Archive for July, 2012

Paul Riopelle as Marc Antony

As an actor whose first love has always been Shakespeare, I’ve been inordinately lucky to play some of his greatest protagonists—Romeo, Richard III, Cassius, Benedick, Jaques, even two thrilling cracks at Hamlet. However, Marc Antony has always had a particularly special place in my heart.

Antony in Julius Caesar was the first major Shakespearean role I ever played professionally, and that was over a dozen years ago for Shenandoah Shakespeare (now, the American Shakespeare Center) in Virginia. Ever since that production, it has been a dream of mine to finish the character’s journey by playing Antony in Shakespeare’s sequel, Antony and Cleopatra. Now, over a decade later, I am finally getting the chance.

Through the generosity of a private donor and the tireless work of the board, I have been blessed with the opportunity to take on the role with Pigeon Creek Shakespeare here in Grand Haven. It is the first Equity contract Pigeon Creek has approved in many years, and I feel terribly grateful that they have been willing to go to such lengths to have me on board. This has made my own internal desire to nail the role even more immediate. Now, not only is it a chance to fulfill a personal dream, but to fulfill the enormous trust placed in me by this worthy company.

But getting the job and doing the job are always two different things. The initial delirium of being offered a dream role soon gives way to the sobering responsibility of having to meet the task of performing it. This role, as every role does, comes with its own set of challenges. Antony’s challenges include realizing and embracing the fact that he is not quite the same straightforward hero in Antony and Cleopatra that he is in Julius Caesar. The Antony of the sequel is far more dark, complex, and flawed than the dynamic orator of Julius Caesar. In the prequel, he fights assassins—in the sequel, he fights his own passions and demons.

Of course, this is not altogether an unhappy challenge for the actor. Sure, it’s wonderful to be loved by the audience as Caesar’s heroic avenger in Julius Caesar. But it’s not terribly difficult. Shakespeare makes him the hero, not to mention giving him the grandest words in the play. To paraphrase Charlton Heston, “If you can’t win the audience with Antony’s lines in this play, you shouldn’t do Shakespeare.”

But I have found it equally, if not more gratifying to muck about these past few weeks in the cloudier mysteries of embodying the less-heroic, but far-more-human Antony of Antony and Cleopatra. He’s a pretty fascinating guy—a study in paradoxes and extremes.

The single most powerful man in Rome abandons everything to “play” in Egypt. Passionately in love with Cleopatra, he cannot stop fighting her, wounding her, blaming her. Preoccupied with his Roman honor, he makes choice after choice that leads to disgrace. A brilliant soldier, he takes friends for granted and underestimates enemies. Above all, he is no triumphant, golden-tongued orator, but a deeply flawed man who makes profound mistakes out of hubris, self-indulgence, and his all-consuming passion for Cleopatra.

It is a role that has not been easy to unearth in rehearsals. But the task has been infinitely easier—and altogether joyous—with the help of our truly insightful director, Katherine, and our extremely gifted cast—whose talents, dedication, and professionalism I would rank among the best of those I have ever worked with.

I am hoping that the final result will be a compelling characterization for our audience who, in the end, don’t have to adore Antony (or Cleopatra, for that matter), and probably shouldn’t. The faults and vanities that Shakespeare reveals in their story seem to indicate that even he does not intend them to be so much adored, as wondered at for their epic spirits. They are spirits that contain great weaknesses as well as great strengths—power, pettiness and pride, duty, devotion and dishonor, excess, glory and shame, and above all, passion. These lovers, this story, has it all.

So Friends, Romans, Countrymen, we sincerely hope you’ll join us and lend us your ears. But don’t come expecting the Antony of Julius Caesar…no more Mr. Nice Guy. This Antony is grittier—and he has to be, to woo and war with the likes of Cleopatra. You won’t experience any eloquent orations. But you are in for one hell of a ride.

[Paul Riopelle appears with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company courtesy of AEA, Actors' Equity Association, the professional association of actors and stage managers.]

