Archive for June, 2010

This week, actor Jeffrey Otto discusses playing Ferdinand in The Tempest.

Hello Shakespeare fans!  I am here to discuss what it has been like portraying Ferdinand in The Tempest.  So far in my Shakespearian acting career, I have portrayed multiple roles in a travelling Shakespeare show called Bard to Go: All’s Fair, Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, and Marcellus, the 2nd Player (or Player Queen), and Fortinbras in Hamlet.  So this is my fifth Shakespeare show, yet my first time portraying a Shakespearean lover.  That is where a lot of my work has been concentrated.

In the play, we first meet Ferdinand while he’s wandering around, unknowingly following Ariel, devastated by what he thinks to be the loss of his father Alonso – the King of Naples.  His devastation quickly changes to passion and love when he discovers Prospero’s daughter, Miranda, on the island.  One of the harder things I have had to deal with is showing my love and passion for Miranda, and yet still showing hints of sadness for my drowned father.  So, not only do I have to portray loving feelings, but I have to remember to show some other feelings as well.  Ferdinand shows love, sadness, anger, annoyance and excitement throughout the show.  The most prominent being his love towards Miranda – but those other emotions come out from time to time as well.  It’s been a challenge figuring out how to display those other feelings without losing the other emotions I’m supposed to be conveying.  For example, going from love to sad, to love immediately in the span of one line is a bit difficult!

This play marks my third experience with The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company.  My first experience being Hamlet, playing Marcellus, Fortinbras, and the 2nd Player (or the Player Queen), my second experience being a staged reading of The Alchemist for the Early Modern Others series, playing Ananias.  Of the two, only The Alchemist was ensemble directed – and that was quite different than this due to the much shortened rehearsal process and the fact that we had scripts in our hands.  That being said, this was my first full-blown experience doing an ensemble directed Shakespeare show.  I won’t dwell on this too much, as it has been mentioned several times in previous blogs, but that was a new challenge for me as well.

For this show I accepted a new technical responsibility that I haven’t done on a previous Pigeon Creek show, and that was the responsibility of Props Master.  No, this was not a props heavy show, but a few of the props we had were a bit complicated and took some work.  For example, Prospero’s Staff.  Do we make it breakable?  What goes at the top of the staff?  How natural should it look?  These and many more are questions that myself and my props crew, Elle Lucksted, needed to ask ourselves and the cast before construction of the staff could begin.  What we came up with?  Well, you’ll just have to come and see the show and find out for yourself!

As I mentioned before, this is my third experience working with Pigeon Creek.  That being said, I want to note on how different it has been working with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company.  Besides the obvious (the staging and the original practices), you have many more responsibilities in a Pigeon Creek show.  When not on-stage, it is your responsibility to be making sound effects backstage, paging curtains, and helping people get into costume.  I myself am responsible for drum noises, rain-drum noises, rattle noises, and psaltery noises backstage.  What we do backstage is just as, if not more, important than what is going on on-stage.  A show can be made or broken by what goes on behind the scenes.  So…it gives us a bit of pressure to make sure we get our stuff done at the right time!

As always, this has been an amazing experience.  I love working with Shakespeare’s works.  I have had a blast playing the role of Ferdinand and I will continue to do so until our run ends.  This is a fun and talented company to work with, and I am glad I have had a few chances to do so.

Actor Kat Hermes weighs in on The Tempest:

That comedy is harder to perform than tragedy is a pretty well-known theatrical adage. Whether or not it’s true, I think that comedy is certainly harder to rehearse than tragedy, as I discovered over the last month.

In Pigeon Creek’s production of The Tempest, which opened last night, I play two characters (and one unnamed dancing nymph). One is Gonzalo, a counsellor to the King of Naples, who is first presented to the audience as a figure of fun, mocked by Lords Sebastian and Antonio for his seemingly inexhaustible ability to see upside of dire events. He also, however, presents a utopian vision of island life in opposition to the colonial regime imposed by Prospero. He acts a sort of moral compass to which the actions of other characters are compared.

As a young woman playing an old man, I was concerned with finding a physicality that would convey my character’s age without over-emphasizing it to the point that it became more about watching Kat pretend to be old than about watching the character. I also worked to make sure that I was equally committed both the ridiculousness of the character (his commitment to social decorum, even on the deck of a sinking ship, his immediate, unreasoning embrace of every new spectacle the island puts before him) and the wisdom. I wanted the audience to laugh at Gonzalo when the play encourages them to, but also be able to take seriously his thematically important speeches.

The other character I play is Trinculo, the fool, and this is where the “comedy is harder to rehearse than tragedy” theory becomes important. While playing Gonzalo mostly involved figuring out what they text was asking me to do and committing to doing it, much of what makes the “clown” scenes between Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban funny is the physical comedy that punctuates the line.

Some of the physical action is discernible from embedded stage directions. When both Stephano and Caliban refer to Trinculo’s “trembling” and “shaking” it is pretty clear what I need to be doing. Apart from those select moments where what I have to be doing is written into the other characters’ lines, I was pretty much on my own. With the help of the rest of the ensemble, I came up with several “bits” for each of my scenes, and then…

Well, and then, we rehearsed. So I played to a room of people who already knew exactly was I was going to do, had seen me do it several times. Eventually, as we moved from scene work into full runs of the show, I played to empty chairs. I found that I had no idea if what I was doing “worked” (i.e. if it was funny). Just as having an audience hang on your every word and gesture is a great theatrical high, giving your all to a room full of people who stopped laughing at what you’re doing a week ago is a great breeder of insecurity.

