Tag Archives: Tiffany Tang

Actor’s Diary: Final Days Backstage Leave Lasting Mental Images

Final Installment Actors Diary Unique energy surrounding play is fleeting yet memorable for the cast of ‘Macbeth’

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T February 16, 2014

(Final installment)

Closing weekend, much like opening weekend, arrives with its own set of rituals. Backstage, there is an air of finality. Cast members are getting antsy for their next projects. Directors are scheduling rehearsals for future shows. The life of the play, while it continues with gusto onstage, wanes in the wings.

It is about this time when I frantically begin looking around me, desperate to capture fleeting moments of this creative camaraderie. Unfortunately, trying to maintain the unique energy of a play after its final curtain is like trying to prevent an apparition-possessed witch from disappearing into the night. It just doesn’t work very well.

Some things will be easy to let go of. For instance, it has been over three weeks since I’ve worn nail polish, earrings, or my favorite perfume. I will be happy to not have to pick prosthetic glue boogers out of my pillow in the morning or wash glow-in-the-dark goop out of my hair each night. Scratching my nose without the aid of a Q-tip poked up my prosthetic face nostril will also be a relief (and I realize that might have been too much information).

Other things, however, won’t be so easy to release.

Tonight, Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti and I sit at our dressing tables to begin our 45-minute makeup routine. While we have tried a variety of background makeup-applying soundtracks, the only one that ever seems to be right is the *NSync Pandora station. Rin Ehlers Sheldon, who plays Lady Macduff, laughs when she hears it, dubbing it “typical girl dressing room music.” I stretch my prosthetic nose over my face while we all harmonize to “Bye Bye Bye.”

I take a mental snapshot. While we cannot hold onto the moments, I think to myself, we can retain the memories. I eagerly begin to search for more.

Sandy Campbell, who plays Lady Macbeth, glides into the dressing room. “Hello, my witchy witches!” she says. Later, we will help her through multiple quick-changes as she entertains/kills the king. We decide we make a pretty dark trio of ladies-in-waiting.

Snapshot.

Before the show, I give Andrew Moore, our San Dieguito Academy intern who plays Young Seward, a high-five and tell him again that geometry is not the devil incarnate. Eric Parmer, who plays Angus, offers that geometry might, in fact, be the devil incarnate, but that it’s still important to do well in it. Dylan Nalbandian, who plays Macduff’s Son, doesn’t seem convinced. I talk quinoa recipes with Christian Payne, who plays Fleance, because he is a vegan who hates quinoa and I take that as a challenge.

Snapshot.

The show begins, and the witches and I move in perfect sync with our first heartbeat to our own relief. I mentally give our stage manager, Monica Perfetto, a thumbs-up. This opening sound/movement coordination is the result of our carefully cultivated psychic prowess.

I exit the stage in blackness and almost crash into Rob Biter, who plays Ross and is waiting in the wings for his scene. Even though this happens every night, I never stop to apologize because I have an epic run to the other side of the theater for my next entrance. Plus, on the way, I have to stop at the prop table to grab my pig intestines. Rob understands.

Snapshot.

I am doing ballet turns in the hallway, because that is how a witch spends her downtime, and Jim Chovick, who plays Seyton, begins chatting with me extensively about dance. Weeks ago, in the darkness of our tech rehearsals, I inadvertently gave him a minor heart attack when I stepped out of the wings in full witchy makeup and whispered, “hello.”

During intermission, Brian Rickel, who plays Malcolm, and I chat about narrative archetypes. I tell Tyler Jones, who has just finished murdering Banquo, that the blood on his cheek looks like a poinsettia. Fran Gercke emerges from the dressing room, and I wonder how much chocolate syrup is in the blood that drenches his face tonight. Patrick Duffy, who plays Macduff, holds a backstage door open for me and smiles. I immediately blush because why is he so handsome?!?

Snapshot.

During Act Two, Danny Campbell shakes his head at Erin and me as we do a small tap routine backstage while waiting for the final scene of the play.

During curtain call, I meet Sean Yael-Cox, co-artistic director and lead actor, center stage for our bows. He is understandably exhausted, having spent his last 15 minutes of stage time in a marathon brawl. And yet, once offstage, I can already see him making mental notes of what needs to happen in the next few days.

Costumes will be stored. Thrones will be relocated. Chandeliers will be disconnected. Rehearsal schedules for “All My Sons,” Intrepid’s Season Five opener, will be emailed out to a new cast working on a new play with a new life all its own.

Snapshot … end scene.

***

The U-T San Diego invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth ”Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the newspaper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She documented a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 16, 2014.

