with a grain of salt, though.”
We have a laugh and I thank them for their time. I can’t help but smile when they answer, in unison, “No problem!”
We will see you on stage, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. – T.T.
Hamlet previews January 30 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas. For more information about tickets and showtimes, click here.
Jim Gilliam is supposed to be on vacation.
However, in this moment he is at work, tying up a few things for 2013 before returning to family and year-end festivities. As the City of Encinitas’ Arts Administrator, Jim has one thing on his mind no matter what time of year it is: how to increase the presence of the arts in his city. Lucky for us, Intrepid has become a formidable component in that plan.
With Intrepid’s recently announced series of 12 staged readings to be held monthly at the Encinitas Library, and our ambitious Season Four program, Intrepid is helping fulfill a long term goal for Encinitas as well as for Jim – to increase the presence of live theatre in the city.
“I have my marching orders,” says Jim, based on the 2002 Arts Master Plan for the City of Encinitas, which includes the 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.