Entries tagged with “Brooke Heintz”.


Brooke Heintz (Maria / Jaquenetta) on the acting challenges of doubling.

One of the unique experiences offered by Pigeon Creek is the opportunity to work with the original practice of doubling, which presents the exciting challenge of creating characters who are visually and vocally distinct. After all, simply changing costume isn’t enough. Sometimes a character can change their costume in the process of the play (whether from day to day, scene to scene, or to go into disguise). In order to make certain that the audience can follow along with the plot and enjoy each unique character, it falls to the actor to put in a lot of work!

In this production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, I play only two distinct roles: but in terms of characterization, they are about as black and white as they come. The groundwork of creating opposing character types lies in finding their points of difference, and with Maria (the high-born friend of the Princess of France) and Jaquenetta (the wanton country milkmaid), some of those points are obvious right off the bat. The fun (and work) comes in translating the differences between someone of high status and low, someone of modest breeding and sexual liberty, into physical mannerisms that can be replicated scene to scene, night to night.

Posture is where I tend to start. This connects to the idea of using “body centers” in order to adjust your carriage almost subconsciously, as well as to alter where your character ‘leads’ from both physically and in terms of presence. Maria leads with her shoulders and upper chest – not in terms of sticking her breasts out (which is really more of a Jaquenetta trait… ) but a strong upper spine and confident shoulder frame to elevate a proper head. I decided on a shoulder center, because of Maria’s pride in lineage, in her connection to the princess, and her desire to emotionally be available to the Princess as well. Just thinking about using this as a center adjusts the way I stand, walk, sit, etc… (especially when contrasted to using a lower body center for Jaquenetta.)

With Jaquenetta, I focus on the hips, not only because her character is so grounded in her sexual confidence, but also as a connection to her womb, because of the implication that she’s pregnant during her scenes (whether she knows it or not). With Jaquenetta, I can adopt more of a fluidity of movement, free to adopt ’saucier’ postures without being so caught up in appearing proper or prim, and also because the character simply has not been trained to move or stand with any particular carriage.

Vocal distinctions are also a huge physical clue to the audience that you’re dealing with a very different character, and it’s something that’s personally a really large challenge for me. Adopting accents or modifying the voice can be a frustrating exercise in my experience because of my difficulty in keeping them consistent. To combat this, I end up having to focus on details of the vocal distinctions and work upwards from there. Step by step. It takes me a lot of work drilling these vocal changes. I tend to work with levels of enunciating, using different registers (higher or lower), working with specific vowel or consonant sounds, and dealing with the differences in characters who speak in mostly prose (Jaquenetta) versus those who incorporate meter and rhyme (Maria). All of that just to bring a character to the stage in order to start acting!

Of course, these are just top layers of working with characters on an exterior level! Playing with character relationships and interactions, as well as individual motivations and what matters to a character help shade in those distinctions too. Finding points of opposition helps me to create that split as clearly as possible, for both myself and the audience. It’s a long process, and it never ends.

Brooke Heintz (Katherina / Biondello) on playing the Shrew.

The Taming of the Shrew is one of those shows where we feel as if we are going to have a number of audience members coming to watch the finished product who already have very strong opinions on the content of the play. Like The Merchant of the Venice, which gets looked at over and over in the light of whether the play is anti-Semitic, etc., Taming of the Shrew is equally considered controversial when examined through a modern perspective on the relationship between the sexes. Many people who are familiar with the play have had to face the difficulties of our present day discomfort with a show that ends with a woman bending knee to her husband and proclaiming his right of dominance. The fact that the play was written ‘in the past when things were different’ shouldn’t be a throwaway excuse for that level of discomfort, and audiences shouldn’t be expected just to accept that this is a play about people who thought in vastly different ways than we do now. Pigeon Creek especially prides itself on making characters and story lines accessible to audiences now, and I think taking that kind of approach to it would have precisely the opposite effect.

Going into this production, I was interested to see how the rest of my cast wanted to approach this. It’s become almost standard fare nowadays to insert some kind of gimmick when staging the play, to either highlight its themes as misogynistic, or to find ways to subvert Kate’s final speech in its entirety, such as throwing in a wink at the end of the monologue to show the audience that she didn’t mean a word of it. Honestly, I’ve always found these things to be the less interesting choices, and unnecessary pandering to the audience’s need to feel ‘comfortable’ with how things tie together.

