Entries tagged with “Original Practices”.


Rep Company member Scott Wright (Duke Vincentio) drops some knowledge about music in Shakespeare’s plays and how music fits into the Original Practices style.

The question of music in modern Shakespeare performances turns out to be a somewhat contentious one.  Strong opinions are often expressed about the kind of music one “should” hear associated with the Bard’s works.  The proponents of using modern topical pop music argue that it is more accessible to a modern audience whose musical sensibilities are already attuned to it.  They regard with a certain degree of impatience those who insist that Shakespeare’s plays should be performed in renaissance costumes, accompanied by renaissance music, on renaissance instruments, especially when performed in one of the many “replica playhouse” stages around the world.  Indeed it might be said that playing renaissance music is an “original practice…”

My own opinions – and I’d expect most people’s – lie somewhere in the middle.

Modern pop songs and even those of the previous generations – “oldies” if you will – are fun to perform and seeing an audience’s eyes light up in recognition of a familiar tune, watching as they nod & tap their feet in time to the music, and as they make the connection between the topic of the song and the play – when they get the joke – is extremely gratifying to us as performers.  Songs like, “Cruel To Be Kind” in Hamlet or “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” in a performance of Macbeth can be a real relief to an audience who is concentrated intently on following an epic story in an almost foreign language.

Shakespeare’s plays to a certain degree, lend themselves to being set in almost any time or place (with a few notable exceptions…)  The music then becomes a key element in setting the scene – of indicating and coloring the culture, status and perhaps the nationalities of the characters and in telling the story of the play.

The songs that the Bard left within the plays themselves present real challenges in this regard – the song and its musical setting become as important to telling the story as the costumes or the set.  Many composers have set their hand at creating music for these songs – to varying degrees of success – and indeed, this may be one of the most “original practices” of all.  For the vast majority of these songs, the tune to which they were originally set is lost – either not written down, or simply passed out of memory.  It is thought that the musicians – or possibly one particular musician – in Shakespeare’s acting companies composed settings for these songs.  But certainly it was a very common practice to write new words – either topical or salacious, depending on your whim or the nature of the audience – to already popular songs (a practice referred to as “filking”), and it seems reasonable to think that Shakespeare’s songs might fit very easily to a melody that, in 1598 everyone knew very well, but just didn’t pass down to us.

But Renaissance music can’t quite entirely be extirp’d from Shakespeare.  In “Twelfth Night” Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste the Fool drunkenly sing songs that are immediately recognizable songs by Thomas Ravenscroft – “Hold Thy Peace, Thou Knave” – and Robert Jones’ “Farewell, Dear Love” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5iPpVAWhYg

– who were contemporaries of Shakespeare and writers of some of the “pop” music of the time and whose music the Bard could not but have known.

In “Much Ado About Nothing” Beatrice is urged to, “…Clap’s into ‘Light o’ Love’;”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnTYs1jlg70

-a tune written by an anonymous author that appeared in William Ballet’s 1580 Lute Book and would qualify as a popular and familiar song to Shakespeare and his audience, but is almost certainly unknown to ours.

In fact, when I think of “pop” music of the renaissance it’s this sound of the viol, the recorder, and the lute – as in “Light o’ Love” or just the strings, as in this one -  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-I9cyit8bY that I think of.

The lute was often substituted, as it is here, by the “renaissance guitar” and the little band would have often been accompanied by a drum or other percussive noisemakers.  Shakespeare’s acting companies would have had many other instruments at hand, and would have been familiar with all kinds of music.