Backstage Brims With Fears – and Favorite Moments

UT third articleEven behind the scenes of ‘Macbeth,’ one can’t help getting caught up in the action

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
February 9, 2014

(Third in a series)

“Have you had any nightmares?”

Rin Ehlers Sheldon, who is playing Lady Macduff, asks the question, and I think about it for a moment before answering.

“No,” I say. “Being a witch is actually not as scary as you might think.”

It’s the middle of Act One of “Macbeth,” and I am in the dressing room cleaning makeup brushes while Rin and I chat. Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti and I, aka “The Weird Sisters,” don’t reappear until the second act, so we have a little down time to tidy up from our onslaught of preshow makeup insanity.

Through our dressing room television monitor, we hear the voice of Danny Campbell as King Duncan, arriving with his entourage at the Macbeth residence onstage. Savvy laughs. She always gets a kick out of how gracious Duncan is in this scene, considering what is about to happen to him.

We are in the second week of our run, and things backstage have become somewhat routine. We know when to help others quick change, where to set our props and how to remove prosthetic face glue in a timely manner.

But these particular moments backstage are perhaps my favorite. Not because I especially enjoy cleaning makeup brushes in the dressing room, but because of these conversations. And also because of what’s about to happen next.

Wait for it, I think. 3 … 2 … 1 …

The dressing room door bursts open and Sandy Campbell, who is playing Lady Macbeth, runs into the room. I step out of her way as she makes a beeline for the sink, hands bloody from her recent assassination scene. As she scrubs, the sink turns a sickly shade of red. I can’t help but smile.

“Out, damned spot,” I say.

We all chuckle. It’s an old joke. If I don’t actually say it every night, I definitely think it in my head. Sandy finishes her ablutions and heads to the costume rack.

“Nightgown, nightgown, nightgown,” she mutters.

Again, I smile, and I remember why this is one of my favorite parts of the night. It’s because, in this moment, if I look at her frantic actions just right, I find myself caught up in the world of the play.

It is no longer Sandy rinsing red-dyed cornstarch from her hands and searching for her next costume. It is Lady Macbeth shedding her guilt. It is no longer Sandy worried about making her next entrance on time. It is Lady Macbeth, fraught with the darkness that will eventually overtake her. Every night, I am witness to this character going through the machinations of covering up her dark and evil deeds.

Maybe I spoke too soon about the nightmares.

As Sandy heads to the stage, I take a deep breath and head up to the sound booth. I have my own harrowing backstage moment to prepare for.

No, it’s not killing swine or filleting fenny snakes. It’s worse.

It’s positioning a chandelier. While standing on a see-through floor. Twenty feet in the air.

Once in a while, actors are called upon to do a bit of backstage work during scene transitions. However, when I said yes to this particular transition, I had no idea that it would involve heart palpitations and profuse armpit sweat.

Picture it. You are two stories in the air, standing on “the grid,” which is basically a layer of industrial-strength chicken wire positioned under the lights. This “floor” beneath you is not only see-through, but it actually bounces with each step you take. Every time you move, you expect to free-fall toward the stage far below you.

Have I mentioned my fear of heights?

I take my place next to crew members Cortney Cloud and Phillip Boudrias. Together, as the music changes, we unclamp the lights and pull up the chandelier cabling until it sits where it needs to be. I am amazed that, while my nightly pit stains are still evident and my hand muscles are sore, I now handle this task like a pro.

Plus, I’ve discovered a little perk. From this vantage point, I can watch one of the most intense fighting sequences of the play unfold directly below me. I linger on the grid as J. Tyler Jones, Francis Gercke, Jim Chovick, Brian Rickel and Christian Payne begin to duke it out onstage.

No, I think. Nightmares aren’t a problem. Between bearing witness to routine violence, conquering severe acrophobia and — oh yeah — performing nightly in a Shakespeare play, there is really nothing left to be afraid of.

***

The U-T San Diego has invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth ”Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the paper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She will be documenting a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 9, 2014. Tickets for Macbeth can be purchased here.

 

macbeth page

Actor’s Diary: Coping With the Opening

Actor's Diary 2 Tiffany‘Freak out moment’ a rite of passage for Tang and her ‘Macbeth’ cast mates

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T

(Second in a series)

From offstage, I watch as the Act Two banquet scene of “Macbeth” unfolds. Of all the unnatural things in this play, Fran Gercke’s Ghost of Banquo might be the most alarming, which is saying a lot coming from a witch. I clutch my cauldron to my chest as I watch.

It is our last run-through before we have an audience, and I am trying not to think about what comes next.

