Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Documenting Denmark…an interview with filmmaker Graham Sheldon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designing Denmark…Sean Fanning on Setting HAMLET’s Stage

Sean Fanning, Set Designer for Hamlet

Sean Fanning doesn’t like scenery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rennie on Rudnick and the Relevance of Shakespeare

Jason D. Rennie directs
I Hate Hamlet

“At their best, dreamers, and at their worst…dreamers.”

Jason Rennie describes his take on “theatre people” when asked about directing the upcoming staged reading of I Hate Hamlet for Intrepid on Monday evening.  According to the playwright, Paul Rudnick, the play is “overrun with theatrical types,” and makes a humorous effort to capture the New York stage scene in all of its gusto and glory.

First performed in 1991, I Hate Hamlet is based on Rudnick’s actual experience renting a New York City apartment that once belonged to legendary actor John Barrymore.  After imagining the stories within the walls of the fourth floor Washington Square brownstone, Rudnick decided to bring them to life in a play.  Hilarity ensued.

Playwright Paul Rudnick
Photo by Claire Holt

“Some of the experiences in the play are kind of nod to people in his life at the time he was there,” Jason explains, mentioning characters such as Felicia the real estate agent (played by Brooke McCormick) and the Lillian, the theatrical agent (played by Rhona Gold) who is based on a woman who historically romanced Barrymore’s son-in-law within the walls of the apartment in question.

In the story, the main character is an actor who has been offered an opportunity to play Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park.  Needless to say, this part requires a little more chops than his regular television gigs, and the appropriate level of panic ensues.

Enter the ghost of John Barrymore.

Ruff Yeager will be portraying Barrymore in Monday’s reading and promises to be less of a handful than the actor who originated the role on Broadway, British thespian Nicol Williamson.  In a detailed account for The New Yorker in 2007, Rudnick spelled out the worst-case-scenarios which came to life during the opening of what would be his first play on Broadway, including Williamson’s drunkenness, lewdness, and missed performances.  The last straw had occurred when he purposefully struck a fellow actor with a sword during a stage combat scene.  That actor promptly left the stage and never returned to the show.

Image from The New Yorker 2007

Even though the show’s original opening was somewhat plagued, Jason maintains that it is one of his favorite plays of all time, and that he has been begging Intrepid artistic directors Sean and Christy to consider it for a while.  With Hamlet opening February 2 on Intrepid’s mainstage, this first staged reading of the year at the Encinitas Library seemed to be the perfect opportunity to showcase the links between contemporary humor and Shakespeare.

Not up on your Shakespeare?  Never fear.  You’ll still laugh.

“It’s not so much an insider’s play,” says Jason, “but there are a few inside jokes.  It’s a nice tongue and cheek homage to theatre.  It allows us to poke fun of ourselves and laugh.”

You might even recognize a line or two, says Jason.  “It doesn’t preach on Shakespeare, but the Shakespearean lines that are present do have a wonderful resonance.  It reminds us that these speeches in these plays do still have value and meaning.”

John Barrymore as Hamlet
image from Shakespearean.com

Is there any truth to the thought of Hamlet as one of the most daunting plays in the canon?  “There is such a heavy connotation with that play,” says Jason.  “It carries a great deal of baggage.   But at its core, it is still a quintessential revenge tragedy that centers around one young man and the conflict within himself.”

Ultimately, the pursuit of the stage translates now just as much as it did when Hamlet was first performed hundreds of years ago, which is what continues to make theatre and storytelling relevant and universal.

“With theatre, you have to look beyond the reality,” says Jason.  “It’s odd because we are preying upon people’s imaginations as much as possible when creating productions.”

He pauses, and then adds, “Yet it is so absolutely necessary for us as human beings to be a part of that.”  – T.T.

I Hate Hamlet (a staged reading).  Monday, January 28, 6:30 pm wine reception, 7:00 pm performance.  Directed by Jason D. Rennie and featuring Ruff Yeager, Jo Anne Glover, Steven Lone, Rhona Gold, and Brooke McCormick.  Encinitas Library, Community Room 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024.  $15.  You must RSVP in advance in order to attend.  You may purchase your ticket in advance here or rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash or check at the door. Subscribe to a “Flex-Pass” Subscription Package and save $5.  Packages come in 3-Play6-Play9-Play, or 12-Play passes.  If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 295-7541.

