Introducing  Brad Sytsma (Diomedes, Servant)! Troilus and Cressida is Brad’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?

This is my first Shakespeare show, so I can’t say that I have a typical way to prepare a Shakespeare character.  I think I pretty much followed my usual routine where I started by looking at the dialogue and figuring out my character was thinking, and what other people think about my character.  Diomedes doesn’t really say a lot, so I also dove into some of the other materials written about the Trojan war to figure out who he is, and what he wants.  All in all, researching this character was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and very helpful in my performance.

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

I think the most helpful part of the PCSc rehearsal process was the discussion.  Shakespeare can be difficult to understand.  The heightened language can be challenging to wade through and understand exactly what a character’s thoughts and motivations are.  Being able to discuss different thoughts and opinions on the approach to delivery and action was extremely helpful in figuring out how to perform in my first Shakespeare play.

3) What do you for fun outside of theatre?

More theatre.

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

I am currently a Give a Wow Specialist for Terryberry, an employee recognition company.  I design websites in conjunction for employee recognition programs for businesses worldwide.  I would love to make theatre my day job, whether that be writing, acting, or even directing, I would love to be able to spend all of my time in a theatre.

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

I will probably audition for some of the other shows happening in the area.  I’m also writing a series of 10 minute plays, two of which won contests and were produced this summer, that I would like to try and produce sometime this fall.

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” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5iPpVAWhYg

– 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’;”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnTYs1jlg70

-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 -  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-I9cyit8bY 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:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46Cfrl7hMoQ

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

Matt Fowler (Elbow, Abhors0n, 1st Gentleman, Friar Peter) talks about his first experience with ensemble directing.

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

I work well with an outward-in approach to Shakespeare.  How does my voice initially react to the script?  How do I feel my body wanting to move to compliment my voice?  I read each line 10 times, trying 10 different things for each one and then pick my favorite line read from each one.  Then I read each line another ten times after I sleep and wake up again to solidify them in my memory.  Is there something physical I want to try like a new walk or a new gesture? Be fearless!  Quite honestly, the thing that has worked best for me is to start with a feeling; How do you want the audience to feel and how should you accomplish that?  Ultimately when audience members forget an actor’s lines, name, or even what he or she looks like, they will remember the feelings the actor gave them for decades.  I approach every role with a specific feeling that I want to share with the audience.  Surprised?  Amused?  Excited?  Anxious?  Compassionate?  There are a ton of options out there, and the way to share this feeling is not always apparent, but a solid goal in mind certainly helps me; as I’ve learned before, exhaust the ordinary to get to the extraordinary.  The things that are most important at the end of the day are that I commit to a role 100% and that I take pride in a performance.

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

This is my first experience with an ensemble directed show, and it is not quite how I expected it to be.  The thing I learned most heavily in Measure for Measure is to become self-validated in my work instead of relying on the validation of others.  I thought that an ensemble directed production would allow me to run wild and free With any impulse I have for a character, but I quickly discovered just how little confidence I have within my own inhibitions and fears.  After listening to Rocky’s theme and being in a fighting montage, I got into the habit of challenging myself to discover more about my characters with restless disatistifatcion;  I could pat myself on the back when performances came around.  Now I am proud of the work I’ve done and I have learned a lot from this experience.

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

I enjoy animating, backpacking, and going on epic adventures with this production’s stage manager, Erin Feiner.

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

My dream is to become a motivational speaker.  I want to speak to the young people of the world about self-esteem and body image issues.  I think I’m just the right person to spread positivity and inspiration into the world.

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

I will be appearing in Grand Valley State University’s Much ado About Nothing as Don John and Verges in the fall and I will be directing Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang right after.

Sean Kelly (Angelo) shares his thoughts on being the bad guy.

Angelo is the kind of guy who tells the management that you’re saving seats in a movie theater, but then it turns out he’s doing the same thing.

