Tag Archives: Midsummer Night’s Dream

Helming Shakespeare: A Year in Review With Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael-Cox

“If you had told me ten years ago that this is what I would be doing, I would have laughed.”

Christy Yael-Cox does laugh as she checks the time and speeds down the 10 East, en route to Palm Springs and one of the closest National Theatre Live screenings of Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth.

This year in particular has given Christy a lot to reflect upon. As CEO and producing artistic director of Intrepid Shakespeare Company, she has navigated the company through one of its most diverse production years, which also saw the introduction of the year-long Encinitas Library Reading Series as well as the new summer youth program, Camp Intrepid.

2013 was also a critically acclaimed year for Intrepid: all three of the company’s mainstage productions received “Critic’s Choice” in San Diego. All three were directed or co-directed by Christy.

Now, immersed in pre-rehearsal mode for Macbeth, the Season Four finale and – perhaps not coincidentally – the 13th production on Intrepid’s roster, she propels herself forward into the next chapter of the theatre company she runs with husband Sean Yael-Cox.

Intrepid Shakespeare
in 92024 Magazine
(Soul of Photography)

What’s on tap? Among other things, there’s the announcement of the Season Five set list (“some Shakespeare, some comedy” is all she will reveal), a commitment to another year of monthly readings at the library, and an expansion of the education program to include – oh yeah – prison time.

“There are those things in your life where at a cellular level everything says yes,” says Christy. “This is one of those things.”

Back when Intrepid began, Christy and Sean had a meeting with the director of San Diego Youth Services to discuss implementing a Shakespeare curriculum into the juvenile prison system. Since the kids there are required to be in school, the idea is that part of their Language Arts learning can happen by getting up and acting out some theatre, specifically Shakespeare.

“I understand on a personal, visceral level how redemptive it is to work through your own stuff through these plays and these characters,” says Christy, who, even though she spends most of her time directing these days, started her theatre career acting. “I think it’s empowering. I do. I think it’s life-changing.”

While this was always the goal, now seems like the right time to move forward with the idea, starting in juvenile detention centers and then to one day moving into adult prisons.

“What’s amazing is how successful these programs have been across the country in reducing recidivism,” she says. “I believe in this so much.”

This program will join an overwhelming roster of programs Intrepid has already implemented over the past four years. In addition to full seasons of mainstage productions, the company now hosts a monthly staged reading series, an education tour that has performed in over 50 schools and for over 35,000 students, an internship program with the students at San Dieguito Academy, fall and spring classes for adults, and the recently created summer drama camp.

Assistant Director Bodhi

“I love creating something from nothing,” she says. “Camp Intrepid was built from nothing. The idea for the school tour happened at my kitchen table at 2 a.m. while the kids were sleeping.”

As the mother of two, Christy understands that much of Intrepid’s movement has to be accomplished on the go or in the middle of the night. She is never without her iPhone, capturing bits of creative inspiration in the notes app throughout the day and reading dramaturgy research while putting the kids to bed at night. Taeya, 8, and Bodhi, 2, are no strangers to the theater, sometimes accompanying their mother to rehearsals where they are doted on by actors before finding quiet corners for naptime or tea parties.

Taeya celebrates her doll’s birthday with some of the cast and crew of Midsummer

It is evident with speaking with Christy that ‘Mom’ is her favorite role and that the idea of forming a theatre company was so appealing because she knew it would allow her to prioritize her family time. While it may seem as though this idyllic setup was always the big picture plan, Christy’s path from her childhood in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to now helming one of San Diego’s formidable young theatre companies was not entirely a straightforward journey.

Firstly, she admits to being the black sheep in the family (“No one else does theatre”). Her theatre roots were formed at The Citadel, Edmonton’s premiere theatre house, where she was taking classes when she was barely in school and was cast as a fairy in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the age of six.

“I was doing it already, so my parents thought they should put me in classes,” she says and laughs. “I remember that audition for Midsummer was very rigorous.”

And even though she claims her directing work for Intrepid is her first, the truth is that there was a tragic play about a broken valentine at Glenora Elementary School, which she may or may not have written, cast, directed, costumed, and starred in.

“I was a really nerdy kid,” says Christy.

Surprisingly, some of the turns in her path also include things like leaving behind a career in investment banking (“The myopic focus on the accumulation of wealth was unhealthy for me”), an unexpected move to Los Angeles to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (“I always thought I would go to New York”), and finally discovering a shared vision of theatre with someone who would eventually become her husband.

“The thing that Sean and I both knew was that Shakespeare could be done better,” she says of their first conversations. “We knew that it was more exciting than what we were seeing everywhere else. We couldn’t understand why people weren’t making it as exciting as it was.”

In 2009, Intrepid Shakespeare Company was born. Its debut season also saw Christy’s first co-directorial outing with King John.

“The elements we were passionate about in respect to why we wanted to start the company we found in King John,” says Christy, who often circles back to the company’s mission to present Shakespeare in an accessible, immediately relevant, and meaningful way. In Intrepid code, that translates to honoring the text and keeping the plays modern.

“It’s about telling the story in the best possible way,” she says, and then recites what has become her own directorial mantra: “Keep going back to the text. Go back to the text. The answers are always in the script, which is the reassuring thing. Shakespeare is a very trustworthy playwright.”