Opening. Night.

Actors have many personal traditions when it comes to opening a show. Some like to arrive at the theater early and walk through all of their movements on stage. Some like to write special notes to cast members and crew. Some keep to themselves, meditating on their character’s motivations so that they are fully present when the lights go up.

For me, I typically find that vomiting is the main constituent of my opening-night routine.

Welcome to what I like to call the “Freak Out Moment,” which is a very technical term for that moment of recognition in the rehearsal process when actors realize that they are actually about to perform a play. On stage. In front of people.

Of course, if you ask us, it is that moment when we suddenly become nervous about baring our open hearts and impassioned souls to the world to shed light on the nature of humanity.

To-may-to. To-mah-to.

This may seem odd. After all, it would make sense that an actor would be fully aware of the circumstances that he or she was getting into. Yet, there is always that one moment when it all seems to be just a little too much and — bam! — nonsensical arguments about where to exit or how impossible that costume quick-change is seem to manifest out of nowhere during the last moments of rehearsal. Simple things, under pressure, become intricately complex.

If memory serves, during grad school, I had a 15-minute argument with my director about how to properly cover my face onstage during the transition into a Shakespearean death scene:

“I am going to whisk the shroud over my head and then bring it down over my face.”

“I don’t think you should whisk the shroud.”

“I want to whisk it. It will look cleaner and more choreographed.”

“You’re dead. There is no expectation of choreography.”

It seemed very important at the time.

But now I see it for what it really was: my night-before-opening, I’m-gonna-die, Freak Out Moment. It was not about the shroud. It was about the misconception that if I could just get the details of the scene planned perfectly, then that whole vulnerable acting thing would just magically fall into place.

I often wonder what level of OCD I would qualify for if I input these symptoms into WebMD.

Sean Yael-Cox, who plays the title role in our production, confided in me that his Freak Out Moment typically happens about three weeks before each show. Like clockwork, at this time, he earnestly asks his wife, director Christy Yael-Cox, to consider recasting him. Christy smiles when she hears this, offering that her own Freak Out Moment typically happens a week before the show opens, specifically, the night before technical rehearsals begin.

Offstage, I take a deep breath and stare down at my cauldron. Fran exits, and I step into the vom, a term for an entrance to the stage, to prepare for my scene. The fact that “vom” is short for “vomitorium” is not lost on me. Rumor has it that ancient Romans used these passageways to purge their full bellies during great feasts so they could continue dining. Although sources have since dispelled this theory, it still feels quite appropriate to me as I watch the onstage banquet scene come to a close and feel my belly do a somersault.

I look up and see Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen across from me in the wings, holding their own cauldrons. We make eye contact.

Just like the march of Great Birnam Wood, I think to myself, opening night will come, no matter how freaked out about it I am. But at least I’m not alone.

Erin cries out, Savvy nods to me and we enter the stage together.

***

The U-T San Diego has invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth ”Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the paper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She will be documenting a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 2, 2014. Tickets for Macbeth can be purchased here.

 

macbeth page

“Macbeth Actor’s Diary” in the U-T San Diego!

UT TiffanyThe San Diego Union-Tribune invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to continue writing her “Macbeth Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the paper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She will be documenting a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. Check out her first installment!

***

Actor’s Diary: Summoning the ‘sisters’
Intrepid Shakespeare cast member Tiffany Tang talks ‘Macbeth’

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
January 26, 2014

(First in a series)

I peer at page one of my “Macbeth” script and realize that the notes I have scrawled in the margin are utterly undecipherable.

Do we go on the light flash or the cracking noise?

Sigh. Computers have destroyed my ability to create legible penmanship.

I am seated in the fourth row of the Liggett Theater and, as usual, I am flanked by the two other members of my newly founded triumvirate, Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen. Together, we are the Weird Sisters. Like “Heathers” without the color-blocking, we roam rehearsals cackling at private jokes and creating stories about other characters in the play.

Except today. Today, we are gearing up for our first full-cast run-through, and since the witches are charged with that teeny tiny task of opening the entire show, I want to make sure we get this part right.

“So, we go on the light flash?” I ask aloud.

Savvy nods and then whispers something in my ear about a bloody pilot’s thumb. I glance at Erin. Already in witchy telepathic sync, we all smile simultaneously. Christy’s gonna love that.

Although the three of us have been friends for a few years now, the depth of this particular camaraderie still surprises me. When I last met these two on stage, it was during Intrepid’s “Romeo and Juliet” in 2010. I played Lady Capulet, and Savvy was a fierce mama bear Nurse, uber-protective of Erin, who played Juliet.

