Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Back to Spooky Ole Scotland

Courtesy of
“Pumpkin Patches and More”

On October 29, Intrepid will host a staged reading of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Macbeth, just in time for Halloween festivities.  While the play was picked for its darker thematic content, this is also the first time Intrepid has revisited it since the company’s inaugural performance in 2009.

While Christy Yael and Sean Cox, co-artistic directors, will not be reprising their roles (that honor goes to the fabulous Linda Libby and awesome David Cochran Heath), they took a moment to reminisce about their first production as a company in 2009.

Macbeth was an experiment,” says Sean.  “We started the company wanting to do Shakespeare in a small space, but there was a chance that the idea of keeping it intimate might not work.”  Therefore, they brought in some Shakespeare heavyweights to help them develop their concept, including Sean’s mentor Jonathan McMurtry and Macbeth co-director Jason D. Rennie.

Christy and Sean in Macbeth 2009
Photo credit: Daren Scott

Intrepid has always been focused on the text of Shakespeare’s plays, and to Sean and Christy, the idea of performing them intimately enhances this concentration, coloring the words with layers of emotional development that might not be possible on a grander scale where production value could overwhelm communication.

“Shakespeare gives you everything,” is their mantra.  “We always try to go back to the text because he gives you all the answers – he’s there directing you throughout the play.  You just have to find it.”  Now, this seems like a no-brainer, but back in 2009, they weren’t so sure their audiences would be on board with their intimacy issues.

Thankfully, their experiment worked.  The play, then performed at the theatre space at 6th and Penn, played to full houses and even included a couple of midnight shows.

Both Christy and Sean admit that this first production was a huge learning experience that often felt like trial by fire.  Nevertheless, with the conclusion of the run, they knew they had solidified their future in producing Shakespeare.

Macbeth was huge because we had just started the company, so…it was everything.”

Admittedly for Sean, there are things he would love to try again or do differently with regards to playing the title role.  He seems open to the idea of one day tackling it again.

And would Christy every consider reprising Lady M?  “Never again,” she says definitively, with a small shudder.  Apparently, inside Lady Macbeth’s head is a very dark place to be, indeed.

Both are thrilled to pass the proverbial torch to Linda and David and witness them bring these characters to life in Monday’s reading.  Directed by Jason D. Rennie, there are chances, of course, that shadows of the original production may decide to haunt the performance…but, really, what’s Macbeth without a little shadows and haunting?  — T.T.

Macbeth (a staged reading) – starring Linda Libby and David Cochran Heath – directed by Jason D. Rennie – 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.

 

Sean of the Danes

Sean as Mercutio
photo: Daren Scott

When it comes to preparing for his next stint onstage, Sean Cox, co-artistic director and founding member of Intrepid, freely admits that he’s “properly terrified.”

Even though Hamlet doesn’t open until next year, the focus of the company has already moved towards this next project.  For Sean, that means that he’s only weeks away from beginning rehearsals on one of the most challenging roles of his career.

He shouldn’t fret.  After all, in some ways, it seems he’s been preparing for this his entire life: “I’ve watched it so many times and heard it so many times and I’ve thought about it for years and years,” he says.  One of his earliest acting class memories even has him playing the gravedigger at 13.

But Hamlet is also about life experience, and for Sean the past few years have seen not only the formation of a theatre company, but also marriage to co-founder Christy Yael and the birth of his first child.  It seems fitting that this play is happening now when Sean is looking at life so differently.

“Hamlet asks those questions that we all ask: right, wrong, afterlife, immortality…all of those simple and honest questions that are in silent dialogue in our own head all the time,” says Sean.

This is also the reason why Hamlet is such an intimidating role to pick up.  For it to work, “it has to be simple, honest, and in the moment,” he says.  For Intrepid, this intimacy will be further emphasized by the fact that they will be performing Hamlet in the round.  “There’s no place to hide,” he says.  “Literally.  It’s exciting and it’s completely and totally terrifying.”

To hear Sean talk about his research for the role is to imagine him constantly tripping over books and recordings and DVDs of various Shakespearean performances.  “With Shakespeare, I’ve always been about devouring and watching every movie version, every audio version,” he says.  With Hamlet, “there are books and books and books.  There are literally hundreds of books.”  He’s been on a constant mission, it seems – dissecting the research, analyzing the greats, philosophizing on interpretation.

Simon Russell Beale as Hamlet

Some of Sean’s discoveries?  Kenneth Branagh’s audio recording is way better than his film version, Ian McKellen says you have to be a bit of a comedian to play the title role, and when you put McKellen and Simon Russell Beale side by side, it’s impossible to tell who does the role better, even though they are totally and completely different.  Ask Sean about his favorites and he doesn’t hesitate when he describes seeing Mark Rylance play Hamlet at the Globe as “the best theatrical performance of anything ever.”

But what do these great actors say about the actual experience of playing Hamlet?  “They are like ‘Oh, it changes your life!’” says Sean.  “It’s this momentous occasion.  And it’s intimidating to go into it like that but I think most parts are…they change you in a way…if you’re putting yourself into each role, then each one affects you.”

Isn’t having these performances swirling around in his head a little distracting?  “There’s no one way to do it,” he muses.  “Every one is totally different, totally, totally different and yet it works.  There is a reason why they say there are as many Hamlets as there are actors.”

Mark Rylance as Hamlet

But, even for a seeming veteran like him, the part of the Danish prince doesn’t come without its fair share of gauntlets.

“Hamlet is everything,” he says, animatedly.  “He’s got this enormous amount of dialogue and he goes on this emotional roller coaster throughout the play and then he’s got this big old huge sword fight at the end.

“Jonathan McMurtry has said to me that playing these great roles is like training to be an Olympic athlete,” says Sean, quoting a favorite mentor.  “So, yeah, not intimidated at all.”

Rehearsals officially start in December, but when asked about his schedule, Sean simply says, “I feel like I started a very, very long time ago.” — T.T.

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!

 

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