Entries tagged with “Bill Iddings”.


Bill Iddings as Cymbeline

“It’s good to be the king.”

Until now, I hadn’t been in a sword fight in 20 years. Back then, playing Macduff in Muskegon Community College’s 1991 production of playwright William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, I damn near lost a finger. After dueling with, killing and beheading the murderous title character who seriously had it coming, I sheathed my two-handed broadsword and carried a facsimile of Mackers’ severed noodle back on stage.

What a mess. My hand was smeared so bloody that I hoped onlookers might think the goo was as fake as the decapitation. My blood had splattered on my costume and the boards. Patrons in the first couple rows faced heading home to do laundry, presumably with better luck than Lady Macbeth (“Out, damn spot.”). People had called me a drip before, but this was ridiculous.

“Whoa,” I thought, “that stuff’s supposed to be on the inside.”

Still, we all lived, and further injury is something I’’ve avoided in Cymbeline, a Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company all-male summer 2011 production nearing the end of its five-city Michigan tour. Playing one of the least-present title characters outside of “Waiting for Godot,” I’m the king of Britain. As a monarch, Cymbeline rules by divine right. He’s used to giving orders and being obeyed, no matter what. When anyone defies or questions such a person, that person tends to explode, which Cymbeline on occasion does.

Cymbeline also comes and goes. When he’s gone, he stays gone, disappearing for what sometimes seems the length of a Bible. Just why Shakespeare called this play “Cymbeline” is anybody’s guess, but why quibble with a dead guy who has shown a degree of staying power.

Among Cymbeline’s other hassles — his daughter (Ben Cole) marrying against his wishes and possibly committing suicide, his second wife (Joel L. Schindlbeck) conspiring with her sniveling son (Ross Currie) to usurp the throne, waging war with Italy — the king gets in a brief skirmish with Romans.

In stage fights choreographed by cast members Ben Cole and Michael Empson, Cymbeline’s swordplay is kept to a minimum. A couple bumps, bellows and clangs and he’s outta there, broadsword put aside till the next performance. Thus far I’ve escaped unscathed, pretty much with my dignity intact. As I told director Bob Jones and the rest of the Cymbeline cast during one rehearsal, “It’s good to be the king.”

Anyway, how does an actor good about playing a king?

Most of us have no personal experience in a job so based in nepotism. I’ve never actually been a regent, though I once recited the Pledge of Allegiance to my sixth-grade classmates. Wearing a crown and the responsibility that goes with it finds me trodding foreign territory.

I am, however, beginning to play a lot of older characters, people who have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

Will you still need me, will you still feed, when I’m 64? Seems so.

For Pigeon Creek, I’ve previously played a geezer who gets blinded in King Lear; in The Tempest, Prospero, an aging sorcerer whose closing speech is probably his last; and onn hiatus from undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns, I haunted Hamlet as a ghost, already dead. Who’s next, Yorick?

With any play preparation, reading the script is a good start; I’m certain I heard that somewhere. Learning your own lines is sort of important, though only if you want to keep working. Memorizing what pertains to your character is huge. Especially helpful is discovering what other characters say about yours.

At one point in Cymbeline, the king’s daughter, Imogen, talks about her father who “like the tyrannous breathing of the North, shakes all our buds from growing.” That’s a line reading if ever I heard one, something to be considered for whose moments when Cymbeline is major ticked off. Kings are not accustomed to be questioned. When they are, all hell can break loose. Cymbeline, though, also has a softer side. He loves his daughter, no matter what she’s done. Some of Shakeseare’s kings do not realize that until it’s too late; witness King Lear and his Cordelia.

I also try to find things I have in common with the characters I play. Cymbeline is not only a father of one child, a daughter. So am I. Cymbeline has been around a while. So have I. Cymbeline feels betrayed by his daughter and later worried that his volatile reaction might have resulted in the worst. I try to imagine how I’d feel in similar circumstances, and apply that to my characterization.

I happen to have a few physical pains that come with age. I’ve had one hip replaced, and pain is now telling me the other is on its way out. I’ve tried to make these aches part of Cymbeline. Face it, omeone who’s ruled a country in warlike times is bound to have an assorted bruises and batterings; those are part of the deal. If we hang around long enough, most actors don’t sashay out of this thing called life with the grace of Fred Astaire. We limp for the exit.

Before we bow out, though, we find our places and live there.

My days of playing romantic leads and swashbucklers are long gone. I’ve buckled my last swash, swashed my last buckle or something like that. But I always keep in mind one of the best pieces of advices I’ve ever been given: Wherever you are, be there.

