Tag Archives: Opening night

Documenting Denmark…an interview with filmmaker Graham Sheldon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!