Tag Archives: Rin Ehlers

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.

Barefoot and Banter

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

Director Jason Maddy discusses Simon, Shakespeare, and situational comedy…

Jason Maddy pauses before he responds to the question of whether or not working on Neil Simon is similar to working on Shakespeare.

“I think there’s parallels in all great writers,” he finally says.  ”There’s always a path to the characters somewhere in the writing.  You just have to find it.”

Charged with the task of directing Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading of Barefoot in the Park, Jason is thankful that these parallels do, in fact, exist.  While he has taken a turn on stage playing the character of Paul, directing this Simon classic is another story entirely.

“It’s different viewing the story through the eyes of other characters,” he explains.  ”Because I played Paul once, he will always be a part of me.  But the story is really Corie’s.  It’s her journey.  The rest of the characters are a part of that journey.”

Barefoot in the Park is set in New York City in the new brownstone apartment of Corie and Paul, who are newlyweds.  Hilarity ensues as they manage parents, neighbors, and the challenges of their new married relationship.  While on Broadway in the 1960s, it was nominated for three Tony Awards and became Neil Simon’s longest running production, with over 1,500 performances.

Jason cites many connections between Shakespeare and Simon, and he would know, having taken the stage with Intrepid in both Macbeth and Richard II.  While his Shakespeare work here has been of a somewhat darker nature, he feels confident in his abilities to handle Simon’s somewhat lighter fare, partly because of these connections and his own past experience with the play.  He points out that most of us know Neil Simon better than we think we do, as this playwright has perhaps contributed more to our social understanding of comedy than we realize.

“He’s the father of situational humor,” he says.  ”We owe a lot of our understanding of how comedy works to his writing.”

Addressing the comedy is also part of the challenge, however, especially in a staged reading format.  ”Some actors go over the top, and some actors are too natural.  It’s exciting to help them walk that tightrope between honesty and comic timing.”

But most of all, the parallels to Shakespeare land within the text.  Just as Intrepid’s mission statement cites the importance of the playwright’s words as the main source of illumination, Jason takes this approach with Simon as well.

“The play is really in the rhythm of the words.  Once we find Simon’s pace within the situation and the text, that is when we find the story.”

Shakespeare probably wouldn’t have said it better.  – T.T.

Barefoot in the Park (a staged reading).  Wednesday, December 5.  Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door. Reception at 7:00 pm, reading at 7:30 pm.

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

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.