King John inspired the critics, and not only because it had been 42 years since the play last saw light on a San Diego stage. The U-T ‘s James Hebert called it “a bracing and fast-moving thriller.” Martin Jones Westlin of SD CityBeat surmised that “as long as Intrepid stays the course, its claim to Shakespearean excellence will follow.”

Tom Hall as King John, right
with Danny Campbell
Photo credit: Daren Scott

The early critical love may have set up some lofty expectations, but Christy is more reflective when considering her first directorial foray.

“The actors did a wonderful job,” she says, “but looking back there’s probably a lot of things I would have changed. Part of my problem is that I’m a perfectionist.”

But the perfectionism follows on the heels of collaboration, and one of the things that inspires Christy when she directs is the co-creation that happens between her and the actors.

“The best thing I can do is trust my actors and the very best thing I can do is treat it as an ensemble,” she says. “Our brains together will create the best possible product.”

“I’ve worked with Christy several times now,” says Tom Hall, who played the title role in King John and has since been cast in many roles at Intrepid. “One of the things I love about her is the room she gives you as an actor. It’s always a collaboration with her. She lets you know from the very beginning that your input counts. That’s one of the most generous things a director can give an actor.”

“This is going to sound corny,” says Christy, “but the part that I like the most about directing is being of service to the actors. It’s trying to make the actors the best version of themselves. I’m literally just there to make everyone great.”

As Intrepid wraps up 2013, it is obvious that this approach has served the company well. This year, productions maneuvered seamlessly from Shakespeare to Mamet to musical – with Christy at the helm of each one.

Hamlet was the company’s fourth production in their new home in SDA’s multi-million dollar performing arts center in Encinitas. Including this play as the finale of Season Three was a decision that neither Christy nor Sean, who played the title role, took lightly.

Hamlet is hard because, first of all, it comes with way too much pressure attached to it,” Christy says. “There the, ‘Holy crap, you’re doing Hamlet! Don’t screw up Hamlet!’”

How to sidestep the pressure of producing Shakespeare’s most intimidating play?

“You’d be surprised,” says Christy, “but Sean and I tried not to talk about it beforehand.”

Sean as Hamlet
Photo credit: Daren Scott

This is not actually that surprising given the fact that Sean and Christy give little regard to anything that causes hesitation in general. “Intrepid” not only refers to the manner in which they interpret Shakespeare, but also the manner in which they approach the work: fearless, fast, and undaunted. For them, this means spending little time worrying and more time researching and making pilgrimages throughout Southern California to see screenings and productions of the Bard.

This also means always, always, going to the text for answers about which lens through which to tell the tale.

“I think the thing that I loved about Hamlet was that it’s a really accessible story,” says Christy. “Ultimately, it’s about a family. It’s also so brilliantly, brilliantly, brilliantly written. There were times when I was sitting in rehearsal thinking, ‘I can’t believe I get to sit here and listen to these words.’”

Hamlet was set in the 1930s, which is the first time Intrepid chose a particular period of history as a setting. Christy felt it was right because of how the women were treated in the play. But the decision was not made to inspire empathy for the females. The decision was made on behalf of the men.

“It changed your perception of the men if it was set today, from my very 21st century feminist perspective,” she explains. “So for me it was helpful to move to the earlier part of the 20th century, which didn’t make their actions right. It just made them more commonplace.”

Danny Campbell and Jennifer Eve Thorn
Photo credit: Daren Scott

“Christy gets the psychology right, whether it’s that of individuals, couples, families, or armies,” says Danny Campbell, who played Polonius and has also been acting with Intrepid since their inaugural production of Macbeth. “She can bring convincing life to the stage because she has that insight into the human heart and mind. She knows what makes people tick.”

Among the critical acclaim was Pam Kragen’s observation in U-T, an apt reiteration of Intrepid’s mission and probably music to Christy’s ears: “…articulate, honest and contemporary…Intrepid’s Hamlet truly honors the words of Shakespeare and, at the same time, makes sense in today’s world.”

On the heels of Hamlet were rehearsals for the Season Four opener, Oleanna, and Christy laughs as she recalls the dramatic shift that had to occur between shows, not only with the tone, but also with the physical space. While Hamlet boasted a cast of 13, Oleanna is a two-hander. Where Hamlet was done broadly on a three-sided thrust stage, Oleanna was set up intimately in the round. Of course, moving from the language of William Shakespeare to that of David Mamet also presented its own set of challenges.

“I walked into the first day of rehearsal and said ‘All I know about this play is that it’s going to feel like we’re falling down a rabbit hole, and I promise you that we’re going to make it out the other side,” says Christy of her first conversation with her Oleanna actors, Fran Gercke and Rachael VanWormer. Even though Mamet’s writing can be “tricky,” she says, it is also like discovering a code – one that she knew the three of them would have to unlock together.

Fran Gercke and Rachael VanWormer

“I think the actors who are really invested in solving the problems and who participate in the process have a better end result. They’re not robots and if I treat them like robots then we’re not going to get the best, most evolved version of the play.” She pauses. “I could be wrong,” she says. “David Mamet would probably disagree with me.”

Regardless of what Mamet might think, the product delivered. In The Reader, Jeff Smith called Intrepid’s Oleanna the “best acted” production of the play he had seen. “Gercke and VanWormer are both excellent,” he said. “Their tandem work is truly impressive.”

