Entries tagged with “Ensemble Directing”.


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.

Pigeon Creek newcomer Dynasty (Third Witch, Donalbain, Menteith, Second Murderer) talks about her experience rehearsing Macbeth.

1. How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?
When first starting to prepare for a Shakespearean character I make sure I have a full and clear understanding of the play itself. By understanding the play’s intent I am then able to understand the intent of both my character and other characters as well. I find that this helps to create a smooth and clear message to both the other actors in the scene and audience members, painting a better picture of what’s going on scene by scene. After getting the broader picture I try to fine tune it buy assessing each one of my character’s lines as well as going over scansion and pronunciation. Another thing I like to do with pieces by Shakespeare is to go over each word breaking down consonant and vowel make sure that they are highlighted throughout my speech so that audience members can clearly hear each word that is spoken.

What I find to be the most influential in character development, whether it be a Shakespearean character or any other, is to really do my best to embody the character I am playing; meaning behave, move, and have the energy level and needs that particular character would have.

2. What do you find to be the most helpful part of PCSC’s standard rehearsal process?
This is actually my first time working with Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and I find that most helpful throughout the rehearsal process is the feedback that you get from all of the other actors. we are all directors as well as actors within the production. I find it helpful that the same person I’m out there acting with is also collaborating on the direction of the scene. I feel like this method helps to bring all the actors on to the same page at a quicker pace.
 We also collaborate on talking about the scenes together and discussing the intent as a whole and that really helps to know that everyone is understanding the material as a whole 

3. What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?
This question has always been a struggle for me to answer. I feel like there’s not enough time in a lifetime to do all of the things I like to do. With that being said, I probably like to do to many things so I guess I will just list a couple of my favorite things. I love to travel places I’ve never been, hike, camp, fish, dance, play the guitar, sing, shop, have game nights, and be lazy.

4. What is your day job? What do you want to be your day job?
Well I don’t have a day job per se I have a night job. I work at an adult foster home for developmentally and mentally disabled women. it is quite challenging and often fun but ultimately I want to be a psychiatrist working with the mentally ill.

5. What theatre plans do you have in the next couple months?
Acting wise I’m always an open book and ready for anything that comes up. Sometimes I have to work on pacing myself and not doing too many things at one time. As of now I have a couple film projects in my future. And nothing planned so far within the theatre but I am excited for what may come. I have been away from the acting world for a while and I am more than ready to dive right in!

Scott Lange (Lucentio / Gremio / Pedant) on the process of finding humor.

Humor is a funny thing. Or perhaps I should say SENSE of humor. It’s a funny thing that is totally unpredictable.

The Taming of the Shrew is classified as one of Shakespeare’s comedies. There are many funny things about the play (i.e.: the characters, the language, and the situations), but it can be nearly impossible to tell what the audience is going to find funny once you actually get to performances. I feel as though this production was especially challenging in that regard. For instance, we didn’t have any outside eyes on the show until the week we opened in Grand Rapids. And even then, it was only one person at a time that would watch the show, and give us feedback.

When you perform a comedy, laughter is an essential part of the show. Both in terms of getting the timing of your performance down, and helping fuel the energy of the show. We didn’t really get to experience our first real dose of laughter until opening night. Like I said, we had some outside eyes come in during production week, but there wasn’t a great deal of laughter on those nights. That’s not to say that the people watching the show didn’t enjoy it or that it wasn’t great to have an audience, but when you are one of a few (or the only) people watching a show, the impulse to laugh heartily isn’t quite as strong. There’s something about a crowd that makes it easier to laugh.

So you may be asking yourself: “Scott, what do you do when you are rehearsing an hilarious Shakespearean comedy without an ever present audience?” Well the answer is that you try to make each other laugh.

Comedy can be very subjective. What I think is funny, you may find crude or tasteless (this happens to me often actually…hmm.) And what my friend thinks is funny might be pretty dull to a lot of other people. It takes a lot of experimenting with the play to really figure out what the largest majority of people find amusing. Even then, you can’t please everyone. Mostly what we do at Pigeon Creek, is to make each successive choice for a character more and more ridiculous. Often my goal is to find a way to make my fellow actors break character in the middle of the scene. If I can make one of my fellow professional actors lose their concentration, I’ve done my job.

Usually once we reach that point, we do need to pull it back a bit. Sometimes the things that make us laugh the most often can’t be done on stage. It could distract from what the other characters on stage are doing, or it might just be too much over the top. I personally have two moments in this show that get pretty good laughs that came from some over-the-top experimentation. They are a bit ridiculous, but I’m glad I got to keep them in the show.

But sometimes you can’t beat having an audience. Kat Hermes and I were just having a discussion the other day, about lines that we thought were funny, but that we haven’t been able to coax a laugh from our audiences yet. The conversation centered around how exactly we were attacking the lines; on what word we placed the emphasis, volume, funny faces, etc. Again, it focused on the experimentation we had done with the play, but also highlighted the fact that we really had to think about how to make things funny.

Like I said, humor is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes a lot of work.

Scott Lange (Lucentio / Gremio / Pedant) on the rehearsal process of a six-person The Taming of the Shrew.

It wasn’t until the first week of rehearsal that I realized how much work this production was going to take. Not just from me, but the whole cast. My first thought when we decided to produce a small cast show (and I maintain that thought is a correct one), was that we had a cast of smart, talented, Pigeon Creek veterans who would easily bend the production to their will.

For the most part, it has been smooth sailing. Only a few scenes have given us fits about the staging, conversation and discussion has been free flowing, and we’ve been able to have quite a bit of fun while staying (mostly) productive.

