Archive for May, 2010

Hello again! Scott Lange here, we’re on to new projects and new discussions.  I’m here today to talk to you about The Tempest.  We just closed Hamlet on Sunday afternoon, but we started rehearsing this show a few weeks ago.  So we were doubled up on our Shakespeare for a bit.  This isn’t really new for us, but we haven’t had two shows overlap like this for quite a while.  Even with double the work, we didn’t have any casualties.

For this production I am playing the role of Antonio.  Antonio is the younger brother of the main character Prospero.  In events occurring before the action of the play, Prospero is Duke of Milan and loved by all of his subjects.  Antonio is a trusted advisor in the Milanese government, but becomes overwhelmed by greed, and steals Prospero’s dukedom.  Prospero and his baby daughter Miranda are cast out to sea, presumably to their death.  So essentially I’m playing the bad guy in this one.

I haven’t had the chance to play a villain in a few shows, so I’m excited to be getting back to it.  What I love in particular with Shakespeare’s villains, especially in his comedies, is that they are so unabashedly evil.  They love to steal, rape, and pillage; and are quite content to do such acts repeatedly.  It isn’t that they are simple characters, quite the opposite, but they just have so much fun being bad.

Antonio, throughout the play, has no remorse for what he’s done.  Not once does he ever repent, apologize, or beg forgiveness.  He even laughs in the face of danger.  Faced with spending the rest of his life on a deserted island, he mocks his companions.  Apparently he doesn’t care about living in an awkward situation.  It’s like an episode of survivor.  Even though he depends on the people he’s with to get along, he has no qualms about laughing in their faces.
The place I’m at in rehearsal right now, is trying to find different shades to his personality.  I think I’ve spent quite a bit of rehearsal time just making him a jerk.  But I need to spend more time examining what Antonio wants and thinks at each moment he’s on stage.  We’re rehearsing one of my character’s pivotal scenes in the coming days, and I plan on working quite a bit on really filling out the rest of the role.  I think I’ve got a handle on the basics, but I think Antonio bobs and weaves a bit more.  He’s blunt, but also crafty.  At this point it is all coming across too shallowly.  Fortunately I’ve got a few weeks to really hammer out a deep and complex villain; one that audiences will love to hate, and hate to love.  Come and see if I can do it.

This week, Kathleen Bode discusses playing Ariel in The Tempest.

For me, this week has been full of two thing; pushing my boundaries as an actor, and ibuprofen.

Ariel, much like Prospero, tells stories. The story of how the ship sank, the story of how he/she lead this group of people around the island, etc. But the way that Ariel tells stories needed to be very different from the way that Prospero tells them.

So I started with the fact that Ariel is a non-human character. So, how do you convey that to an audience? I needed to make it clear, visually, to the audience that Ariel is “other wordly”. There has to be a real distinction between how Ariel moves compared to how the human characters move.  Movement is not my forte, so I met with Katherine Mayberry (our producer) for some help with this. With her extensive dance training, Katherine would be able to help me better use my body to develop and present my character.

We started with some image work. I did some online research of animals, and brought a dozen or so pictures of different images that I found. Each of these images struck me, for different reasons, as ways that I could see Ariel. What surprised me most was that they were not all animals that fly. I started my research with birds, but only about half of the images I chose ended up being avian.

Once I had my images, Katherine had me replicate with my body each of the pictures I had chosen. From there, I began to use that image to produce a movement. How would an Arctic Skua move around the room? How about a Black Skimmer?

No one wants to feel like an idiot, and I was afraid of looking like one while doing these movement exercises, but I realized that if I didn’t make these choices big, bold – and confidently – then they would never read to an audience. They would look foolish because the audience would know that I felt foolish. But, using these images to create distinct and precise movements helped me to really embrace the sense of freedom that I found allowing myself to move in ways that are wholly unfamiliar to me. I found myself enjoying that freedom to move any (and every) part of my body.

Getting out of bed the next morning was a bit more challenging than usual for me. Having never been an athlete or dancer, my body was not used to those kinds of movement, and I had to pack a bottle of Ibuprofen along with my lunch that day!

This week, we shift gears from Hamlet to The Tempest, as our actors begin rehearsals for the first of our summer productions. Here Bill Iddings discusses the role of Prospero.

This summer, Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of Prospero in “The Tempest” will not compare with mine.

That probably speaks best for him.

Bill Iddings is the name.

Prospero’s the game.

I indeed am playing that role in Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s production of one of The Bard of Avon’s final plays.

Despite what I’ve read, I assume “The Tempest” won’t kill me.

Plummer also is taking a shot at the aging magician and exiled Duke of Milan, in Canada at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
This past December, The New Yorker magazine quoted the renowned, 80-year-old actor as saying, “Prospero sounds like ‘Oh, he’s getting on now. I guess this must be his last role.’ Then I’ll do something very quickly afterward, so I don’t die.” As did the now late comedian George Burns at 99 years old, I, at 63, keep telling people, “I can’t kick the bucket. I’m booked.”

What, as opposed to who (to which I’ll get), is Prospero?

He is the usurped Duke of Milan, Italy, an intellectual betrayed by his brother, Antonio (played by Scott Lange), kidnapped, and exiled by the King of Naples (Scott Wright). Antonio steals Prospero’s title and riches. He conspires to have Prospero and Prospero’s infant daughter, Miranda (Elle Lucksted), cast away on a distant isle. However, Prospero also is a magician, a sorcerer who can, among other things, control the weather. Twelve years having passed and Miranda on the cusp of womanhood, Prospero whips up the title storm that shipwrecks his enemies onto the sands he commands. He seeks vengeance, aided by the ethereal sprite Ariel (Kate Bode) who, as is the villainous monster Caliban (Chris Teller), is bound as a slave to Prospero’s bidding.