This week, we shift gears from Hamlet to The Tempest, as our actors begin rehearsals for the first of our summer productions. Here Bill Iddings discusses the role of Prospero.

This summer, Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of Prospero in “The Tempest” will not compare with mine.

That probably speaks best for him.

Bill Iddings is the name.

Prospero’s the game.

I indeed am playing that role in Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s production of one of The Bard of Avon’s final plays.

Despite what I’ve read, I assume “The Tempest” won’t kill me.

Plummer also is taking a shot at the aging magician and exiled Duke of Milan, in Canada at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
This past December, The New Yorker magazine quoted the renowned, 80-year-old actor as saying, “Prospero sounds like ‘Oh, he’s getting on now. I guess this must be his last role.’ Then I’ll do something very quickly afterward, so I don’t die.” As did the now late comedian George Burns at 99 years old, I, at 63, keep telling people, “I can’t kick the bucket. I’m booked.”

What, as opposed to who (to which I’ll get), is Prospero?

He is the usurped Duke of Milan, Italy, an intellectual betrayed by his brother, Antonio (played by Scott Lange), kidnapped, and exiled by the King of Naples (Scott Wright). Antonio steals Prospero’s title and riches. He conspires to have Prospero and Prospero’s infant daughter, Miranda (Elle Lucksted), cast away on a distant isle. However, Prospero also is a magician, a sorcerer who can, among other things, control the weather. Twelve years having passed and Miranda on the cusp of womanhood, Prospero whips up the title storm that shipwrecks his enemies onto the sands he commands. He seeks vengeance, aided by the ethereal sprite Ariel (Kate Bode) who, as is the villainous monster Caliban (Chris Teller), is bound as a slave to Prospero’s bidding.

Now, who, really, is Prospero?

Common wisdom is that he is the alter ego of Shakespeare himself. The parallel when “The Tempest” was written and first performed, in the 1600’s, is that both were nearer the end than the beginning. At the conclusion of “The Tempest,” Prospero gives up his magic and his books that made it possible. Within a few years after writing ”The Tempest,” Shakespeare retired.

Send in the geezers.

Shakespearean scholar George McMullan has written, “The role of Prospero … is one that Shakespearean actors of a certain stature … aspire toward the end of their career.” Which puts me in the company of Sir John Gielgud, Charles Laughton, and John Cassavetes; you know, that crowd.

And all of those guys are dead.

Dadgummit.

So, how to play Prospero, rehearse him?

We just started this week. Thus we have, at this writing, been buffeted by “The Tempest” for only a few days. Yet some things never change.
First, learn the lines. Prospero has a ton of ‘em.

“The Tempest” is a short play, but Prospero begins and ends it, and between his first entrance and final exit has more to say than any other of its characters. He’s a major storyteller, charged with the dishing out much of the exposition that explains what’s going on.

As any actor will tell you, you can’t play the part till you own the words. Once you have those in your head, take a cue from James Cagney: plant your feet, look the other guy in the eye, and tell the truth; or, as Spencer Tracy once said, know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.

Here comes the homework, the memorization, the nigh total abandoning of any semblance of personal life. Prospero delivers some huge monologues that can’t be mailed in. Making huge monologues interesting will be one of my challenges.

One should never kid oneself about the supposed romance and glamour of theater. It’s work, and requires a singular dedication to sweating it out till the job’s done. Which it never is. Acting is evolution. The more an actor develops a character, the more the character changes. That’s what makes characters interesting.

What, then, does Prospero want? What are his objectives?

One is to exact revenge; another, to protect his only child. Yet as enraged as Prospero is against those who have heaped injustices upon him, he is capable, in time, of forgiveness.

Beatlesesque, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends. Pigeon Creek’s “Tempest” does not have a director. It has directors. All of us.
The show is being “ensemble directed,” meaning each individual actor will have input from the rest in the cast. Being used to the benign dictatorship of a single director as opposed to this dramatic democracy, a Shakespearean lending of my ears (“Julius Caesar”) will not be amiss. May 2, at our first group reading of “The Tempest,” Pigeon Creek cofounder and executive director Katherine Mayberry explained that ensemble directing is how Shakespeare’s own acting company, the King’s Men,” went about its business. Pigeon Creek is an “original practices” Shakespeare troupe. As such, it stages plays in the same manner they were done when Shakespeare lived.

