Archive for March, 2011

Tony Myers as Lorenzo

Hello, I will be playing Lorenzo in the Production of The Merchant of Venice. This is my first show with Pigeon Creek and my first professional show. I didn’t know what to expect coming in to this, but I can tell you that thus far, it is a lot of fun and not as scary as I imagined. Dealing with Shakespearean language, I thought, was going to be impossible for me because of how they talk and such. I later came to find out it was quite easy; verse just seemed to flow like a song with rhythm. Learning what I was saying was a little different.

It amazed me on how much extra work was needed to be done when doing a monologue. You have to go in-depth about what your character is saying. And there’s odd things like ‘trochees’, which are where you have to put more emphasis on the first syllable versus the second. The whole thing is new to me and has opened my eyes, since I have only done musicals and am a freshmen in college at Grand Valley.

This is a great experience for me and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do a show with such an amazing group of actors and actresses. During the rehearsal process we help each other. Mind you, the only plays I have done before were with a director who gave us direction. With Pigeon Creek, it is ensemble directed, which was exciting but also nerve-wracking. I usually never say anything, because of the fact that I’m new and I don’t want to mess anything up. I believe I have made one suggestion and it was taken to effect so I guess that is good.

Everyone has another job besides acting; which I thought was cool as it gave more responsibility. I think it makes the show more ‘ours’ than if we had non-actors do things such as costumes, props, set building and such. Wooh! I’ve said too much right here, but any who, I’m having a blast working with everyone in the show. I have learned so much and I am greatly thankful for it.

I urge you to come and watch The Merchant of Venice. I know you will have a blast.

Janna Rosenkranz as Salerio/Stephano

If this post was a NY Post tweet it would be this:

Old broad from the Bronx has new experience, stretches acting muscles! Still finds familiar, happy place! True Facts!

Here’s why:

I was trained classically, which basically means, I haven’t experienced cast direction many times. And by ‘many times’ I mean never. In my 20 odd year career as an actor, I’ve been part of this brave experiment exactly zero times.

It’s also the last thing I expected to experience after moving to West Michigan from my home land of NYC. It’s kind of cool. I’m enjoying it very much, both from an academic and artistic POV. I find it very freeing. Like most actors, I’m really painfully shy, and I’ve lived my life as a nice, well behaved lady (at least that’s what my parents think). I’ve had directors who I could talk with honestly and who sought out and accepted my opinions. I’ve also had ‘old school English directors’ who gave you line readings because they wanted to play the ingénue themselves. I’ve learned to work with both types and their in-betweens. I’ve been a bit hesitant about giving any input, but I’m slowly learning PCSC’s self direction language and now offer my two cents at least once during a rehearsal. It’s so nice being able to talk to a scene partner and play with ideas without involving an all seeing BOSS person.

What’s also wonderful about PCSC’s method and rhetoric is that it is respectful, clear, and generous. Truly an actor’s paradise. In the actor-eat-actor world of NYC theatre generosity from other actors can be difficult to come by, but I felt welcomed by PCSC from the moment I walked into the first audition.

Regarding Merchant in particular, I threw it out there in our first reading that I was Jewish and this play is therefore of great personal interest to me. I once wrote an academic tome (I write tomes, not papers or essays) on Anti-Semitism in the English Language Canon where I mainly compared Shylock to the other great Jew of English Lit, Fagin in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. My thesis was how both of these examples were ‘forgivable’ due to excepted cultural Anti-Semitism and because they are both fully fleshed out characters which elicited sympathy from their intended audiences. Shakespeare’s Jew goes all the way back to the medieval mystery plays and Fagin was based on a real person, Ikey Solomon, a well-known ‘fence’ in London. Dickens’ famously ‘watered down’ his portrayal of Fagin later in his life after becoming friends with a Jewish couple.

But this isn’t an academic blog, so now I’ll talk a little about playing a Christian who has nothing but contempt for Shylock. When Sarah Stark, Joel L. Schindlbeck and I do the famous ‘”hath not a Jew eyes…” scene it’s an interesting challenge to be playing such an insensitive character. Salerio is a bully, he and Solanio have to be make a choice to be threatening in that scene so the actor playing Shylock can give that speech honestly. I’m working on giving Joel more than ‘hate’ at that moment and finding a place in his speech where Salerio might have an enlightened thought or two. One thing I love about acting is listening and reacting, and that scene certainly gives me a workout. Joel and Sarah are both so wonderful to work with that we have started to find moments in that scene which makes it ‘right’ for the three of us, the audience and, of course, the play.