Structurally, Angelo is certainly the villain, even described as an “arch” villain by Isabella  but he only admits the fact in a couple moments. In his own words “when once our grace we have forgot/nothing goes right” and Angelo literally thinks he has only deviated once from an otherwise angelic life. Looking at Angelo this way is very useful because it opens up a twisted lightness to play instead of only mustache twirling villainy.

But how redeemable is Angelo? How justifiable are his feelings and actions? And, key to playing a character, how much is Angelo similar to you or me? There’s a specific line at the end of the show where Angelo claims that the primary reason he broke off his engagement to the unlucky Mariana wasn’t financial but “for that her reputation was disvalued in levity.” Now, it’s unclear at this point whether Angelo is being honest or trying to muddy Mariana’s reputation but if he is telling the truth then Angelo is somewhat tragic. His sexual hypocrisy and prudish persecutions fixate on virtue and target the lusty unmarried because he carries the pain of his broken engagement

My key to playing Angelo is to limit the time I consider him a villain to as few lines as possible, and I try to do so because Angelo does the same, but it is important to remember that Angelo is unquestionably a villain. He sexually assaults a nun in most hypocritical fashion. He tries to then put her brother death. He lies. He’s deceitful. However, his mask of civility is developed and studied, to the point where he believes in his own saintliness.

So, when you see the play look for things in Angelo that you feel are normal. His story has a lot to empathize with. Hopefully, doing so will make those moments when Angelo makes a choice you or I would not all the more impactful.

Some insights into her acting process from Sarah Tryon (Juliet, Escalus).

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

When I first get my hands on a script, I like to decode the text and find out who my character is, who they talk to, how they feel about who they talk to, how they are influenced by events, and how they fit into the play itself. However, with the role of Escalus, I knew that I would have to do a lot of vocal work to conceal my feminine voice. And I would also need to decide how old I want him to be so that it can inform my physicality.

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

Shakespeare really gives his actors a lot. I find scansion is really the best tool for me. If my character is speaking in verse it could be because of he or her status or there is heightened emotion, etc.

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

For an ensemble show, I more often decide on something I want to try in a scene before rehearsal, whereas with a director, I’m more likely to try what they want me to try.

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?

Audience contact because plays are for the audience so why ignore them?

5) What is your dream Shakespearean role?

I’d like to play Viola again, but I would love to play Beatrice, Ophelia, Cassius, Feste, and pretty much every other character …

Stephen Wright (Claudio/Barnadine/Justice/Boy) answers our first round of acting questions about the rehearsal process for Measure for Measure.

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

The first thing that I do is read the play, then watch a film adaptation or two and read a summary (to make sure I’ve got the story). Then I begin memorizing lines. If I’m unsure about the meaning of a line or a word I look it up on Dictionary.com. Then I start asking myself questions, questions like, “Who is this person?” “What are his relationships to the other characters?” “What kind of psychological center is this character; head, heart, pelvic, stomach?” “What kind of animal is this character most like?”

One I’ve asked myself a number of these questions I like to get what I am doing on its feet and run it with others. I think that my characters are most fully explored when I’m given the freedom to engage with the other actor and let the character evolve, piece by piece. Getting to this point where I can engage requires a lot of concentration, so honing my concentration is part of this process. “Finding the game”, finding the game that characters play with each other in every scene helps me to build both this concentration and my character.

Along the way I keep asking questions but, essentially, I like to get my character on its feet and play around with the scene.

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

I find the suggestions of my fellow actors to be the most helpful part of the rehearsal process. For instance, one actor suggested that I deliver a certain section of text to the audience rather than just to another actor in the scene. This unlocked the whole scene for me and gave me deep insight into my character. This simple suggestion gave me a little spark from which I’ve begun to construct my character.

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

Outside of theater I mostly hang out with my girlfriend and watch television. I watch way too much Fringe (which is fantastic) and Star Trek, but enjoy other shows too. I also play guitar, am part of several organizations on Aquinas College’s campus, write plays and poetry, and volunteer at American Model United Nations (among other things).

