Entries tagged with “Doubling”.


Joseph Valente as the Soothsayer, Menas, Scarus, Thyreus and Dercetas

One of the most difficult and rewarding tasks of an actor is taking a character off the page and creating a real, living, breathing, human being onstage with all the necessary depth and complexity. I have been given the great challenge and opportunity to go through this process with five distinctly different characters in Pigeon Creek’s summer production of Antony and Cleopatra. This being my third major production with Pigeon Creek, I was familiar with the routine challenges that come with playing Shakespeare, but found the sheer number of characters to be initially daunting, as it was essential to make each one unique and interesting in its own way. Fortunately I had great help and guidance from the direction of Katherine Mayberry, as well fantastic scene partners that gave me so much to play off of with each scene.

An actor playing multiple roles is nothing new to Shakespeare. In the Bard’s own time, it was common to have one performer bring several distinct characters to life. About twelve actors can provide enough cast to perform any of Shakespeare’s plays, and some works require even less than that. Antony and Cleopatra, being one of his longer and more intricate plays is ripe for ample doubling. Though some characters are only in a few scenes, their activities influence the plot and direction of the play enormously.

When approaching a role, I begin by working out the character’s backstory, first starting with the script’s given information, and then filling in the gaps with my own imagination and interpretation. Though this practice was certainly helpful to this production, I wanted to avoid becoming lost in the massive detail of years of background experience on five very different people. Thus to keep focused I made the center of my efforts to the simple question of why each character is included in the play, and what purpose they serve.

The Soothsayer is a mysterious fortune teller that appears early in the play warning both the queen’s handmaidens and Marc Antony that their futures are tainted with unfortunate happenings. A similar character appears in Julius Caesar warning the title character to “Beware the Ides of March.” The Soothsayer’s role in the story is to warn the characters of the coming storm, as well as to give the sense of impending doom and inevitability. With this purpose in mind I was able to find a character burdened with the weight of truth, and the humiliation of being regulated to entertainment and pageantry, even while holding such crucial information.

Menas the pirate is a brute that allies with Pompey against the triumvirate. His role in the text points out the folly of Pompey in trusting Caesar, which both mirrors and foreshadows Antony’s own downfall at the hands of Rome’s first emperor. Providing a background for Menas proved fun, as it is never fully revealed why he places his fortune and resources to Pompey. I decided that Menas could have once been a soldier under Pompey’s famous father who was defeated by Julius Caesar. His alliance to Pompey could very well be seen by him as a way to regain his former honor and position. Creating a character necessarily cynical, world-weary, and brutal proved to be very enjoyable.

If Menas is cynical and realistic, Scarus, a soldier in Antony’s army, is the direct opposite. Scarus sticks with Antony to the very end, his purpose being to demonstrate the vast power Antony once held as a member of the triumvirate, as well as showing how Antony’s demise affects the lives of every one of his followers, particularly the most loyal. Loyalty is central to Scarus’ character as he rants against Antony’s Egyptian follies in his first appearance, yet still decides to follow his master to the end. Paul Riopelle (Antony) helped me in the development of this character as he pointed out that Antony may even see something of his former self in this scrappy, young idealistic soldier.

Thyreus is an overconfident ambassador in Caesar’s inner circle, who is sent to attempt to drive a wedge between Cleopatra and Antony. Ironically Shakespeare uses the character to accomplish the opposite effect, as his actions pull the two title characters even closer together. His overconfidence in his own cunning and skill, proves his downfall, as he is outwitted by Cleopatra, and receives a severe beating at the hands of Antony as a result of his actions. Something tells me that Thyreus has a long history of outmaneuvering his opponents, which is why Caesar sends him to Egypt in the first place. Unfortunately for him his skills did not prove strong enough for this particular situation.

Dercetas is a guard in Antony’s army that is one of the last to defect to Caesar after finding Antony mortally wounded in a suicide attempt. Shakespeare uses the character as a vehicle to inform Caesar of Antony’s final demise, as well as to further emphasize the tragedy of such a swift downfall. Interestingly enough, Dercetas thoroughly praises Antony during his defection to Caesar indicating how hard the switch is for him, and how deeply his master’s downfall has hurt him. It was fascinating creating a character pragmatic enough to know when to quit, but still loyal enough to proclaim his former master’s greatness to the enemy he is defecting to!