The vast majority of music of the renaissance that was actually written down was either for dancing or for church, or for small groups of singers and/or instrumentalists to perform for themselves around an after-dinner table.  The popular music of the time was in some cases collected into printed books like Ballet’s Lute Book (a collection, it seems of very well-known songs by largely unknown songwriters) and Ravenscroft’s three-volume collection of “Rounds, Catches, & Merrie Conceits.”  Musicians didn’t make much money publishing their music – real success for a musician was usually to be notable enough to gain employ or patronage of a wealthy nobleman or to be employed at court.  But one might imagine, in a time that lacked our modern sensibilities of intellectual property ownership, that the first time a really good song was performed publicly it might be mere hours before someone else across town was playing or singing it – possibly with new lyrics of their own devising.  One might also imagine that a touring acting company brought in to a command performance for a noble family would be flexible and prepared to please in any way possible – musically and theatrically…

For a modern Original Practices company, I think that being prepared to perform either modern or ancient music, as the occasion demands presents an intriguing challenge.  Imagine setting topical words to renaissance melodies – a very original practice.  Finding ways to arrange ancient music for a small ensemble of modern instruments presents still more challenge and possibility – just as finding ways to make modern songs sound good with a small acoustic band has.

So – I hope this has given you all food for thought, and I’d like to leave you with one more – for a performance of “Othello” the lead-in to Act1 might be something like this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46Cfrl7hMoQ

(Though at the risk of giving it away, nowhere in the text does Desdemona appear to have a “Mama Pajama”…)

Sarah Tryon as Maria, Sean Kelly as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Scott Wright as Sir Toby Belch

This Saturday, May 25, The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company returns to the Rose Theater at Blue Lake with our production of Twelfth Night.

The Rose is patterned after Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and is one of only a handful of authentic reconstructed Elizabethan playhouses in the world. For an original practices Shakespeare company like Pigeon Creek, performing in one of these spaces always feels like coming home. We work hard to recreate Shakespearean performance practices in spaces that were not originally designed for them, and adapting ours shows to multiple venues is one of the fun, but challenging things about being a touring company. The chance to perform Shakespeare in a space that so accurately reflects the spaces for which he was writing is a rare and wonderful experience.

Pigeon Creek’s Twelfth Night cast features several actors with a history of working in reconstructed Renaissance playhouses, and several for whom this will be a new experience. Our cast also includes three of the four actors in the world who have worked onstage at the Globe in London, the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, VA and now the Rose in Blue Lake.

The chance to see a performance like this in a space like this doesn’t come along often. We are thrilled to be able to share it with you!

To reserve tickets, visit www.bluelake.org/radio

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!

Kat Hermes (Don Adriano de Armado) on Creating the Costume Design

One of the most common questions I get as a costumer for Pigeon Creek is why, if we are an original practices company, we don’t perform all of our plays in Renaissance dress. It is for the same reason that we don’t play Renaissance music before the show and at intermission; we aren’t seeking to exactly replicate the Early Modern London theater experience, we are emulating the performance conditions for which the play was originally written. This may seem like a fine distinction, but it is an important one. We are not historical re-enactors, and we are not trying to present the plays as living history. We are actors performing a script as the author intended it to be performed (inasmuch as we can glean the author’s intentions over the gulf of 400 years or so).

How does that translate for performing Shakespeare in jeans? Just as the musicians of Shakespeare’s company would have opened and closed the show with the popular music of the day, his actors would have performed in what was, for them, modern dress. The theater conventions of that time had no problem with anachronism, either in the text of the play or the design of the production Whether the setting was medieval Scotland or ancient Rome, Shakespeare’s company performed in doublets and hose. This allowed the audience to “read” the costumes (getting information about a character’s age, status, religion and nationality) as easily as they did the clothing they saw around them everyday. This is not to say that the actors simply wore their street clothes onstage, however. Costumes were one of the biggest expenditures of an early modern theater company, and a major source of visual spectacle in world without electric sound and lighting effects. In addition to the “base” modern costumes the actors wore, they would have added pieces to suggest character and or setting (such as togas for Roman plays).

This style of “eclectic” or “period non-specific” costuming is one that I as a designer am particularly interested in, particularly in the way that juxtaposing modern and period costumes can make the period elements of the costumes seem deconstructed and the modern elements unfinished, which seems particularly apt for a play like Love’s Labour’s Lost.

