Entries tagged with “Merry Wives of Windsor”.

Michael Opatick as Master Fenton and Nym

Hello! This is my first Pigeon Creek Shakespeare production. I’m playing the role of Fenton, the man that Anne Page actually marries. Although Fenton makes few appearances in the play, the love affair between him and Anne take place at the margins of a greed, jealousy and revenge which actually sets the formed plot of the play. Fenton’s beginning involvement with Anne as well as her other suitors are simply for her fathers income. Fenton ends up fallling for Anne, admitting that at first he was interested in her Fathers wealth. In the end, he confesses this to her and woos her simply for matters of the heart.

I auditioned for Merry Wives of Windsor because I was really interested in the role of Fenton. Fenton’s character is one I related to on certain levels. The last couple of months of doing this, I have had a lot of room for growth with analysis on how to embody and “be” Fenton. Playing a fictional character gives one a lot of room to pretty much do anything to a certain degree. I have had great help from pretty much everyone in the cast with suggestions on how Fenton might do this or that, which has given me a lot of creative insight and avenues to run with. I see Fenton as a young man who doesn’t become fully whole as a grown man until these series of events take place. I think he as someone who grows and matures fully throughout the play by weighing out his reasons of importance. Fenton weighs out his desires of love and money. Sometimes when you choose one of the more rightful obsessions such as love, you get a little bit of luck and success, allowing you to find out that the rest takes care of itself. In this case Fenton morally looks into the real Anne by seeing her without her father’s wealth. Fenton chooses love. This can be a real good lesson, that if you do something simply by honoring another (or anything you do without feeling owed by demonstrations) then the real warmth of truth will connect you whole.

Fenton’s appearances are so few. He evolves and calculates quickly on the road he wants to take in attaining Anne. Throughout the play you can tell the weight of his decision making and how it is effecting his attitude and his free lifestyle before he had the mapping and pursuit to where he almost feels like giving up. Its almost like hes never had this much trouble in his life before this and before this all he had to worry about was his self. That is the responsibility one has to take on at time when wanting love and happiness. Fenton is definitely a very original non-stereotypical Shakespeare creation. I feel like Fenton, like other people from then and even in today’s societies, is constantly evaluating his life, objectives and desires.

What do I want? Who do I need? Who do I love? In my opinion, the characters of The Merry Wives of Windsor are trying to get some satisfaction and answers by “having at” these questions.

Jacqueline Frid as Master Slender and Robin.

I first heard of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Players from Joel Schindlbeck, who invited me to watch “King Lear”. I was blown away by their performance, and touched in the heart. Since then, I watched more of their performances, and loved each one more than the last.

Last year, Joel told me to try out for the coming season. I was apprehensive, since I had never been in a play, but with encouragement, I went to audition. I was thankfully placed in the Scenes Troup, where I learned a lot about acting, and how to give life to Shakespeare’s work.

Now, I am in a true play, and will be performing in front of many audiences.

At the first few rehearsals, I was incredibly nervous, and quite a bit intimidated. I was to perform with people I had been watching and admiring! I was so worried that they would find me incredibly lacking. But that was not how they received me at all. They were warm and caring. They gave instruction and advice clearly and best of all, kindly. Now I am loving this experience, and have no more apprehension, but excitement!

I hope I can work with them in more plays again!

Scott Lange as Master Ford and Peter Simple.

There are easy ways to tell the difference between a good performance and a bad performance. The actors forgot their lines, the set fell down, cues were missed, or the actors weren’t convincing in their portrayal. But it is more difficult to describe the difference between a good performance and a great performance.

Within the profession of acting there is a term that is often tossed around that supposedly describes why one actor is great, or why another actor is not as good. The term is “it.” As in: Lawrence Olivier has “it,” and that is one of the qualities that makes him a good actor. “It” is an ineffable quality that draws an audience to an actor. We can all probably agree on some actors that have “it.” Johnny Depp probably has “it,” Robert DeNiro has “it,” Robert Downey Jr.; we could go on and on. You can’t really describe it, and you might argue about it, but generally everybody knows it when they see it. I think “it” is also one of those qualities that is difficult to own. If you think you have ‘it,’ you probably don’t. If you don’t think you have ‘it,’ you probably don’t. It’s almost taboo to talk about in reference to yourself. It’s a quality you want, but don’t know how to achieve.

My goal here is not to argue whether or not I, as an actor, have the elusive “it,” but to talk about a quality that all of the people I consider to be “it” actors have: specificity.

