Archive for September, 2012

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: Repertory Company Member, Kat Hermes

*****

1. How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

I start with the basics; looking at the way the character uses text, at what the character says about themself and what the other characters say about them.

Then I start to physicalize what I now know about the character. What works best for me is playing with images, sometimes drawn from the real world and sometimes from pop culture. I usually end up with two or three distinct images and build the physical character using parts of each. For example, my most recent role with Pigeon Creek, Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost, was part Antonio Banderas, part Captain Jack Sparrow and part a guy I went to graduate school with. For Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character I’m currently preparing, I’m looking at a lot of images of magical women in fantasy, such as Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings and Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2. What do you find to be the most helpful part of PCSC’s standard rehearsal process?

Typically the first time we run through the entire show we do what’s called a “Ren Run” (short for Renaissance Run), where we put the show on its feet as though we were performing for an audience, regardless of how polished the staging is for each individual scene. This gives us a chance to get an early sense of the feel of the show as a whole, without stopping and starting, and allows us to test how well each of us really knows the story the we’re telling. I always make interesting discoveries during the “Ren Run”. While working Romeo and Juliet this spring, the “Ren Run” was the first time it really hit home how little time Romeo and I spent onstage together. Sean Kelley (who played Romeo) and I rarely even saw each other backstage, and I found that as the run went on I started to miss “checking in” with him. We only had two little moments together between scenes (after the balcony scene and before we enter together after our wedding night), so pretty much everything that we needed to communicate to each other, both as actors and characters, had to happen onstage. That sense of intimacy and urgency in the face of distance was part of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship that I had thought about how to convey, but when we put the show together I realized that Shakespeare had already done that work for me, that I didn’t have to “act” it, just let it happen.

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

I read a lot. I watch a lot of Netflix. I sleep.

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

I work full time as an assistant teacher at a daycare and accredited preschool, with ages ranging from infant to school-aged. Though I love teaching and working with kids and will probably always do so in some capacity, I’d like acting and costume design to be my day jobs, eventually.

5. What theatre plans do you have in the next couple months?

In addition to my work with Pigeon Creek, I’m also a board member of Dog Story Theater in downtown Grand Rapids, so you’ll be able to find me there most weekends working the box office. I’m also thinking of venturing into non-Shakespearean theater with a close and talented friend of mine, but those plans are still too vague for a formal announcement.

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: Repertory Company Member, Scott Wright
*****

1. How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

The first step is most often just carefully reading the play – more than once – sometimes well before the first rehearsal…! The text usually has everything you need to know about a character, and Shakespeare almost always gives you plenty of details. What a character says reveals much about him but there is much more detail available – usually in the things other characters say – or don’t say – about your character, maybe in the stage directions, or sometimes in what the character says about himself. So while you’re going through the text in those first read-thrus and early rehearsals you have to pay attention to those character details, who says them, how and why they say it.

Some roles are very well known, famous characters and much has been said and written about them. Scholarly analysis is sometimes less useful than the work of other actors and directors, but it’s always informative.

Some roles are historical characters whose lives and activities are a matter of record. A little digging can glean a great many details about who someone truly was – though Shakespeare was more often interested in drama than history…

Whether a character speaks in verse or prose is a very important clue to a character’s social status and/or emotional state. Sometimes dialects or accents are written into the script giving excellent and sometimes very funny clues to a character’s class or attitudes. But then there are characters about whom very little is said or offered by the playwright. What those characters say and the situations they are placed in is about all you get and you get to fill in lots of details yourself.

We ask ourselves questions about the character – “What is the character doing (feeling, etc.)?” and “What does the character want?” and use the other tools available to us as actors. The answers to those questions give us actions to play that will bring our characters to life.

The other players, as they work through building their characters, give you feedback and active/motive stuff that helps you discover more about your character and how much or they “want.”

Eventually though, you have to get on your feet and try some things out – try it on and see how it feels. Pigeon Creek favorite Heather Hartnett has described the process as a little like making a coat – cutting it out, sewing it, adjusting when it doesn’t fit the first time, trying it again, & etc. I think that’s a great metaphor, but even more than just trying on different hats or masks, I find that part of what we try out are the strong feelings and larger-than-life actions that are often part of our characters’ realities. Those actions & emotions aren’t always familiar or comfortable for me the actor. Once I put the script down and start putting together a sequence of the character’s thoughts and actions and feelings within the action of the play, I find I discover even more about the character and what he has to say.

