Archive for July, 2013

Introducing  Kerissa Bradley (Menelaus, Helenus, Helen)! Troilus and Cressida is Kerissa’s first production with PCSC, so she’s answering round one of our Acting Questions.

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

When I am preparing a Shakespearean character I do research on the actual people. I look for what status they were, how some artists portray them, and what they are most known for in history. I also go through the script and write down how other people describe my character. If the character was made up, I go through the script and see what other character’s say about my character and then choose two animal qualities to incorporate into my character.

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

What I find most helpful about PCSC’s standard rehearsal process is the text work. It was really helpful to break down each scene into beats and paraphrase the lines, it made the scene more clear and the beat changes became more distinct.

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

Outside of theatre I like to make jewelry, hang out with friends, and go swimming in Holland.

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

I work at the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum as a visitor service associate. I want my day job to be acting and doing the public relations work for a theatre.

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

I will be in Much Ado About Nothing at GVSU in the fall.

Introducing  Brandon Marino (Agamemnon, Paris)! Troilus and Cressida is Brandon’s first production with PCSC, so he’s answering round one of our Acting Questions.

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

How do I go about preparing a Shakespearean Character? Well everyone has their own way, but what works for me is looking at it like a regular character, When I was younger I used to think everyone was refined or goofy and those were the only Shakespearean characters. But now I realize that is not the case, they are people that act a certain way because of something, and the something is usually your choice as an actor, the only difference between doing a character for a modern piece and doing a character for a Shakespeare piece, to me, is the language. The trick with any character is to know your history for the time, to not focus exactly on what you say but how you say it or the subtext of what you’re saying.

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

What I find extremely helpful about the Pigeon Creek company is the people involved with it and the people who run it, From what I’ve seen a lot of them are teachers or people in teaching or mentoring positions. This means that when you need help you always have it, and it means that people bring forth a lot of knowledge to the table that someone might previously not have known. It also means everyone has a good work ethic and attitude and that rubs off on people. Also, everyone is a theater nerd, and that’s great because that means everyone is passionate and wants to help you be that way as well. Most of all though, everyone is welcoming and it feels very much like a family, which is a great work environment.

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

I think people ask actors the question of what they like to do outside of theatre a lot. My answer to that question is unique I like to think. I like science, I was actually a chem major with a pre-med focus before switching to theatre. the reason for the switch was simply because I decided not to be scared of a career that isn’t stable and to follow what I really loved. But because of my love for science, I tend to read a lot of science books in my spare time, also comic books, just to confirm those suspicions of my nerdiness.

4) What do you want to be your day job?

My day job is a student. Currently, however, I am working two jobs, one, at Mcdonalds which is as great as it sounds. And the second is actually me working with a children’s theatre. I think, the ultimate goal of any actor is to make a living acting. My personal goal is to do that, probably with a traveling company either doing children’s shows or Shakespeare. I would do this for a few years, and then I would try to settle down somewhere like New York or LA and truly try to follow that actor dream, but that’s real long term, right now it’s graduation of college and then a travelling company.

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

My plans in the theatre for the next few months are limited because of my going back to school, obviously I would audition for the upcoming plays, one of which is The Merry Wives of Windsor, But as of right now, I have no roles after Paris and Agamemnon.

Measure for Measure is still running, but we’re already hard at work on Troilus and Cressida! Here, Killian Goodson (Troilus) answers our second round of acting questions.

1) When creating a Shakespeare character, do you start from the “outside” (voice and physicality) or the “inside” (relationships and motivations)? Why?

I think it is important, when creating a foundation for a character, to understand their arc throughout the play. To me, this is grounded in the motivations of the character. Getting inside the life and thought process of the character while understanding their values and priorities lends itself well to the voice and physicality of the character later because it becomes the natural response to the various internal and external stimuli. For example, Troilus carries the values Ilion, which is as much to say that honor and pride are important and formulate Troilus’ life as a warrior prince. Yet, his warrior tendencies escalate late in the play. To begin, he is so caught up with his feelings toward Cressida, that although the war and his family’s honor is something to take note of for Troilus, it isn’t until he loses that veil that he becomes as reckless, and bloodthirsty as he does. I enjoy going through this change with Troilus.

2) Is there anything about Shakespeare’s language you find especially helpful in preparing for a role? Anything that is always challenging?

Troilus get’s to speak in verse often in this play. The rhythm is so intuitive and has the ability to guide the actor to find meaning that may otherwise be glanced over. As I have learned from our directors and other members of the company, verse can often mean the character actually knows what they are saying, and they are trying to use wit and rhetoric to outlast the conversation and persuade others to play into their plans. Verse is easier to learn because the lines have to follow in a specific way or it quite obviously doesn’t sound right. On the flip-side, the few times Troilus speaks prose with Cressida, the lines seem to come in a more, one might say, random, way. There is still a through line and the various cues in the scene guide what will come next, but the middle lines can sometimes become problematic, at least for me.

3) How do you prepare differently for an ensemble directed production versus a production with a director?

I love having a director. My preparation for one type over the other doesn’t really change; I still like to begin with finding the characters motivations. With directors, however, I feel like they are the authority on how they want the play to play out and can offer loads more specificity than the tedious nature of ensemble directing. It is common that opinions get lost for the sake of tact, and it can lead to weaker choices and, in turn, a weaker story.

4) What is your favorite “Original Practice” (audience contact, cross-gendered casting, live music and sound, etc.) and what exactly do you love about it?