All in all my experience with Antony and Cleopatra has been an exceptional learning experience, as it has given me five distinctly different characters to make my own. Not many other shows provide one with that much opportunity for creation. I am greatly enjoying myself on this production and wish to sincerely thank Katherine for her exceptional direction as well as my fellow actors for their great work that inspired me to work even harder to achieve the greatest truth in performance. I can honestly say this show boasts one of the most talented, hard-working casts I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

Janna Rosenkranz as Varius/Octavia and Dolabella

One of the original practices that Pigeon Creek partakes in is doubling. In Antony and Cleopatra, I double six characters: a messenger, another messenger, Varius, Octavia, a soldier, and Dolabella. To make things a bit easier on myself I’ve made the first and second messenger and the soldier the same person, just during different time periods in his life. This works out for me because the play takes place over approximately ten years (the second Roman Triumvirate lasted from 43 BCE to 33 BCE). My named characters also change over time. I found this exercise particularly interesting as my characters are very rarely on stage and have only short speeches (as opposed to the last role I played with Pigeon Creeek – Boyet in Love’s Labours Lost, who doesn’t stop talking!).

What I decided to do is use Shakespeare’s treatment of the passage of time in the play as follows. Since we are looking at snapshots of events during that ten-year period, my characters have to age and change along the way and present that change in each scene they are in. For example, the first messenger in Act I, Scene i, is a young, middle-class Roman who came to Egypt with Antony. He does as he’s been taught. He had honor and duty to his betters and is slightly disgusted and disturbed by Antony’s behavior with Cleopatra. Egypt is like New York would be to a young man who grew up on a farm in Nebraska in the 1870s. (It helps that our Roman costumes are Victorian.) In the his second scene, he has become more confident, while remaining very loyal to Antony. As a solider, he has risen in the military ranks, and although he is in the midst of a very strange event, he shows maturity in the way he handles it.

We only see Varius twice and in one of his scenes he has no lines, but I also try to give him some more weight as a pirate in the second scene. Last in my male roster, Dolabella changes from his blind allegiance to Caesar to seeing how manipulative Caesar really is. At the end, he emotionally favors Cleopatra.

On the feminine side of my roster, Octavia is key to the action of the play and somebody who I could do real research on. In real life she lived with Antony for years and had two daughters with him. After he died she raised his children from his marriage with Fulvia and his relationship with Cleopatra along with her own children. My motivations for her are, as always, based on the text, but I’ve elaborated by giving her a more family-based loyalty. She is motivated by family honor. However, she has duties towards both her brother and husband and is truly torn between them. When Octavian tells her that Antony is with Cleopatra in Egypt instead of Athens, she is more upset because she, and therefore her family, has been humiliated, rather than because she has a great romantic love for Antony. Beforehand, she believes she can bring Antony and her brother together, as is her duty, but she is unsuccessful which is shameful to her.

I’m sure that a different actor would have a different way of managing these characters but as someone with a liner mind this works great for me and has given me a new insight into bringing Shakespeare to life!

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.

Scott Wright (Sly / Hortensio / Grumio / Vincentio) on the challenges of being doubled.

Try this on for disguise…

It always interests me to see how much of what we discovered, tried on, or experimented with during our initial read-through and in the early phases of rehearsal made it into the final production.

Especially with a very-small-cast where each actor, doubled into two or even more major roles, is asked to make character choices that will make it very clear to the audience who is being portrayed.

Some of the choices are easy and obvious, given to us in the text – the older men for example. The “Old Master Vincentio,” accustomed, by virtue of his age and wealth to deference and obedience, is taken by surprise when he stumbles into the topsy-turvy world of Kate & Petruchio and the goings-on in Padua.

As Kat Hermes has mentioned already, one of our tactics is to choose one character that will be simply be the most like me – that will speak in my (mostly) natural speaking voice and be mostly just me physically.

Grumio seemed the obvious one : self-aware (but not self-conscious…), smarter than average, fun-loving, attuned to what’s going on and to the people (…and their motives…) around him, and well adapted to the unique circumstances of living around Petruchio.