Fran, who played John, credits Christy with this sense of unity and co-creation.

“The most striking qualities of her direction and leadership are her patience and generosity,” he says. “She’s always willing to listen, to patiently guide, to eagerly collaborate. It’s a unique and rare combination in any director – confidence and humility.”

When Oleanna closed, Christy again teamed up with co-director Colleen Kollar Smith to remount the Season Three smash hit, A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical.

We had standing room only and super full houses at the end of the run last summer. It was a brand new thing that, for all intents and purposes, I made up in my head, so I wanted to give it the chance to evolve,” says Christy.

Jacquelyn Ritz and Phil Johnson
Photo credit: Daren Scott

The show involves intertwining Shakespeare’s woodland comedy with music from the 1960s, a pairing that turned out to be tremendously successful and inspiring for both the directors and the actors.

“We learned really early on with King John how well modern music underscores Shakespeare plays,” Christy explains. “We’ve had amazing soundtracks with every Shakespeare play we’ve done which led to the evolution of the musical.”

The Examiner called it “one of the most innovative success stories of a theatre company.” Jeff Smith agreed, saying “this musical deserves a long life after this excellent production” and encouraged Intrepid to “take it on the road.”

Midsummer ran in tandem with the first appearance of Camp Intrepid, a summer camp run by Sean and Intrepid Artistic Associate Erin Petersen featuring youth programs in Shakespeare and musical theatre. By day, the theatre was filled with kids working on improvisation activities and pirate musicals. By night, audiences would stream in to enjoy a little Bard-inspired doo wop by the professionals.

Needless to say, when Midsummer closed in late August and camp sessions came to an end, Sean and Christy finally found time to do the things they had been putting off all year – like sleep.

“It’s encouraging to us when we have people who believe in what we’re doing and want to be a part of it,” says Christy. “It means the absolute world to us, because we do work ridiculously hard. We work harder than anyone could imagine.”

Sean agrees, and is quick to give props to his wife. “Intrepid’s productions have been a great success both critically and with audiences and that is specifically due to Christy’s directing, leadership, and artistic vision.”

The hard work has certainly paid off. There is already a ten-year plan in place and neither Sean nor Christy has any intention of slowing the pace of the company’s breakneck growth.

Of course, looking back on the little girl who once produced an entire valentine tragedy in grade school, it isn’t entirely that surprising.

“All the things in the past,” says Christy, “you don’t realize it at the time, but all of these things connect. You only know it when you’re looking back.”

– Tiffany Tang

Macbeth will open in January 2014. Tickets available now.

Sean and Christy in rehearsal for Hamlet

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

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical runs July 11-August 18.

Purchase tickets now.

An Education Tour-de-Force

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

If you ever wondered what life might have been like as an actor in Shakespeare’s time – with the company performing one show while rehearsing another while building sets for yet another – you need look no further than the rigorous morning schedule of Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s Education Tour.

This particular Tuesday tour day begins at 8:30 am on the campus of La Jolla Country Day. This particular company of actors includes Education Director and Intrepid Co-Founder Sean Cox, and Education Artists Scott Farrell, Brian Mackey, Erin Petersen, and Savvy Scopelleti. They assemble quickly, coffee in hand, and begin the well-practiced routine of unloading cars, assembling sets, organizing costumes, and running lines. The first performance on the docket: A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 5th and 6th grade classes at 9:30 am.

Preparing the set for the day’s performances

Most may not realize the level of production value that arrives with the Intrepid Education Tour. For each performance, three flats are constructed onsite, which, once overlaid with a canvas backdrop hand-painted by artist George Weinberg Harter, set the stage for the action that will unfold. Each show is fully costumed. In fact, the actors will change three or four times in this production of Midsummer – a daunting feat given the 50-minute runtime.

This first hour of the day is spent in this set construction and costume preparation, accompanied by familiar banter and line rehearsals while the actors each carry out their individual component of this well-oiled machine. This is probably one of the most requested performances, and each company member understands his or her place in the choreographed dance of the school tour load-in.

Students react to Midsummer‘s love story

All too soon, students begin to enter the auditorium. Some are intrigued by the new set on stage, some are doubtful about what they are about to watch. Teachers say that most students are surprised when they discover that they like Shakespeare. “When they see it come to life, they are like ‘Oh, cool!,’” says Kathy Hirsch, who teaches 7th and 8th grade English. Today, Mrs. Hirsch dons a velvet cape and lines her hair with Titania-inspired flowers, greeting the assembled students with “Isn’t it fun to play dress up?” This line receives a wave of cheers and Sean steps forward to introduce the play. The first questions to the students are always the same: “How many have seen a Shakespeare play before?” and “What do you think ‘Intrepid’ means?” To the first, a smattering of hands rise from the crowd. To the second, responses ranging from “fast” to “happy” and finally “daring, bold, fearless.”

Savvy Scopelleti as Helena

Midsummer begins with Sean crowning a student sitting in the front row, thus casting him as Theseus, the character to whom he and the other actors will address their initial woes. Soon, we are in the forest, and Sean, once suited as Aegeus, now dresses in a neon green elf-suit for his role as Puck. Erin Petersen, as Hermia, also doubles as Peter Quince, the head of the Mechanical acting troupe. Brian Mackey, as Lysander, also has more than a few laughs as Bottom, while Scott Farrell steps into the roles of Demetrius, Francis Flute, and Oberon. Lastly, Savvy Scopelleti dons horn-rimmed glasses for Helena, an eccentric feathered mask for Titania, and lion headgear for Snug the joiner.