Kyle Walker (Petruchio) and I have had many conversations about what it is that Petruchio and Kate end up getting out of this relationship, and how it changes both of them, which I think is part of the key to accepting the play for how it’s written, rather than attempting to impose a modern lens on it. It’s important to look at what kind of characters Petruchio and Kate both are – both of them make extravagant decisions that seem out of place in any sort of logical world, and both seem to possess a natural streak of sadistic humor. As far as Kate goes, her temperament is something that’s so far beyond how any normal person should behave (male or female), that trying to defend her too much turns into making excuses for her unacceptable behavior. Even with the psychological impact of not having a mother figure around, of dealing with the favoritism shown to her sister, etc., she still desires to rule over everyone and everything, and doesn’t understand what it means to bend for anyone. Her actions are incredibly self-centered, and she has only one tactic for getting what she wants: behaving as a shrew. Since no one has proven a match for her tongue or violent actions, it’s managed to work for her just fine – until Petruchio comes along. Not only does he prove her equal in wits, and possess the strength to keep an upper hand on her in terms of her many physical threats to his well-being, but because of this, she’s forced to learn new ways to get what she wants that are equally satisfying once she learns to take ownership of them.

Playing Petruchio’s own game with him and taking it a ridiculous degree is her own way of rebelling and maintaining her sense of who she is, and he doesn’t mind when she does it this way. It isn’t a particularly healthy arrangement, but neither character is particularly emotionally stable at the onset, either. Petruchio doesn’t want to extinguish the fire that makes her Kate – he encourages her when she’s ready to fight the widow at the final banquet, rather than scolding her, and finds the whole situation humorous. The very nature of ordering Kate to give the other women a verbal lashing proves this as well. He doesn’t desire a woman who is meek – but he doesn’t want his marriage to be a constant state of war either, and through getting her to adamantly defend defined gender roles in public, Kate’s granted an armor for her pride that allows her to renounce her old tactics and adopt more socially acceptable ways of getting what she wants. There’s still something discomfiting in this, but there can be, just as there can be something unsettling in The Merchant of Venice that leaves the audience uncertain of how to feel about the characters in the play and their own emotions about what just happened. That sense of uncertainty leaves an audience thinking, rather than just laughing at Kate having ‘pulled one over’ on Petruchio at the end, which I personally think is a much more provocative and meaningful use of the play.

Of course, in the end, our audiences may entirely disagree. Either way, I’m very interested and nervous to see how audiences will react to seeing the play handled in what we considered to be a ‘straight’ fashion. And I hope it leaves you all with something to think about!

Brooke Heintz on the concept of a six-person Taming of the Shrew

A couple weeks ago, one of our Pigeon Creek board members approached me about our upcoming rehearsal period for Taming of the Shrew with a look on his face that made it evident he had no idea how I was going to take what he was about to say to me. I was cast to play Kate in the production back in Spring of 2011, so I’ve had months to look forward to this, and wonder about what direction we were going to take it in. There are a lot of questions every cast has to wrangle with when putting on a play that is as controversial as Shrew can be, and I was excited to find out what angle we were going to take.

What I didn’t expect was what Scott had to tell me.

“It looks like we’re going to try a six person cast.”

Now, it took a minute for those words to sink in. Maybe you can get it faster than I did. Pigeon Creek always has ‘small’ casts compared to many other theaters who produce works of Shakespeare, on account of our devotion to original practices that keeps our troupes small, often relying on doubling or tripling roles.

But by ’small’, I mean usually around 10-12.

We were looking at half that.

The challenges in such a tiny cast aren’t really in having to deal with a larger burden of roles per actor – like I said, that’s pretty par for the course for PCSC, and I’ve played as many as 6 different roles in one show before. The real problems were a little more jarring.

“This means, there are definitely going to have to be times,” Scott said, “when we’re talking to ourselves… onstage.”

That one took a longer minute to sink in.

Oh.

We didn’t have enough actors with six to cover how many people are onstage at any given time in some scenes.

Things just got way more interesting. I looked at Scott, smiled, and said I was still all in.

To be honest, I was even more excited (and more petrified, let’s not forget that) than before. This will be a first for PCSC, and hopefully set a precedent we can follow in the future for further small cast shows. In other words, we’re going to be breaking ground – probably messily.