Taking direction from other actors — normally verboten in theater, to the point of getting an offender kicked out of the show — will be a first for me; not only with Pigeon Creek, but ever, and I’ve performed in a bunch of plays since my 1978 debut. Both previous Pigeon Creek productions in which I’ve performed — as Gloucester in “King Lear” and as the Ghost/First Player/Player King/Priest in “Hamlet,” had directors, respectively Tom Harryman and Mayberry.

This new gig should be interesting.

So far there’s been a lot of laughter. So far. Is that the acrimony of anarchy I hear rumbling, thunder-like, in the distance? Nah.

Wonder how Christopher Plummer’s dealing with this whole Prospero thing.

On second thought, better not call ‘im.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” Prospero says. “And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Sleep? Being that Prospero’s from Italy, fuggedaboutit.

My revels, for now, are ended.

This week we hear from Bill Iddings:

Odds are that I stand at least a Ghost of a chance of getting out of “Hamlet” with my dignity intact.

In the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s production of playwright William Shakespeare’s tragedy, the spirit of the title character’s murdered father is one of three — make that four — characters assigned to yours truly.  The Ghost of “Hamlet” present is one of three — well, four — roles I’m playing in the spring 2010 show that opens on the deadline for filing income taxes, April 15, and runs through mid-May.   I’m also stale hamming it up as the First Player, an egomanical actor — but I repeat myself — who later in “Hamlet” performs as the Player King in “The Mousetrap,” the play within the play wherein Hamlet (Scott Lange) intends to catch the conscience of his fratricidal uncle, King Claudius (Scott Wright).  I lastly pop up as the Priest who gives Laertes (Kyle Walker), the lone survivor of his dwindling clan, some grave concerns over the burial of the young man’s suicidal sister, Ophelia (Amy McFadden). “Hamlet” is a tragedy, all right; Characters drop like flies gagging their last in a cloud of insecticide.

With rehearsals underway in Spring Lake at the West Michigan Academy of Arts & Academics, King Hamlet (guess who?) is dead before the first line is spoken.   I mean, I’ve died on stage before — hey, I heard that — but usually I’ve first had a chance to make an entrance.  This must be what happens when your reputation precedes you.  Then the meddling Polonious (Laertes’ and Ophelia’s father, played by Joel L. Schindlbeck) shuffles off this mortal coil, stabbed in the back by Hamlet who’s disappointed to discover the old fool behind the arras and on the business end of his dagger isn’t Claudius, drat the luck.  Ophelia follows, venturing into the “undiscovered country” by diving right into a swim she would have been better off taking while strapped in a life preserver.  The Bard of Avon’s domino effect continues.  Falling one after the other under William Shakespeare’s quilt pen are Queen Gertrude (Heather Folkvord), courtesy of potent poison in an ill-advised cocktail; and a hat trick of principals unfortunate enough to be nicked by a fencing sword, the tip of which has been dipped in said poison: Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet, you’re outta here.

For good measure, Claudius, who before “Hamlet” begins has poured a concoction akin to battery acid in the ears of his napping brother (guess who?), literally gets a taste of his own medicine.  And let’s not forget about Hamlet’s goofball buddies, Rosencrantz (Brooke Heintz) and Guildenstern (Sarah Stark) who never should have accompanied the melancholy Dane back to England in the first place.  Horatio (Kat Hermes) and Fortinbras (Jeff Otto) are the last men standing, even if only one of those actors is actually a male; time for the willing suspension of disbelief.

But be it at the Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Beardsley Theater in Muskegon or the parlor at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, the final body count will litter the stage with corpses, the clutter orchestrated by director Katherine Mayberry and fight choreographer Steven Schwall.

This time I’ll have eyes to take in all the carnage.  “Hamlet” is my second production for Pigeon Creek, a professional troupe dedicated to breathing life into plays that were written four centuries ago.   My first, last spring, was “King Lear.” In that adventure, my white-bearded Earl of Gloucester had a bloody bad time of things, getting my eyes plucked out by Regan (Kate Bode) and her husband (Randy S. Brown), both of whom got what was coming to them.

Take the word of Juan Whonose: Even if it’s only make believe, having your eyeballs ripped out of their sockets smarts, hence my howling to make blood curdle.  Plus, afterward you suffer from CSSS: Can’t See S— Syndrome.  Good thing we always had a box of wipes just off stage, usually around the spot where I exited by clanging into a folding chair or bumping into a wall.

Theater is not for wimps.  It can, however,be for windbags, egos whose operational philosophy runs along the lines of, “That’s enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”

Not that I’m one to talk about myself.

Hey, I heard that.