Tag Archives: Tiffany Tang

Three Times, Charm Optional: A Conversation with Life(x)3 Director Shana Wride

“Wouldn’t it be nice to think that our successes are always of our own making and our failures simply fate or the fault of some force we cannot control?”

Shana Wride is thoughtful as she considers her upcoming stint at Intrepid Shakespeare as director of Yasmina Reza’s Life(x)3. An established actor and director, this is the first time she has directed any of Reza’s plays, but she has always found the writing both challenging and haunting.

“Something about her work makes you think about it once it’s done,” says Shana. “It’s not until you walk away that you begin to ask the questions.”

Life(x)3 will be no exception. Stocked with a brilliant cast – Jessica John, Melissa Fernandes, Mark Pinter and Andrew Oswald – the play revolves around two couples and an unexpected dinner party. What makes this particular telling unique is that the story is told three times – each from a different character’s point of view.

“The conceit that we see an evening from three different angles with three different outcomes is intriguing,” says Shana.” I love that she uses this approach to examine how subtle shifts in our perception and response can drastically alter the outcome of our lives. I find that both exciting and absolutely terrifying.”

Yasmina Reza, a two-time Tony Award winning French playwright, unpacks these types of themes throughout her work – the dissolution of relationships, the misunderstandings that reveal deep-rooted psychological tendencies, the truth behind socially-acceptable behavior. Her work has been seen all over the world, translated for the English stage most often by playwright Christopher Hampton. Recently, her play God of Carnage was also adapted for film.

“What motivates me most is writing about people who are well brought up and yet, underneath that veneer, they break down,” Reza told The Observer early last year. “Their nerves break down. It’s when you hold yourself well until you just can’t any more, until your instinct takes over. It’s physiological.”

“It is all about the text but it’s also – which is really exciting to me – about what’s underneath,” says Shana, referring to the play’s revelations. “The tension becomes a character in the play.”

The staged reading format of Monday’s performance lends itself to exposing this tension. With simplified staging, the actors – and the audience – are free to focus more on the subtleties of the text. As is traditional with the staged reading format, there is minimal rehearsal time, putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the actors when it comes to both preparing their parts and also staying in the moment during the reading.

“You’re forced to do everything very quickly and to make those choices quickly,” says Shana of the format. “We are really lucky to have the cast we have. These are four really amazing San Diego actors.”

Thankfully so, as Reza’s work seems like quite a balancing act, requiring not only the creation of this tension, but also an acknowledgment of the play’s humor. Yes, humor. Shana is reassuring that even though the tone can be stark, there are plenty of uplifting moments in the storytelling.

“[Reza] doesn’t worry too much about cheering you up, but at the same time it’s funny – brutally funny,” says Shana. “Her humor comes from how ridiculous life can really be.”

Yasmina Reza’s own analysis of her work absolves her of any responsibility for her characters’ behavior – humorous or not.

“We ask writers to have a vision of the world, to take positions,” she says. “I don’t like to do that because I want to be able to write characters who have different takes on life and for them to be convincing.”

Shana might disagree, describing Reza’s work as “challenging” and Reza as the type of writer who wants an audience look at their own behaviors.

“In Life(x)3, she’s asking: Are we at the mercy of our surroundings or are we contributing to them?” observes Shana. “It’s something we don’t want to look at sometimes because we might be more responsible than we want to admit.”

Ultimately, both playwright and director might agree that this self-analysis accomplishes the goal of the play.

“You leave the experience asking questions about how you live your own life,” says Shana. “I think that’s very powerful.”

– Tiffany Tang

Life(x)3 by Yasmina Reza, a staged reading. Monday, May 20. Encinitas Library. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Side of the Table

Sean Cox and Christy Yael

“Auditioning is the most unnatural and unrealistic job interview ever.”

Christy Yael, Producing Artistic Director for Intrepid, is quick to admit this. Having just finished two full days, approximately eleven consistent hours, of open call auditions for Intrepid’s upcoming Season Four this past weekend, she is also quick to state that she is optimistic and impressed at the skill level of those who walked through the door.

“We saw so many talented people this weekend,” she says with enthusiasm, “really talented people.”

With the company entering its fourth year, Christy is now a veteran of the rigors of the open call, an especially demanding process for both directors and actors alike. And the requirements for Intrepid’s audition were nothing short of daunting. Non-musical actors were asked for two contrasting monologues, while musical theatre auditioners were invited, in addition to performing a monologue, to sing both a selection from the 1960s as well as one from Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, a composer traditionally regarded as one of the most complex and challenging musicians in the American songbook.

“The two required musical pieces are so drastically different,” says Christy, “that it really gives us a good idea of a person’s abilities.”

Veteran musical theatre actress Kathi Copeland was unfazed. Having performed in musicals since the age of 16, when she was cast in a pre-Broadway tour of “The Me Nobody Knows,” Kathi feels a certain comfort level with these types of requirements. Although, she admits, she would probably never recommend auditioning with a Sondheim piece unless it was specifically requested.

“Every audition is different,” says Kathi, who was attending an Intrepid open call for the first time. “It’s just important to prepare, prepare, prepare.  You  never know how it’s going to go once you get in there.”

There are many variables that could affect a singing audition – the pianist’s tempo, the acoustics of the space, and one’s level of nervousness, for instance. The singing voice, sometimes more vulnerable than the speaking voice, is likely to reflect all of these conditions, and therefore it is important to prepare as many things as one can control ahead of time. “Always take the time to talk to the accompanist about tempo,” advises Kathi. “Don’t forget that it’s your moment to shine.”