 

 

Trappings and Suits…Beth Merriman on Costuming HAMLET

Beth Merriman, Costume Designer

Beth Merriman always has a change of clothes with her. Granted, it might be a vintage dress that she would like Jennifer Eve Thorn or Debra Wanger to wear onstage, but nevertheless Beth’s bags are usually stuffed with outfits.

As the costume designer for Intrepid’s upcoming production of Hamlet, Beth is used to toting wardrobe with her at all times – at the moment, the pieces in her pocket range from flowing and feminine to military and structured – all reflective the 1930s. This will be the ninth show she has designed for Intrepid, and she admits that one of the best parts is mixing things up with different historical eras. Thankfully, the Bard provides a backdrop against which the design choices at Intrepid have plenty of room for creativity.

While the basic palate for the company’s Shakespeare productions has always been modern,”we’ve started experimenting with different time periods,” says Beth. “It’s always a challenge and I never know what’s going to happen.”

One of her favorite productions to design for was the recently successful A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, which was set in the doo wop era of the 1960s. Hamlet will be created in a world of the 1930s old Hollywood glamour.

Carole Lombard as Gertrude inspiration

“Christy [Yael, the director] wanted to give it a little bit of a romantic feel,” says Beth. “That Hollywood image really makes the story shine.”

It is an important part of the Intrepid’s mission statement that nothing interfere with the language of the plays – the story is created through the text first, only to be supplemented with production design. In this case, this pre-war era adds to the story, rather than distract the audience’s understanding of it. “We all kind of know Hamlet – vaguely for some people and intimately for some other people,” says Beth. “This design helps make it comfortable for us to go and enjoy the story. We don’t want the costumes to get in the way.”

With the parallels between the Danish royal family and golden-era movie star celebrity, the costuming choices can illuminate the story through the recreation of this familiar period in our history. To dig into this era, Beth had to delve deep into her research books and the internet, picking and choosing images that would help inspire her wardrobe choices. (View Beth’s Pinterest page for Hamlet to see some of her inspiration.)

The choices also help support the idea that this is a closed set – the characters who live in the palace exist apart from the rest of the world and move entirely within in their own circles of influence, free from outside interference. Similarly, the claustrophobic bubble of Hollywood fame can elicit a feeling of isolation that is pertinent to movement of the plot.

Sketch of costume design for the Gravedigger

The costuming also helps illuminate each character’s journey through this story – the palates changing and shifting with each twist and turn. “We do play with color and we do take each character’s arc in the play into consideration,” says Beth, alluding to the fact that no one really ends up in the same place that he or she started, especially in Hamlet.

To support this, Beth chooses color very carefully. “I always have to check with the set designer beforehand,” she says, in this case referring to talented Sean Fanning. “Since the set is very monochromatic, I wanted brighter colors onstage so that the characters pop a bit.”

Giving life to the canon of Shakespeare plays is always a different experience, depending on the play and the company. Having worked at theaters in Wisconsin, and locally here at The Old Globe and at Asian-American Rep, Beth is happy to have found a creative home working with Intrepid.

“It’s always a challenge and it’s always fun and I get weird texts in the middle of the night,” says Beth. “But Intrepid is a place where I’ve really been able to spread my wings.”  - T.T.

Hamlet opens February 2 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas.

Tickets can be purchased here.

Meet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Wendy Waddell and Steven Grawrock discuss their roles in Intrepid’s upcoming production of HAMLET.

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.

Staging the Arts in Encinitas

Jim Gilliam is supposed to be on vacation.

However, in this moment he is at work, tying up a few things for 2013 before returning to family and year-end festivities.  As the City of Encinitas’ Arts Administrator, Jim has one thing on his mind no matter what time of year it is: how to increase the presence of the arts in his city.  Lucky for us, Intrepid has become a formidable component in that plan.

With Intrepid’s recently announced series of 12 staged readings to be held monthly at the Encinitas Library, and our ambitious Season Four program, Intrepid is helping fulfill a long term goal for Encinitas as well as for Jim – to increase the presence of live theatre in the city.

