Tag Archives: theatre
“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
Fabian quips this line in Act Three of Twelfth Night, and both Jim Winker and Ross Hellwig – two actors featured in Monday’s staged reading of the play – would agree that Shakespeare has a way of shedding light on the spaces where art and life overlap, imitate, and illuminate. In this play, in particular, he has created a cast of colorful characters for this purpose, characters who constantly find themselves peeling back the layers of living.
“That’s the glory of Shakespeare,” says UCSD Professor Emeritus Jim Winker who will be playing Malvolio, the “narrow-minded and mean-spirited” steward to the Lady Olivia. “We’ve all got something to bring to each part. It’s like onion layers unfolding, depending upon the actors playing the roles.”
Jim is no stranger to unpacking the Bard. In addition to his accomplished acting resume which includes numerous Shakespeare productions and an Associate Artist designation at the Old Globe, Jim taught classical texts in UCSD’s Department of Theatre and Dance for 25 years. He was recently approached by Christy Yael and Sean Cox, artistic directors at Intrepid, to take their actors through scansion workshops during rehearsals for their main stage productions. He is looking forward to taking the stage on Monday as an Intrepid cast member.
While Malvolio – whose name can be translated as “ill will” – is typically seen as somewhat of a fool, Jim stresses the importance of recognizing his complexities. “For all of his general creepiness,” says Jim, “he’s a vulnerable guy. Shakespeare has given him to us in a wonderful package where he has balanced out all sides of him.”
Even though the turn of events in the story don’t favor Malvolio for the better, Jim observes that because of these complexities of character, audiences don’t automatically dismiss him. ”We end up having some feeling for him,” he observes. “He’s got depth and feeling and complications.”
“He’s forgivable because he’s relatable,” says Ross Hellwig of his own character, Duke Orsino – the melancholy lover who’s “more in love with the idea of love” than the object of his affections. Similarly to Malvolio and many of the characters in Twelfth Night, Orsino takes a position of authority on a subject – in his case, the idea of love – but soon discovers that he is the one who has a lot to learn.
“One of the things I think is fun about Orsino,” explains Ross, “is that he imagines himself the most knowledgeable about love and women because he’s in the midst of this incredible passion for this woman. He’s in the midst of these scenes with Viola and educating her about what love is and - he’s really wrong. It ends up being the other way around – that she was teaching him about love.”
“Spoiler alert,” he adds.
And what is it like to play these complex people onstage?
“Characters who have deluded images of themselves can be a lot of fun,” says Ross, who is a graduate of the Old Globe/USD MFA Program and has worked on numerous Shakespeare productions in San Diego and Los Angeles. “And these characters are all so colorful. They are unique and full of life and the fun of the piece is seeing what kind of trouble they will get into.”
Trouble is definitely not out of the question for the staged reading format. With mere hours of rehearsal and script in hand, actors are required to perform to full production standards. While this process is not for the faint of heart, both Jim and Ross note that the “quickness” of the staged reading arena forces the company to focus on what is important: the words and each other.
“It goes fast,” says Jim. “You have to pay attention and get all of your tools ready to go. You have to be ready to improvise. It’s a wonderful challenge for an actor.”
“One of the great things about staged readings of Shakespeare is that everything you need to know in a Shakespeare play is in the text,” notes Ross. “All you need is the language. It’s the blessing and the challenge.”
To that end, Jim endorses Intrepid’s fast-paced and text-centered approach to the plays they read and produce.
“They pay great attention to the language,” says Jim. “What I love about them is that they are not afraid of it. They get on with it and they don’t play down to their audiences. They trust that they don’t have to hand it to us on a tray.”
In a time when it seems as though we are shortening our language use every day, it may seem remarkable that audiences understand Shakespeare as well as they do. But the themes and passions and logical twists are surprisingly accessible, mostly because we recognize our own lives in the machinations onstage.
“He’s the heart of our culture,” says Jim. “The plays teach us so much about what it is to be human. Each time you see one, you learn something about who you are.”
This extraordinary class will be in session on Monday evening. – T.T.
Twelfth Night: A Staged Reading. Monday, April 22. Encinitas Library. 6:30 pm wine reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please purchase tickets in advance or rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door. $15.
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.
Catch Hamlet before it closes. Final performances Saturday, 3 and 8 pm, and Sunday, 2 and 7 pm. Clayton E. Liggett Theatre, Encinitas.