During that show, our backstage conversations consisted mostly of strategically thrown dirty looks. Now, I have been invited to “rehearsal sleepovers” and find I am part of a creepy underworld posse.

Despite the fact that I am constantly conjuring demonic deeds, things seem friendlier for me in Scotland than they were in Italy.

Christy Yael-Cox, our director, begins the rehearsal, emphasizing that tonight will be a “stumble-through,” which basically means she would like for us all to let ourselves off of our proverbial perfectionistic hooks. The collective breath of relief that ripples through the theater is audible.

Savvy and Erin and I set ourselves onstage. Until this point, the cast has been rehearsing separately in tribes of thanes, Scottish royalty, and supernatural beings, respectively. So, in this moment, we don’t really know what to expect from one another. I have no idea how Sandy Campbell will summon her murdering ministers, nor what kind of king Danny Campbell will prove to be, and I can feel curious eyes upon the witches as we find our places.

This makes sense. Historically, the three witches have been interpreted as everything from giggling schoolgirls to herbalist hags to sexy apparitions. What will our witches turn out to be?

Please let us be scary, I think to myself as I nestle my head into Erin’s shoulder blades, cursing my tendency to end-gain under pressure.

This first scene goes quick as lightning. I relax a bit, confident in what we have brought to the table.

We reappear a few scenes later for our first Macbeth meet and greet. Let’s just say this scene is a more humbling experience. Some staging needs to be reset, and intentions need to be clarified. It will be back to the drawing board at our next rehearsal with Christy.

Act One ends and Monica Perfetto, our stage manager, calls for a break. Erin and Savvy and I lean into each other, conspiring, plotting, wondering if we should include militaristic combat rolls in our blocking.

Andrew Moore, a San Dieguito Academy intern who will be playing Young Siward, approaches our trio.

“You guys are terrifying!” he announces.

We resist the urge to do a group high five and instead smile graciously.

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Playing Politics: Director Jason D. Rennie Discusses “Julius Caesar”

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”

Jason D. Rennie to direct Monday’s staged reading of
Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar utters this famous line in Act One of Shakespeare’s tragedy, blissfully unaware that fault and fate would soon play large parts in his own destiny. In this Monday’s staged reading of Julius Caesar, fault and fate are two questions Director Jason Rennie knows better than to tackle directly.

“I have always been very intrigued by the play and it took a while to figure out why I was drawn to it,” says Jason. “I think it’s mostly because the ambiguity is so appealing to me.”

That ambiguity is what has made this particular tragedy so memorable for audiences, and at the same time so challenging for actors and directors. Even though acts of savagery abound, the clarity of right and wrong in this political arena is not so absolute. Sympathy, surprisingly, falls on the backs of unexpected characters. The lines in the sand are blurry.

While this is Jason’s first foray into directing Julius Caesar, he has been through this story as an actor more than once.

Julius Caesar
by Nicolas Coustou.

“My drive to want to do this play stems from the frustration I’ve had as an actor,” he explains, citing the questions the story raises about politics, patriotism, and power. “The play itself doesn’t take one side or the other as far as the central conflict is concerned. All these characters, even the antagonists or the minor functionaries, are all drawn with ambiguity. It’s plausible to see them on one side or the other of that conflict, and you can easily sympathize one way or the other.”

In fact, he states, a more accurate title would probably be The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus, the character on whom most of the moral ambiguity falls during the course of the story.

“Brutus feels patriotic and wants to combat tyranny,” explains Jason, “but at the same time he’s thinking of committing murder. Can you ever truly justify and sanctify murder? I think none of those questions are actually answered within the play.”

Shakespeare plays his political cards close to the vest on this one, which makes sense, given that the play is perceived as a veiled critique of the Elizabethan monarchy. The fascination with Rome in the late 1500s provided an apt backdrop to the perceived overreaching power of Queen Elizabeth’s self-proclaimed deific reign.

Elizabeth I
Artist Unknown

“Elizabeth was starting to equate herself with that divinity and an immortal type of ruler, which was extremely hubristic,” says Jason. “It was a very hot political issue at the time.”

For us in modern times, the play still carries a critique – not of monarchy, necessarily, but of patriotism and the lengths to which it will be cited as justification for untoward acts.

“What is the motive when you invoke patriotism?” Jason asks. “Is it to justify an act that you personally don’t feel you can stand behind without it?  And who’s to judge?”

Indeed, many of these questions have arisen within our current political climate, not just domestically, but globally. While Shakespeare writes sympathetic characters on both sides of the issue in Julius Caesar, the dialogue is the same as the one we are currently having around the world.