“It’s important for the students to see live theatre,” whispers Mrs. Hirsch, barely audible over the giggles Sean is getting with his Puckish antics. “We love building it into the school day because we want them all to be exposed.”

Brian Mackey as Bottom

The young audience continues to be delighted by the antics of the actors onstage, especially vocal when Brian, bedecked in a donkey-eared newsboy cap, performs a ‘donkified” rendition of One Directon’s “That’s What Makes You Beautiful.” During the post-show Q&A, he explains his choice: “The actor playing Bottom in Shakespeare’s time would have performed whatever the most popular tune of the day was. So, I get to choose each time whatever song I think would work.” The other actors comment that they actually never know what song he is going to be singing in the middle of the show, although Brian admits, “I usually ask Erin.”

The cast during post-show Q&A

Mere minutes and umpteen quick changes later, the play is complete and the questions start flying. “Where did you get the donkey hat?” “How do you memorize all of those lines?” and “What are the links between Shakespeare and classical Greece?” The cast answers them in stride, each responding according to his or her own knowledge and experience. Scott, who also gives classroom presentations on medieval and Renaissance history through his Chivalry Today educational program, explains how artists of the late 1500s were enamored with the Classical culture of Greece and Rome, and used its themes as inspiration for their painting, poetry, and drama. At the end of the session, a pre-show question is repeated: “How many of you have seen a Shakespeare play?” And at this point, of course, everyone gets to raise their hands.

Who has seen a Shakespeare play?

As the students depart, the cast reassembles, quickly draping luxurious red fabric over the canvas flats and revealing a built in “window” center stage which will play as a balcony. Next on the docket: Romeo and Juliet for the 7th and 8th graders at 11:30 am. Costumes are re-organized and Scott takes the cast through the stage combat sequences – everyone seems to be involved in one, as apparently, when you are doubling and tripling roles in Romeo and Juliet, the chances of being involved in a Verona street brawl are very high. Erin takes a moment to whack a prop knife against her palm in an effort to get the “blood” inside to drain properly. Sean checks to make sure his Mercutio tattoo sleeves can’t be seen under his Lord Capulet suit coat. Lines are run again during this transition period and again, almost too soon, students are filing into the auditorium.

Arielle Algaze looks forward to R&J

This is an eager bunch, and student Arielle Algaze grabs a front row seat. “I saw Hamlet twice,” she says immediately, referencing Intrepid’s most recent mainstage production. While she admits that Romeo and Juliet is not her favorite play (“that’s King Lear”), she also states emphatically that Mercutio is her favorite character in the canon because of his humor. “He is an interesting and uniquely funny character.” When asked if she and her classmates are looking forward to the performance, she thinks for a moment and then responds. “To put something on stage and to evoke something from an audience takes risk,” she says. “So, I think theatre is something everyone should be exposed to.“

Fight choreographer Scott Farrell as Tybalt

This “one-hour traffic” of the lovers’ tragedy begins and Erin and Brian immediately evoke nervous giggles and calls of “woooo” when they share their first kiss on the dance floor. Swordfights ensue – cautiously, due to the proximity of the audience – and before long, Nurse has wept, Friar has waxed philosophical, Mercutio has fallen, and the Capulet tomb is laden with bodies. Applause erupts and the actors quickly gather their thoughts for another round of questions from the crowd.

Erin Petersen and Brian Mackey
as the tragic lovers

“Understanding Shakespeare is really empowering for the students, especially when it is relevant to their lives,” says fifth grade teacher Angela Lathem-Ballard, who has studied teaching techniques at the Globe in London and introduces Shakespeare into her classes on a regular basis. “Studying these plays and watching these performances gives kids a safe entrance into the arts – kids who would never take a risk normally.” As if on cue, a group of students who are studying Macbeth in class decide they would like to perform the witches’ scene for the actors. The aspiring thespians show off their skills and the actors respond with enthusiastic cheers as the last “fire burn and cauldron bubble!” echoes through the auditorium.

The future Shakespearean starlets disperse, and the actors begin the breakdown of the set – again, a well-rehearsed dance where everyone has a part. Even though the performances are done for the day, the work is not. As the actors gather their sets and props, they rehearse lines for the newest addition to their school tour lineup, Hamlet, which will be performed in Los Angeles in two weeks’ time. A scene perhaps not so dissimilar from Shakespeare’s original company of King’s Men: curtains are folded, flats dismantled, and costumes boxed while strains of “to be or not to be” flow through the now empty theatre. — T.T.

For information on the Intrepid Education Tour or the upcoming Camp Intrepid this summer, click here or email seancox@intrepidshakespeare.com.

 

Give Us Your Hands If We Be Friends…

Final bows to sold out crowds

Audiences leapt to their feet night after night throughout this past closing weekend of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical.  It was just the kind of reception that the company had been hoping for from their very first rehearsals – and one that was often repeated throughout the run of the show.  Apparently, there was much magic in the music, and many of those who entered the theater new to Shakespeare left wondering what took everyone so long to infuse it with catchy tunes.