“I have my marching orders,” says Jim, based on the 2002 Arts Master Plan for the City of Encinitas, which includes the tenet that “art is an essential element in the life of Encinitas.”  A survey in this plan revealed that a whopping 72% of Encinitas residents consider live theatre one of the most preferred arts experiences.  Emboldened by that information, the city has spent the last ten years bringing Encinitas more of what it wants.

“Intrepid is helping us realize this longstanding preference of the residents to experience live theatre,” says Jim.  ”Until they showed up, we didn’t have a professional theatre company.  And now, they are the first arts organization we are working with to launch our new initiative with the library to offer more arts programming.”

With the recent hire of a full-time facility attendant, the spacious community room at the Encinitas Library is now available for use by local groups in the evening hours.  Many organizations will request the space, and Intrepid was offered the opportunity to present a staged reading series, taking place on the fourth Monday evening of every month.  The series begins January 28th with I Hate Hamlet – a humorous nod to the fact that Hamlet will open on the mainstage at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre a few days later.

“Intrepid has taken on this project with 12 evenings booked,” says Jim.  ”They are offering a terrific mix of plays.”

“Plus,” he adds, “they offer delicious, home cooked appetizers at the reception, award-winning plays, professional actors and director, in a terrific local setting, what more could one want at the very affordable price of $15.  What more could you ask for?”

For our part, we are happy to oblige.   — T.T.

Intrepid’s Staged Reading Series begins on January 28th and runs through November 25, with readings on the fourth Monday of each month.  There will also be a reading of A Christmas Carol on Saturday December 14.  For a complete list of plays or information on purchasing a subscription, click here.  

The Encinitas Library is located at 540 Cornish Drive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 By the End of 2012

Dear Friends and Supporters of Theatre:

As we approach this holiday season, we would like to thank you all for your generous support of Intrepid Shakespeare Company. We have come a long way in a short amount of time and it’s all thanks to YOU, our audience, donors, subscribers and cheerleaders. We are writing today in the hope that you might be able to help a younger audience who may not be as fortunate as you.

Did you know that, in addition to producing exciting, original productions of Shakespeare plays and modern classics, we at Intrepid Shakespeare Company are passionate about bringing Shakespeare to life for younger audiences. Over the past three years, Intrepid has had the pleasure of working with over 20,000 students at over 50 schools throughout San Diego County. Both students and teachers love the programs that we offer and embrace how it brings Shakespeare to life.

Intrepid Teaching Artists talking to students after a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare is a mandatory part of the curriculum in California schools.  Our Shakespeare For A New Generation program gives teachers the tools and skills to make Shakespeare come alive for students.  When studying Shakespeare in its intended environment of live performance, students of all learning abilities excel in their understanding of his plays.  Most critically, students with learning disabilities and students for whom English is their second language are given a window of understanding into these plays that they couldn’t have otherwise.  As one teacher said, “Shakespeare would be horrified to learn that students were being handed books to learn his plays. These plays have to be performed to be understood.”

Unfortunately, the students who need us most are at schools that have little to no funding for programs like ours. Here is what a teacher from San Ysidro (a Title One school ten minutes from the border) said about Intrepid’s Education Tour:

San Ysidro was fortunate to get funding last year for this program but now much of that funding is gone.

At a time when arts funding has been drastically cut from schools, our program brings live theatre to students who might never have access to it otherwise.  It also helps improve English as a second language skills in students of all ages.

We need your help.  Our goal is to go to the 12 schools that have the greatest need for our programs but can’t afford it.  The cost of this is $13,200. To reach our goal, we ask that you make a tax deductible donation and join our cause of making Shakespeare accessible and available to the students that need it the most.  Donate HERE.

Thank you for your support,

Christy & Sean

As a donor, you’ll receive donor benefits!

ALL donors…

will be recognized on Intrepid’s website

and in the program for our upcoming mainstage productions.

For any donation over $500…

the donor will receive complementary tickets

to opening night of one of Intrepid’s upcoming productions.

For any donation over $2500…

the donor and a guest will be invited to

one rehearsal for any show in Season Four. 

For more information about Season Four, please click here. 

If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 652-5011

My Kingdom for a Dramaturge

Dr. Gideon Rappaport sits at the end of a long table onstage at the Clayton E. Liggett, head bowed in concentration. On his left, the new Arden Edition of Hamlet, edited by Harold Jenkins, lies open on the table. On his right, a working draft of the script for Intrepid’s upcoming production of Hamlet is stacked neatly. Pencil in hand, he glances repeatedly from one to the other, flipping pages, making small notations, and nodding his head. But most of all, he’s listening.