Specificity is a fairly broad term that encompasses a number of aspects of theater. It can include vocal variety, physical timing, gestures, and facial expressions being just a few. It means being very pointed at when, how, and at what level of capacity each aspect needs to be performed.

For this play, I play two and a half different characters. I say the half because one character is himself sometimes, and is disguised the other. My goal with specificity for this production was to make each character extremely distinct. Obviously that should always be a goal, but this time I wanted to be even more extreme in my planning.

I consider Ford to be an anxious, jumpy person. One who can easily jump from one thought and emotion to another on the other side of the scale: happy to angry, fretting to joyful, and calm to manic. This is backed up by his language, where he jumps from thought to thought without much transition. I wanted to plot exactly where I would stand for every portion of his monologues. I wanted to set specific gestures on exact words, so that I could repeat them for every performance. I decided that his movements and vocal pattern should almost as a rule be clipped and sharp. After setting that, I can pick my moments where he becomes more fluid, but usually immediately switching back.

For my other character, Peter Simple, I chose the opposite qualities. Simple moves and speaks slowly, but still purposeful. Ford rants and raves, running around the stage, but Simple moves only when he has to. I tried to go through my script and set every line. Where would I be standing when I say this? What about this line? In rehearsal we’ve blocked my character to stand here, what can I be doing once I get there? The point of this is to not only make those characters different from each other, but to create staging that I have down so precisely that I can recreate it for every performance. Most actors do a good amount of this, and it has always been a goal of mine. By creating structure, you can then be more fluid and improvisational in the places that you haven’t set in stone. For this production though, I wanted to go even further with how much I set, and see what it feels like. I want to see if I feel like I give a better performance, and how the audience reacts to it.

We have had only one performance so far, and I feel like it went well, but I don’t feel as though I’ve really met my goal yet. I think there are more places that I can examine what I’m doing, and more places that still have some discoveries yet to be made. Fortunately I’ve got four more weeks of performance to get it right.

Personally I don’t feel that I’ve necessarily got “it.” I’m not sure if I know what that would feel like, or if I would ever want ‘it.’ I want to constantly be striving for the best performance that I can give. Being extremely specific with my choices is one tool that I can use to help bring out the best of what I can offer.

Christian Vigrass.

After a recent performance of MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, I received one of the best compliments an actor can receive. I was told that the entire cast “really looked like they were having fun.” and that “you could tell that you were cracking each other up!” It is true! There are many times both on stage and off during a performance that we are on the edge of busting out laughing. As a result that translates into an truly successful comedic show. This is a direct result of a very close group of actors that I consider to be my closest friends and quite honestly a second family.

Pigeon Creek’s very nature requires that the entire cast put down any misgivings and completely share themselves with each other. WIVES was an ensemble directed show, which means that the entire cast had a hand in creating what you see. I personally had a bit of a transition working in this style as opposed to the single director approach. It required me to put away my ego and approach criticism like advice from family. Familial advice comes out of love and ensemble directing come from love as well, love of the art and its success.

Being so close knit and familiar with each other we really get to know each others sense of humor. Honestly, it is often our goal to crack each other up and I myself have been guilty of laughing onstage. Luckily that translates to the audience, especially since we are in such an intimate performance space. The ultimate goal in comedy is to make the audience laugh and the only way to make someone else laugh is to be able to laugh at yourself. For example one of the cast’s favorite accents in the Swedish/Midwest. We often find it coming out in the show despite our ability to hide it and during a recent show the uttering of a simple “oh?” just about caused a riot in the cast. That light-heartedness between friends and general tendency to laugh allows the audience to see that familiarity and laugh as well. So please come laugh with us! You will be glad you did.

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.

Scott Wright on Building Character:

Well, being cast in the role of Sir John Falstaff has been at once exciting, intimidating, frightening, and exhilarating. Much has been written about the jolly knight in one form or another. Scholars, wits, and critics alike have spent words and/or wisdom in plenty writing about Jack Falstaff.

The scholars write of the way he makes a phrase of simple prose seem like the very best of a compelling poet’s quality. The wits use Falstaff’s humor for his own ends. The critics, with their own incisive wit skewers the actor who either makes the character blustery, or funny, or believably human – or not – and uses his bully pulpit to inform the world of his opinion of what makes the character lovable, and believable, and funny – or not…

One might wonder – why….?

