Entries tagged with “Janna Rosenkranz”.


Rep. Company member Janna Rosenkranz (Ajax, Deiphobus, Cassandra) talks about the challenges of doing battle onstage.

From Couch to Greek Warrior in Six Weeks: Stage Combat for the Morbidly Sedentary

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I was cast as Ajax and Cassandra. The later character, Cassandra, is the type of character that comes easy to me in that I know what it feels like to be a woman whose voice is not always (for poor Cassandra never) heard or counted. Ajax, on the other hand, through me for a real loop. I had nothing, internally, to really explore for Ajax, so I took a very simple outside approach with him and played up his cartoon like Football Joe/Meathead characteristics. (No insult is intended towards football players named Joe or Meathead). It also must look ridiculous, as I’m the complete physical opposite of the men I’m fighting, however, as that lends itself to the fact that Ajax is a joke, and is made fun of by virtually everyone in the play.

With the help of our wonderful directing team, Angela and Francis Boyle, I was able to find some specifics to help with Ajax’s character, but besides the acting challenges, there was a huge physical challenge. I’m a 48 year old, overweight, Netflix addicted, un-athletic woman! I’ve taken some stage combat (around 15 years ago) and once even took a fencing class (in my last year of college for a required PE credit), and done some minor combat with PCSC in Henry IV, 2 and Macbeth, but I’ve never had to really have a serious stage fight before, and now I was faced with three serious fights. I was lucky to already have acted with the three men I’d be fighting with, Scott Wright, Killian Goodson, and Zachary Johnson. I knew them and trusted them. I was also extremely lucky to have Francis as our fight coordinator and Steven Schwall as our fight captain. I felt a kinship with Francis and Angie immediately and Francis was very clear with his instructions. Trusting your fellow artists is half the battle. I thank them all for their professionalism and camaraderie.

Facing my fears of anything movement related was a huge part of my challenge. Over the last ten years or so I’ve become a very careful mover, watching every step for fear of what my husband calls “tipping over.” Basically, I’m a huge klutz (I take after my Jewish mother) and I fall. A lot. Like a lot. During PCSC’s production of The Merchant of Venice I fell down a set of stairs and caught myself with my face. I had a huge lump on my forehead and two black eyes as a result. In Henry IV, 2 I had one tiny fight during an excursion and I think I managed to mess it up in every performance. I did better in Macbeth, but only had one or two parries and a duck. I still am not quite sure how The Powers That Be at PCSC would even trust me with a sword, let alone cast me as a character who is in three fights!

Learning and rehearsing fights is like learning a new dance, there are beats, positions, intentions; basically lots to think about when you are fighting. I’m lucky to have a muscle memory of dance and gymnastics from my childhood; I’ve even been told I still sometimes move like a dancer, despite my more recent commitment to the good fight against gravity and being a highly ranked officer in the eat masses of carbs army. Like dance, you start getting the fight into your body and get some muscle memory established. Of course this means loads of repetition. The fight choreographer and captain (Francis and Steven in our case) model the moves of the fight beat by beat, and then the actors repeat what they did beat by beat. Since we’re doing live theater, we, rehearse the fight before each show with our fight captain observing. Since anything can happen during the fight, the more practice we get, the more we have the moves in our muscles, the more predicable the fight will be and the more we can deal with adjustments on stage.

We are currently in our final stages of rehearsal before we open and although I’m still nervous about my combat, I’m very excited. There is so much I don’t know and so much I learn every time we do fight calls and runs. The most important thing is that NOBODY gets hurt in any way, shape, or form, but for me, this experience has been so much more than just some fights in some play, it’s become a new source of mental, physical, and emotional confidence and  self-assurance.

The confidence that PCSC showed in me helped me gain more confidence, both in myself as an actor and in my own body. My appreciation for my body has also risen exponentially, and of course getting in a little better shape doesn’t hurt anyone. Both roles were great acting challenges and I am honored and appreciative that everybody at PCSC trusts me with helping them tell the stories of these wonderful plays.