“A lot of the political issues that have been front page issues over the last few years can be boiled down to the same types of things,” says Jason, commenting that Julius Caesar could be performed against a backdrop of the current political landscapes of Egypt or Syria. “It’s a question of who has more power and do they deserve it?”

And with complicated questions come complicated answers. Once power is taken, what is left of the political state? It’s fine to depose a king, says Jason, but what happens afterwards? In this light, he says, Julius Caesar becomes not only a tragedy, but also a cautionary tale.

Hopefully, he and his actors can shed some light on this subject, but Jason is just as wary as Shakespeare was of actually picking sides.

“Shakespeare isn’t condoning or condemning a political assassination in Julius Caesar, but instead asking whether or not it is within the public’s power to make the decision,” clarifies Jason with a statement that, like the nature of both art and politics, perhaps generates more questions than it does answers.

– Tiffany Tang

Julius Caesar, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, November 18. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

 

Phil Johnson, Master of the Comedi-verse

Phil Johnson to teach a master class on comedy

“I think about comedy all day and all night.”

Phil Johnson, most recently seen this summer as Bottom in Intrepid Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical,” admits this obsession without hesitation.

“I probably need a twelve step group for my love of it,” he adds.

In lieu of addiction therapy, Phil Johnson will instead be putting this passion to good use by sharing it with others. Along with Artistic Directors Christy and Sean Yael-Cox, Phil will be an instructor in Intrepid’s brand new offering of fall classes.

What will he be teaching? A master class on comedy, of course.

A comedic stage veteran, Phil has shone on the San Diego stage for more than 15 years, racking up starring turns on the city’s major stages, and receiving a Craig Noel Award this year from the San Diego Critics’ Circle for his rendition of Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came To Dinner.” Aside from his stints in Los Angeles writing with the Acme Comedy Theatre, his grant from the San Diego Foundation for the Arts to develop his comedy solo show version of “Hound of Baskervilles,” and his comedy/cabaret fellowship with the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, his most impressive comedic credit is probably his run as the tavern-owning criminal Thérnardier in the Broadway production and the national tour of “Les Misérables.”

While continuing to develop projects in town, Phil is also eager to share the tips and pointers that his own comedic gurus have taught him over the years. A master class for Intrepid Shakespeare seems the perfect fit.

Phil as Bottom
Photo credit: Daren Scott

“I have a great enthusiasm for good actors who are also good comedians,” he says. “It’s thrilling and exciting to go to the theatre and be impressed by someone who can do both sides of the coin. Plus, I love Sean and Christy, and I would love for there to be a whole bunch of good, funny actors in San Diego for me to play with all the time.”

The three-hour master class will be geared towards professional working actors; however, theatre lovers are also welcome to enroll. While some actors may shy away from comedic training, Phil maintains that the funny bits are completely accessible to even the most dramatic of thespians.

“So many people think it’s separate from them, so they’re not using all the tools in their toolbox,” he says. “Almost any good actor can be a good comedian. It’s about details and intention and thinking things through.”

To that end, he plans to organize the class around a checklist – particulars that the actor can pay attention to in order to achieve the maximum comedic effect from his or her scenes.

“If the audience is laughing, then they are following your story,” explains Phil. “If they aren’t, then you need to shake things up.”

This is why he loves previews, he says, which is that time during the run of a show when things can still be adjusted after receiving input from the audience’s reaction each evening.  “I get to see what works and what doesn’t before opening.”

Phil Johnson with Jacqueline Ritz
Photo credit: Daren Scott

This willingness to continually pursue the perfection of comedic timing is part of paying attention to the details. This is something Phil learned from his comedic stints in theatre, his own teachers, and also from a childhood spent watching the greats: Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, and Jonathan Winters. Honoring the legacy of comedy is something he feels is fundamental to its study.

“I think one thing that young people don’t do often enough is watch the old stuff. They don’t know who Bette Davis or Rock Hudson are,” says Phil. ”Comedy is so much an homage to what’s come before.”

Studying the legends is one way to keep one’s skills polished and in tune, but nothing beats the experience of a class. “I wish I had had someone to give me a tune up every once in a while,” he says. “You can always be funnier.”

And what if you are rather nervous about taking a master class in comedy?

“Don’t worry,” says Phil. “Nervous people are almost always funny.”

– Tiffany Tang

A Master Class on Comedy with Phil Johnson. November 24, 6-9 pm. Clayton E. Liggett Theatre at Intrepid Shakespeare (SDA Campus). $60. Enroll here.

