Archive for April, 2010

“To thine own self be true…” is one of my favorite lines in Shakespeare.  On the surface it is so simple, however when you dig deeper at the meaning of this simple phrase the complexities and levels begin to form. This is why I love to perform and study Shakespeare. His words may be constructed in way that is foreign to the modern ear, yet the meaning and emotion transcends time.

Hi, my name is Heather Folkvord and I am playing Gertrude in PCSC’s production of Hamlet! I have had such a great time during the rehearsal period and now performances of Hamlet.

My feelings of the character I play often change from rehearsal to performance. I think of my character as a “jacket” or “coat” that I put on and take off. In the beginning it is just a pencil sketch…very simple…a general shape (text analysis). Second I add color to the sketch and then choose fabric for my “coat”. This step often takes a little longer because type of fabric, color, weight, feel makes a huge difference to character (emotion, mood, first impressions). Third I “stitch” my character coat together weaving thoughts, emotion, voice intonation etc. During this time, my “coat” doesn’t always fit. It may be tight in some places or I don’t like where I place a pocket or seam and have to make adjustments. I borrow something from another coat I’ve worn. Next I add embellishments to my coat…a brooch or trim, maybe some special stitching (back story, core beliefs, main motivations). I try it on and it feels pretty good, fits fairly comfortably. Then I perform in this coat I have created in the last 5-6 weeks, and under the lights with the other characters and the eye of audience scrutiny it fairs well. But during a scene all of a sudden my coat sleeve feels tight or I can’t breathe with the buttons buttoned, so back to my sewing room for more adjustments and additions (or subtractions). This process continues through the entire performance period. So the coat I started with on opening night is not quite the same on closing night. I am always filled with a bittersweet feeling when I remove my character coat on closing night. But as I hang it in the closet with all of my other coats I know that someday I just might need that pretty Gertrude brooch to complete my next coat.

I hope you all will come and see Hamlet. It really is a wonderful play and for a tragedy it really is funny. It has transcended the ages and I find it hard not to think of all the generations of actors and audiences that have explored the world of Hamlet and all who have yet to start their journey. See you in Denmark!

My Most Painted Word

Greetings to all you Pigeon Creek fans and Shakespeare aficionados out there!

I’m Scott Wright and it’s my turn this week.

“Hamlet” has been one of my favorites almost since the first time I read and saw it back in high school, and when I learned that PCSC was going to be presenting it this spring I couldn’t help feeling a little excited.

It wasn’t long before I began thinking, “I could play Claudius…”

Then they actually gave me the role.

Pleased at first of course (-and pleased still, for all that…), as I began reading and researching the script, that small voice that reminds me every so often that I’m not all that, started getting a little louder.

Here I was looking at a role in the play that some might call Shakespeare’s masterwork – one of the greatest works in the English language – a character that has been dissected and analyzed by literary types all over the world for centuries, and played by such actors as Basil Sydney, James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart, and Derek Jacobi – to name just a few.

Feeling just a little intimidated now…

But once we got into rehearsals the general wackiness and sense of fun that infuses this group quickly winnowed away any doubts.

Everyone in the group attacked the text with a gusto and seriousness that is truly a thing to behold.

Now, I’ve been a self-described Shakespeare geek for quite a long time, but after being involved with Pigeon Creek for a few shows (“Hamlet is my fifth…) my Shakespeare-geekness-quotient has increased conspicuously.

Under the influence of the brilliant Katherine Mayberry I’ve gone from being simply an enthusiast to the point where I now find myself unconsciously working out scansion, curiously intrigued by the variations of rhythm within the rigid structure of iambic pentameter and intensely fascinated with the minutiae of punctuation…

I found and downloaded a facsimile copy of the 2nd Quarto edition (the “good” quarto) so that I could directly compare its spellings and punctuation with the modern editions, and bought the 2nd volume of the two-volume Furness edition that I’d been missing ever since I found Volume 1 in a used book store back in college, so that I could see the 1st (“bad”) quarto and look for more character clues…

It’s a frightening and wonderful thing she’s done to us…

But in rehearsals we began to look at it from an actor’s perspective – seeing the characters as real people, looking to bring life to their actions and words, discovering the relationships between them and the feelings they express (-or don’t express…) for each other, creating something more than two-dimensional literary characters.

It would be easy (and a bit lazy) to make Claudius a cardboard cut-out villain, but Shakespeare created very few of those kind of characters and Claudius is not one of them.

No one in the play ever says that Claudius is a tyrant or a bad king.  No one (except Hamlet…) seems to think that he’s done anything particularly wrong by seizing the throne and marrying his brother’s wife…  (Though it would probably have been bad form to have said so…)

In fact, whatever reasons he may have had for murdering his brother – whether for power, or for a woman, or both – he’s doing his best to appear a genuinely nice guy – at least in the beginning.

Claudius’ fratricidal act seems to have set in motion a series of events that will inevitably bring his carefully constructed world crashing down around him.  Whenever something unexpected happens he lashes out in a desperate attempt to re-establish order – which he never quite manages to do, as each attempt seems to spin things further and further out of control.  At last, he turns again to secret, cold-blooded murder as the only way to get back on top of things, but the result is that nearly everyone around him – including his queen, the promising young Laertes, and he himself suffer the same fate as his intended target.

So the challenge then will be to bring to life a man with a heart -  a heart that loves, that feels loss, and sadness, and regret, but whose envy, ambition, lust, and fear lead him to commit the primal eldest act of jealousy…

Hello!  My name is Kyle Walker and I am playing Laertes and the Third Player in Hamlet.  This is my first production with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and it has been a fun, interesting and new experience.  It has challenged me in new ways and stretched my talents to their full potential.