Other troupes out there have done the same kind of thing before, so we all went to check out their techniques on the internet and came together for our first brainstorming meet last week. We sat down and went through the entire play after a read through, breaking down all the problem spots. Moments where an actor left, only to have to enter immediately as an another character to deliver the very next line. Times where a character had an extended conversation onstage… with themselves. Scenes where a character was pointed out and discussed… by another character that they also played.

It seemed like there was no way around making it silly, so we had to decide what conventions we were going to use to make it not only as entertaining as possible, but how to keep it clear to the audience what was going on. We took a hacksaw to the script and cut out lines or reassigned them to try to eliminate unnecessarily confusing moments. We came up with character concepts and easily swappable costume ideas, and talked about what to do with staging and movement to indicate two characters onstage in different places.

We talked a lot. But by the end of the night, any traces of doubt I had were eradicated.

Not only could we do this, but we could do it with style.

So here’s hoping it ends up making sense. Or on the off chance that it doesn’t, that it at least makes you guys laugh.

Hello! I’m Brooke Heintz, bringing you this week’s blog from the perspective of acting the play’s resident clown, Launcelot Gobbo (as well as the pompous Prince of Arragon and a couple other minor parts). As I write this, Off-Book Day looms: perhaps appropriately directly after the Ides of March (which I can assure you, most of us are feeling plenty wary of as a result).

There are a few questions that, when approached by audience members after a show, I’ve gotten time after time, show after show, year after year, and none so much as:

How in the world do you guys memorize all those lines?

People tend to ask this in a tone that implies they think there must be some kind of voodoo magic involved, or maybe hours and hours of writing the lines again and again on a chalkboard, Bart Simpson style.

I’m here to promise you that no boxes of chalk were harmed or worn to nubs in the making of this production. In reality, every one of us has our own process for memorizing, but there are a few things that are pretty consistent across the board for all of us.

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that ol’ Billy Shakespeare was looking out for us and our task of having to commit this thing to memory. In fact, the very structure of the language in the play lends itself to memorization. We’ve all probably had the phrase ‘iambic pentameter’ drilled into our skulls by earnest English teachers (I should know; I’ve been one of those), but all that fancy phrase really means it that much of the play is written in metered speech. In other words – it has a rhythm.

It’s that same rhythm that actually helps with getting the text into our skulls. Think about the way in which snatches of lyrics end up in your brain: those dreaded ‘ear-worms.’ Or, the way setting something to a song can aid a student in their studies. That built-in cadence gives the language a lyrical quality, and as such, word choice has a flow, and can get ‘stuck in your head’ if you hear and say it enough.

However, this only applies to the metered section of the text, or verse lines, and not to the prose (un-metered) sections. As a result, I find it’s often much more difficult to memorize prose than verse. Playing a clown in Merchant means that I play a character who finds no cause to use that hoity-toity ‘verse’ language at any point in the play.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t other elements that assist memorization at work in the language. Launcelot, being a clown, often speaks in his own sort of comedic structure constructing arguments to set up his jokes. I’ve found that this is much easier to remember, than, for example, the many prose lines I had in Merry Wives of Windsor, because Launcelot’s lines have an ingrained logic and build, necessary to get to the ‘punch line’, so to speak.

It’s my first time playing a fool, and so I’ve had a lot of fun picking apart the way in which Launcelot speaks, as opposed to the other more serious characters he attends. And rehearsal today was my first attempt to go off book completely – and resulted in a lot less calling for line than I’d expected!

I’ll be over here thanking the linguistics of clowning.

Hi! I’m Brooke Heintz, and I’m playing Anne Page, the young love interest of Merry Wives, as well as the boisterous Host of the Garter. I’m also working with Katherine Mayberry on Props.

We’re a couple of weeks into rehearsals, and at this point we’re still working through our first few runs of some scenes. There’s a lot of focus, at these early stages of the process, on text work before we even get things on their feet and books out of our hands, so I’d like to talk about what I get out of the importance of this kind of work.