2. What do you find to be the most helpful part of PCSC’s standard rehearsal process?

I really enjoy the very early rehearsals where we go through the script, consult different editions, talk about the relationships between the characters and what’s actually happening in a given scene. Going through and working out the scansion in the verse lines and those sort of Shakespeare – geek-y things.

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

I am an avid sailor and sailboat-racing enthusiast. I race as often as I can in my Rebel – a somewhat traditional 16-foot one-design sloop which is also a great day-sailing boat. My son Soren says he prefers sailing on our Hobie 16 catamaran – I think because it’s just so much faster and more exciting – especially when it’s breezy. We do more day-sailing on the Hobie, mostly because there’s just less opportunity to race.

I am also a long-time rugby fanatic. I’m currently a referee and referee-coach/evaluator, but I’ve been involved in rugby either as player, coach, or referee for about 20 years now. I don’t play very often anymore – and when I do my body protests mightily the next day, but as we say, “It’s the pain that let’s you know that you’re alive.”

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

I work for Distinctive Machine Corp. in Rockford, where I am the CAD/CAM/IS Manager. I’m a tool-maker by trade and qualified as a journeyman building plastic-injection molds. DMC builds metal-stamping dies, and I do CAD work and support the company’s computer systems that do computer-aided design and machining. I have often thought over the years that I would like to design and/or build boats. Especially wooden sailboats. They’re like pieces of art – beautiful and functional, and the building material lends them a sort of mysterious, magical quality – though I’d probably enjoy designing and building boats in modern materials too.

I think I’d like to be a professional actor too… not just making a little bit here and there at it and being referred to as, and being expected to behave and perform like one – but actually making a living at it. I’m not entirely sure I have the courage to be a struggling, starving artist at this stage of my life and I’ve got plenty of excuses for why I can’t – “There’s not enough opportunity in this area…”, I have a lot of other obligations, & etc. – and plenty of self-doubt… But then, “For the believer no proof is necessary – For the unbeliever, no proof is sufficient…”

5. What theatre plans do you have in the next couple months?

When Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Richard III is finished I’ll get a little break and then start rehearsals for Pigeon Creek’s All’s Well That Ends Well that will hit Grand Rapids sometime in January. I hope to win a role in one of PCSC’s spring or summer tours, and of course there’ll be a few other local opportunities available too…

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: Repertory Company Member, Elle M. Lucksted

*****

1. How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

My character preparation involves reading and re-reading lines, paying attention to who my scene partners are and establishing connections with their characters. Developing a back-story–especially for less significant characters–helps create motivations for all of their actions. By that, I mean putting motivation behind every move (e.g.: why is my character walking away/toward this person at this moment?) Physical motivation, emotional motivation, whether the words my character speaks are sincere, sarcastic, flat, designed to pull a particular emotion out of my partner, etc. Specific to Shakespeare, of course, is prose/verse writing. If my character switches between the two throughout the play, you must pay strict attention to which style they speak with which characters and why.

2. What do you find to be the most helpful part of PCSC’s standard rehearsal process?

I have a feeling that this answer will be unanimous, but the most valuable part of Pigeon Creek’s rehearsals is the ensemble (Specifically the ensemble directing of shows, but I mean “ensemble” as in the entire process is team-based.) That means that as an actor, you get productive feedback from a lot of directions, but also that everyone contributes equally to create the final product and has the opportunity to have their voice heard in the process. Aside from that, PC spends a good deal of time working through the text before jumping into action. Beginning rehearsals often consist of read-throughs and partner line-work so that we can build and understand the words first and foremost, which is so important with Shakespeare.

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

I like to travel, read, write, amateurly analyze politics (I run a political and a feminist blog), and stumble upon internet things. I’ll choose going out with friends or staying in with a movie depending on my mood.)

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

I am a full-time student by day, supplemented by unpaid internships. I guess I would say my “job” is my current internship at my university’s Women’s Center. I am the undergraduate VAWA Grant intern (Violence Against Women Act) –a federal grant that funds projects and events for Domestic Violence Awareness month. If I were paid for this position, I could do it for the rest of my life. My ultimate dream-job is working in Human Rights or Social Work with domestic violence victims and survivors, which I will accomplish once I have my master’s degree down the road!

