Entries tagged with “Scott Lange”.

Scott Lange as Enobarbus and the Clown

As you (our regular readers) have most likely observed, our most recent production of Antony and Cleopatra employs quite a bit of doubling. In our eleven person cast, only two actors (the title characters) are undoubled in the show. I play three roles in this show: Enobarbus (Antony’s loyal friend), a servant that helps to carry a dying Antony to Cleopatra, and the clown who delivers a deadly snake to Cleopatra. I spend the majority of the play as Enobarbus, but it is my performance as the clown that has gotten the most comments.

The clown is only in one scene, doesn’t stick around for too long, and really does nothing to further the plot. There are a number of characters in Shakespeare’s plays that serve this same role. The jailer in Cymbeline, the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, and the porter in Macbeth are a few of them. A few other Pigeon Creek actors and I have a running joke that they are actually all the same person at different points in his life.

In most cases, the character is there to provide a moment of levity before the play takes a swift plunge to death and tragedy. There are some productions that tend to perform these characters in a serious manner, as though comedy and laughter have no place in a Shakespearean tragedy. I believe, instead, that the moments of comedy help to intensify the drama in the play. The dichotomy of comedy and tragedy butted up the one against the other makes the play all the more moving for the audience. Sure, we as an audience enjoy nonsensical comedy or intense drama quite a bit. But often the most potent and popular types of entertainment contain both forms. It’s a theme that is consistent with real life. We go to funerals not only to mourn, but to share joyous moments from the life of our departed loved one. We laugh at slapstick, black comedies, and jokes that are “funny because they are true.” Anyway, I felt that despite the clown’s appearance was brief, it was an important one.

Truthfully, the character started out ridiculous. He had a stooped walk, and gravely voice, and was filled with sexual innuendo. I was playing him as old and crotchety, with only little respect for the queen. It got a lot of laughs from the cast, which I enjoyed, but didn’t exactly seem to fit. One day in rehearsal I decided to try something the complete opposite of what I had been doing. I stilled his movements, made him young, and afraid of the queen. This got a different reaction from the cast, but still wasn’t quite right. The right interpretation for me was, like my tragic-comedy ramblings earlier, somewhere in-between. It is supposed to be funny. But it should be because of the situation, not me being silly. He is nervous because he is delivering the queen’s chosen implement of death, a poisonous asp. He stumbles over his words, makes accidental jokes, and is generally awkward around a woman that he is helping commit suicide. I hope that people think he is funny, but that the humor in that moment deepens the audience’s compassion and care for Cleopatra. The brief moment of levity accents the tragedy of a relationship that can still move those that witness it.

Also, we’ve been referring to him as the “asp-clown.” Now that’s comedy!

Scott Lange (Biron) on one of the greatest Shakespearean challenges, the dreaded (and delightful) soliloquy.

There are a lot of elements that go into creating a soliloquy. You can’t just stand on the stage and talk at the audience. You need to be as engaging as a big, fancy, fight scene. My goal, typically, is for my soliloquies to be the most entertaining or moving thing that audiences see on stage for that performance. Often those speeches are the ones that are the most famous. “To be or not to be,” “Is this a dagger I see before me,” and “Once more unto the breach dear friends” are all speeches that are extremely well known even to people who are not avid Shakespeare fans.

For me, my work on a soliloquy has to begin with memorization. This may seem obvious, but I don’t believe everyone works this way. There must be actors somewhere in the world that can work on blocking, vocal variety, and audience contact all while holding script in their hands. I generally am able to do that with scenes where I share the stage with another actor. But I have to be memorized before I can really start working on a soliloquy.

To be clear, however, memorization is not simply learning lines so that I have the ability to regurgitate them. There is quite a bit of table work that goes into it. I do my scansion first, noting where I have short lines, feminine endings, strange meter and alliteration. After that, I break the speech down into smaller manageable chunks. I start with looking at each individual sentence. In a long soliloquy, you may actually only have four or five sentences. This helps me to figure out what I’m saying and what story the speech is telling.

After I’ve done all the heavy mental-lifting with the speech, I can get it up on it’s feet. For my memorization to really have effect, I have to move while I recite the lines. Usually this is just pacing, although I will often memorize my lines while I walk my dog.