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!

This summer, PCSC has started a new means of gathering the inside scoop of our actors in their processes. In addition to the normal blog entries you read on here, there will also be a series of questions posed to our actors. Enjoy.

This week: Sarah Stark (Rosaline) and Janna Rosenkranz (Boyet) are on the docket for Love’s Labour’s Lost.

*****
How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

Sarah: The beauty of Shakespeare is that the character is fully fleshed out already for you; it just simply is veiled at first sight by the text. What I feel I need to do is dig; to constantly engage the text until it reveals to me the full spectrum, from the overt circumstances to subtle nuances concerning character and emotion. The process is similar to the experience of trying to master a foreign language.

I begin by reading the play multiple times. Next I create a foundation by defining the given circumstances. At this point I also begin a backstory based on those facts and continue to add to it until performance time. I find it is one of the most effective tools for stimulating imagination and imbuing a sense of connection to the role. Then I examine the framework of the text, or how thoughts and arguments are carved out by punctuation, scansion, grammatical structure, etc. I enjoy using lexicons to explore all possible meanings inherent in operative words. As I progress I layer on technique, one of my favorites being Laban Effort Actions. All of this work is individual, and it is in the rehearsal process that I am able to amend or experiment based on the influence and work of my colleagues.

In the end it is my hope that I understand the character as fully as Shakespeare created them and that I may articulate their story in a specific and enjoyable manner.

Janna: Shakespeare’s characters are, for the most part, archetypes. The very first thing I do is decide which archetype I’m dealing with. Then I work on figuring out what that archetype says to me, as a 21st century individual. During my MFA training at Sarah Lawrence College we worked on being part of the collaboration of creating character. Actors work with characters, with the words (hence the playwright), the other actors, director, designers, and audience to create the event of the performance. As I’m doing all of this I research the character, look to previous performances, scholarly work on the play, and of course, the words, which are the most important resource actors have – directly from Shakespeare himself.

What, thus far, in rehearsal has been helpful?

Sarah: The insights and clever work of my colleagues. I strongly agree that two heads are better than one, and many heads even better. Such plentitude can be discovered in the honest feedback of an outside eye or by merely listening and reacting to a partner within a scene.

Janna: I always find feedback from other actors extremely helpful, especially when we are in an ensemble directed productions.

What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?

Sarah: Spend time with family & friends, travel, ballroom dancing, running, reading & writing plays and poetry, acrylic painting and charcoal sketching.

Janna: Watch bad (and sometimes) good TV – I am a pop culture aficionado, expert and addict.

What is your day job? What do you want to BE your day job?

Sarah: Currently I have two. I am a waitress and a door lady. If I could support myself as a professional actress, with time on the side to write and workshop my plays or poetry, that would be ideal.

Janna: I am currently attending GVSU’s Graduate Teacher Certification program, and begin student teaching in the fall. I have been teaching English, Writing and Speaking at Baker College, Muskegon for the last two years.

What do you plan to do after this show?

Sarah: Prepare to audition for M.F.A. graduate school programs this winter and begin work this Fall on my next show, Psycho, the Musical by Joel L. Schindlbeck in which I will be acting and choreographing.

Janna: We’re already in rehearsal for Antony and Cleopatra in which I am playing Octavia, et al (lots of doubling!). I am taking classes and looking forward to my student teaching experience.

Janna Rosenkranz as Westmoreland, Northumberland, Bardolph and Glendower.

I play four, very different men in Henry IV, Part 1: the solider Westmoreland, the politician Northumberland, the clown Bardolph and the Welsh, wizard-warrior Glendower. As an actor I approach my roles from the outside-in. I use everything from physical descriptions, historical renderings (in this case three of the four characters are based on real people), clothing and footwear, how the world sees the character from the outside to the image the character wishes to show the world when working on the essence of characters.

In this case I began by choosing an archetypical figure-type for my men, hence the title of this essay. I choose these archetypes to work as cores for all four characters. I’ll tell you about them in order of appearance.