So, in conclusion, you should all come and see The Tempest, either at the Dog Story this weekend our at one of our other venues throughout the summer, and laugh at me. Because comedy is impossible without an audience.

Greetings new and continual followers of The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and our informative blog, Chris S. Teller here, I am playing the roles of Caliban and Sebastian in our upcoming production of The Tempest. I really want to touch on two major elements that really intertwine during our particular rehearsal process, and they are topics that previous entries have touched on; they are movement and the ensemble direction.

To start the The Tempest is a very mystical piece as one may have gathered from possibly reading the play or from my fellow actor’s previous entries.  This ideal of magic has really created a focus in rehearsal on movement for not only individuals like me portraying a monster, or Kate giving Ariel specialized moves, but from the entire cast; which in turn has really in a way created a whole new level of demand in the ensemble direction.  It is one thing to be able to give notes to another actor on perhaps vocalization or textual information, but we all now have to examine and watch everyone’s movements.  Without giving away too much of what we are working on (which is really awesome) there are scenes where we have to react and move as one group, or be individually overcome by Ariel or Prospero’s spells.  This is all done in order to ultimately create magical conventions to spark our audience’s imagination, bringing them into the world with us.

One example I can give, and pardon me for being vague as to not spoil the beauty of the scene or the hard work that the actors have put in, but there is a scene we all were just not quite convinced was working in terms of movement.  One of the characters is being led around by the magic of another “invisible” character, and one day it finally clicked.  By simply changing the movement style of one of the characters, it completely changed the believability of the power and invisibility of the other character.  It was one of those moments that the ensemble could relish because at that point we had all established a new way of doing something as a group, and would incorporate it into other scenes that required this “invisibility.”

This moment touches on the major challenge that can come up for an ensemble directed scene, and that to a point the group has to agree on every convention we create to establish continuity of the play.  This democratic agreement amongst the cast at times can require, what seems to be long and arduous discussion, but pays off to be very useful to the production’s imagery as a whole.

I hope that you all come out and see the work that this ensemble has put together as a team, in which we have created a truly magical world, with some surprises at the end that require the audience’s imagination to take control.

Elle Lucksted weighs in on the role of Miranda:

Shakespeare himself wrote, “Say as you think and speak it from your souls,” (King Henry VI). The Tempest’s Miranda, fifteen-year-old daughter of Prospero, exudes a complete innocence that perfectly exemplifies this philosophy. Miranda was “thrust from Milan” (Tempest, V:i) at the age of three, and has lived twelve years in seclusion with her father and the spirits that inhabit the island. The free-spiritedness of her youth left her without a social filter, and without a sense of shame. When she speaks and acts, it is with the liberty of a child.

An essential component of Miranda’s character is the fact that she has never seen another human being besides herself and her father…unless we’re counting Caliban—the island’s fish-monster—as a half ;) Hers is a purity untouched by the cruelty of the mortal world.  She has no ready exposure to its cruel elements: murder, deception, or throne usurpation (so she thinks, anyway).

As such, it might be easy to portray Miranda as a shell of a Disney princess—all fluff and no substance—but it would be a grievous character mistake to do so. Although she is young and ignorant of the world around her, her character is positively rich with dimension. In her first appearance to the audience, she is reacting to an event that triggers a chain of new experiences and emotions. She exhibits anger, sadness, horror, frustration, sorrow, confusion, anxiety, and relief in the space of one speech. She eventually grows to explore the realms of first love and a fascination with the “brave new world” (V:i) that unfolds before her.

The Tempest marks my fourth show with Pigeon Creek (after King Lear, Julius Caesar, and Pericles), and yet it is my first involving ensemble direction. While the common issue of receiving contradictory feedback exists because everyone’s opinion differs as to what works and what doesn’t, this “problem” actually serves as a sanction that generates a more substantial number of ideas and suggestions with which to experiment. I must add here that my “most-received note” involves remembering to play up Miranda’s youthful free spirit, and to tone down my own excessive stoicism…ha! It has been both challenging and enjoyable to work through a series of different possible reaction styles and tactics for each scene. In terms of this particular style, working alongside a group of such artistically gifted souls makes ensemble direction an absolute joy.

One element that I’ve always treasured about Pigeon Creek’s philosophy is that it makes our final product a shared effort. We create a show that is entirely our own—a product of collaborative creation—and it feels that much closer to our hearts because of it. We ourselves compose every outside element of the show. We are our own tech crew; props, costumes, and set design are our personal responsibilities. All songs and scripted noises within the show are created on stage or behind the curtain by our actors. Remember also to keep your eyes peeled during this production for tones of my choreography—a role that is new to me! I’ve loved the opportunity to create movement pieces for magical nymphs and fairies…a sort of visual interpretation of the creatures who represent“such stuff as dreams are made on.” (IV:i)

With just one week until our debut, we’ve certainly reached crunch-time! Rehearsals are flowing beautifully as we tighten our cue pick-ups and assemble musical pieces. Our masterpiece is looking much more whole, and we are excited to finally reveal our Shakespearean gem to the world! Thank you immensely for your temporary “indulgence” in reading. We so look forward to seeing you at our upcoming performances!