But there are a few challenges that I never expected. With our typical cast size (about 12 people) every actor has just about equal stage time, but everybody gets a break at some point. But when the cast is half of that, everyone is pretty much on stage through the entire play. With an ensemble directed cast, when an actor is not on stage, they are designated as an outside eye to assist the scene. But with a small cast, there are rarely any scenes where more than one or two actors have been able to step back and look from an audience perspective. So even when we are not on stage, we need to be active participants in the rehearsal process. There’s no sitting back and letting someone else do the work.

What this results in, at least during rehearsal, is a lot of tired actors. We typically rehearse four hours a night. By the time we hit that fourth hour, everyone looks pretty spent. It takes a lot of energy and mental fortitude to work with this type of show.

There are also on stage challenges. Everyone is doubled to the extreme. So actors may be playing two or more large roles. Sometimes this results in instant on stage costume and character changes. There are only a few of those in the play, but we have had to take a really close look at those to make sure they are clear and precise. With those instant changes, the actors have to work harder to make each and every character distinct. We always maintain that a change of costume indicates a change of character. That is still true with this production, but there will be fewer costumes to help with that. We need to make sure that the audiences can tell when a new character is on stage, even if there was no costume at all. This has been difficult for me to wrap my brain around. I always base my characters physical and vocal attributes on my own. This way, what ends up on stage is me, but not me, at the same time. I feel like with this production I have had to push that farther that I normally would. It has been hard, but I am always happy to be pushed and challenged in ways I never expect.

We have not had anyone outside of the cast come in to watch our craziness yet. I know that day is coming. I am always slightly frightened when that happens. I feel very vulnerable the first time I present my work to a new person. But the point is for someone outside of the process to come in and help us determine what parts of our concept are working, or perhaps not working. They’ll help us edit, embellish, and perhaps alter our work if necessary. In the end, it will be for the greater good, and will help us put on the best production possible.

Kat Hermes (Bianca/Tranio/Tailor/Curtis) on the Ensemble Directing Process.

Ensemble directing is one of my favorite parts of working with Pigeon Creek. Working on an ensemble directed production with a small cast, I’ve found that the excitement and challenges of ensemble direction are intensified. I’ve been thinking a lot about ensemble direction as a process.

I’ve worked on nine ensemble directed productions with Pigeon Creek and over that time we, as a company, have been organically developing a rehearsal method specific to working without a director that has been refined and improved with each successive production.

One of the major differences between directing as an ensemble and working with a director is the way in which the rehearsal process is “layered”. When a director is driving the bus, he or she typically gives the actors their blocking. Depending on the director, this can very general or detailed and specific, but most of the blocking work is done by the director outside of rehearsal.

By contrast, in an ensemble directed production, blocking typically takes several rehearsals of each scene. The first time we run a scene on it’s feet, we tend to decide where everyone is enter and exiting from and then just experiment, finding where interesting stage pictures occur naturally and where we need to stop and work on finding the best blocking to tell the story of a specific moment. It often takes several runs of the scene before we’re ready to “set” the blocking.

To somewhat oversimplify things, the ensemble directing process is a sort of inversion of the typical rehearsal process. Instead of the director working on the more “technical” aspects of production (stage pictures, pace, prop and costume decisions) outside of rehearsal and working on “emotional” or aspects (verse, objectives and tactics, character movement and vocal choices) with the cast in rehearsal, in an ensemble directed production, rehearsal is primarily focused on those technical problems while each actor does their individual character work on their own.

As actors in an ensemble directed production, this affords us a great deal of creative freedom but also puts a great deal of responsibility on each of us to be pro-active about our acting “homework.” Because the rehearsal process is front-load with technical work, once be being working on those acting details, there isn’t time to start small and work up to big choices. The most effective use of our rehearsal time isn’t helping each actor make choices, and there is no central directorial voice guiding actors towards specific choices. As an ensemble, we use our later rehearsals to help each other understand how the choices we’ve each made are “reading” onstage, and how to adjust what we’re doing to more clearly tell the story we want to tell.

Greetings new and continual followers of The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and our informative blog, Chris S. Teller here, I am playing the roles of Caliban and Sebastian in our upcoming production of The Tempest. I really want to touch on two major elements that really intertwine during our particular rehearsal process, and they are topics that previous entries have touched on; they are movement and the ensemble direction.

To start the The Tempest is a very mystical piece as one may have gathered from possibly reading the play or from my fellow actor’s previous entries.  This ideal of magic has really created a focus in rehearsal on movement for not only individuals like me portraying a monster, or Kate giving Ariel specialized moves, but from the entire cast; which in turn has really in a way created a whole new level of demand in the ensemble direction.  It is one thing to be able to give notes to another actor on perhaps vocalization or textual information, but we all now have to examine and watch everyone’s movements.  Without giving away too much of what we are working on (which is really awesome) there are scenes where we have to react and move as one group, or be individually overcome by Ariel or Prospero’s spells.  This is all done in order to ultimately create magical conventions to spark our audience’s imagination, bringing them into the world with us.

One example I can give, and pardon me for being vague as to not spoil the beauty of the scene or the hard work that the actors have put in, but there is a scene we all were just not quite convinced was working in terms of movement.  One of the characters is being led around by the magic of another “invisible” character, and one day it finally clicked.  By simply changing the movement style of one of the characters, it completely changed the believability of the power and invisibility of the other character.  It was one of those moments that the ensemble could relish because at that point we had all established a new way of doing something as a group, and would incorporate it into other scenes that required this “invisibility.”

This moment touches on the major challenge that can come up for an ensemble directed scene, and that to a point the group has to agree on every convention we create to establish continuity of the play.  This democratic agreement amongst the cast at times can require, what seems to be long and arduous discussion, but pays off to be very useful to the production’s imagery as a whole.

I hope that you all come out and see the work that this ensemble has put together as a team, in which we have created a truly magical world, with some surprises at the end that require the audience’s imagination to take control.