5. What theatre plans do you have in the next couple months?

Unfortunately, my acting plans have taken a backseat to my academics as of late (I’m a senior psychology major doing psychology and graduate school prep-type things.) But my internship with the Women’s Center will give exposure to some great theatrical involvement this fall. ReAct is an on-campus theatre troupe that promotes anti-violence through scene performances, so we’ll be working closely with them at times. We are also hosting a production of Remote Control, an interactive play designed to raise questions and encourage men (and women) to step into abuse-prevention roles. Besides that, I will be happily/nostalgically attending upcoming Pigeon Creek and Grand Valley performances to cheer on my friends and cast-mates.

Claire Mahave as Charmian

Imagine being Charmian.

You’re steeped in rich culture, surrounded by opulence. Slaves and servants perform menial daily tasks, and you know your place and your mission in life. You are a servant yourself, but a special one. You are a handmaiden to a living goddess.

The center of your world, around which everything revolves, is Cleopatra. She is brilliant and charismatic, cunning and ambitious. She was born into power, lost it at times, but held on through her wits, her marital and sexual alliances, and, probably, fratricide. She is the first of her line of inbred royalty to learn the local language, and she is descended from Isis. She can keep you in luxury or beat you to death on a whim.

As Charmian, how do you feel about your life? You’ve known nothing, else, of course, unless you traveled to Rome with your mistress. But Egypt is cosmopolitan, and you certainly meet people who are different, who have entirely different worldviews, traditions, and beliefs. Do you ever question your life? Do you ever wonder who you would be under different circumstances? Would you change your life, and your death, if you could?

I am a second-waver. That is to say, I came of age during the time in which feminism was a wave that had not yet crested. (Did you know, for example, that the first marital rape law, which made it illegal for a husband to rape his wife, was not enacted until 1976?) By the time I was born, in 1970, it seemed to me to be generally accepted that women were equal and should get equal pay (though we still don’t, 40 years later.) I found out through the years that my assumption was not nationally held, let alone representational of the world at large.

I grew up devouring books and shifting my worldview accordingly with what new information I could absorb. I was an especial fan of historical fiction, and reading this genre gave me insight into just how much better life is for women in modern days, and I have always asked myself the questions I posed for Charmian. Who would I be, if I had been born in England in 1407? If I were a blonde, blue-eyed child in Hitler’s Germany, what choices would I have made? What character would I have formed in modern-day Ghana?

As an actress, it is not my job to judge characters or their choices. My focus needs to be on what makes people tick—what motivates them to act as they do and what shapes their thinking. Of particular interest to me is how women survived in unquestionably male-dominated times. Cleopatra was a queen in a time of kings and warfare, and she made her choices accordingly. Charmian survived in the same world, but with different paths to take.

It has been interesting to watch audiences react to the sensuality in our portrayal of Egypt; in this world, in this age, it is considered hedonistic and decadent. Because we are so close to our audience, we can hear every sharp intake of breath and see expressions of shock, disapproval, and titillation. But we modern Americans take options for granted and our freedom as a given. How different would life be for us a different time and place? How much of who we are is shaped by our surroundings?

Imagine Cleopatra had she been born in the United States in 1973 instead of 69 BC. What could she have done—this determined genius—in the modern world? How would her story be different?

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: Chaz Russel Bratton (Eros, Philo, Proculeius, Taurus, Messenger) and Owen McIntee (Octavius Caesar/Demetrius/Guard) are on the docket for Antony and Cleopatra.

*****

1. How do you prepare a Shakespearean character?

Chaz: Research the time period, people, etc. If the character is based on a real person, research that person. Then, work the arc of the character through the show. Find out what your character is doing while off stage.

Owen: Research, research, research. Take clues from the text and run with them. Seek out input from my directors and fellow actors- they usually know a lot more than I do.

2. What thus far in rehearsal has been helpful?

Chaz: Having a director like Katherine is extremely helpful. So is getting to work with actors of such a high caliber.

Owen: The various exercises and text work Katherine supplied for us during the first few weeks of rehearsal were invaluable. Also, the encouragement to keep playing and trying new things has helped my character grow through the entire process.

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

Chaz: Watch movies. I’m a huge cinephile.

Owen: I’m into movies, reading, and video games. Other than that I just enjoy spending time with my family, my girlfriend and my buddies!

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

Chaz: During the show I sold knives and delivered pizzas. I’d love to be able to act as my day job.

Owen:Right now I work on campus at Aquinas as an office assistant. Ideally, the ultimate goal is to be able to support myself financially as an actor. Whatever I end up doing will be fine, so long as I continue to enjoy life.

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

Chaz: Keep acting! I’ll probably audition for Pigeon Creek again. Fingers crossed.

Owen: Finish school and graduate in the winter, move to Chicago and learn how to be an adult.