Westmoreland, based on Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland (ca. 1364 – 21, October 1425) who, among other things, had 23 children and was survived by most of them. (wikipedia) The historical information I read mostly speaks about his responsibilities as a solider. In our play he is portrayed as simply this and, more importantly, a method of communicating exposition in the first scene. He only truly expresses emotions once; in the first scene when he describes the ‘beastly and shameless transformation” done to the bodies of Mortimer’s men by the Welsh women after a military loss to Glendower. In order to turn this character into someone three dimensional, I have concentrated on his loyalty to the King and his sons, Hal and John. My job as an actor is to make two speeches of exposition in the first scene interesting and compelling. Therefore, I worked on making him truly love the royal family and hate the Percy family as much as possible. This is nicely bookended by the final scene in which, without lines, I try to communicate my love for the Lancasters and pleasure that they have been victorious over the rebels.

Now to Westmoreland’s enemy, Northumberland. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, 4th Baron Percy (10, November 1341 – 20, February 1408). (wikipedia) He is only in one scene, but like Glendower, his name comes up a lot in other scenes. For an actor how much the character is talked about and what is said about them is very important. Northumberland has his hands full with a family that doesn’t quite live up to his standards. His brother, Worchester crosses the line with the King and his son Hotspur is impossible to control. I love my one full line in the first part of the one scene in which I play this character, when I manipulate the truth regarding Hotspur’s prisoners like a master (think former VP Cheney’s recent press tour). Sadly, the idiot Hotspur opens his mouth and messes my plan up. I spend the entire rest of that first half of the scene trying not to boil over with anger at him as he goes on (and on and on) and continues to dig his own grave. In the second half of the scene with only Hotspur and Worchester on stage, my favorite line is the bitingly sarcastic “Brother, the King hath made your nephew mad.” (Henry IV, Part 1: I, iii) Sadly, neither brother nor son are sophisticated enough to understand sarcasm. My Northumberland is full of anger towards his family, and I secretly believe that the illness that keeps him out of the Battle of Shrewsbury is an abandonment of his son and brother. He knows they will lose. Historically, Northumberland would go on to launch another rebellion in 1408 and end up with his head on a spike.

My third character , poor drunk Bardolph is one of the tavern clowns who ‘assist’ Falstaff and drink with him and Prince Hal. Again, my information came from what other characters say about him. His major characteristic is that “his face is all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames o’ fire: and his lips blows at his nose, and it is like a coal of fire, sometimes blue and sometimes red; but his nose is executed and his fire’s out. “ (Fluellen: Henry V: III, iv) In a pivotal exchange for Bardolph, Prince Hal comments that the redness of his face “portends…if rightly taken, halter” (Henry IV, Part 1: II, iv). Here Hal sees the future (as he does in this scene with Falstaff) and hints that one day, Bardolph will be punished for his thieving and drunkenness. Indeed this occurs when, as King Henry V, Hal will watch Bardolph hung. I love giving poor Bardolph a bit of a ’somebody just walked over my grave’ feeling here. Poor Bardolph is easily offended and tries very hard to believe that he’s a tough guy.

Finally I was extremely lucky to be cast as the wizard warrior Owen Glendower. Glendower, like his ally Northumberland, is often spoken about in the play although he only appears in one scene. The historical Glendower — or Owain Glynd?r or Owain Glyn D?r (c.1349 or 1359 – c.1416) — is seen as the Welsh King Arthur and was the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales. In the late 19th century the Welsh nationalistic movement Cymru Fydd recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism. In 2000, celebrations were held all over Wales to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Glynd?r uprising (our rebellion). He has since been voted in at 23rd in a poll of 100 Greatest Britons (a BBC produced program) in 2002. (wikipedia) As an actor, I felt playing Glendower was a huge responsibility. Along with the challenge of speaking Welsh (something director Scott Lange and fellow actor Lindsey Hansen and I continue to attempt to do – especially me, I’m sad to report) playing such a mythical creature is a huge deal. But, despite the hugeness of Glendower I have to make him human as well, so to do this I make him believe that he is a wizard and that he ‘thrice…sent him (Henry IV) Bootless home and weather-beaten back.” (Henry IV, Part 1: III,i). He can control the weather, the “earth did tremble” at his birth, he is a great magician. It’s this very Confidence (with a large C) that drives him to believe that the rebels won’t need him and his troops for two weeks. Of course, this lack of troops (Glendower’s and Northumberland’s) is the nail in the rebel’s coffin.