This summer, PCSC has started a new means of gathering the inside scoop of our actors in their processes. In addition to the normal blog entries you read on here, there will also be a series of questions posed to our actors. Enjoy.

This week: Matthew David Fowler (Lepidus/Gallus) and Mychael J. Overton (Alexas/Euphronius/Agrippa) are on the docket for Antony and Cleopatra.


1. How do you prepare a Shakespearean character?

Matt: Step One is to use my formula for any character I take on; Shakespearean or Non-Shakespearean. What does my character say about himself/herself? What do other people say about me? What is my character afraid of? What does my character desire? Then with a Shakespeare role I have the added bonus of textural clues to help me get into my character. Does my character speak in prose or verse? Does my character use thou or you?

Mychael: Since I have never performed a Shakespeare play before, the best thing for me was to research the history of the play. With Antony and Cleopatra, I not only researched the history of the play, but I also researched the historical figures and events Shakespeare used to write this play. After I figure out who everyone is in the play, my next step is identifying their personalities and finding natural ways to bring their unique traits to the stage in an accurate and entertaining way.

2. What thus far in rehearsal has been helpful?

Matt: The way Katherine directs is unparalleled to any director I have had thus far. The techniques we use really inspire me. For example, for scenes with complex blocking we figure out when the stage picture changes and freeze frame the scene. When we are talking about a character in the scene who is not present, Katherine puts him or her in the middle so that we can reference them. When a character needs to be a listener, he or she repeats words from the speaker that hit home.

Mychael: Our director, Katherine Mayberry, has been meeting with a some of the newer cast members to help us with the Shakespearean text. Her knowledge and techniques have been wonderful for bringing my characters to life.

3. What do you do for fun outside of theatre?

Matt: I take pride in finding the most unique hobbies and making them a part of my life. I learn different foreign accents on CDs, I make animations, I create papercrafts (three-dimensional origami), I practice my ukulele, or I collect artifacts that express my love of purple.

Mychael: I enjoy the outdoors for a little fresh air and exercise during the day. At night, you can usually find me curled up watching a movie.

4. What is your day job? What do you want to be your day job?

Matt: Currently I am a full time student at Grand Valley State University. I dream of becoming a motivational speaker so I can inspire young people to chase their dreams. There are a lot of horrible feelings in this world, but nothing can compare to knowing you had the opportunity to do something you truly enjoy and you didn’t take it. I believe that everyone deserves to know this fact early on because most people discover this on their deathbeds when it is too late.

Mychael: I am a currently a full-time student at Hope College. I would rather be writing screenplays, directing a movie, or figuring out the logistics for my own film productions someday.

5. What do you plan to do after this show?

Matt: In the Fall I will be the Stage Manager of Grand Valley’s Bard to Go, I will start my second term as president of the student theatre organization: STAGE, and I will appear as Norman Bates in Stark Turn Players’ Psycho the Musical.

Mychael: I plan to return to Hope College and continue working on my B.A. in Communication and Theater.

Heather Hartnett (Cleopatra) on her character process.

My feelings of the characters I play often change from rehearsal to performance. I think of my character as a “jacket” or “coat” that I put on and take off. In the beginning, it is just a pencil sketch. It is very simple. It is a general shape I create with text analysis. Second, I add color to the sketch and choose the fabric for my “coat”. This step often takes a little longer because the type of fabric, color, weight, and feel makes a huge difference to my character’s emotions, moods, first impressions, etc. Third, I “stitch” my character-coat together by weaving thoughts, emotion, and voice intonation.

During this time, my “coat” doesn’t always fit. It may be tight in some places or I don’t like where I have placed a pocket or seam. I have to make adjustments. Sometimes, I borrow something from another coat I’ve worn. I learn from past experience.

Next, I add embellishments to my coat: a brooch or trim, maybe some special stitching. This is the character’s back story, core beliefs and main motivations. I try it on and by now, it feels pretty good and fits fairly comfortably. Then, I perform in this coat I have created in the last 5-6 weeks. Under the lights, with the other characters and the eye of audience scrutiny, it fairs well.