Now, who, really, is Prospero?

Common wisdom is that he is the alter ego of Shakespeare himself. The parallel when “The Tempest” was written and first performed, in the 1600’s, is that both were nearer the end than the beginning. At the conclusion of “The Tempest,” Prospero gives up his magic and his books that made it possible. Within a few years after writing ”The Tempest,” Shakespeare retired.

Send in the geezers.

Shakespearean scholar George McMullan has written, “The role of Prospero … is one that Shakespearean actors of a certain stature … aspire toward the end of their career.” Which puts me in the company of Sir John Gielgud, Charles Laughton, and John Cassavetes; you know, that crowd.

And all of those guys are dead.

Dadgummit.

So, how to play Prospero, rehearse him?

We just started this week. Thus we have, at this writing, been buffeted by “The Tempest” for only a few days. Yet some things never change.
First, learn the lines. Prospero has a ton of ‘em.

“The Tempest” is a short play, but Prospero begins and ends it, and between his first entrance and final exit has more to say than any other of its characters. He’s a major storyteller, charged with the dishing out much of the exposition that explains what’s going on.

As any actor will tell you, you can’t play the part till you own the words. Once you have those in your head, take a cue from James Cagney: plant your feet, look the other guy in the eye, and tell the truth; or, as Spencer Tracy once said, know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.

Here comes the homework, the memorization, the nigh total abandoning of any semblance of personal life. Prospero delivers some huge monologues that can’t be mailed in. Making huge monologues interesting will be one of my challenges.

One should never kid oneself about the supposed romance and glamour of theater. It’s work, and requires a singular dedication to sweating it out till the job’s done. Which it never is. Acting is evolution. The more an actor develops a character, the more the character changes. That’s what makes characters interesting.

What, then, does Prospero want? What are his objectives?

One is to exact revenge; another, to protect his only child. Yet as enraged as Prospero is against those who have heaped injustices upon him, he is capable, in time, of forgiveness.

Beatlesesque, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. Pigeon Creek’s “Tempest” does not have a director. It has directors. All of us.
The show is being “ensemble directed,” meaning each individual actor will have input from the rest in the cast. Being used to the benign dictatorship of a single director as opposed to this dramatic democracy, a Shakespearean lending of my ears (“Julius Caesar”) will not be amiss. May 2, at our first group reading of “The Tempest,” Pigeon Creek cofounder and executive director Katherine Mayberry explained that ensemble directing is how Shakespeare’s own acting company, the King’s Men,” went about its business. Pigeon Creek is an “original practices” Shakespeare troupe. As such, it stages plays in the same manner they were done when Shakespeare lived.

Taking direction from other actors — normally verboten in theater, to the point of getting an offender kicked out of the show — will be a first for me; not only with Pigeon Creek, but ever, and I’ve performed in a bunch of plays since my 1978 debut. Both previous Pigeon Creek productions in which I’ve performed — as Gloucester in “King Lear” and as the Ghost/First Player/Player King/Priest in “Hamlet,” had directors, respectively Tom Harryman and Mayberry.

This new gig should be interesting.

So far there’s been a lot of laughter. So far. Is that the acrimony of anarchy I hear rumbling, thunder-like, in the distance? Nah.

Wonder how Christopher Plummer’s dealing with this whole Prospero thing.

On second thought, better not call ‘im.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” Prospero says. “And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Sleep? Being that Prospero’s from Italy, fuggedaboutit.

My revels, for now, are ended.

Playing Rosencrantz

I’m Brooke Heintz, better known as (deep breath now) Rosencrantz, Francisco, Reynaldo, the Ambassador, Captain, and a pallbearer.  That’s right, it’s a regular revolving door of characters for me during any one of our runs.  Along with this, I’m our production’s Prop Mistress.   This means it was my duty to work with our director compiling a list of necessary props, determining what look we were going for, and then actually going out and finding them all.   Sharing production duties is one of the most unique things about working with Pigeon Creek, in my opinion, because we eliminate the line between actors and crew, and it allows the show to feel fully ours.  We take ownership of every aspect, or trust the people from our own ensemble to do so.

Speaking of unique opportunities for teamwork, I wanted to focus on the experience of playing half of the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern team.   I haven’t played a lot of male characters, and we also wanted to develop synchronization between R&G’s movements, so I was focused quite a bit on physicality when preparing my roles.  Sarah, who plays Guildenstern, worked very closely with me on developing where we wanted the characters’ center of gravity, how we wanted them to walk, to sit, to stand, to react physically in fear or indignation.   Near the beginning of rehearsals, we would use a mirroring exercise, where we simply stood face to face, and followed each other’s movements, trying to keep it as organic as possible, and get our bodies physically in tune.  We did a lot of work in front of mirrors as well, trying to get our stances to match while keeping it natural.

Once we were confident in the things that matched between the two, and felt that they translated visually as a set, we focused on what differentiated the characters.  Guildenstern is more of the alpha dog of the two, and we decided that they vary strongly in that Guildenstern tries to keep his reactions in the “head” most of the time, whereas Rosencrantz (not very “heady” whatsoever) reacts to most things directly from the heart.  It allowed for us to create tiny physical mannerisms that were opposing, but still complemented those that were synchronized: Rosencrantz was more likely to react to things openly, shoulders back, heart bared, whereas Guildenstern tends to shrink inwards.  When these reactions were combined, it still creates a visual illusion of them being two parts of a whole.

Playing someone’s “other half” so to speak has been a brand new experience for me, and required more specific physical work with another person than I’ve gotten to do before.   Hopefully it pays off in comedy for our audiences.   You still have a chance to come and see for yourselves, at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, May 13-16th!