Playing Laertes has been an extremely fun role for me.  It is a role full of joy, sadness, anger, regret, and passion.  Exploring these kinds of emotions is always fun on stage.  However, one of the greatest parts of Laertes, for me, is the stage sword fighting I get to do.  I recently graduated from Grand Valley State University in December of 2009 and in my time there, I performed in many shows that ranged from Shakespeare to musicals.  But in all of my time there I never once had the chance to experience stage combat.  It was an aspect of my college education that I regretted.  But as Laertes, sword fighting is an integral part of his character.  Laertes is a short-tempered, head-strong, and impressionable person.  What better person to wield a sword?  I was excited to finally try my hand at stage combat.

My work with the fight choreographer, Steven Schwall, has been a quite the learning experience.  Going into the fight rehearsals I already had an objective in mind:  I wanted to gain a basic knowledge of stage sword combat.  One of the first basics that we learned in our rehearsals was how to stand.  In sword play it is important to have a strong, steady stance: knees bent, legs apart and at a 45 degree angle.  This gives the player a strong hold on the ground so that he/she is in complete control of their body.  This concept is what has guided my stage combat experience.  Control is everything when you sword fight on stage.  It keeps the players in synch, keeps the actors safe, and makes the swordfight convincing.  This established a very useful fundamental for stage combat and even for acting.  Control of the body leads to control of the scene that you are playing.

The next aspect of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company that I want to discuss in my blog is the music.  I have been playing the trombone since 5th grade and have always loved playing it.  But in recent years, since I began to focus more on acting, I began to lose touch with my trombone.  I was extremely excited to learn that I would be playing my trombone in Hamlet.  I have always kind of hoped that one day I would be able to bring my skills with the trombone to the theatre.  Sadly, I had never heard of a play where the actor is supposed to play a trombone.  So when they asked me to play my trombone in Hamlet I was very excited to finally have the chance to connect my two favorite arts: theatre and music.

At first I felt a little rusty and had to get used to blowing on the old horn again.  But just like riding a bicycle, it all seemed to come back to me as if it had never left.  Being able to play my trombone in this show has been fun but it has also made me realize something about the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company.  As an original practice Shakespeare Company, they play a lot.  They play with words, sounds, movement, emotions, meanings, costumes, props, and audiences.  But they also play to each other’s strengths.  When you are cast in a role, you don’t only learn your lines and play a character, you reach inside yourself for something more.  Something you can give to the cast, to the audience, or even to yourself.  And for me, the only thing I ask in return is a stage to make a character come to life.

Well, that about does it for me.  I hope you’ve learned something about the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and maybe even something about me.  If you want to know anything else about me… (WARNING: shameless self-promotion coming up)… you will just have to come see me in Hamlet performing at Dog Story Theater: April 15-25, Beardsley Theater: April 28, and Christ Community Church: May 13-16.   Thank you for reading!

-Kyle Walker

Hello!  Sarah Stark here, with a few reflections on my individual acting process in Hamlet.  The initial approach I took in the definition of my characters was a literary analysis.  I wanted to discover a basic conception of Bernardo, Guildenstern, and Osrics’ unique connections to Hamlet. I first kept my focus on the larger context of the play, rather than each subjective reality.  I recorded details such as the given circumstances, atmospheres, and relationships.  I next observed how these illuminate various aspects of the humanity and conflict of the character Hamlet.  What is so captivating, to me, about Hamlet is his embodiment of the quintessential everyman figure.  He is a man who encounters great tragedy which dismantles his worldview and reduces him to a state of nothingness.  Within this state is the potential for drastic transcendence; however it requires direct intentionality and hope as an anchor through the despair of suffering.  The tragedy of Hamlet is that he shrinks from and fails his greater purpose by choosing alienation over vulnerability, revenge over forgiveness; essentially hate over love.  We despise Hamlet in as much as we have shame over ourselves, our own instances of acquiescence to fear.  In the famed line “to be or not to be” he presents the essential paradox within the soul of man – the generative and the perverse.  The positive urge is spiritual, creative, life giving while the perverse is negative, earthly, and destructive.  These conflicting forces seem to be what consumes Hamlet, and I feel they mirror a fundamental conflict of which humanity universally identifies.

With this larger theory of Hamlet’s character in mind, I developed each of my characters by similarly determining the paradoxes which animate them.  I pinned down a super objective for each and applied the principal that every force has its equal and opposite reaction to develop a paradox.  This allowed me to incorporate tension which is elemental to conflict and required of drama.  They turned out to be the following:
Bernardo – Doubt & Belief
Guildenstern – Hope & Despair
Osric – Arrogance & Love (pure)

All of these, I felt, aligned with what Hamlet was dealing with in each different stage of the play.  They also signify each character’s private struggle.  Bernardo encounters the Ghost and fights to convince Horatio of the incident, and obtain comprehension himself.  Guildenstern is divided between a selfish motive to please Claudius and the honest intention to save Hamlet.  Osric is highly disillusioned and also the character most removed from the main plot, but in his lavish praising of Laertes I perceived that he atoning for a passionate and unselfish, but wounded love for Hamlet.  He parallels Hamlet’s relationship towards Ophelia and that is exactly what seems to emotionally prompt Hamlet into the rapier duel, as Osric literally does his role of the messenger in 5.2.

At this point in the rehearsal period – freshly off book and two weeks away from our opening show – I am most concerned with physicality.  The transition from individual scene rehearsals to full runs tuned me into the amount of time my characters use nonverbal expression (particularly Guildenstern).    I need to specify and sharpen the physical actions of each character to reveal tacitly their intentions and relationships.  So I am currently experimenting with a couple technical exercises I’ve acquired: Laban Effort Actions and Michael Chekhov’s techniques of sensation of feelings and body centers.  Come see how it all turns out — Hamlet opens at the Dogstory Theatre soon!