The above is a very general summary of how I approached each character, and many further specifications have to be made to make the moments they are on stage spontaneous and real. These come from Shakespeare’s words, my true inspiration.

Janna Rosenkranz as Salerio/Stephano

If this post was a NY Post tweet it would be this:

Old broad from the Bronx has new experience, stretches acting muscles! Still finds familiar, happy place! True Facts!

Here’s why:

I was trained classically, which basically means, I haven’t experienced cast direction many times. And by ‘many times’ I mean never. In my 20 odd year career as an actor, I’ve been part of this brave experiment exactly zero times.

It’s also the last thing I expected to experience after moving to West Michigan from my home land of NYC. It’s kind of cool. I’m enjoying it very much, both from an academic and artistic POV. I find it very freeing. Like most actors, I’m really painfully shy, and I’ve lived my life as a nice, well behaved lady (at least that’s what my parents think). I’ve had directors who I could talk with honestly and who sought out and accepted my opinions. I’ve also had ‘old school English directors’ who gave you line readings because they wanted to play the ingénue themselves. I’ve learned to work with both types and their in-betweens. I’ve been a bit hesitant about giving any input, but I’m slowly learning PCSC’s self direction language and now offer my two cents at least once during a rehearsal. It’s so nice being able to talk to a scene partner and play with ideas without involving an all seeing BOSS person.

What’s also wonderful about PCSC’s method and rhetoric is that it is respectful, clear, and generous. Truly an actor’s paradise. In the actor-eat-actor world of NYC theatre generosity from other actors can be difficult to come by, but I felt welcomed by PCSC from the moment I walked into the first audition.

Regarding Merchant in particular, I threw it out there in our first reading that I was Jewish and this play is therefore of great personal interest to me. I once wrote an academic tome (I write tomes, not papers or essays) on Anti-Semitism in the English Language Canon where I mainly compared Shylock to the other great Jew of English Lit, Fagin in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. My thesis was how both of these examples were ‘forgivable’ due to excepted cultural Anti-Semitism and because they are both fully fleshed out characters which elicited sympathy from their intended audiences. Shakespeare’s Jew goes all the way back to the medieval mystery plays and Fagin was based on a real person, Ikey Solomon, a well-known ‘fence’ in London. Dickens’ famously ‘watered down’ his portrayal of Fagin later in his life after becoming friends with a Jewish couple.

But this isn’t an academic blog, so now I’ll talk a little about playing a Christian who has nothing but contempt for Shylock. When Sarah Stark, Joel L. Schindlbeck and I do the famous ‘”hath not a Jew eyes…” scene it’s an interesting challenge to be playing such an insensitive character. Salerio is a bully, he and Solanio have to be make a choice to be threatening in that scene so the actor playing Shylock can give that speech honestly. I’m working on giving Joel more than ‘hate’ at that moment and finding a place in his speech where Salerio might have an enlightened thought or two. One thing I love about acting is listening and reacting, and that scene certainly gives me a workout. Joel and Sarah are both so wonderful to work with that we have started to find moments in that scene which makes it ‘right’ for the three of us, the audience and, of course, the play.

I love Shakespeare so much because his work is about collaboration, which to me is the spirit of theatre. The actors, the text, and the audience come together to create a happening, an event. PCSC lives this spirit to the letter; it’s a pleasure and an honor to be able to work with them. Can’t wait to experience the rest of the Merchant process and can’t wait for Henry IV part I!