Wilde Ideas: A Conversation with Sean Yael-Cox, Tom Hall, and Jim Chovick

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”  – Oscar Wilde

As Sean Yael-Cox, Artistic Director of Intrepid Shakespeare, prepares to direct the company’s upcoming staged reading on Monday evening at the Encinitas Library, one question keeps reverberating in his mind:

“Why isn’t this play performed more often?”

The play in question is Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which will be presented by a stellar cast of San Diego heavies, among them Tom Hall as Oscar Wilde and Jim Chovick as the Marquess of Queensberry.

“It feels incredibly timely and appropriate to look at this play now because it’s about human rights,” says Sean, citing the recent waves of political change with regards to equality. “It’s a strong play to do now.”

Wilde and Douglas, 1893

Kaufman’s play, assembled in a docu-drama style which lifts direct quotations from historical documents, personal letters, and creative work, follows the later years of playwright Oscar Wilde as he undergoes three lawsuits in England – one which he initiates in order to rebuke a slanderous statement made against him by the Marquess of Queensberry, and two others initiated by the government on the charges of “gross indecency” between Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, the Marquess’ son.

“A lot of people don’t know what happened to Wilde and how it ended for him,” comments Sean. “I think it says something about his writing that he is known for his wit and his charm and not remembered for the trials.”

Charged with the task of portraying Oscar Wilde is Tom Hall, most recently seen in Intrepid’s production of Hamlet as Horatio. Even though Tom describes the role as “very challenging and very daunting,” he is thankful that the authentic words of Wilde are there to provide a foundation for his real life character.

Tom Hall in Hamlet
Photo: Daren Scott

“You get a strong sense of who he was and how he carried himself through his writing,” says Tom. “Wilde wasn’t just a person. He’s a personality.”

Also recreating an historical figure is Jim Chovick, who will be portraying the Marquess as well as two different prosecuting attorneys in the reading.

“The Marquess of Queensbury is the nemesis,” says Jim, also last seen in Intrepid’s Hamlet as the Ghost. “He’s rather rough and strong arms his way through life.”

What lends credibility to these characters is that their conversations are almost entirely created from historical record, and Kaufman manages to investigate the trials with a modern perspective while maintaining the integrity of the people involved.

“It’s like a crash course history lesson, but it’s incredibly theatrical,” says Sean, who will also take a turn on stage during the reading. “It’s almost like doing an Oscar Wilde play because there are so many excerpts from his writing. It’s the beautiful poetry and a ton of humor.”

Sean Yael-Cox and Jim Chovick in Hamlet
Photo: Daren Scott

Sadly, it is the creative writings of Wilde that are also used as evidence against him when he is put on trial for his “illegal” activities with Douglas. Tom notes that because of this, it is not the actual relationship between the men that ends up under the microscope. It is Wilde’s struggle for artistic expression.

“He was really being tried for his subversive views on art, morality, and Victorian society,” says Tom. “Wilde believed in the power of art to transform man. He believed that art could change the world, could bring about peace, and all of these ideas that were revolutionary for his time.”

Jim agrees. “The playwright knew what he was doing,” he says. “Wilde isn’t defending his actions, he’s saying I’m an artist and art rises above these petty little rules.”

1895 newspaper
(c) The British Library Board

This “rule” that Wilde was ultimately found guilty of was “gross indecency” between males, and while the term was never clearly defined by Parliament, it was used to criminalize homosexuality in Victorian England. It was not repealed until 1967.

The somewhat didactic nature of this play should not be intimidating, however. Anyone familiar with Kaufman’s The Laramie Project will understand his unique ability to take facts and weave them into a compelling narrative.

“The best kind of play is one that will move you emotionally and educate you,” says Jim. “Anything that is well-written will resonate. It’s human nature.”

Rounding out the cast of historical figures is Brian Rickel, Danny Campbell (most recently seen as Polonius in Hamlet), as well as John Tessmer, Ben Cole, and Edred Utomi who are all currently acting in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the musical, which closes on Intrepid’s mainstage on Sunday.

– Tiffany Tang

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde by Moisés Kaufman, a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, August 19. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

 

“Midsummer” Tales: Meet the Fairies!

A Fairy Trifecta:
Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Jacquelyn Ritz, David McBean

As Titania the Fairy Queen, Jacquelyn Ritz has a very clear idea of the role she plays in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical.

“I like to think of the fairies as Greek gods,” she says.

Her fellow magical misfits agree with her. Occupying the forest throne alongside Jacquelyn sits David McBean as Oberon the Fairy King. Kevin Hafso-Koppman rounds out the fairy trifecta with his gymnastic portrayal of Puck in this Shakespearean classic, reimagined by Intrepid through the sounds of the 60s.