After the speech is completely in my head, I can really begin to plot out my staging of the piece. There are a few different ways that I have done this. In some instances the staging will evolve organically. I won’t necessarily plan out where I will move exactly on stage, but let the speech dictate how much I move around the stage and where exactly I will go. In this situation, I experiment with the speech over and over, moving from what might look scattered into an effective piece of staging. This organic way of staging looks to me like a puzzle, with each piece falling into place one by one. With some other speeches , I will spend a large amount of time plotting exactly where I move and on what lines I do that. I will write out a blueprint of what I’m going to do. As I rehearse the speech, I will perform the blocking exactly as I have planned it each time, adjusting individual bits where the staging seems forced or inappropriate.

The final piece of the soliloquy puzzle is audience contact. This is a combination of planning and organic evolution. The inconstant variable is the audience. We perform in many different audience configurations. Also, the audience will invariably sit in different places for each performance, so it is impossible for me to plan exactly where I will look at what moment. I usually do plot out the moments when I will connect directly with an audience member, but will vary where I look based on where audience members are seated. What I can know for sure, however, is that the work I have done prior to the performance will help tell the story and communicate a truthfulness of character to the audience regardless of where they sit.

Scott Lange as Benvolio/Capulet

Most of our audience members are probably not aware of this, but on the morning of Pigeon Creek’s final performance of The Taming of the Shrew, I was in a fairly serious automobile accident. In addition to losing my car, some musical instruments, and the majority of our set, I also sustained injuries bad enough to require a six day hospital stay. Needless to say, we didn’t have a performance that evening.

We held auditions a few weeks before that scheduled performance, so I knew before the accident that I would be playing Mercutio and Lord Capulet. After the accident I had a number of concerns about my ability to perform. I had extreme difficulty walking for a few weeks, bruised lungs, and a dislocated elbow.

In order to perform adequately, I need to project my voice, move around the stage quickly, play music, and be able to fight as Mercutio. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do any of those things. I brought up my concerns to the rest of the Pigeon Creek board. We decided that I should go ahead with rehearsals, and see how my body improves. We came up with a plan “B”, but hoped we wouldn’t have to use it.

Anyway, it’s been almost exactly five weeks since that day, and that conversation. I’ve made quite a bit of improvement. I’ve still got a little bit of a limp, and I can’t quite straighten out my left arm, but things are progressing. I’m working pretty hard to develop a sort of strut for Mercutio to cover up the fact that I’m not walking totally normal. For Capulet, however, I am allowing the limp to come through. Both of my characters also talk excessively, so my lungs are getting back into shape.

By talking about this, I’m not really hoping to elicit any pity from actors or audience members. I also hope to avoid anyone saying “you did really great, for someone recovering from a major accident.” I want the performance to be able to stand on its own. As an actor, I’m always thinking about how I want to walk, move, gesture, or speak as a specific character. But this time the experience is so different. Instead of starting with my natural body movements (a.k.a. my neutral state), I’m basically building a framework from the negative end of the scale. I’m trying to discover my characters, whilst trying to rediscover myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Lange on Cymbeline

Hello Pigeon Creek Shakespeare fans!

After a short hiatus I am back to expand your minds and alter your perceptions of reality.

Rehearsals for Pigeon Creek’s next production, Cymbeline, won’t begin until Monday. So the contents of this blog will be less of a report of my acting process, and more of an insight of Pigeon Creek’s decision making process.

If you’ve been following us for a few years (which hopefully you have been,) you know that in the summer of 2009 we produced a production of Julius Caesar with a cast of only women. The production was successful on many levels, but the actors especially felt encouraged and enlivened by the experience.

We decided not only to produce a single-gendered show again this summer, but raise the stakes and perform two.

When Shakespeare was alive and performing, it was actually illegal for women to perform on stage. Most of the women’s roles performed by young boys; with some of the older or comedic women’s roles being played by full grown men. To me, this means that there are jokes and intricacies that might be missed otherwise. Also, as a result of only being able to use a single gender for his casting, Shakespeare’s plays only have a handful of roles for women actors. These are two good reasons for performing an all female production of a play.

