Archive for May, 2011

Ross Currie as Cloten

This is my first production for Pigeon Creek and I am excited to jump back into the wonderful world of Shakespeare. When I auditioned for this company, I was surprised that the female leads would be played by men. It was something that I had never even considered. I have never seen a production in that format and I was intrigued to see how that would unfold in rehearsal. It is surprising how quickly it becomes natural. It really puts you in the mindset of Shakespeare’s audience.

Playing the role of the villain is something I have become used to. I played Demetrius in A Midsummer Nights Dream, Antonio in The Tempest and now the wonderful Cloten. I have found that with some of Shakespeare’s villains it is very easy to hide behind an accent or physicality; to get into what I like to call “moustache twirling mode.” I have found this to be true because the language does most of the work for you. It almost becomes easy to fall into that “trap.”

It is even harder with Cloten as he is so pompous and a stereotype of a villian. That is why my approach has been to have him really be in love with Imogen but cannot “be with her” because of the way he is. This does not mean of course that the audience will empathise with him, I hope, but I feel it’s important to play it that way. Villians don’t usually think they are in the wrong.

Working with Bob Jones, our director, has been great. He has a strong vision, but let’s you play. I am used to having a director lead the production, however it would be interesting to do a production for Pigeon Creek that was actor led as this is how they usually work. I am looking forward to doing outdoor performances and well as getting my teeth into some stage fighting. There is a lot of new experiences for me with this show. I am looking forward to next week when we will be off book and can finally start putting this great show together. It will be nice to start getting a flow to the production and continuing to play around with ideas and moments.

Joel L. Schindlbeck as Cymbeline’s Queen

Oh, trust me; one year ago, when the PCSC board was talking about an all-male production of Cymbeline to match our successful all-female production of Julius Caesar, as well as our coming up all-female production of Henry IV, Part One, I leapt at the opportunity. To try the ancient profession of cross-gendered casting. I’m a dorky kid in a renaissance candy store. Little did I know how much…

When I was offered the role of Shylock this past winter, I was taken aback completely. I had intended to offer myself for the role of Antonio, and that was how I had spent most of my audition rehearsal. In the past, I had only ever played minor villains, so I was not prepared to even be considered for the role of Shylock. I took it in stride. I know…that sounds terrible, to “take a wonderful role in stride.” But it’s never been my goal to play the greatest roles. Call it humility, call it typical actor self-deprecation, or just call it plain ol’ fear! However, when it came down to it, Shylock was a beautifully written part; a good step (in my opinion) between Polonius and Richard II; a part I’ve played and the part I want to play before I die. All part of the grander scheme of natural selection that I believe any passionate actor will come across as they find jobs and continue to grow in their art.

However, what I did not expect was to find a penchant for villainy.

And oh, how the Queen is wicked. I remember someone telling me years ago that the Queen in Cymbeline was extremely akin to Snow White’s Queen. God’s. Honest. Truth. This woman’s poison does not simply remain in a closed cabinet in her private study. Oh no! She drips with it, the words pour out of her mouth as sweet and fluid as arsenic nectar. Almost no one sees her face, her true face, except the audience; which is letting me discover an extra benefit about playing the villain.

A couple years ago, Katherine Mayberry, our executive director, started to teach me about the concept of Audience Contact and Surrogacy. To act many years with a great distance between yourself and your audience; and then to turn that table on it’s side and eliminate the distance entirely between the two…what a blessing! The chance to take your art to the next level and not only entertain, but engage! Almost all Shakespeare’s major and minor characters do it at some point. The “aside”, the “soliloquoy”, the rousing public monologue or war rally; in Original Practices, this is one of the greatest and genius tools that Shakespeare has given us. It could be argued, however, that no characters in Shakespeare do audience contact and surrogacy with such panache as the villains. The characters beg to have a private comrade to confide their true wishes and plans to. More often than not, you can’t do such with other characters in the play. They’re the VICTIMS!

No, the audience, they’re the greatest option, and I relish to opportunity to explore performing audience contact with great stakes and such meaty substance as grand treason, murder and political subterfuge! And, not only do I get to participate in one the finest means of entertaining a Shakespearean audience, but there’s the other beautiful meta-theatrical character device that I fell in love with during my time as Malvolio: The ignorant belief that the audience is on your side. Oh…the be the blind villain or foil, that deliver the juiciest of their secrets to the engaged and paying audience; to let the rest of the cast trip and tumble you through hoops of self-conceit and tortuous character arcs as your plans come to fruition and then rot on the vine.