“They are super human beings with super human powers,” elaborates David. “Since the fairies have such power, they seek destruction in a way that’s different from humans. These things that occur in their lives become so much more important to them. And the results of their feelings affect the entire world.”

The main source of fairy angst is Titania’s adoption of a changeling boy, which infuriates Oberon. Titania’s refusal to hand over the boy further stokes Oberon’s fury, inspiring vengeance in the form of a flowery love potion forcing Titania to fall “head over wings” for a Bottom, a Mechanical metamorphosed into a donkey.

“Oberon has no power directly over her, so he can’t change her,” David explains.

“It’s a very man/woman thing,” says Jacquelyn to David. “You’re constantly trying to tell me what to do and I’m constantly trying to work around you to get to your heart.”

And where does trickster Puck fit into this struggle?

“Puck has his foot in both camps – the real world and the fairy world,” says Kevin, elaborating on Puck’s ability to maneuver and help manipulate both the fairy royals and the lost lovers running through the forest. “The whole story and the whole dream are Puck’s flip of the world.”

From this fairy’s perspective, things are certainly topsy-turvy – the human lovers succumb to the magical spells of things supernatural, while the magical monarchs are reduced to petty humanlike spats and acts of retribution.

“I don’t think it’s petty,” chimes in Jacquelyn. “But I’m Titania, so I have to feel that way,” she adds with a smile.

Another topsy-turvy aspect of this Intrepid’s Midsummer revival is the casting. Both David and Kevin were featured in the 2012 production, but in vastly different roles: David played the Mechanical Flute and garnered rave reviews for his “play-within-a-play” Thisbe, while Kevin soared from rope swings as the lover Lysander.

Opportunely, Kevin is able to incorporate this gymnastic ability into Puck.

“This time around we are getting a lot more physical with the role because we are discovering some different things,” he says. “It’s difficult because the last person did something that was so brilliant and so funny and you want to take those little things and put them into your performance, but also create your own thing.“

For Kevin, that “thing” has translated into the construction of a trapeze atop Puck’s perch center stage, from which he is able to incorporate his athletic approach to his heart’s content.

“We’ve been working a lot with climbing and making this Puck acrobatic and supernatural,” he elaborates. “Almost like in this dream world, gravity is less for the fairies.”

For David, the return to Midsummer also included a role as musical director.

“This time around, I get to be a part of the moments where music adds to the storytelling,” says David. “It’s been a treat for me to be a part of the show in an intimate way and to help the new actors learn the songs. They are so clever and remarkable. It’s been an honor to be directing them.”

For Jacquelyn, who recently relocated from Chicago and is making her San Diego debut with Intrepid, the infusion of music into this play just makes sense.

“Music is a great bridge from this world to something higher,” she says. “When you mix that with Shakespeare, which is another way of taking this world and elevating it through poetry, it just heightens it.”

However, this “heightening” does not serve to exclude the audience from their understanding of the play. In fact, it does just the opposite.

“The music clarifies the relationships,” explains Jacquelyn. “People who maybe don’t know Shakespeare as well, still know music. We know songs, we know how we feel when we are singing to someone else or someone is singing to us. It makes more of a connection.”

These fairies are in flight through August 18. Come see them rock the forest and find your own musical connection.

– Tiffany Tang

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical plays through August 18 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas. Tickets available here.
(Photo credits: Daren Scott)

Mapping Shepard: A conversation with Fran Gercke, “Geography of a Horse Dreamer” staged reading director

Fran Gercke directs
Monday night’s reading of
Geography of a Horse Dreamer

“The great thing about a Sam Shepard play is that you don’t know where you’re going or where you’re going to end up. You just know that you took a wild ride.”

Fran Gercke, director of Monday evening’s staged reading of Geography of a Horse Dreamer at the Encinitas Library, pauses a moment before he adds, “And if it’s done well, you want to go again.”

It’s hard to imagine that anything wouldn’t be done well in this reading, with such a formidable cast assembled under Fran’s leadership. Brian Mackey, Tom Stephenson, Tom Hall, Eric Poppick, Jon Sachs, and Jake Rosko will be bringing to life the story of the horse dreamer, whose winning predictions capture the interest of some local mobsters keen on exploiting his talents for big payoffs.

“It’s the story of a wonderfully wacked out, incoherent group of people who get together to solve a problem,” says Fran. “Shepard calls it a ‘mystery,’ but there is no Poirot in this story.”