When looking for a period to work with, I knew I didn’t want to use the Renaissance, since we just used fully-realized Renaissance costumes in our spring production of Romeo and Juliet. I had to find another period in which this play would make sense. With its comedy of manners, emphasis on witty dialogue over plot, and strong commedia dell’arte influences, Love’s Labour’s Lost is a play that seems to anticipate the farcical comedies of the 18th and 19th centuries. I decided to locate the play somewhere between the 1790s and 1810s. Rather than focus on detailed historical accuracy, however, I wanted costume pieces that evoked the feel of that era while conveying character more strongly than period.

When designing for an ensemble directed production like this one, I tend to start with a general idea of the look I want for each character and then sit back and let what the actors are doing in rehearsal influence the final product I end up with. In this production, the actors quickly began to establish three distinct worlds; the formal, highly mannered world of the ladies of France, the more natural and laid-back court of the King of Navarre, and the cartoonishly physicalized world of the lower class characters, who’s comedic subplot is a distorted mirror of the main plot. So the costumes for the ladies of France are the most firmly located in the late 18th/early 19th century, the men of Navarre have one foot in and one foot out out of the period, and the lower classes have no distinct temporal location.

In addition to making sure the costumes fit into and helped establish the worlds the actors were creating, I also wanted them to help the audience keep track of sets of characters who belong together. So each of the ladies of France is dressed in the same color as her lord, the page Mote’s costume is a miniature reflection of his master Armado’s, the peasants (Costard, Jaquenetta and the Forester) all wear leather, and Nathaniel and Holofernes wear matching 18th century-style wigs.

Finally, there is the part of costume design that I have the most fun with: using the costumes to illuminate themes and motifs in the text, all those literary ideas that are fun to discuss in English class but difficult to play as an actor in a production. I won’t give away all of my subliminal costume messages in this blog, I’ll give you one hint to think about when you come and see the production: I used color to link characters who are thematically connected as well as those connected by plot.

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.

Joel L. Schindlbeck on Music Directing for Love’s Labour’s Lost

For Shakespeare’s theatre, music seemed to be a necessity. Not only the interior songs that Shakespeare built into his works, but also the interludes between acts, and musicians performing before the show to help appease the arriving mass of audience. We see this in modern theater all the time. Most musicals, operas and ballets have overtures, although those are usually played after the audience has already arrived and seated. Some theatre companies will use pre-show music while the audience is arriving in order to help put people in the mood. Outside of theatre, music is also used to persuade. Television is riddled with jingles and music to play during the titles and credits of shows and advertisement. Almost all movies come with a complete underscoring of music to retain a mood throughout the film. Even in personal life, I see so many people around town or on the bus wearing iPods while they work out, or travel, or go to work, or simply walk to the store. It’s a way of life. Music moves.

I can only imagine that in a world of no radio, no iPods, and no TV, the impact of having music was just as strong a means of putting people in the mood for what they’re about to see or do. At Pigeon Creek we don’t often have complete underscoring for scenes. We like to let the lines speak for themselves, unless a surviving stage direction in the script prompts us to create music; (and yes, we make sure that it comes from the source of prompter scripts.) However, we do follow the original practice of musical interludes. In the modern conventions of theatre, Pigeon Creek will not do breaks in between every act, instead opting for an intermission. And it is there that we attempt to use music to motivate.

As music director, I have a responsibility to serve that purpose. To put people in the mood for what they’re about to see, or in the case of interior songs, what they ARE seeing.

I won’t go into too much detail about the songs we’re using for Love’s Labour’s Lost. Part of the fun of our music is letting the audience experience it as a surprise. What I will say is that the music in this instance aligns itself perfectly with the point of this play. Love can be fun, even when we create roadblocks in the way and make trouble for ourselves. As I was trying to find the theme for our show’s music (and then find appropriate songs to match that theme), I started with a couple thorough readings of the entire play. I focused on the general concepts: what is the play’s point, how should a general audience feel about the play or the theme of the play, and what is the broad stroke of the play that we should let the audience go home with.

From that point, it was a matter of finding thematic songs that meet the following criteria: do the actors have the ability to sing and/or play the necessary musical instruments, can we perform this song acoustically (I tend to always say yes and find a way), when I listen to the song do I generally get the required emotion even without listening to the words if necessary, and is it possible that at least some of the audience will recognize the song. (We tend to pick what we call “Top 40 Songs”, be they from either today’s music charts or past decades.)

