Archive for November, 2011

Kat Hermes (Bianca/Tranio/Tailor/Curtis) on the Ensemble Directing Process.

Ensemble directing is one of my favorite parts of working with Pigeon Creek. Working on an ensemble directed production with a small cast, I’ve found that the excitement and challenges of ensemble direction are intensified. I’ve been thinking a lot about ensemble direction as a process.

I’ve worked on nine ensemble directed productions with Pigeon Creek and over that time we, as a company, have been organically developing a rehearsal method specific to working without a director that has been refined and improved with each successive production.

One of the major differences between directing as an ensemble and working with a director is the way in which the rehearsal process is “layered”. When a director is driving the bus, he or she typically gives the actors their blocking. Depending on the director, this can very general or detailed and specific, but most of the blocking work is done by the director outside of rehearsal.

By contrast, in an ensemble directed production, blocking typically takes several rehearsals of each scene. The first time we run a scene on it’s feet, we tend to decide where everyone is enter and exiting from and then just experiment, finding where interesting stage pictures occur naturally and where we need to stop and work on finding the best blocking to tell the story of a specific moment. It often takes several runs of the scene before we’re ready to “set” the blocking.

To somewhat oversimplify things, the ensemble directing process is a sort of inversion of the typical rehearsal process. Instead of the director working on the more “technical” aspects of production (stage pictures, pace, prop and costume decisions) outside of rehearsal and working on “emotional” or aspects (verse, objectives and tactics, character movement and vocal choices) with the cast in rehearsal, in an ensemble directed production, rehearsal is primarily focused on those technical problems while each actor does their individual character work on their own.

As actors in an ensemble directed production, this affords us a great deal of creative freedom but also puts a great deal of responsibility on each of us to be pro-active about our acting “homework.” Because the rehearsal process is front-load with technical work, once be being working on those acting details, there isn’t time to start small and work up to big choices. The most effective use of our rehearsal time isn’t helping each actor make choices, and there is no central directorial voice guiding actors towards specific choices. As an ensemble, we use our later rehearsals to help each other understand how the choices we’ve each made are “reading” onstage, and how to adjust what we’re doing to more clearly tell the story we want to tell.

Kyle Walker’s Unlikely Muses as Petruchio

When I first began to develop the character of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, a strange but clarifying discovery was made. The way in which I wanted to play the character reminded me of two very strange sources: Andy Kaufman and Edward Blake, the Comedian (a comic book character from the graphic novel Watchmen. )

Andy Kaufman’s humor was based on human emotion. It wasn’t always funny. He reveled in the control of human emotions. He could make (and loved to make) the audience feel whatever he liked. It didn’t matter if it was joy, laughter, hatred, embarrassment, remorse, fear, or anything. He enjoyed the reversal. He enjoyed the human reaction. And that is what Petruchio is.

There are many times in the play in which Petruchio is on stage but says nothing for pages. He just stands there and watches as the mistaken identity/wooing/suitor subplot plays out. He enjoys it. He enjoys watching the ridiculous farce of life. It’s just a game to him: a game of human reaction that he can control, enjoy, and get lost in.

In Watchman, the Comedian is a charismatic womanizing, self-centered, arrogant, vigilante. One could see right there where I could find a muse for Petruchio. But more importantly, the Comedian saw the world for what it is; a joke. Instead of being a part of that joke, he chooses to be a parody of it. When Petruchio sees how his world works (e.g.: father’s deciding who should marry who, suitors lying and cheating to get a wife, love being pushed aside, etc…), he chooses to become a satire of what he sees.

It is very important to me and the character that Petruchio truly does love Kate. At first it is simply a game. He tricks the girl, he gets he money. That game changes as soon as he meets Kate. So, Petruchio puts on a character that is boisterous, loud, arrogant, and flamboyant, to fit into the world of Padua. But also to make a joke of it. To laugh at it behind its back. To control it. When Kate discovers that joke and can laugh at it with him, that is when he falls in love.

Joel L. Schindlbeck on the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew.

Greetings Shakes-fans.

We’re thick in rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, and while I’m also playing Baptista, the Haberdasher (yeah, one-liners!) and the Widow, my most difficult challenge currently is the Lord in the Induction.

Why am I challenged by it? True, he isn’t the most in-depth character in the plot. And true, he is perhaps the most fanciful and ridiculous; therefore while perhaps physically exhausting, conceptually…well, how hard is it to wrap your head around a fruitcake?

The reason I find it challenging, is that the plot of the Induction doesn’t resolve itself. My instincts are then, CUT IT! But the Artistic Director, Katherine Mayberry, chose to keep it in. Of course, I completely respect her position on everything Shakespeare related, so I was forced to turn back to the Induction and make it work. To discover why it’s here and how to make it amazing!

The first thing I noticed about the induction, after scouring the lines and finding the bits of comedy and character inside of it, was that it could be seen as a “variation on the theme” of the main plot of Taming of the Shrew.

For those of you that haven’t read the Induction, it revolves around one rather Falstaff-ian Christopher Sly who ends up drunkedly passed out on the floor of the inn. A fanciful lord, returning from hunting with his entourage enters, and upon seeing the man, decides to turn his world topsy-turvy in order to “practice on this man.” The lord feels that the best means of making this drunkard “forget himself” is to convince him that he is, in fact, a “mighty lord”, rich and well-placed, with servants at his beck and call, leagues of gold and wealth, and a beautiful lady at his side. My character then instructs his entourage and a traveling troupe of actors to follow suit and teach Mr. Sly his lesson. They do, and the bewildered Sly is then whipped up into this world of fancy, even accompanying his “lady” to a play that evening at the inn. Perhaps…the play is one “The Taming of the Shrew”, potentially a parable for Sly in conversion to being a productive and upright member of society.

While, we never see what happens to Sly after his viewing of the play, this is certainly enough for me to build a character on. Thus, I must. And there is my challenge, to deliver this character regardless of the fact that his plot is never resolved. No resolution, no denouement, no jig song at the end for him! All that build up! (Trust me, with the amount of lines that this Lord delivers in just these two scenes, the build-up is immense.)

So, I do it.

I have an acting theory that has worked for me in the concept of character building, and it is certainly applicable here. I believe that for one to truly be able to deliver their character on stage, whole-heartedly committed and convincing, one must “jump off the cliff”. We stand at a precipice with every role. To simply stand at the rock’s edge, dangling one’s toes over into the oblivion, is non-committal. It’s full of fear, and thus weakens one’s position and delivery. To truly commit to character, one must jump and know that there is no going back, regardless of how far the fall truly is or what will happen when one reaches the ground. Think of it. Flying down through the air, there is nothing but instinctual emotion and rippling sensations of wind, gravity and air beating against either side of you. You have no ground to stand on, you simply see the end growing larger and larger towards you with no retreat.

So, I believe that this is what I must do with this character, even if the “ground” is never in sight. I must jump and give in to the chaos of the character’s world, regardless of the end (or lack thereof.) My only aim, to make it a beautiful flight. Let’s try…