“It really makes it so accessible,” one theater-goer said, grinning from ear to ear as she left the theater humming “So Happy Together.”  Another patron noted that he had been to the show three times.  “I never saw the same play twice,” he said, referring to the energy and acrobatics of the actors and the music.  “It was different each time.”  Another audience member was regretful that she waited until closing to see the show because it was something she would have liked to share with others and to see again.  “Oh, well,” she said.  “I’m sad it’s over.”

She’s not the only one.  After months of time spent in these characters, it takes a minute sometimes for the actors to step away – not only from the show, but from each other.  “I’ll miss everyone,” says Sandy Campbell with a bittersweet smile, as the actors gathered in the lobby to greet family and friends after the final performance.  “This show has really grown and we’ve grown together.”

Savvy Scopelleti agrees.  “It’s really blossomed,” she says.

Eddie Yaroch weighs in.  “The best stage entrance in any play I’ve ever done,” he says, referencing his cruising “Life Could Be a Dream” basketed bicycle ride.

Taylor Peckham admits that he now considers himself a Shakespeare veteran.  Remarkably, this stint as Puck (as well as being the musical director of the entire show), was Taylor’s first experience performing the Bard.  “And I’m not the only one,” he says, puckishly, looking across the lobby at David McBean, Sandy Campbell, and Lauren King.

Tom Stephenson ponders the nomadic nature of theatre as he glances around the bustling lobby.  “It’s always like this,” he says.  “You develop camaraderie for such a short, intense time.  Then you may not see someone for three years, until you do another show together.  But, we’ll always have this – this show will always connect us.”

It is certainly hard to let go of something that has been such an investment of time, talent, and energy.  But it has to happen.  And in the theatre world, it happens quickly.  The company is already looking forward to beginning rehearsals for the next production, Hamlet, which opens in January.  And no, Hamlet will not be a musical, even though the question has been posed by at least one audience member at almost every performance.

But there is one more step to complete before this next journey can begin.

Silently observing the festivities in the lobby, electric drill in hand, Michael McKeon, set designer, waits patiently for his cue.  “Strike,” as it’s known in the theatre world, is usually a group effort, taking place immediately after the last show, when everyone comes together to dismantle the set.  Already some actors have changed into sweats and sneakers to help with the impending task.  There is no room for sentimentality about holding onto things in this place.  Once the last bow is taken, it is time to move on.

Spotting Sean Cox, co-artistic director of the company, Michael calls out over the crowd, “Is it time?”

A few hours later – sets broken, curtains packed, rope swings untied – it’s as if nothing has happened here.  The stage is once again bare, awaiting its next adventure.  — T.T.

The Clayton E. Liggett Theatre at dusk

Tales of Musical Midsummers Past

The Mechanicals: Busting it out, nightly           (Photo credit: Daren Scott)

“…Swift as a shadow, short as any dream; brief as the lightning in the collied night…” (I.i)

Closing weekend descends upon us, and we are stunned that we are preparing to sing our last “So Happy Together!”  Even though this production has moved swiftly though performance phase, we are so thrilled to have pulled off our Shakespearean musical motif with flair and sh’boom.  But before we start patting ourselves on our own creative backs, we thought it might be a good idea to take a journey down a Shakespeare-inspired lane.  Maybe these previous concoctions of Midsummer and music need a nod from our 60s set list as well.

Shakespeare penned MND in the 1590s and included some fairy lyrics for his flighty characters.  But how long would it be before the idea of a full-fledged musical would enter the picture?

Meet Henry Purcell and his 1692 semi-opera, The Fairy Queen, which kept most of Bill’s original text but infused the play with masques to illuminate its themes of love and marriage, including one featuring the Greek goddess Hymen.  Shockingly, it was widely misunderstood by Restoration Era audiences.

Unshockingly, David Garrick also had to have his operatic Midsummer say.  His opera, entitled The Fairies, premiered in 1755 and featured only the storylines of the forest (sorry, Mechanicals!).  All singing, all the time, there were 28 added airs, duets, and choruses in addition to the recitatively-crooned dialogue.  Reception was mixed, but a publication called The Tuner deemed it “a laudable attempt to encourage native musical Productions.”  (Future musical productions thank you for the vote of confidence!)

David Garrick. The Fairies.– courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Moving forward…some midsummer trivia!  Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s famous “Wedding March” was written in 1842 as incidental music for a German production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Writing the music to accompany this play actually spanned the composer’s entire lifetime, as he was 17 years old when he penned the overture and then completed the score a few years before his death.

Over the years, Mendelssohn’s music has also been choreographed into ballet by masters like Marius Petipa, George Balanchine, and Frederick Ashton.

Of course, in modern times, there have been a slew of looser adaptations which have woven music through the storyline of this play.  Recently, the off-Broadway hit, The Donkey Show, featured the basic storyline set to 70s-era disco music, dance club style.

Which brings us to our own little corner of the Shakespearean musical anthology – an intermingling of nostalgia and poetry that has been tugging heartstrings and garnering smiles of familiarity since our opening two weekends ago.  And it’s no wonder – when the cast sings about fairy tale love on summer nights in between their soliloquies and witty banter, the flow is so seamless, it’s hard to believe that infusing Midsummer with music isn’t what Shakespeare had intended all along.  After all, wasn’t he the first to point out that “life could be a dream”?   –  T.T.