But there is more here than just your run-of-the-mill struggle for power, says Fran.  Although it has been described as a riff on DH Lawrence’s story “The Rocking Horse Winner,” Geography of a Horse Dreamer could also be seen as an unpacking of American culture, as well as an exploration of hope and…dreaming.

“We’re all chasing the ‘American dream,’ but whose dream is that?” Fran says, pointing out one of the most pervasive notes in Shepard’s anthology. “Our quest for authenticity is always based on an image we saw somewhere, or what our grandparents told us about our cultural heritage. When we distort ourselves to match the image we are chasing, we find we don’t like the distortion. It doesn’t feel real.”

However, this struggle for achievement is also part of our cultural landscape, he continues, part of our own “geography” of dreaming. Our only hope lies with the artists, who take on almost shamanic powers in Shepard’s plays.

“In Shepard’s landscape, if you are referred to as an artist, watch out,” says Fran.  “You have magical powers, and ones that you probably can’t control yet.”

In Geography, the artist is the dreamer.

“It’s not a perfect play,” says Fran, but it is perhaps the first play where Shepard begins to define his voice. We see the beginning notes of his later, more iconic plays like True West and Curse of the Starving Class.

“Shepard has a really wonderful and goofy sense of humor,” Fran says, mentioning that during rehearsals this week, one of the actors described the play as an amalgamation of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and John Waters.

“Basically he says, let’s have a lot of fun and put people on stage you would never want to run into in real life.”

– Tiffany Tang

Geography of a Horse Dreamer by Sam Shepard – a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, July 22. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

Moonlighting at Intrepid Shakespeare: A Conversation with “The Quality of Life” Director, Kathy Brombacher

Kathy Brombacher is the first to admit that things are a little bit different now than they were a year ago. “My life is a little simpler now that I’m ‘retired,’” she laughs. “It is nice to do one project at a time.”

This time last year, Kathy was wrapping up her 31-year stint as artistic director of Moonlight Stage Productions, her post there historically integral to arts development in North County. Now, as she told the U-T last August, she is finding “a different way to be involved in theatre.” And this week, that involvement includes directing Monday night’s staged reading of Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life.

“It’s a beautiful play about four people connecting in the midst of great upheaval in their lives,” observes Kathy. “The writing is conveys a sense of compassion and humor in a very real manner.”

In Jane Anderson’s play, which was originally commissioned by and had its premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2007, two couples meet on the burned out remains of a Jeannette and Neil’s house in Northern California. The couple has set up a yurt on the land, artistically displaying salvaged items from their lives on nearby trees. They are visited by Jeannette’s cousin, Dinah, and her husband Bill, Midwestern parents grieving over the tragic loss of their daughter.

“Jeannette and Neil are post-intellectuals,” explains Kathy. “They bought this beautiful home in the mountains because of their own spirituality, which is linked to Buddha and appreciating nature.” That they choose to honor the remains of their lives artistically is evidence of their ability to come to grips with their loss in a cheerful way. “They are defiant of the misery that might affect other people,” says Kathy.

By contrast, Dinah and Bill, who have arrived after hearing about the devastation of the fire, live conservatively in their religious and political values. The juxtaposition of these two ideologies creates both tension and humor.

“These are two sets of very different people, looking at life in very different ways,” Kathy explains. “There are lovely threads of humor throughout, but you also begin to see people use humor to escape things that haunt them at night…the things that are always with them.”

Charged with bringing these complex characters to life is a seasoned cast of San Diego notables:  Jo Anne Glover and Jeffrey Jones will portray the fire-devastated Northern Californians, while Colleen Kollar Smith and John Tessmer will play the grieving Ohioan visitors.

“The cast is incredible,” enthuses Kathy. “There are a lot of levels of thinking in these characters for the them to discover. It’s a beautiful play to listen to and will be completely in the hands of the actors.” While Kathy is new to working with the majority of the cast, she notes that Colleen grew up doing theatre in North County San Diego. “She’s a gifted lady we claim as our own,” Kathy says, of Colleen’s early theatre days at Moonlight.

These kinds of connections are important, especially to someone who has been so involved in the development of San Diego’s theatre scene. Kathy looks forward to cultivating more of these relationships outside of Moonlight, among them, one with Intrepid Shakespeare.

“I really welcome this opportunity,” she says. “I so completely admire what Intrepid is doing onstage. I just love that Christy and Sean are bringing the classics to the schools and splitting open the idea of what the classics are and approaching Shakespeare in a new way. I have all kinds of respect for them and I hope they flourish and thrive.”

– Tiffany Tang

The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson – a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, June 24. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.