Working with Shakespeare’s language presents a number of unusual challenges, but that’s also part of what makes it such a rewarding process. As someone who got their degree in English, decoding what lies beneath and within the words of a text is fun for me, as well. While dictionaries and annotated texts can be helpful to us, as actors, to learn the meanings of words or even of entire phrases that are no longer in common use – or mean something entirely different nowadays – our audience doesn’t have that advantage when watching us perform. It becomes the task of the actor to convey the meaning of these words and phrases through a combination of intonation, physicality, and playing the intention of the meaning. When we invite audience members to watch our show, it is not our goal for them to walk away able to give a dictionary definition of each word they might not have heard before. However, we believe it’s possible that with a well acted scene, even Shakespeare’s most obscure vocabulary won’t obscure the action of the play, or the emotional content and dynamics between characters.

Of course this means that part of our job as actors is to understand that action, meaning, and emotional content as much as possible. Luckily, Shakespeare’s all about giving us the clues we need (in most cases) to figure this out in the text of the play itself. Given that we’re working with limited stage directions (usually entrances and exits), when it comes to what we’re doing in the scene, we have to examine closely what we’re saying. Some of it’s pretty basic: when Anne enters, for example, her Dad tells her to carry the wine in, so it’s easy enough to infer that she’s probably lugging wine from somewhere towards the house, and perhaps hesitates enough that her father has to direct her where to go with it. Some of it’s implied in what other characters say about yours: when the Host enters, Page and Ford comment on his ‘ranting’ and how merry he looks, and he doesn’t seem to notice them initially, which leads me to enter laughing at slow paced Shallow, and focusing my attention offstage until spoken directly to. Many times, it’s even much more subtle than that, and can stem from a single word choice in the text that stands out. As actors we constantly have to take a magnifying lens to the script and ask ourselves: why this word or these words? So much of the first few weeks of any show for me is sitting with the text, Shakespearean dictionaries, and a pencil, going line by line to battle these things out.

All that focus on the minutiae on our end allows audiences to be able to absorb the “bigger picture” on theirs without getting hung up on the details or meanings of individuals words. Part of the goal of Pigeon Creek is making Shakespeare accessible to everyone, and an actor’s text work goes a long way towards making that possible.

Playing Rosencrantz

I’m Brooke Heintz, better known as (deep breath now) Rosencrantz, Francisco, Reynaldo, the Ambassador, Captain, and a pallbearer.  That’s right, it’s a regular revolving door of characters for me during any one of our runs.  Along with this, I’m our production’s Prop Mistress.   This means it was my duty to work with our director compiling a list of necessary props, determining what look we were going for, and then actually going out and finding them all.   Sharing production duties is one of the most unique things about working with Pigeon Creek, in my opinion, because we eliminate the line between actors and crew, and it allows the show to feel fully ours.  We take ownership of every aspect, or trust the people from our own ensemble to do so.

Speaking of unique opportunities for teamwork, I wanted to focus on the experience of playing half of the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern team.   I haven’t played a lot of male characters, and we also wanted to develop synchronization between R&G’s movements, so I was focused quite a bit on physicality when preparing my roles.  Sarah, who plays Guildenstern, worked very closely with me on developing where we wanted the characters’ center of gravity, how we wanted them to walk, to sit, to stand, to react physically in fear or indignation.   Near the beginning of rehearsals, we would use a mirroring exercise, where we simply stood face to face, and followed each other’s movements, trying to keep it as organic as possible, and get our bodies physically in tune.  We did a lot of work in front of mirrors as well, trying to get our stances to match while keeping it natural.

Once we were confident in the things that matched between the two, and felt that they translated visually as a set, we focused on what differentiated the characters.  Guildenstern is more of the alpha dog of the two, and we decided that they vary strongly in that Guildenstern tries to keep his reactions in the “head” most of the time, whereas Rosencrantz (not very “heady” whatsoever) reacts to most things directly from the heart.  It allowed for us to create tiny physical mannerisms that were opposing, but still complemented those that were synchronized: Rosencrantz was more likely to react to things openly, shoulders back, heart bared, whereas Guildenstern tends to shrink inwards.  When these reactions were combined, it still creates a visual illusion of them being two parts of a whole.

Playing someone’s “other half” so to speak has been a brand new experience for me, and required more specific physical work with another person than I’ve gotten to do before.   Hopefully it pays off in comedy for our audiences.   You still have a chance to come and see for yourselves, at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, May 13-16th!