Midsummer takes its final bow on Sunday. (Photo credit: Daren Scott)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ever-Auspicious Opening Evening

The opening night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical is at last upon us.

Another opening, another show!

Despite months of casting and development, weeks of rehearsal, and days of previews, it is tonight’s performance has been circled on everyone’s calendar from the very beginning.  That’s definitely enough to make theatre people a little nervous.  But, it might make them a little superstitious as well.

Well-known are the traditional superstitions of the theatre that date back to Shakespeare’s day and before.  For instance, it is bad luck to whistle in the theatre, mostly because in the past whistling was used to communicate between the sailors who were hired to run the ropes and flies from the catwalks during a show.  A misplaced whistle could be a dangerous thing.  And of course, most people know never to say the real name of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” in a theatre; however, if you ask any actors what the “cure” for this misstep is, you will get a different answer each time:  “Turn in a circle three times, throw salt over your shoulder, go outside and curse.  Or is it run around the theatre three times?  Wait, do you throw the salt over your right or left shoulder?”  And, yes, it’s true that everyone says “break a leg” instead of “good luck” before a show.

Given the superstitious nature of this environment, we thought it might be fun to see how some of our actors approach opening night, or any of the regularly superstitious habits they practice to through the run of the show.  As we are also doing a play about magic and mystery, it seemed only fitting that we find out about the magic that takes place offstage as well.

At first glance, most of the company denied having any opening night traditions or habits at all.  However, eventually some ritualistic practices did emerge.  And, one thing is very clear – every actor has very specific feelings about opening night.

“It’s like a roller coaster,” says Eddie Yaroch (Peter Quince).  “There is this terrific tension, like you are clacking up the metal chain that leads to your first line on stage.  Once that first line is said, everything lets go and the show runs itself.”  Traditionally, Eddie will repeat his first line to himself over and over again as he’s getting ready to go on, anticipating that moment.

Tom Stephenson (Bottom) agrees.  “It’s like being the groom at a wedding.  Excitement and terror before you go on, then lots of fun after you’re on stage.”

They both decided that opening night audiences were the best:  “It’s opening night – the crowd cheers for you.”

Other actors focus more on their preparation for their roles to shake the performance nerves.  Rin Ehlers (Helena) takes a walk through her blocking upon arrival at the theatre to solidify her character’s journey in her mind.  Savvy Scopelleti (Snout) tunes into the perspective of her character – an immigrant needing to belong – by repeating a handful of key phrases to herself in her Russian accent during the hours before going onstage.

There is also something to be said for camaraderie among cast members.  Especially on opening or closing night, Lauren King (Hermia) feels it’s important to acknowledge the company’s journey and usually tries to make little gifts or write little notes for her castmates.  “The first professional show I ever did, someone did that for me,” Lauren says.  “I’ve never forgotten that.”

Brian Mackey (Demetrius) and Kevin Koppman-Gue (Lysander) share similar approaches to dealing with their opening night nerves.  “I like to be social and joke around with everyone until the second before I step onstage,” says Kevin.  “The more I’m in my head about the show, the more chance there is for me to flub up.”  Brian also tries to avoid the nervousness that infiltrates the dressing rooms as showtime nears.  “People are pacing,” he says.  “I read Sports Illustrated.”

“There’ s something special about opening night,” says Taylor Peckham (Puck/Musical Director).  “I like to get dressed up and celebrate it.”

We couldn’t agree more, Taylor.  Here’s to an auspiciously amazing opening night.  Break a leg!!

- T.T.

 

‘Twas the Night Before Previews…

 

Dateline:  Rehearsal.  Wednesday, August 29, 745 pm

Looking handsome

‘Twas the night before previews

And in the Clayton E. Liggett

Were just the sounds of fine-tuning

And a director shouting, “I dig it!”

 

Ropes and bowers and trees!

The rope swings were hung

From the stage grid with care

In hopes that “knot spacing”

Was finally secure.

 

Patrick was tucked

In the sound booth and gave

Life to the piano

Patrick Hoyny, sound guru

When Taylor would wave.

 

And what was there left

on the list to complete?

Sharon just smiles and says,

“I can’t feel my feet.”

 

The actors run round

Savvy Scopelleti, en wing

In costumes and curls

Rehearsing their harmonic

Poetic pearls.

 

It was nigh around eight

When the last rehearsal began

The bower finally hung

Sean Cox, rope and bower master

As the actors filed in.

 

The company’s final attempt

To make everything right

Knowing tomorrow’s first preview

Would be a memorable night.

- T.T.

 

 

 

Previews begin tonight!

 

A Day in the Life of a Superhero Stage Manager

The lovers hold their sleeping positions while lighting cues are programmed around them.

Once a show opens to the public, it is every theatre company’s hope that the performances seem effortless and smooth. However, the road to awesome is paved with…well, technical rehearsals. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, has been fairy-wing-deep in tech rehearsals all weekend as we prepare for our first preview on August 30. For the non-thespian crowd, tech days are the very last of the rehearsals – the ones right before the first preview and right after the actors have completely finished setting their movement on the stage. During these final days, the lighting cues, sound cues, and any other technical elements of the show are layered in. These rehearsals are typically lengthier than any others, as it takes time to – not only decide what works best for each and every moment of the play – but also to actually make each and every moment happen.

Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Basically, it looks like this:  actors waiting around to take their places on stage for particular scenes, production crew members randomly popping out of lighting grids, sound cues filtering through the speaker system at odd times during the three or four or eight hours in the theatre that day. The stage is always dark, except for the lekos and fresnels blinking through programmed cues. The stage is also quiet, so those who need to convey information to the directors or stage manager from all corners of the theatre can do so efficiently. The actors give way to the production team, who are coloring and creating the world in which they all will be living for the next four weekends.

Sharon dons coal miner headgear.
“The better to see the script with.”

To give a real behind-the-scenes glimpse into a technical rehearsal, though, there is only one person you need to talk to: the stage manager, aka the boss of the show once it opens. We caught up with Sharon Strich, Intrepid’s resident stage manager, and asked her to give us her moment to moment schedule from one day in her life on this technical rehearsal weekend. She obliged with one caveat:  “This post might scare people.” How crazy can one day of rehearsal be? Well, for one thing, we forgot she had other things to do – like a day job.

Hold onto your seats, folks.   – T.T.

A Day in the Life, by Sharon Strich – Saturday August 25, 2012

1:30am (yes, you read that right) – Wake up to do pre-rehearsal work on script and other paperwork.

4:00am – Leave for work at Starbucks.

9:20am – Finish work at Starbucks. Head to the theatre with really strong caffeine in hand.

9:45am – Set up the theatre for tech rehearsal, including my tech table, where I will live for the next few days.

10:00am – Tech rehearsal officially starts.

10:38am - Mic fittings, check fairy sound cues, organize company.

11:30am – Begin cue to cue lighting and sound rehearsal starting with Act II, scene i.

12:33pm – Break. Place glow tape on the set so the actors don’t kill themselves in the dark.

12:44pm - Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act II, scene i.

2:08pm – Break. Safety walk with John (Oberon) through his path to the catwalk during Act II, scene ii. Treacherous.

2:24pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act II, scene ii.

3:21pm – Break. Check progress of the set in the shop. Coming along nicely!

3:27pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal of Act II, scene ii.

3:54pm - Costume time!

5:00pm – Dinner break. Run for Starbucks, altoids, and chocolate; eat a sandwich for “dinner”; prep the ropes that will be moved later; talk through lighting cues with Curtis (lighting designer); talk about Puck’s pants with Christy (co-director) and Beth (costumer).

6:20pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act III, scene i.

7:39pm – Break. Talk through more lighting cues with Curtis.

7:51pm – Continue cue to cue rehearsal, starting with Act III, scene ii.

9:04pm – Break. Work lighting looks for the chase sequence.  Very cool.

9:18pm – Continue cue to cue, starting with Act IV, scene i.

9:46pm – Actors released. Scenic work begins with awesome members of the crew.

9:50pm - Work through lighting shifts for the chase. Magical!

10:15pm - Re-hang two upstage ropes, discuss the plan and pick a paint color for Titania’s bower, paint the wood on the ladders and the Puck nest, cover the stairs in fabric and jute, paint the floor, start to dress the Puck nest, realize we need more jute for Puck nest, hang the front curtain.

2:30am – End of day. Head home.

3:15am – Once home, write rehearsal report and send to production staff, send any necessary production related e-mails, work on paperwork.

4:00am – Find my pillow before I hit the floor, pretty sure I will hit the snooze button when my alarm goes off in two hours.

Notes, iPad, script, water, caffeine, snacks, and aspirin make for a happy technical rehearsal.

Dance It Out, Shakespeare Style

Colleen Kollar Smith, co-director and choreographer

“This is not 42nd Street.”  Colleen Kollar Smith is very definitive when she clarifies her approach to choreographing A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Musical, which opens for previews August 30.  Rather than layering on the expectations of a traditional musical theatre piece onto the words, Colleen has found that the words of Shakespeare have actually guided her hand.  Or rather, her feet.”The process has been remarkably organic,” she says, as we sit down during a rehearsal break amongst the sounds of set construction and strains of sopranos reviewing their descants.  “The movement is already built in and all we have to decide is how it supports the story and how to move in and out of the songs in a natural way.”

Tonight, they will attempt a stumble through of Act I, which involves quite a few tunes and dance numbers.  The songs involved are taken from the 1960s, an era that Colleen associates with singing along to the music that her mother used to play in the car.  Even if you think you aren’t familiar with the tunes of that era, she assures, you will be finishing the lines of the songs along with the actors on stage.

“Somewhere inside of you, you will recognize the music and say, ‘Yes, that speaks to my history,’” she says with a slight touch of nostalgia.

Even though she is four months pregnant, Colleen is intensely interactive with the cast – not only with their dance numbers, but also in the blocking of the scenes.  Both she and co-director Christy Yael are quick to stand and direct the actors as they work out their actions and movements.  Tonight, a new apparatus – the introduction of the rope swing into Hermia and Helena’s quarreling – has been the subject of much decision-making.

Christy Yael and Colleen Kollar Smith assist Lauren King, as Hermia, as she tries out the new set piece.

