Entries tagged with “Ensemble Direction”.


This week we hear from Morgan Springsteen, who is currently acting in The Tempest.

As is always true in life, for everything there must be a beginning, for each path a starting point.  My interest in theatre stretches back as far as I can remember.  However, I remember distinctly the first time I stepped onto a stage and decided, almost instantaneously, that acting was my passion.  This production of The Tempest marks another first for me.  This is my first time acting in one of Shakespeare’s plays.  It is an experience unlike anything I have ever had in many ways, some which I have found challenging, all of which I have found exciting.

Working with Pigeon Creek requires a level of self-management that I had not yet experienced working in educational theatre at Grand Valley.  A major reason for this is that this show was ensemble directed.  Ultimately, what we as actors choose to put on the stage is our choice.  However, we are dependent on the cast as a whole to make sure that everything looks cohesive and makes sense.  In order to be a functional and effective cog in the machine, you must be willing to take constructive criticism you’re your peers and not be afraid to give it out.  As a novice to Shakespearean acting, it was difficult at first to pipe up and give direction.  However, as my understanding of the process grew, so too did my confidence.

Another thing that sets this experience apart is that I am playing multiple small roles, on top of understudying the role of Ariel.  Trying to flesh out the characters of a salty mouthed sailor (the Boatswain), an eager and optimistic lord in the company of the king (Adrian), and a rainbow goddess at the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda (Iris) requires a keen sense of contrast.  It has been fun finding the nuances of each character and discovering what makes each one stand out from the others.

On top of these three parts, it has been an added challenge to keep track and learn all of the things Ariel is in charge of throughout the play.  I am still working to find the balance between following the character Kate has fleshed out and still allowing room for my own interpretation.  I am excited to tackle the role in a few weeks when we head to Toledo, and I only hope my performance lives up to Kate’s.

This truly has been a hugely valuable experience.  I’m sure I will find myself comparing this production with new theatre experiences as they come along.  I am so glad I got to work with this amazing group of people and put together a show that I not only feel much attached to, but extremely proud of.

Elle Lucksted weighs in on the role of Miranda:

Shakespeare himself wrote, “Say as you think and speak it from your souls,” (King Henry VI). The Tempest’s Miranda, fifteen-year-old daughter of Prospero, exudes a complete innocence that perfectly exemplifies this philosophy. Miranda was “thrust from Milan” (Tempest, V:i) at the age of three, and has lived twelve years in seclusion with her father and the spirits that inhabit the island. The free-spiritedness of her youth left her without a social filter, and without a sense of shame. When she speaks and acts, it is with the liberty of a child.

An essential component of Miranda’s character is the fact that she has never seen another human being besides herself and her father…unless we’re counting Caliban—the island’s fish-monster—as a half ;) Hers is a purity untouched by the cruelty of the mortal world.  She has no ready exposure to its cruel elements: murder, deception, or throne usurpation (so she thinks, anyway).

As such, it might be easy to portray Miranda as a shell of a Disney princess—all fluff and no substance—but it would be a grievous character mistake to do so. Although she is young and ignorant of the world around her, her character is positively rich with dimension. In her first appearance to the audience, she is reacting to an event that triggers a chain of new experiences and emotions. She exhibits anger, sadness, horror, frustration, sorrow, confusion, anxiety, and relief in the space of one speech. She eventually grows to explore the realms of first love and a fascination with the “brave new world” (V:i) that unfolds before her.

The Tempest marks my fourth show with Pigeon Creek (after King Lear, Julius Caesar, and Pericles), and yet it is my first involving ensemble direction. While the common issue of receiving contradictory feedback exists because everyone’s opinion differs as to what works and what doesn’t, this “problem” actually serves as a sanction that generates a more substantial number of ideas and suggestions with which to experiment. I must add here that my “most-received note” involves remembering to play up Miranda’s youthful free spirit, and to tone down my own excessive stoicism…ha! It has been both challenging and enjoyable to work through a series of different possible reaction styles and tactics for each scene. In terms of this particular style, working alongside a group of such artistically gifted souls makes ensemble direction an absolute joy.

One element that I’ve always treasured about Pigeon Creek’s philosophy is that it makes our final product a shared effort. We create a show that is entirely our own—a product of collaborative creation—and it feels that much closer to our hearts because of it. We ourselves compose every outside element of the show. We are our own tech crew; props, costumes, and set design are our personal responsibilities. All songs and scripted noises within the show are created on stage or behind the curtain by our actors. Remember also to keep your eyes peeled during this production for tones of my choreography—a role that is new to me! I’ve loved the opportunity to create movement pieces for magical nymphs and fairies…a sort of visual interpretation of the creatures who represent“such stuff as dreams are made on.” (IV:i)

With just one week until our debut, we’ve certainly reached crunch-time! Rehearsals are flowing beautifully as we tighten our cue pick-ups and assemble musical pieces. Our masterpiece is looking much more whole, and we are excited to finally reveal our Shakespearean gem to the world! Thank you immensely for your temporary “indulgence” in reading. We so look forward to seeing you at our upcoming performances!

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.