But during a scene, all of a sudden, my coat sleeve may feel tight or I find can’t breathe with the buttons buttoned, so back to my sewing room I go for more adjustments and additions (or subtractions.) This process continues through the entire performance period. The coat I started with on opening night is not quite the same on closing night.

In the end, I am always filled with a bittersweet feeling as I remove my coat on closing night. But, as I hang it in the closet with all of my other coats, I know that someday I just might need some of that pretty Cleopatra gold to complete my next coat.

I hope you all will come and see Antony and Cleopatra. It is a wonderful play. It has transcended the ages. I find it hard not to think of all the generations of actors and audiences that have explored the world of Antony and Cleopatra and all who have yet to start their journey. See you in Egypt!

This summer, PCSC has started a new means of gathering the inside scoop of our actors in their processes. In addition to the normal blog entries you read on here, there will also be a series of questions posed to our actors. Enjoy.

This week: Sarah Stark (Rosaline) and Janna Rosenkranz (Boyet) are on the docket for Love’s Labour’s Lost.

How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

Sarah: The beauty of Shakespeare is that the character is fully fleshed out already for you; it just simply is veiled at first sight by the text. What I feel I need to do is dig; to constantly engage the text until it reveals to me the full spectrum, from the overt circumstances to subtle nuances concerning character and emotion. The process is similar to the experience of trying to master a foreign language.

I begin by reading the play multiple times. Next I create a foundation by defining the given circumstances. At this point I also begin a backstory based on those facts and continue to add to it until performance time. I find it is one of the most effective tools for stimulating imagination and imbuing a sense of connection to the role. Then I examine the framework of the text, or how thoughts and arguments are carved out by punctuation, scansion, grammatical structure, etc. I enjoy using lexicons to explore all possible meanings inherent in operative words. As I progress I layer on technique, one of my favorites being Laban Effort Actions. All of this work is individual, and it is in the rehearsal process that I am able to amend or experiment based on the influence and work of my colleagues.

In the end it is my hope that I understand the character as fully as Shakespeare created them and that I may articulate their story in a specific and enjoyable manner.

Janna: Shakespeare’s characters are, for the most part, archetypes. The very first thing I do is decide which archetype I’m dealing with. Then I work on figuring out what that archetype says to me, as a 21st century individual. During my MFA training at Sarah Lawrence College we worked on being part of the collaboration of creating character. Actors work with characters, with the words (hence the playwright), the other actors, director, designers, and audience to create the event of the performance. As I’m doing all of this I research the character, look to previous performances, scholarly work on the play, and of course, the words, which are the most important resource actors have – directly from Shakespeare himself.

What, thus far, in rehearsal has been helpful?

Sarah: The insights and clever work of my colleagues. I strongly agree that two heads are better than one, and many heads even better. Such plentitude can be discovered in the honest feedback of an outside eye or by merely listening and reacting to a partner within a scene.

Janna: I always find feedback from other actors extremely helpful, especially when we are in an ensemble directed productions.

What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?

Sarah: Spend time with family & friends, travel, ballroom dancing, running, reading & writing plays and poetry, acrylic painting and charcoal sketching.

Janna: Watch bad (and sometimes) good TV – I am a pop culture aficionado, expert and addict.

What is your day job? What do you want to BE your day job?

Sarah: Currently I have two. I am a waitress and a door lady. If I could support myself as a professional actress, with time on the side to write and workshop my plays or poetry, that would be ideal.

Janna: I am currently attending GVSU’s Graduate Teacher Certification program, and begin student teaching in the fall. I have been teaching English, Writing and Speaking at Baker College, Muskegon for the last two years.

What do you plan to do after this show?

Sarah: Prepare to audition for M.F.A. graduate school programs this winter and begin work this Fall on my next show, Psycho, the Musical by Joel L. Schindlbeck in which I will be acting and choreographing.

Janna: We’re already in rehearsal for Antony and Cleopatra in which I am playing Octavia, et al (lots of doubling!). I am taking classes and looking forward to my student teaching experience.