Entries tagged with “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 …

Frequent PCSC actor, Kate Tubbs (Puck) talks about the challenges of creating a non-human character.

Puck is the first Shakespearean Fairy character that I’ve played, so preparing for this role has created a lot of new questions for me and has been an exciting challenge. The first step in creating a non-human character is to determine how your character is different from humans, especially the characters he/she interacts with. In creating Puck, I started by deciding how my character is different emotionally and physically.

Fairy characters don’t feel emotions the same way that humans do. While Fairy emotions can be extreme, they are not as complex as human emotions. For instance, a fairy can get extremely angry or sad, uncontrollably happy or tired, but he/she can’t feel complex emotions like shame or regret, and cannot empathize or sympathize with humans. So this informs how I interact with and treat the human characters. Puck’s detachment makes him a playful plot advancer who is intensely curious to see things play out.

Similarly, magical or non-human characters have different relationships with their environment. Puck moves differently than humans. He positions himself differently and has different opinions on what is appropriate/normal for interactions. He also has a small amount of magical power. Sometimes he can bend the laws of physics, other times he can control the flora and fauna around them. This has to be a part of my physical performance.

Overall, I tend to think of non human characters as less limited and usually more powerful than human characters. This creates a lot of opportunities for actors to give a unique performance because we can make bigger or more drastic choices. We can raise the stakes much higher and go farther outside of ourselves. We can be as weird or crazy or active as we like. So we have a much larger foundation to build our character on. Our character’s pool of resources is larger and deeper so there are so many things to try.

But even though there are lots of new possibilities when playing a non-human character, in some ways, it is very similar to creating a regular character. You still must understand your character’s storyline — his arc throughout the play, what he does and why and how. Non-human characters don’t necessarily always have exciting story lines or arcs themselves, but they do often have a lot to do with plot development. So the actors have a myriad of whys and hows to choose from. That’s what makes these roles so much fun!

Introducing  Antonio Royce Copeland (Lysander)! A Midsummer Night’s Deam is Antonio’s first production with PCSC, so he’s answering round one of our Acting Questions.

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

I approach every character I play from a similar jumping off point. Our actions as human beings are based on needs and wants (be they realistic, necessary to survival, or otherwise), so it is necessary for me to flesh out all of these first. Then I have to determine whether or not they are fantastical or within my reach, and just what I’m willing to do to get them. Once a character is driven, and those things are rooted in something; the actor – or vessel as I like to describe our part as performers – can personally connect with the character begins to take shape. As always much respect is due to the text (particularly when good ol’ Billy is involved), so you take care to fully understand The “givens” (i.e. who, what, where, when, and why). Once I get a grip on the environment I’m playing in; I focus on how the character is seen by those around him (or her if I’m lucky), and I decide which things are true, which things I’m aware of and how I react to said person as a result. The finishing layers such as physical traits, accents, and the rhythm/music of the dialogue, all fill out the role and let it become a living, breathing entity unto itself. So basically I read the script and wait for the director to tell me what to do. ;-)

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

It’s very apparent that the members of PCSC are also educators in one way shape or form. The rehearsal process is a safe space where EVERYONE is encouraged to provide input into not only their specific role, but anywhere they feel they can help. I imagine it’s what a brain storming session involving the writers for 30 Rock or The Golden Girls must have been like! Just someone saying, “it’s okay… just let your juices flow.”

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

I enjoy baking, and the Disney Channel…it doesn’t go much deeper than that…

4. What is your day job?

What is that?

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

I plan to be singing and dancing wherever anyone will permit me. I feel the most like myself when I’m pretending to be someone else, so be it a gig at Tibbits Opera House (fingers crossed), or on the corner of 28th and Division if you belt it, they will come.  Or at least honk or throw something at you as they pass by!

Introducing  Chad Marriott (Flute/Peaseblossom)! A Midsummer Night’s Deam is Chad’s first production with PCSC, so he’s answering round one of our Acting Questions.

You must respect the Bard -  that is first and foremost.

When preparing for your character he has already done most of your work for you, but why did good old Billy have to be so smart? I’m not sure, but I know when I begin working on Shakespeare I start by figuring out what my character is saying. From there I figure out what they want and decipher how they are trying to get it.

After doing my text work I get to do, what I consider, the fun part. I put my personal twist on the character. For example, during Much Ado about Nothing (directed by PCSC’s own Katherine Mayberry at the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival, 2013) I spent a lot of time figuring out what Conrad was doing and what he wanted, essentially what his role was in his group. After that I decided how my character felt about that. I played around with things until I found one that fit and took that and ran.

One of the interesting things with Shakespeare is that he forces you to use external techniques. I’m an internal process guy, but Shakespeare makes me do more external exercises than I typically would do.

At Pigeon Creek I’ve found that the directors’ openness has been really helpful. Knowing that I’m not going to be told “Do that again, but different” is definitely a helpful thing. They are straightforward with you, but not rude. This adds up to an encouraging environment for creativity.

I’ve also enjoyed working with a multitude of acting exercises. I once had a professor who said that he was giving us tools and if we liked them we could keep them and if we didn’t we could throw it away. We’ve worked on things like Laban’s movement tendencies, text work, and internal things, like head, heart, gut, and groin.

This is a great trait for a company to have because not every actor has the same process and being able to get across to all of the actors is vital to a show.