Then, it’s rehearse, perfect, perform and enjoy. We hope you do as well.

Rachel Pineiro as Benvolio

When I accepted the role of Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, I naturally assumed the part would be changed to Benvolia. Obviously, I was not well acquainted with Pigeon Creek’s practices: e.g. embracing the traditional tragi-comical gender-bending of the Renaissance era with the unabashed use of drag. In the 21st century, of course, the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company has the wit to employ this ploy by casting women as men in addition to men as women. Had I perceived the magnanimous task I was agreeing to espouse at its inception, I might have hesitated for a moment and raised an eyebrow.

It wasn’t until the read-through that I realized what was about to happen. I had contracted myself to delve into the mysterious and daunting realm of the male world, to unsex myself (as they say), and sacrifice my femininity on the alter of the theatre gods. I could not (and would not) look pretty on stage. Nay. I would steep myself in a culture of shoulder punching, loogie spitting, rough-housing male adolescence, peppered indiscriminately with early modern locker-room talk.

Egads!

Something deep down inside told me to run away. I ignored that voice and chose instead to sink my imagination into the vast and daunting mystery of masculinity.

I discovered many things. The first was an epiphany that I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been around a group of guys when there were no women present, and there was no way for me to determine how men behave under the influence of unadulterated, pure testosterone. Trying to imagine the situation nearly caused me to seize up, and I promptly sought out fresh air. While strolling the streets of Grand Rapids, I considered what lengths I would go to in order to achieve the resemblance of cross-gendered truth. Could I infiltrate male-dominated spaces, in disguise, and note the untainted distinctiveness of males in their natural habitats? Certainly not. The idea was deviant, and amusing at most. Could I adopt masculine social attributes, attempt to create Benvolio as a contemporary in West Michigan, and try out my alter-ego in public places? Again, no. I realized that hitting on women at the bar or engaging in street fights would not assist my character development so much as it would get me into trouble.

At some point, I came to the conclusion that boys are not alien creatures. They are human beings much like women are, and furthermore, I’d been studying males all of my life, being surrounded with them and communicating regularly. Letting the culture-shock wear off, I decided that I did not have to worry so much about “putting on a boy character” as much as stripping away my own mannerisms that were specifically feminine. I practiced holding a stance with weight equally distributed on both feet, and walking without turning my hips. I tapped into my athletic side and pumped out 50 push-ups every rehearsal in order to focus on the existence of arm muscles; and to experience tautness in my gestures, since I realized that it was feminine to have superfluous arm or hand movements. I wanted to achieve an energetic sturdiness, capable of climbing a tree or drawing a sword at a second’s notice.

With all of my focus on physicality, I certainly had a masculine image of myself painted in my head. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the reality of my appearance did not match up with my imagination. Benvolio’s embodiment within myself had no facial hair, stood only 5′2” high, and weighed about 1/3rd of the nurse. Thus, at age 23, I realized the most I could pull off was a prepubescent, 13-year-old version of Romeo’s friend. Barely a pin-prick of a man. But I began to fall in love with the idea that Benvolio has a big heart, and that he is more than he seems. I decided to play Benvolio in an in-between phase, moving toward manhood with his perception of social responsibility, but still possessing all the wiliness of boyhood and the awkwardness of adolescence.

It has been quite the adventure exploring the idiosyncrasies of Benvolio’s character, moment by moment, and working with and learning from the dynamic cast of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity the company has given me to experience Shakespeare beyond the bodice and on the side of sword-wielding wilderness. Thank you to the company for giving me this experience!

Kilian Thomas G. (Paris) on the Original practices

As an actor, what I really want to achieve is the ability to say that I’ve told a good story. Stories are our pasts relived for us, parables manifested, and lessons to be learned. In ancient times, storytelling kept the records of history and keeps local culture alive. Each civilization had it’s own stories and ways of telling them. I could just volunteer to read story books at the library, but the thrill of being in front of an audience and the prospect of helping them enter into an imagined world is far more appealing. Pigeon Creek has given me the opportunity to do this, and has challenged me by doing it in a way more concurrent with traditional Shakespearean practices.