We wanted to repeat the idea of 2009, having an all female cast perform a very masculine play. Henry IV: Part I is a play that is well loved by our board. The play’s major themes revolve around honor, respect, parent-child relationships, and coming of age; all things that most female characters in Shakespeare don’t get to experience.

Pigeon Creek has already performed three of the five plays that involved female characters cross-dressing as men. Cymbeline is the next on the list that we want to perform. Like I said earlier, we wanted to up the ante this summer, so in addition to producing an all female play, we will be producing Cymbeline as an all male production. By performing this play the way it was written, with an all male cast, we will learn some things about the play that we would not have discovered otherwise. In addition to cross-dressing, the largest female role, Imogen, is also the largest role in the play. It will be extremely interesting to see what can be found out about the role by a man, playing a woman, pretending to be a man.

You’ll be seeing my greasy fingerprints all over the summer. First I’ll be performing as Iachimo in Cymbeline. I get to fight with Posthumous, be creepy with Imogen, and be an all around lecherous guy. I will also be directing Henry IV: Part I; thus, generally giving grief to all of Pigeon Creek’s talented ladies. I’m looking forward to a fun summer, and I’ll be seeing you then; twice!

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.

Hello again! Scott Lange here, we’re on to new projects and new discussions.  I’m here today to talk to you about The Tempest.  We just closed Hamlet on Sunday afternoon, but we started rehearsing this show a few weeks ago.  So we were doubled up on our Shakespeare for a bit.  This isn’t really new for us, but we haven’t had two shows overlap like this for quite a while.  Even with double the work, we didn’t have any casualties.

For this production I am playing the role of Antonio.  Antonio is the younger brother of the main character Prospero.  In events occurring before the action of the play, Prospero is Duke of Milan and loved by all of his subjects.  Antonio is a trusted advisor in the Milanese government, but becomes overwhelmed by greed, and steals Prospero’s dukedom.  Prospero and his baby daughter Miranda are cast out to sea, presumably to their death.  So essentially I’m playing the bad guy in this one.

I haven’t had the chance to play a villain in a few shows, so I’m excited to be getting back to it.  What I love in particular with Shakespeare’s villains, especially in his comedies, is that they are so unabashedly evil.  They love to steal, rape, and pillage; and are quite content to do such acts repeatedly.  It isn’t that they are simple characters, quite the opposite, but they just have so much fun being bad.

Antonio, throughout the play, has no remorse for what he’s done.  Not once does he ever repent, apologize, or beg forgiveness.  He even laughs in the face of danger.  Faced with spending the rest of his life on a deserted island, he mocks his companions.  Apparently he doesn’t care about living in an awkward situation.  It’s like an episode of survivor.  Even though he depends on the people he’s with to get along, he has no qualms about laughing in their faces.
The place I’m at in rehearsal right now, is trying to find different shades to his personality.  I think I’ve spent quite a bit of rehearsal time just making him a jerk.  But I need to spend more time examining what Antonio wants and thinks at each moment he’s on stage.  We’re rehearsing one of my character’s pivotal scenes in the coming days, and I plan on working quite a bit on really filling out the rest of the role.  I think I’ve got a handle on the basics, but I think Antonio bobs and weaves a bit more.  He’s blunt, but also crafty.  At this point it is all coming across too shallowly.  Fortunately I’ve got a few weeks to really hammer out a deep and complex villain; one that audiences will love to hate, and hate to love.  Come and see if I can do it.

Greetings everyone!
This section of the Pigeon Creek actor blog is brought to you by Scott Lange.  I’m here today to talk to you about the role of Hamlet.
Scratch that. I’m here to talk to you today about my opinions and thoughts about Hamlet.  All in all, I do not actually think there can be one definitive perspective on the Danish prince.

Let’s start by actually looking at the size of Hamlet.  The role is immense.  He is onstage for eleven of the play’s seventeen scenes, and speaks over a third of the play’s lines.  Please don’t think I’m complaining here, I welcome the challenge.  But so have many other actors.  Looking through a list of people that have played the role in the past, one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the heavy hitters.  Here is a sample:
David Tennant, Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Christopher Plummer, Kevine Kline, Jonathan Pryce, Ian McKellen, Richard Burton, Lawrence Olivier, John Barrymore, John Gielgud, and Derek Jacobi.  That’s not even counting the number of productions on television, in movies, or on stage that haven’t been seen by as wide of an audience.  Also remember all the productions that no one alive has seen, starring Richard Burbage (the original Hamlet) for example.  It’s an intimidating list.

