Brooke Heintz on the concept of a six-person Taming of the Shrew

A couple weeks ago, one of our Pigeon Creek board members approached me about our upcoming rehearsal period for Taming of the Shrew with a look on his face that made it evident he had no idea how I was going to take what he was about to say to me. I was cast to play Kate in the production back in Spring of 2011, so I’ve had months to look forward to this, and wonder about what direction we were going to take it in. There are a lot of questions every cast has to wrangle with when putting on a play that is as controversial as Shrew can be, and I was excited to find out what angle we were going to take.

What I didn’t expect was what Scott had to tell me.

“It looks like we’re going to try a six person cast.”

Now, it took a minute for those words to sink in. Maybe you can get it faster than I did. Pigeon Creek always has ‘small’ casts compared to many other theaters who produce works of Shakespeare, on account of our devotion to original practices that keeps our troupes small, often relying on doubling or tripling roles.

But by ’small’, I mean usually around 10-12.

We were looking at half that.

The challenges in such a tiny cast aren’t really in having to deal with a larger burden of roles per actor – like I said, that’s pretty par for the course for PCSC, and I’ve played as many as 6 different roles in one show before. The real problems were a little more jarring.

“This means, there are definitely going to have to be times,” Scott said, “when we’re talking to ourselves… onstage.”

That one took a longer minute to sink in.

Oh.

We didn’t have enough actors with six to cover how many people are onstage at any given time in some scenes.

Things just got way more interesting. I looked at Scott, smiled, and said I was still all in.

To be honest, I was even more excited (and more petrified, let’s not forget that) than before. This will be a first for PCSC, and hopefully set a precedent we can follow in the future for further small cast shows. In other words, we’re going to be breaking ground – probably messily.

Other troupes out there have done the same kind of thing before, so we all went to check out their techniques on the internet and came together for our first brainstorming meet last week. We sat down and went through the entire play after a read through, breaking down all the problem spots. Moments where an actor left, only to have to enter immediately as an another character to deliver the very next line. Times where a character had an extended conversation onstage… with themselves. Scenes where a character was pointed out and discussed… by another character that they also played.

It seemed like there was no way around making it silly, so we had to decide what conventions we were going to use to make it not only as entertaining as possible, but how to keep it clear to the audience what was going on. We took a hacksaw to the script and cut out lines or reassigned them to try to eliminate unnecessarily confusing moments. We came up with character concepts and easily swappable costume ideas, and talked about what to do with staging and movement to indicate two characters onstage in different places.

We talked a lot. But by the end of the night, any traces of doubt I had were eradicated.

Not only could we do this, but we could do it with style.

So here’s hoping it ends up making sense. Or on the off chance that it doesn’t, that it at least makes you guys laugh.