While Colleen has choreographed for Intrepid before (Season Two’s Romeo and Juliet), this is her first directing gig for the company.  She doesn’t seem to mind wearing two hats for this production:  decisions about what serves the play and how to interpret Shakespeare’s text span any gulf there may be between her two roles.  “It’s all about what puts the text at the forefront,” she says.

Christy Yael and Colleen Kollar Smith discuss the blocking of the lovers’ scene.

Colleen is quick to give accolades to the cast, and cites the casting process as the most challenging part of putting together the show so far – more than organizing any big dance numbers.  “We took a lot of time casting,” she says, explaining that actors were needed who could not only carry the Shakespearean text, but also the singing and dancing requirements of this production.  “I think even if audiences know these actors, they will be surprised by what they will be doing in this show,” she says with anticipation.  “We really do have the best cast.”

Kevin Koppman-Gue as Lysander, Colleen Kollar Smith, and Lauren King as Hermia
This pic may or may not involve some stage combat.

Colleen is still blown away by how smoothly the process of incorporating dance movement into A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been and believes it really does speak to the universality of the Bard.  “It just works,” she says.  “It also makes the production approachable, for those who might be intimidated by the thought of seeing Shakespeare play.”

Colleen plans to bring her own four-year-old daughter to a performance, and is perhaps looking forward to recreating some of those “magic moments” she had with her mother while singing and moving to the sounds of the 1960s.  She is hoping that, after immersing themselves in this two-hours’ traffic of groove-able tunes, audiences leave with a similar urge to dance it out as well.

- T.T.

 

What Is a “Midsummer” Anyway?

The Mechanicals get their groove on.
(Colleen Kollar Smith, Savvy Scopelletti, Tom Stephenson, Antonio TJ Johnson, David McBean)

As Intrepid embarks on its first musical spectacular, and we find ourselves analyzing the text of the Bard against a backdrop of doo-wop and dance steps, we also find ourselves again in amazement at one of the things we love most about WS – that is, the unique ability of this playwright’s anthology to be interpreted in a variety of time periods, settings, and, apparently, musical scores.  The fact that we spent this week rehearsing “Sh’Boom” with the Mechanicals in a way that totally makes sense, is really kind of cool.

So, if the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be told in a variety of ways, we were also curious as to how the actual idea of “midsummer” came to be in the first place, and why does it work so well in three-part harmony?  We decided to do a little digging.

First, the Online Entymology Dictionary tells us that the word is derived from “midsumor,” meaning, well, the middle of summer.  So, yeah, that was a shocker.  We decided to dig a little deeper.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac:

June 21 marks the Summer Solstice, the day of the year when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, its highest point in the Northern Hemisphere.  The summer solstice is also the longest day of the year for those of us living north of the Equator.

Modern calendars refer to this day as the first day of summer, though ancient reckoning actually viewed May 1 as the beginning of summer, and the Solstice as “Midsummer,” the halfway point of the season. Because the Solstice marks not only the Sun’s greatest potency, but also the turning point at which the length of days begins to wane, this older viewpoint does make sense.

So, the “beginning” of summer on our modern calendars is actually the middle of the season.  Well, whaddya know?  Fortunately, modern Scandinavians are well aware of this fact, holding days-long midsummer celebrations to honor the eternal sunlight of their northern locale.

Swedish Midsummer Celebration
Photo: www.imagebank.se Fredrik Sweger, Lou B/Fredrik Sweger and the Swedish Institute

The Summer Solstice itself has always held significance for ancient religions and cultures, and can be tied historically to earth-related occurrences, such as the possible meaning behind the creation of Stonehenge and the Egyptian calendars which begin by marking the annual rising of the Nile.  In fact, celebrations of the solstice are still held throughout the world that stem from these types of events and traditions.

Féile na Gréine, Ireland: Solstice Arts Festival

Historically, the church recognized these pagan celebrations of the Summer Solstice by choosing June 24 as the feast day of St. John the Baptist.  In Ireland, this midsummer feast day is also known as a bonfire night (not to be confused with Guy Fawkes Day – also “Bonfire Night” in the UK), which pre-Christianity, was actually celebrated to honor Aine, the Celtic goddess of love and fertility with feasting, singing, and dancing around – you guessed it – bonfires.

Annual bonfire in Cornwall, England
photo: wikipedia

In the old days, the ashes of the fires were then mixed with the seeds that would be soon be planted in order to bring good luck to the harvest.  At this time, young couples would also perform what was called a “handfast,” where they would wind a ribbon around their wrists as a sign of binding, and then hope to be expecting their own, er, seedling, come the fall.  The woman would then wear the ribbon as a symbol of their union.

Remember the secret handfasting in Braveheart?   (Paramount)

Interestingly enough, midsummer celebrations in Ireland are still greatly associated with…fairy activity!  (Hmm, we are sensing a connection here!)  In short, it’s no wonder that Shakespeare chose this historic and celebratory time of year to give his tale of love and dreaming a little magical color.   Oh, and if you are in the mood to celebrate and find yourself dancing around a midsummer bonfire one day, here’s a tip:  Wishes will be granted when you whisper them into a small stone and cast it into the fire…whether or not the fairies are involved, though,  is anyone’s guess.  – T.T.

Frances Griffiths with the Cottingley Fairies
photo: Elsie Wright, The Strand Magazine 1920