On the other end of the table sits the cast, who have come together for the first read through of the play that will be mounted at the end of January. Even though this is technically their first rehearsal together, relationships and intentions have already begun to develop. The actors spend the evening trying out the words, pronouncing them trippingly on the tongue, and looking to Gideon, who will act as dramaturge for this production, for any adjustments. By the end of the rehearsal, he has individual notes for each player, as well as a few technical reminders for the whole cast: “Don’t hit the helping verbs. Seek out antithesis. Don’t emphasize pronouns.”

Prof. Rappaport in the zone

While most of the actors are Shakespearean veterans, Gideon is more than qualified to deliver his instruction. Currently an English teacher at La Jolla Country Day School, he has also taught Shakespeare in hallowed academic halls around the country, including on the campuses of Hamilton College, SUNY Cortland, Concordia University, and the University of New Hampshire. His Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Brandeis University doesn’t hurt his reputation as a Shakespearean guru, either.  Neither does the quote from the Bard that serves as the outgoing voicemail greeting on his cell phone.

Gideon’s stint as Intrepid’s dramaturge comes at an auspicious time. He is currently putting together a new annotated edition of Hamlet for students, teachers, actors, and directors which will feature Shakespeare’s text on one side, with his own commentary on the other.  This commentary will feature everything from thematic notes to definitions, language insights, contextual analysis, and other relevant information.  Needless to say, Gideon is currently fully entrenched in this project, and will therefore quickly and easily impart his readily available Danish prince knowledge upon anyone within earshot. “Just tell me when to stop talking,” he says often, and with a smile.

The first read of Hamlet

So, what exactly is it about Hamlet that makes this play so discussion-worthy? Easy. “It’s the single most misunderstood play of Shakespeare’s,” says Gideon. “People over the years have gone wrong about what it is really about.” He attributes this misunderstanding to the shifting priorities of society and the changing relevance of religion and spirituality.

“It’s a deeply spiritual play,” he continues. “It’s Shakespeare’s examination of how to live well in a morally complex universe where the choices seem unclear. How do you do the right thing when there seems to be paradoxical explanations of what that is? Hamlet’s story is a test case which generalizes to universal significance.”

Of course, that is a lot for a new cast to take in on the first rehearsal, and after some lengthy discourse on wood carving metaphors, the nature of evil, and revenge play traditions, Gideon finally takes a breath. “Of course, we have plenty of time to talk more about all that,” he says.

Aside from the questions of spirituality and universal significance, Gideon acknowledges that there is always one question on everyone’s mind when they are trying to unravel the tangled layers of Shakespeare’s longest play: Is Hamlet mad?

Well, Dr. Rappaport?

Gideon smiles the cryptic smile of a teacher who knows the answer but doesn’t want to give his students too much information.

“He definitely flies into passions,” he says carefully. “But, he also has moments of reason…”  We get it, Professor.  We’ll talk after the show.  — T.T.

Hamlet previews on January 26 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas.  

 

 

 

A Superstitious All Hallow’s Eve

On the heels of our fabulous reading of Macbeth on Monday evening, and on the eve of Halloween, we thought it especially appropriate to address the one thing that all theatre has in common:  superstition.

“Superstition Wordle” by gtshakespeare

One of the most famous superstitions is, of course, the curse of Macbeth. Historically, many an accident or bit of unfortunate luck has fallen upon productions of this particular play. Researchers suggest many logical explanations for this, of course. The most popular is that, with this being Shakespeare’s shortest and bloodiest play, it seems it would be the easiest to add to a repertory season at the last moment as a surefire seat-filler. Therefore, back in the day, it was often mounted as a last ditch effort to save a dying theatre company, and eventually came to be associated with a company’s eventual demise. Additionally, this last-minute mounting often resulted in an under-rehearsed company, and with the extensive amount of swordplay and stage combat present in this particular script, one can imagine that accidents would not be uncommon.

Also, the play was written during the height of the witchcraft scare, when publications about demonology were rampant. Lastly, some say that the witches in the script utter actual incantations, which leads to a cloak of evil surrounding the play.  Oh, and the play was cursed by Jacobean necromancers.  Let’s not forget that one.