I love Shakespeare so much because his work is about collaboration, which to me is the spirit of theatre. The actors, the text, and the audience come together to create a happening, an event. PCSC lives this spirit to the letter; it’s a pleasure and an honor to be able to work with them. Can’t wait to experience the rest of the Merchant process and can’t wait for Henry IV part I!

Hello! I’m Brooke Heintz, bringing you this week’s blog from the perspective of acting the play’s resident clown, Launcelot Gobbo (as well as the pompous Prince of Arragon and a couple other minor parts). As I write this, Off-Book Day looms: perhaps appropriately directly after the Ides of March (which I can assure you, most of us are feeling plenty wary of as a result).

There are a few questions that, when approached by audience members after a show, I’ve gotten time after time, show after show, year after year, and none so much as:

How in the world do you guys memorize all those lines?

People tend to ask this in a tone that implies they think there must be some kind of voodoo magic involved, or maybe hours and hours of writing the lines again and again on a chalkboard, Bart Simpson style.

I’m here to promise you that no boxes of chalk were harmed or worn to nubs in the making of this production. In reality, every one of us has our own process for memorizing, but there are a few things that are pretty consistent across the board for all of us.

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that ol’ Billy Shakespeare was looking out for us and our task of having to commit this thing to memory. In fact, the very structure of the language in the play lends itself to memorization. We’ve all probably had the phrase ‘iambic pentameter’ drilled into our skulls by earnest English teachers (I should know; I’ve been one of those), but all that fancy phrase really means it that much of the play is written in metered speech. In other words – it has a rhythm.

It’s that same rhythm that actually helps with getting the text into our skulls. Think about the way in which snatches of lyrics end up in your brain: those dreaded ‘ear-worms.’ Or, the way setting something to a song can aid a student in their studies. That built-in cadence gives the language a lyrical quality, and as such, word choice has a flow, and can get ‘stuck in your head’ if you hear and say it enough.

However, this only applies to the metered section of the text, or verse lines, and not to the prose (un-metered) sections. As a result, I find it’s often much more difficult to memorize prose than verse. Playing a clown in Merchant means that I play a character who finds no cause to use that hoity-toity ‘verse’ language at any point in the play.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t other elements that assist memorization at work in the language. Launcelot, being a clown, often speaks in his own sort of comedic structure constructing arguments to set up his jokes. I’ve found that this is much easier to remember, than, for example, the many prose lines I had in Merry Wives of Windsor, because Launcelot’s lines have an ingrained logic and build, necessary to get to the ‘punch line’, so to speak.

It’s my first time playing a fool, and so I’ve had a lot of fun picking apart the way in which Launcelot speaks, as opposed to the other more serious characters he attends. And rehearsal today was my first attempt to go off book completely – and resulted in a lot less calling for line than I’d expected!

I’ll be over here thanking the linguistics of clowning.

Steven Schwall as Antonio

Hello, this is Steven Schwall. I am playing Antonio, the merchant, in the upcoming Pigeon Creek Shakespeare production of The Merchant of Venice. This is my second production with Pigeon Creek, and the members of the company are starting to treat me like a “veteran”.

This is another ensemble-directed piece, but the personnel are different from those in Henry V. Every ensemble has its own dynamic, but the one thing I am beginning to notice is the overall principles remain the same. There really is a consistency to this company’s approach, and even though the personnel change, the principles remain the same.

I really can’t comment upon the rehearsal process, as I have been involved in wrapping up another production that is keeping me from rehearsals, but the interesting thing I have found about this work is that the title character (which is me) is not as important as one might think. Sure he is pivotal to the plot, but more as a catalyst around which things move than a protagonist or antagonist. Antonio is an object, not an action. This means that I must, in my own work, provide my fellow actors with substance with which to work. This will be a far greater challenge than I originally thought, but I am glad to be surrounded by such a supportive group.

The other thing about this work is that it is another of those mixed genre plays of Shakespeare’s (commonly called “problem plays”). It has some of the trappings of comedy – disguises, mistaken identities, and a happy ending (for most). But at the same time, it is moralistic like a tragedy, dealing with anti-semitism, greed, and justice.

I would encourage you all to come out and see this production. If it turns out like previous Pigeon Creek productions, I am sure you will be in for an evening of thought-provoking, entertaining theatre.