When I was first cast in the role, I immediately forged an obsession about who Hamlet was, based on what previous productions had done with it.  There are so many questions about the character, and the play in general.  I felt I needed a helping hand, some sort of boost to get me started.  In my mind, the role was almost too large to battle without some weapons.

Is Hamlet’s madness real or feigned?  Does he really love Ophelia, or is she merely a pawn in the master plan?  Why was Claudius named the king when Hamlet should have been next in line for the throne?  What is the cause of Hamlet’s melancholy?  Is it really because of the death of his father and mother’s overhasty marriage?  Is the Ghost of his father sent from heaven or hell?  All these questions need answers.  For a short while, I was on a quest to discover the answers from those that have already traveled the journey. Well, that plan failed.

I don’t mean that those questions are unanswerable, or that I’m totally lost in my character development.  What I’m suggesting is that I cannot find the answers from someone else.  I watched a lot of video, and read quite a bit of analysis.  I found, in most cases, I either could not figure out what the actors’ motivations were, or I didn’t like what they had decided.  Ultimately I have to figure this out myself.

One specific part of my “who is Hamlet” obsession centers around whether Hamlet can be likable.  I think the play Hamlet is an amazing work of literature, the characters (especially the title character) are extremely complex and detail.  I love the play, and the character, but if he was fully alive, embodied and living next door to me, I wouldn’t want to spend much time with him.  He’s moody, spiteful, indecisive, whining, at times violent, cruel, “proud, revengeful, and ambitious.”  I was concerned about making a Hamlet who is all of those things, but also likeable and relatable.  But I couldn’t find much of a reason for audiences to admire him.  I brought this point up to my director and fellow actors in a rehearsal last week.  We discussed that the reason that audiences relate to Hamlet is that he is a flawed man, dealing with extraordinary circumstances, faring as best he can in the only way he knows how.  Hamlet as anti-hero.

This conversation brought two things to light for me.  First of all, I’m not really alone in my quest.  I have a director and ten other actors to help me.  I may be portraying the title character, but it doesn’t matter whether I’m amazing or not, I need to have a cast with me on stage, and a director behind me that I trust completely.  I am extraordinarily blessed to say that this is absolutely the case here.  Really this is what Pigeon Creek is all about, creating an ensemble and exploring a play, discovering what we can get out of it to share with the audience.  There is no one actor that is more important than the group.  Everything I do must relate to the other characters on stage.  This gives me visions of myself lurching around the stage, screaming my head off, while my fellow cast members stare at me in horror.  There is no room for me to be a primadonna or allow my ego to get ahead of me.  One for all and all for one.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Also, our talk made me finally realize why it is that we are so infatuated with this character.  He is us.  Shakespeare shows us this all along.  We like Hamlet because we can see ourselves in him.  He may not be very nice, but he opens his heart and soul to us.  He acts rashly, but how many times during the day would we love to tell people exactly what we think of them.  He is frustrated with his situation, angry at the world, and cannot stop his brain from chewing on itself.  I know I’ve had some sleepless nights where I’ve felt the exact same thing.  It’s true that the audience may not like the character, disapprove of what he does and says, but cannot help but relate to him and sympathize with his struggle.

This also explains why my search through the past for the perfect Hamlet failed.  It is impossible for me to be Kevin Kline, Lawrence Olivier, or even David Tennant.  The Hamlet that I play has to be MY Hamlet.  I need to glean from my own personal experiences to create who Hamlet really is.  Shakespeare gives us clues to this.  Hamlet tells the players:  “hold the mirror up to nature;” and shows Gertrude a glass so that “she may see the inmost part of you.”   That has to be me on stage, a mirror to my own nature, show the audience the inmost part of myself.  And most importantly:  “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night, the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  As long as I trust myself, my instincts, my company, and my audience, flights of angels will sing us to our rest.  And now, for silence.