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

I recently gained employment at The Gluten Free Bar, a company that makes gluten free protein bars. In a shift, with others, I’ll help to mix the bars, roll them out in a pan, cut them, store them and package the previous day’s bars. I’ll also attend to general kitchen duties. I really like this job and my co-workers. It’s one of the better one’s I’ve had.

My career plans are a bit sporadic. I want to do many different things and often daydream about them. I know that I want to continue writing plays and that I would like to see them produced. After I graduate from Aquinas College I want to teach abroad, probably in Russia or Taiwan. Someday, even if it is thirty years from now, I’d like to teach Philosophy or another subject at the college level. But beside these things it’s all quite up in the air because I have a lot of different career interests.

5) What theater plans do you have over the next couple months?
Over the next couple months I plan to write several plays. Before summer’s end it’s my goal to finish writing first drafts of two ten full length plays, two one acts and a few ten minute plays. I am also considering auditioning for more Pigeon Creek shows!

Our executive director, Katherine Mayberry, discusses Shakespearean Theater and reconstructed playhouses.

Brie Roper, Scott Wright and Sean Kelly rehearsing in costume

This weekend, Pigeon Creek is performing for the second time at the Rose Playhouse at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.  Blue Lake built the Rose in 2010, primarily for the use of the middle school and high school students who come to camp every summer.  An article about the building of the Rose can be found here.  To have this building in West Michigan is remarkable, and our actors count themselves incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to perform on this stage.

Reconstructions of Early Modern English Playhouses are extremely rare.  The most famous of the currently existing reconstructions is Shakespeare’s Globe in London.  There are also reconstructed Globes in Rome, Tokyo, and Dusseldorf, Germany.  The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, has a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars, the indoor playhouse in which Shakespeare’s acting company performed in the early 1600s.  Shakespeare’s Globe is currently working on building their own reconstruction of an indoor playhouse.  These are playhouses which by and large seek to recreate the performance conditions of Shakespeare’s lifetime, making concessions to modern safety standards but not incorporating modern theatre technology.  Beyond these, there are a number of theatres in the world whose architecture is inspired by Early Modern playhouse architecture, but which also incorporate significant modern theatre technology, such as advanced theatrical lighting systems and the ability to change sets rather than have one unchanging backdrop which is a permanent part of the theatre architecture.  Theatres such as the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, or the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford, England, belong to this second category.

Pigeon Creek is a company which since its founding has worked within the constraints of Early Modern performance conditions.  A list of some of those conditions is available here .  Among Shakespearean theatres, this approach to performing the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries is often called “original practices” or “original staging practices.”  Typically, Pigeon Creek is working with the original staging practices common to the touring companies of Shakespeare’s time period, who performed in places like innyards and the great halls of noble families’ houses.  When we take a production on tour, we have to quickly adapt to new spaces, and make our performance fit the space.  We always make it a priority in any space to find ways for our actors to do the direct audience contact that is so central to the philosophy of performance within which Shakespeare was writing.  In a playhouse like the Rose, we find that the theatre’s architecture is already designed to encourage this kind of interplay between actor and audience.  The stage thrusts out into the audience’s space, so that the actors are surrounded by audience members rather than being separated from them.  While the Rose is relatively large (though not as large as London’s Globe), each individual audience face is clearly visible from the stage, and an actor feels able to converse with anyone in the playhouse.

Just to brag a bit, and to demonstrate what a rare and wonderful thing this playhouse is, I like to point out that the actors whose work focuses on doing Shakespeare in this particular way, and who get to work on these kinds of reconstructed stages, is extremely small.  Our audiences who come to Twelfth Night this weekend will see, to my knowledge, the only four actors in the world who have worked on the stages at Shakespeare’s Globe, the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, and the Rose at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.  Even if we only focus on two out of those three playhouses, the Blackfriars and the Rose, the group of actors who have worked on both stages rises to just seven, and again, that group will be at the Rose this weekend.

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