Whatever the actual cause, the curse of Macbeth has survived the centuries. Rarely will you find an actor who is entirely comfortable even uttering the name of the play in casual conversation for fear of raining down bad luck. Even though avoidance of the word is technically only a necessity when speaking of it inside of an actual theater, the habit is difficult to break. Instead, “The Scottish Play” is the preferred term, although caveats exist if a company is actually performing the play.

What to do if you accidentally say the “M” word inside of a theatre while not working on a production of it? The reigning antidote is  to “leave the house, turn around widdershins (counterclockwise) three times, swear, and knock to be readmitted.” (Best write that down or save it in your phone, because no one ever really remembers when the time comes.)

Other famous theatre superstitions? Read on for a rather complete list of “dos and don’ts” to keep productions lucky and actors safe, thanks to The Steppenwolf “Watch & Listen” blog and The Guardian‘s Theatre Blog. One wonders if it is even possible to put on a play while adhering to all of these rules….

Happy Halloween!  — T.T.

1.  Always step out of your dressing room with your left foot.

2.  Absolutely no knitting backstage.

3.  Always say “break a leg” and never “good luck.”

4.  Never wear blue, yellow, or green onstage.

5.  Never use real jewelry, real mirrors, or real flowers onstage.

6.  Never clean out your makeup box.

7.  Always wind a found thread around your finger.

8.  Never whistle in a theater.

9.  Never have more than two lit candles in your dressing room.

10.  Always leave the ghost light lit.

11.  Apply your makeup with a rabbit’s foot.

12.  Never bring peacock feathers into the theater.

13.  Never wear brand new makeup on opening night.

14.  Never place shoes or hats on chairs or tables inside of the dressing room.

15.  Never open a play on a Friday.

16.  Never speak the last line of the play before opening night.

Directing, Creepifying, & Casting Minions of Evil

When Jason D. Rennie was tapped to direct the upcoming staged reading of MACBETH at the Encinitas Library this Monday, he could not help but recall his first co-directing stint with Intrepid in 2009. “This particular play mixes nostalgia and significance for all of us,” he says.

How does directing a staged reading of this play differ from co-directing Intrepid’s inaugural production three years ago?

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

Well, for one thing, the original Intrepid production ran about 90 minutes and was played with only seven actors. Monday’s staged reading allows for a little more flexibility – a few more actors have been cast, which means less doubling (or tripling) roles, and more of the text has been captured in some significant scenes.

Plus, it’s Halloween, which means that Jason was very excited to “creepify” the show, adding back in the character of Hecate as well as the witches (who were disembodied voices offstage in 2009).

“The play is psychologically horrific,” he says, “and the witches are the physical embodiment of the evil that dwells in the world, and possibly within each of us. I wanted to embrace the atmosphere of spooking and haunting that comes with this time of year by accentuating the eerie and occult nature of Hecate and the Weird Sisters.”

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

That shouldn’t be difficult. Shakespeare’s witches have been portrayed throughout time as various incarnations of creepy, and Monday’s reading shouldn’t be any different with Savvy Scopelleti, Steve Grawrock, and Danny Campbell stepping into the roles. Molly O’Meara will be illuminating the role of Hecate.

“These witches are more than just pointy hats,” says Savvy, commenting on the conjuring spells used by her character.  “Shakespeare wrote their language in a way that is constantly spiraling, the trochaic meter setting them apart from other characters in the play. It’s utterly fascinating.”

Is she creeped out by portraying a Weird Sister? She hesitates.

“If I believed in witches and spells, I would be creeped out, definitely,” she decided. “But this is all just pretend, right?”

Of course. But Jason’s direction sprinkles the play with ethical ponderings for those of us in the non-pretend world, as well.

“However I highlight their presence as the minions of evil, the fact is that the witches do not actually commit any evil – they merely awaken the ambition within Macbeth and stoke that flame until it consumes him. The truly unsettling spookiness of the play is that it forces us as spectators to wonder whether such dark forces lay dormant within ourselves and, if kindled, could we withstand them?”

A appropriately haunting thought, indeed.  — T.T.

Macbeth (a staged reading). Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door. Reception at 6:30 pm, reading at 7:00 pm.