Falstaff isn’t a noble character. Despite his knight-hood he is a thief and a rogue of the commonest sort. It seems that most of his charm, after all, lies in his earthy, unapologetic, common-ness. He is an unrepentant liar, schemer, and cheater, defrauding anyone with the means to make it worth his while. But he manages to do it in an inept and lovable style that never seems to make him truly a villain, and which always seems to make us smile, and laugh, and forgive the bombastic, vain, and likable old bastard.

So, as an actor charged with bringing such a character to life, the challenges have been daunting. Jack Falstaff is a larger-than-life personality. Scott Wright – at the risk of saying so myself – not so much…

This fantastic ensemble has produced ideas, and suggestions, and support throughout the process that has been at once encouraging and challenging, and has helped me feel like the Falstaff we’ve created is almost right. The weak link yet, it seems to me, is whether I can do it with all the enthusiasm and commitment they’ve given to me.

Scott Wright on Building Buck-Baskets:

When we first began conceiving “Merry Wives”, the pivotal element of the Buck-basket came up and I have to admit, I drew a blank. What sort of laundry basket would be big enough (and strong enough) to carry a very large man in…?

The first thing I imagined was a sort of wicker laundry basket, such as I’d know growing up. That particular basket had disintegrated in a relatively short time of moderate abuse and I wondered what a buck-basket (big enough to hold a month’s worth of dirty underclothes – not to mention a very corpulent knight…) might have looked like.

Ultimately, knowing that no modern wicker-work (even modified to safely carry an actor of “any reasonable stature”) would be available within my budget, we had to imagine something that would satisfy all the requirements

i.e. : allow two actors to safely transport a third actor (who could not in any way aid them off stage), look to a modern audience like some sort of laundry basket or hamper, evoke the Elizabethan period that the play was to be set in, be fairly easy to build, be able to broken down and packed for touring AND be INEXPENSIVE.

We found a nice big round piece for the base and some casters with a sort of old-fashioned-looking bronze swivel that looked about right. We also found some wooden closet pole, 20-odd feet of 3-strand rope, some scraps of mahogany, and a very skilled and dedicated person who could sew us a 5-sided canvas bag. We had to come up with a fixture for drilling holes on a 14 degree angle, and one to make a circular plywood reinforcing panel for the bottom (this thing has to be STRONG – a big man’s going inside it…). Making circular panels is straightforward, but drilling 1.25″ diameter holes on a 14 degree angle around a 20″ circle is a little less so, but I have to say doing it was fun and satisfying.

In the end (after some epoxy, a bit of compromise, and some dark-colored wood stain) we have what would appear to be a 16th century version of the laundry hamper I bought at Wal-mart a few years ago. So when you see old Jack Falstaff being carried away in the name of foul clothes to Datchet-Mead, as you wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes you might just notice how well constructed that buck-basket is perhaps.

Joel L. Schindlbeck again… So, I’ve been working with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company for over 10 years now and never have had a more difficult accent to master than what I’m currently learning.  I’m preparing the role of Sir Hugh Evans, the Welsh parson, for The Merry Wives of Windsor.  A dopey, good-natured, religious type (and appropriately genderless, as well) is no problem at all for me.  One of the first things I learned in professional theatre, is “know your type”. That’ll keep the bills paid a little easilier.

However, our little teddy-bear Evans here has a thick and pointedly South Welsh accent.  From the minor research I’ve done so far, that accent is perhaps one of the closest to a (no offence to the Welsh who read this) lazy, Midwestern American accent.  However, it’s the vowels and the sing-song nature throwing me off.  My text coach, Katherine Mayberry, is getting me a CD, and she’s always there to help me with my words in general, so I’m not too worried.  But still, it’s strange that a character can be so easily “type cast” and yet have to carry such a difficult accent.  But, it’s early in rehearsal, and I work better taking things step-by-step. So we’ll see about that…

In other news, I’m organizing all the costumes for the play.  We’ve chosen the Renaissance, and my sempsters (myself included) are up to our elbows in jacquard prints, chiffon, corduroy and velvet, velvet, velvet.

The citizens of Windsor are quite the vivid and amalgamated bunch, from tight-corseted matrons to disguised husbands. We’re building jerkins, doublets, hoses, bonnets, robes and dresses, all in brilliant earth tones, that will fill the space around them like a cloud of colour and history.  I think, my internet friends, that you are in store for a lush romp of tomfoolery!