Fighting only feet from the illuminated audience, rallying them on your side during a scene, and knowing that you have them on the literal edge of their seat is what is most rewarding to me about original practices. Looking people in the eye, teasing and admiring the audience—I find this adds another dimension to the performance that you don’t otherwise get with proscenium or modern practices.

5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?

Whenever I am asked this I am slightly overcome with shame that I am not more familiar with Shakespeare’s characters. I will refrain from picking any characters from plays I have done. I think my usual go to dream character is Caliban. I find him so intriguing and know that language to him is important. I like how he develops and is challenged. I also have to say that I love any character that has to be drunk on stage.

Rep Company member Scott Wright (Duke Vincentio) drops some knowledge about music in Shakespeare’s plays and how music fits into the Original Practices style.

The question of music in modern Shakespeare performances turns out to be a somewhat contentious one.  Strong opinions are often expressed about the kind of music one “should” hear associated with the Bard’s works.  The proponents of using modern topical pop music argue that it is more accessible to a modern audience whose musical sensibilities are already attuned to it.  They regard with a certain degree of impatience those who insist that Shakespeare’s plays should be performed in renaissance costumes, accompanied by renaissance music, on renaissance instruments, especially when performed in one of the many “replica playhouse” stages around the world.  Indeed it might be said that playing renaissance music is an “original practice…”

My own opinions – and I’d expect most people’s – lie somewhere in the middle.

Modern pop songs and even those of the previous generations – “oldies” if you will – are fun to perform and seeing an audience’s eyes light up in recognition of a familiar tune, watching as they nod & tap their feet in time to the music, and as they make the connection between the topic of the song and the play – when they get the joke – is extremely gratifying to us as performers.  Songs like, “Cruel To Be Kind” in Hamlet or “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” in a performance of Macbeth can be a real relief to an audience who is concentrated intently on following an epic story in an almost foreign language.

Shakespeare’s plays to a certain degree, lend themselves to being set in almost any time or place (with a few notable exceptions…)  The music then becomes a key element in setting the scene – of indicating and coloring the culture, status and perhaps the nationalities of the characters and in telling the story of the play.

The songs that the Bard left within the plays themselves present real challenges in this regard – the song and its musical setting become as important to telling the story as the costumes or the set.  Many composers have set their hand at creating music for these songs – to varying degrees of success – and indeed, this may be one of the most “original practices” of all.  For the vast majority of these songs, the tune to which they were originally set is lost – either not written down, or simply passed out of memory.  It is thought that the musicians – or possibly one particular musician – in Shakespeare’s acting companies composed settings for these songs.  But certainly it was a very common practice to write new words – either topical or salacious, depending on your whim or the nature of the audience – to already popular songs (a practice referred to as “filking”), and it seems reasonable to think that Shakespeare’s songs might fit very easily to a melody that, in 1598 everyone knew very well, but just didn’t pass down to us.

But Renaissance music can’t quite entirely be extirp’d from Shakespeare.  In “Twelfth Night” Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste the Fool drunkenly sing songs that are immediately recognizable songs by Thomas Ravenscroft – “Hold Thy Peace, Thou Knave” – and Robert Jones’ “Farewell, Dear Love”

– who were contemporaries of Shakespeare and writers of some of the “pop” music of the time and whose music the Bard could not but have known.

In “Much Ado About Nothing” Beatrice is urged to, “…Clap’s into ‘Light o’ Love’;”

-a tune written by an anonymous author that appeared in William Ballet’s 1580 Lute Book and would qualify as a popular and familiar song to Shakespeare and his audience, but is almost certainly unknown to ours.

In fact, when I think of “pop” music of the renaissance it’s this sound of the viol, the recorder, and the lute – as in “Light o’ Love” or just the strings, as in this one - that I think of.

The lute was often substituted, as it is here, by the “renaissance guitar” and the little band would have often been accompanied by a drum or other percussive noisemakers.  Shakespeare’s acting companies would have had many other instruments at hand, and would have been familiar with all kinds of music.

The vast majority of music of the renaissance that was actually written down was either for dancing or for church, or for small groups of singers and/or instrumentalists to perform for themselves around an after-dinner table.  The popular music of the time was in some cases collected into printed books like Ballet’s Lute Book (a collection, it seems of very well-known songs by largely unknown songwriters) and Ravenscroft’s three-volume collection of “Rounds, Catches, & Merrie Conceits.”  Musicians didn’t make much money publishing their music – real success for a musician was usually to be notable enough to gain employ or patronage of a wealthy nobleman or to be employed at court.  But one might imagine, in a time that lacked our modern sensibilities of intellectual property ownership, that the first time a really good song was performed publicly it might be mere hours before someone else across town was playing or singing it – possibly with new lyrics of their own devising.  One might also imagine that a touring acting company brought in to a command performance for a noble family would be flexible and prepared to please in any way possible – musically and theatrically…

For a modern Original Practices company, I think that being prepared to perform either modern or ancient music, as the occasion demands presents an intriguing challenge.  Imagine setting topical words to renaissance melodies – a very original practice.  Finding ways to arrange ancient music for a small ensemble of modern instruments presents still more challenge and possibility – just as finding ways to make modern songs sound good with a small acoustic band has.

So – I hope this has given you all food for thought, and I’d like to leave you with one more – for a performance of “Othello” the lead-in to Act1 might be something like this:

(Though at the risk of giving it away, nowhere in the text does Desdemona appear to have a “Mama Pajama”…)