Archive for April, 2014

Frequent PCSC actor, Kyle D. Westmaas (Hippolyta/Oberon) talks about the differences between working with original practices with PCSC versus other companies

There is an inherent challenge for any theatre artist whenever they approach a production of Shakespeare, and I’m not talking about the language.  At this point, Shakespeare’s productions have been around for over 400 years and have been produced by theatrical artists all over the world and through many different times and genres.  In other words, they’ve all been done before.  So when a new production of one of Shakespeare’s plays comes about, whoever is producing it must answer a question: how are they going to approach it?  What are they going to bring to the table to make the show fresh and accessible?  The answer to this question will make or break the show: stray too far from the original play in an effort of creativity and you may lose is message and intention.  Don’t plan at all and the language and the scope of the play will drown its performers.  So it is that every company that makes the attempt at one of his plays must figure out the question for themselves: how are we going to do Shakespeare?

At this point in time, I have done quite few productions of Shakespeare, all with varying levels of success.  I have done the big budget museum pieces, experimental abstractions, and even small scenes in coffee shops.  A lot of my work, however, has been with Pigeon Creek and original practices, and it is their approach that has most resonated with me and that I have carried with me to whatever production I’m involved with.  What is that approach, you may ask?  To put it as simply as possible: Shakespeare’s approach.  When Shakespeare wrote his plays, he had a very particular expectation for how they were to be staged.  Action motivated through language, audience interaction, universal lighting, thrust staging: all of these were inherent to the words that he put down on page.   Starting with and using this sort of foundation means that whatever idea you put on top of it will not get in the way of the play itself and it’s message: the language will not be lost.  Shows that I’ve been involved with that haven’t been successful have let whatever idea they have for the production get in the way of this foundation, of the language and the intention.  With Pigeon Creek, this doesn’t happen.  While the shows may not have the budget or flash of some, the story and language are one thing that is never lost.  The goal of every show is to make sure Shakespeare’s words and intentions are communicated clearly to the audience, perhaps making it so they hear it truly for the first time.

As I have said; I have been in many productions of Shakespeare.  But what makes Pigeon Creek different, and the reason that I keep on working with them is that I know that whatever else happens, the play will always be the thing.  There will be fun and there will be laughter, all wrapped in a layer of professionalism that can only come from experience, but at the end of the day, the play will always be the thing, and  Shakespeare’s story will be told.

Introducing Steven J. Anderson (Peter Quince/Egeus)! A Midsummer Night’s Deam is Steven’s first production with PCSC.

I’m playing the parts of Egeus and Peter Quince in this production. One of the first things I noticed about Egeus is that he’s very terse. He comes straight to the point and expresses himself directly, with very little rhetorical adornment. Here’s an example:

Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.

Now compare these lines from Twelfth Night:

Be Mercury. Set feathers to thy heels,
And fly like thought from them to me again.

This is far more typical of Shakespeare’s writing style, heavily laden with metaphor, simile, and symbolic thought. This is also what makes Shakespeare challenging to play, and, sometimes, difficult to understand, lots of metaphor and indirect meaning; levels and levels of symbols crammed into very few lines. The actor must consciously and deliberately understand all of this as he performs. I can’t help thinking that by having Egeus express himself in a way that runs so contrary to his own style, Shakespeare is trying to let us know that Egeus is a bit dim, the sort of person whose first approach to solving his problems is always brute force.

Now, on to Peter Quince. What we see Quince and the rest of the mechanicals repeatedly doing is what my acting teacher would have called a miss. We see phonetic errors, missed communication, mistaken assumptions, etc. There is something very satisfying to audiences about a miss when it’s done right. Think of Peter Sellers playing Inspector Clouseau spinning his globe and then trying to lean on it, or almost everything Buster Keaton over did on film.

There’s one more thing I want to say about the mechanicals. One of the most interesting Shakespeare does is put a play within one of his plays. When he does this he tells us a lot about what he thinks about the stage, how acting should be done, what good acting is, what bad acting is. Plainly the mechanicals are not very good actors, but, I think, Shakespeare sort of loves them in spite of themselves. I think he wants us to see that there’s something deeply lovable about these folks just because they’re making on honest effort to present something worthwhile on stage, regardless of how well they succeed.

Introducing Janelle Mahlman (Titania/Theseus)! A Midsummer Night’s Deam is Janelle’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?

It sounds cliché, and every Shakespearean actor will tell you this, but that is because it is true, I start with the text. When preparing any role the actor must begin with the words the author provides, but this is particularly true with a Shakespearean role because the Bard gives you everything you need. The nature of the character, her motivation, her style, even her movement can be gleaned from the words, the rhythm, and the relationships that Shakespeare has created.

I always begin by reading a play out loud and I listen to the rhythm of the language, be it poetry or prose, and from that I usually have a visceral or physical response, a sense of how the character moves or how he stands. Following that first physical impulse are the questions of objective and motivation and other necessary actor choices.

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

The best part of Pigeon Creek’s rehearsal process is the freedom and support to try things, to make bold—or maybe crazy—choices and just see what happens. With this wonderful group of artists I never felt the fear of judgment or criticism, but rather the joy of encouragement and the generosity of other actors responding to the choices that I made and giving wholeheartedly of their own ideas and creativity.

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

I enjoy spending time with my family, most especially my amazing husband and my beautiful niece and nephew. We read books and ride bikes and go to the theatre.

My faith is important to me and I spend a good deal of time volunteering with my church, planning worship and using my passion for theatre and storytelling to bring the drama of scripture alive.

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

I am the Assistant Marketing Manager for Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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

The life of an actor … auditions, auditions, auditions …