Well – maybe I’m not always all those things, but a little positive self-image never hurt, right…?

I’d never thought much before about Hortensio. Never had to. In my previous experiences with this play I’d seen Hortensio as someone Grumio has possibly ingratiated himself to or as one of the pawns in Tranio’s ex-machina.

But in our first read-through, under the pressure to come up with yet another character (especially one that someone else hadn’t already played with that evening…), just having a bit of fun and trying to make my cast-mates laugh, I tried on something so ridiculous, so completely improbable – something I was fairly sure at the time wouldn’t end up working…

The feedback was immediate (the expected laughter) and unequivocal as later review of what we had done and discussions about how to implement this crazy concept made it clear that it was something we would be keeping.

So then I had to start wondering – what is Hortensio’s deal…? There’s plenty in the script – Petruchio’s “best and most approved friend,” a man of higher social class – an at least moderately wealthy resident of Padua, and most notably – in love with Bianca, or at least in love with his ideal of what Bianca represents… and utterly blind to the fact that she just isn’t really interested in him.

So as I thought more about it, my very different characterization of Hortensio (…not that it’s never been done – I’ve just never seen it done…) sort of started to make sense.

It sort of fit with the way other characters treat him, and it made perfect sense that Bianca might prefer a young, good-looking (if somewhat thick-witted) gentleman to an effeminate, lisping, not-so-good-looking man who might one day be caught trying on her clothes.

You still have one chance to get out and see our zany experiment in small-cast Shakespeare at the fabulous Grant Fine Arts Center in Grant, MI next Saturday January 28th. You may never see these particular characters again… :)

“The Master, the Swabber, the Boatswain and I”

Hello again out there all you Shakespeare mavens and Pigeon Creek enthusiasts – Scott Wright here and it’s my turn again…

I never cease to be amazed at what I discover working on PCSC productions.  From the beginning rehearsals where we pore over the script and reference materials working out meanings of obscure words, debating pronunciations of particular words, and reveling in the subtleties of scansion (yes, I’m a Shakespeare nerd…), to the final stages of preparation as we work (sometimes sleep-deprived…) to get the finishing touches on the show.  The perseverance and talent of the people around me in this company inspire me to seek and strive for my very best – to dig deeper than I’ve ever had to before.

One of my big challenges working on The Tempest was in the company’s well-known practice of doubling.  I was given multiple roles in Macbeth – my very first show with PCSC – but since then I’ve pretty much never been “doubled.”  Being a rookie on Macbeth, I didn’t truly appreciate what it takes to convincingly pull off dual or even triple roles.  Using costumes is the most visually direct way for an audience to differentiate between characters but as an actor, what else can I do?  It’s still my voice and my face and my body they’re looking at…!

The two characters I play in The Tempest are Alonzo, King of Naples and Stefano, “a drunken butler.”  The distinctions between them in the script manifest in the undercurrents of their social status, but mostly in the way they talk.

Alonzo speaks in a fairly tragical/poetical mode throughout the play.  He has lost the pomp and ceremony of his majesty – sure he’s still king, but being king of a few foolish people on a desert island might be thought of as something of a step down…  The order of his world where a hoard of people saw to his every human necessity and where his son would carry on his legacy seems to have been completely shattered.  His grief over the loss of his son and the Island’s magic draw his mind toward despair and madness.

Stefano on the other hand, suddenly finds himself free of the oppression of class and service, and with all the necessities of life at hand (i.e.- a small instrument and an intact and full butt of sack…) now fancies himself his own king.  The script shows him speaking in what seems to be a coarser dialect than that of the “court” and his mood seems to be considerably more buoyant – he’s first seen singing to himself, and especially when he finds two “subjects” & drinking buddies in his old friend Trinculo and the monster Caliban.  He never strays far though from the profane and violent truth of the world of the lower class…

So finding the ways I, as an actor, can make all these distinctions clear to the audience with my voice and movements has been an adventure that’s been both fun and challenging, and the ideas and suggestions of the other company members have been invaluable.

Well, I guess that’s about as tedious-brief I as can be about that…

Come see The Tempest and let us know how successful our doubling was (-or wasn’t…!).  Hope to see you!