That…that is the true pleasure of playing a villain, in my opinion, and I am relishing it UP with Cymbeline’s Queen. I cannot WAIT for our audiences to see this amazing cast and amazing direction and amazing show.

Michael Empson as Posthumus

If you are reading this then you are probably already a little familiar with the practices of The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. If you are reading for the first time, welcome and let me fill you in very briefly. The PCSC is an “Original Practices” Shakespeare company. This means we work under similar conditions as those in the Bard’s own lifetime. These include universal lighting, audience contact and sometimes ensemble directing. Allow me to expound on my experience with that last one for a moment.

The last show I acted in with a director was in 2007, and even then the director did not have a strong vision and as such did not really steer the ship. This summer’s ALL MALE production of Cymbeline marks the first time I have worked with a director in almost 4 years. As a result of this, and some missteps that I made preparing my last role, I feel a little pressure to really “up my game” for this show.

I don’t mind telling you that I tend to have a really slap-dash approach to the acting process. I usually begin, as all the actors with Pigeon Creek do, by working through the text. From there it has been a series of trial and error without a method or outline to it. For Posthumus, I plan to take a more ordered approach. I will be starting by spending more time and effort on the text work. With Shakespeare, you really can glean all you need to know about a character from the words on the page. In the case of Posthumus, Billy even gives us a fairly thorough explanation of his backstory. The work has already been done for me. Now I just have to gather that information and figure out how it informs the character that I will be building.

After I have a solid start on the text work, I plan to move on to the physical movement and style of the character. There are many actors, particularly in the US, that believe you really have to get inside the character’s head to pull off a “true and honest” performance. I say that’s a load of bollocks. Between the words that Shakespeare has given us and the physical embodiment of those words and feelings you have, in my opinion, all the tools you need. If you don’t believe me, try going around for an entire day speaking nothing but rhyme or all negative language or all singing. Then tell me you don’t “feel” different. Or try walking around all day with a limp or a hunch back or a pompous swagger and tell me you don’t “feel” different. It is the same for me as an actor. When I speak those lines and when I move a certain way it makes me “feel” a certain way.

I am excited to dive head first into this production and make some fabulous discoveries. I am also thrilled that we have the fabulous Bob Jones in to help us navigate the waters. I encourage you to come check us out at one of our great West Michigan venues. Don’t forget to check back each week as another actor writes to you about his experiences.

Scott Lange on Cymbeline

Hello Pigeon Creek Shakespeare fans!

After a short hiatus I am back to expand your minds and alter your perceptions of reality.

Rehearsals for Pigeon Creek’s next production, Cymbeline, won’t begin until Monday. So the contents of this blog will be less of a report of my acting process, and more of an insight of Pigeon Creek’s decision making process.

If you’ve been following us for a few years (which hopefully you have been,) you know that in the summer of 2009 we produced a production of Julius Caesar with a cast of only women. The production was successful on many levels, but the actors especially felt encouraged and enlivened by the experience.

We decided not only to produce a single-gendered show again this summer, but raise the stakes and perform two.

When Shakespeare was alive and performing, it was actually illegal for women to perform on stage. Most of the women’s roles performed by young boys; with some of the older or comedic women’s roles being played by full grown men. To me, this means that there are jokes and intricacies that might be missed otherwise. Also, as a result of only being able to use a single gender for his casting, Shakespeare’s plays only have a handful of roles for women actors. These are two good reasons for performing an all female production of a play.

We wanted to repeat the idea of 2009, having an all female cast perform a very masculine play. Henry IV: Part I is a play that is well loved by our board. The play’s major themes revolve around honor, respect, parent-child relationships, and coming of age; all things that most female characters in Shakespeare don’t get to experience.

Pigeon Creek has already performed three of the five plays that involved female characters cross-dressing as men. Cymbeline is the next on the list that we want to perform. Like I said earlier, we wanted to up the ante this summer, so in addition to producing an all female play, we will be producing Cymbeline as an all male production. By performing this play the way it was written, with an all male cast, we will learn some things about the play that we would not have discovered otherwise. In addition to cross-dressing, the largest female role, Imogen, is also the largest role in the play. It will be extremely interesting to see what can be found out about the role by a man, playing a woman, pretending to be a man.

You’ll be seeing my greasy fingerprints all over the summer. First I’ll be performing as Iachimo in Cymbeline. I get to fight with Posthumous, be creepy with Imogen, and be an all around lecherous guy. I will also be directing Henry IV: Part I; thus, generally giving grief to all of Pigeon Creek’s talented ladies. I’m looking forward to a fun summer, and I’ll be seeing you then; twice!