I have mostly worked with proscenium-style theatres, so when I was introduced to thrust staging, certain aspects didn’t quite jibe with what I had learned in the past. Fundamentals of Original Practices (i.e. foot placement, diagonals, and audience interaction) were mostly a new frontier for me. However, as the rehearsal processes progressed, my comfort level with the space grew steadily. The space in a thrust stage is always dynamic, filled with constant movement or powerful three-sided pictures, a right-in-your-face sense of theatre. Being that close to an audience means that one truly needs to be able make the acting shine from every side of their body. Front side, left profile, right profile and back side. How interesting is it to look at the cape of a man just standing there? Instead, what working with the company taught me was how to find focus, and power with stage placement and eye contact.

There are many more aspects of the rehearsal process that have helped me grow as an actor (and specifically with Shakespeare’s text) such as: learning better techniques for dealing with the lofty language, better combat experience, the difficulties adherent in working with a traveling show, teaching myself valuable lessons about acting and time management, and finding the places in those areas where I can still improve. As story tellers we always want our stories to be told to the best of their ability, and the best of their ability is the best of our ability. I also believe we should always be trying to raise the bar for ourselves, and strive for excellence. I hope you come see the show and that you enjoy our world of Verona. Let us tell you a story.

Kat Hermes as Juliet

We have what several people have said is a fairly non-traditional cast for this production of Romeo and Juliet; we have a man playing the Nurse, a woman playing Benvolio, a Tybalt who is more physically imposing than the “king of cats” is usually played, and as Juliet, we have me — a woman who is hardly a typical ingénue and who our audience is most used to seeing in comic, male roles.

All of this has me thinking a lot about the idea of “type-casting.” The phrase can have negative connotations both for actors and audiences, carrying with it the implication that an actor who is type-cast is not being challenged; he or she is “playing him/herself” or is doomed to only play a specific kind of character. But there is little doubt that Shakespeare’s company would have done a great deal of type-casting. It was, in fact, common practice. Audiences would not have been at all surprised to see the same actor playing the same kinds of roles across a variety of productions. Considering, by modern standards, the extremely limited rehearsal time Early Modern theater companies had, having actors specialize in a certain type of role was extremely practical.

The dislike many modern actors feel towards type-casting may have a lot to do with the fact that the “type” referred to is often a physical type. I mean that, depending on their appearance, there are some “types” of roles they’d never be considered for no matter what their ability, and some they’d be forced to play again and again regardless of interest. But there is another way to look at type-casting which may be closer to the way that Shakespeare’s company would have practiced it.

Though certainly appearance would have been a factor (especially since casting boys in women’s roles was a legal requirement), when descriptions of a character’s physical traits such as height and coloring are written into Shakespeare’s plays, it is not because he demanded a character look a specific way and expected to find an actor that fit his description, but because he already knew what actor he was writing for. Actors were cast by character type, rather than physical type.

Casting by character type, that is, giving actors the sort of roles that they can fit themselves into intuitively and excel at, is something that Pigeon Creek does especially and unusually well. I think our reliance on cross-gendered casting is a big part of this, as is our focus on language and storytelling over spectacle. The fact that the company is actor-run probably helps as well, since you learn a lot more about another actors capabilities sharing the stage with him or her than you can in an audition or even by watching his or her performance in a full production.

I remember a discussion about physical type in one of my college acting classes. We were talking about the professional advantages of knowing your “type” (i.e.: knowing what parts to audition for and how to present yourself at auditions) and trying to argue the limitations presented by focusing on one’s physical type instead of one’s character type. I pointed out that in a hypothetical production of Romeo and Juliet, by physical standards, I would pretty much only be eligible to play the Nurse, a role that I would be terrible at. But, I went on to say (with all the arrogance of the late-teenager), I would be an amazing Juliet if I ever found a casting director willing to look beyond physical type and consider me. One little piece of my joy at being cast in Pigeon Creek’s Romeo and Juliet is getting the chance to find out if my nineteen-year-old self was right!