Veteran actor and accomplished theatre artist Tim West agrees that the same advice would apply to non-musical auditioners. “It was my first open call for monologues in a decade, so though I prepared I lacked that practiced feeling,” he says, although clarifying that it was perhaps for the best. “I’ve grown less concerned with choices per se and more concerned with trying to find the moment.”

It’s this type of attitude that Christy appreciates the most. Although she finds herself more often in the director’s chair these days, she was once attending the same sorts of open calls as an actor. “At the time, it helped me to think of it as an opportunity to do some work,” she says. “There are stakes involved, but it’s an invested audience with potential payoff.”

For her part as a director, Christy pays close attention to those auditioning, looking for specific elements in the presentations. “With the Shakespeare, it’s a combination of the acting ability and how the verse is handled,” she says, “and all that that entails. I could talk for hours about just that.”

Surprisingly, she says, she has found that many with musical theatre backgrounds were more adept at handling Shakespearean verse than their resumes might suggest. “They are both heightened forms of expression,” she says, noting that one’s ability to act through verse or through music can be both daunting and tricky.

“I just have a tremendous amount of respect for actors,” she says. “It’s hard work and it’s vulnerable work and that’s a heady combination.”

While being on the director’s side of the table is definitely preferably, Christy’s acting background also helps her create a safe space for potential auditioners. Both Kathi and Tim agreed that the process was painless. “Christy was one of the most gracious auditors I’ve ever performed for,” says Tim. “It’s such a difficult thing, to make people feel warmly welcomed while maintaining professional decorum. I am glad I chose this audition to return to the practice. I’ll try never to miss an opportunity at Intrepid.”

Christy maintains that the excitement of finding new talent keeps her consistently invested throughout the audition process. “The thing that maybe people don’t realize is how optimistic we are going into auditions,” she explains. “We have high hopes and expectations that everyone is going to be fantastic and incredibly talented.  We are not looking for what’s wrong – we are looking for what’s right.” — T.T.

 

 

Casting Doubt

When actors approach their roles, the first order of business is to wholeheartedly believe in their characters’ actions and decisions without judgment. But, how is an actor expected to do so – without reservation –  when the title of the play is Doubt? The cast of Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading sheds some light on the matter.

“This whole play is painted in shades of gray,” says Tom Hall, who will play Father Flynn, the priest who is accused of impropriety at a small parish school. The school’s principal and accuser, Sister Aloysius – who will be played by Trina Kaplan – is driven by her conviction, despite a lack of concrete evidence. “There is no black and there is no white,” says Tom. “And that’s sort of the beauty of it.”

Tom Hall in King John
Photo credit: Daren Scott

Although set in 1965, Doubt was written in 2004 and playwright John Patrick Shanley won both the Pulitzer and the Tony for his work. Even though the words “genius” and “brilliant” are bandied about in the theatre world, says Tom, there is no “doubt” that this play is genius.  And brilliant.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it, long after I had read it,” he says.

Yolanda Franklin, who will be playing Mrs. Muller, mother of the first black student at the school who finds her family affected by the accusation, agrees. “Audiences are in for something,” she says. “Especially if they are hearing the play for the first time. I was blown away when I read it. The writing is that great.”

“Also, the play is so timely,” mentions Trina, commenting on the current investigations within the Catholic Church. “It’s interesting to revisit this show when so much has come out.”

Although the action unfolds within the setting of a parish and the organization of the church, the actors are also quick to point out that it is still immediately accessible, even without church familiarity, because the issues are so real.

Erin Petersen in Romeo and Juliet
Photo credit: Daren Scott

“It actually has very little to do with religion, and more to do with human nature,” says Erin Petersen, who will be playing novice nun Sister James. “It’s not just about faith, but about faith in humanity and the desperate need we sometimes have to believe in people.”

To that end, each character seems very representative of very specific – and very opposing – viewpoints. Tom points out that as the Second Vatican Council was closing in 1965, there was immense upheaval in the traditional processes of the church. Throughout Doubt, there is a theme of change, of progression, and of old-versus-new that is immediately relatable.

“Father Flynn sort of embodies what was going on in the church at that time, which was the controversial march towards progression,” he says, whereas the character of Sister Aloysius is more steeped in tradition. “It doesn’t matter how these two meet, they are going to clash.”

Trina agrees that her character is absolutely driven in her conviction. “She’s so driven yet still sympathetic,” she explains. “Her heart is in the right place, but she’s on a mission. The more I study her, the more questions I have about her.” She pauses, and then adds, “The more I doubt.”

“It’s actually sort of written as a thriller,” Tom explains, referring to the play’s hooded development of the facts as well as the twists and turns taken by both the plot and the characters.

“I, for one, am enjoying my detective work,” says Yolanda, elaborating on her research for her role and her analysis of the time period of the play, the civil rights issues, and the protective feelings a mother would have towards her son when he already has a lot of cards stacked against him. “She just wants what is best,” she says.

True to its title, nothing is certain in this story, which only makes the characters all the more fascinating to play and to watch. If anything is without doubt, it is that audiences will continue talking about it long after Trina speaks the last words.

“At the end, the playwright is basically saying, ‘Discuss,’” says Tom. “‘Everything you need to know is right there. I’m not going to give you an easy answer.’ This play is intended to provoke a conversation.” — T.T.

The staged reading of Doubt will be held Monday, February 25, 630 pm wine reception, 7 pm reading at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Tickets $15 and can be purchased here or reserved by emailing boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and paying at the door. 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.