Table Talk

Posted in Dramaturgy, Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on May 30th, 2009 by kellinewby

As we go through the rehearsal process, I hope to update you on how we work.

The first part of the rehearsal process is what M calls table talk.  Essentially, we spend the first two weeks sitting around a table with a bunch of dictionaries, a dramaturg, a director and a stage manager.  During this time we:

  1. Figure out exactly what we are saying
  2. Discuss the importance of the beat within the context of the play, Elizabethan culture, and the period in which we’re setting the production.
  3. We begin the character work.
  4. Eat and get to know each other.

It is a time of discovery.  First we read the scene aloud, focusing on the words.  No acting allowed.  This is a great time to look at each word, listen to the iambs and take in the sound of things.  Next we look up words in the reference books strewn about the table, including books that give definitions based on what they meant in Shakespeare’s time as well as various copies of the play with footnotes galore.  M. encourages us to look up words we understand in addition to words we do not because we often find alternate meanings that give us a new perspective.

Then we have an in-depth conversation about all the things we’ve found.  The dramaturg will tell us about his research and help us out with particular lines.  The conversation is lively and creative.  It’s like a really great lit class.

Sometimes M. then has us “unpack” the text.  She is insistent that we don’t paraphrase the lines.  It’s about finding all the nuance of each line.  It can be a little silly.   So, for example, in Olivia’s line: “I heard you were saucy at my gates”, I might say something like this:

I, me, myself, eye ball, heard, listened, eavesdropped, was told, gossip, you were saucy, cheeky, bratty, unruly, naughty, plucky, marinara at my gates, barriers, doors to the outside, chastity belt [everyone giggles and throws out other ideas], Bill Gates, gated community…

You get the idea.  It is a long slog to go through an entire beat this way, but it does yeild one or two interesting associations when we do it.  It also makes you think about how well you know the meaning of a word, and the meaning of your line.  It helps the director see the sort of instincts you’ve got about motivations early on.

This is also a time for the director to begin asking questions that she wants us to consider as we move forward.

From the Dramaturg

Posted in Dramaturgy, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on May 29th, 2009 by kellinewby

We are fortunate at the Main Street Stage to have had a dramaturg for our past two Shakespeare productions.  He is also a major contributor/planner/co-conspirator of the Redroom.  Here are some of his thoughts as he begins his research for Twelfth Night.

My mouse-clicking finger rapidly cramping up, I clicked on a link headlined “Shakespeare’s Songbook.”  I wasn’t expecting much by now and had resigned myself to the fact that there was absolutely no authoritative source to be found regarding my current research.  The page loading, my glazed-over eyes rapidly refocused.  Could it be . . . yes!  Yes it was.  A line of quarter and eighth notes, specifying the tune to “I Am Gone, Sir,” a verse sung by the fool at the end of Act Four Scene two in Twelfth Night.
Such is at least part of the day-to-day life of a dramaturg.
Tasked with verifying authenticity and researching social and cultural developments during the period in which a play is set (pretty much anything from “how low were hemlines” to “who was invading whom”) dramaturging a Shakespeare piece is a particularly daunting task.  For one thing, virtually every word the Bard set down has both a literal and subtle meaning.  The word “blaze” might not just mean “really really bright light,” but can also mean “his coat of arms.”  For another thing, the timelessness of Shakespeare’s plays makes them applicable to virtually any time and place.  The average dramaturg might find him or herself researching turn-of-the-century Sicily, 1960s Brooklyn, 25th century Botswana, or any time in between.  Worst (or best, depending on your point of view) of all, sometimes there is no hard and fast answer.  “I Am Gone, Sir” has a generally accepted melody, but no verifiable source exists as to what the original, Elizabethan melody might have been.  Most famously, the eternal question of what Shakespeare intended by having characters speak in prose versus verse has a general consensus, but is still open to debate.

Still and all, I get to be a professional nerd.  Which is always fun.

The Mystery of Irma Vep (October 2007)

Posted in history, Past Shows on May 21st, 2009 by kellinewby

“Top Geniuses!!” –audience member addressing the Trova sisters at the bar after the show.

irma-vep-cleaver1

We needed to do a show and we needed to do one fast; if all of our hard work to start over as a company was going to work, we needed to refill the coffers.  Lex suggested remounting Irma Vep with her and her sister in the two roles.  We still had most of the set downstairs, it was a funny Halloween themed play, it would be easy to get up and running quickly and it had some name recognition.

Irma Vep usually stars two men.  We had two women on stage, three women back stage and a woman in the director’s seat.  It is a quick change show where a lot of the fun is seeing an actor walk off stage as one character and walking back on stage as someone entirley different  literally seconds later.  Sometimes the results are a little wonky…lexs-wig

But it adds to the fun.

The show was our first big step in company building.  The set was harder to put together than originally anticipated; consequently there were a lot of late nights at the theatre painting and sewing.  The crew had to be at all the rehearsals.  A couple people of including myself – who had initially felt a little outside the inner workings at the stage — found a welcoming environment and a completely non-hierarchical production.  There were bloopers to keep us going through the exhaustion (with that many wigs and a werewolf costume, how can there not be bloopers?)

One of the most interesting parts of the show was the set change between Egypt and the mansion, which happens before an audience.  There was some set ingenuity (namely hinged, panted panels with Egypt scenes).  More than that, however, the director wanted to make the set change interesting, so she put the crew in masks, put on a song and made it into a creepy dance.

“Why do we always have to pretend the set isn’t being changed?  It’s ridiculous” quoth she.

Some of the Redroom began here–bringing elements of  other disciplines into a show and saying “we just can’t hide this, so we’re going to have to put it out in the open, but we have to make it entertaining…”

edgar-and-nicoLex wants to make Irma Vep a tradition. It’s a fun show and everyone has a grand ol’ time.  There’s a big trunk in the basement full of werewolves, mummies, fake legs, cleavers, wigs, paintings that can bleed, and much more  just waiting for the next time through.

Designing for the Main Street Stage

Posted in Design on May 21st, 2009 by kellinewby

It’s like one of those logic problems where you have to figure out who is sitting where at a table.

Main Street Stage is a doing a play and needs a set.  Here are the things to keep in mind:

  1. There are no wings.  Actors can only enter from the front of the stage (up the aisle) or from the back.  All non-stage crosses need to be made by going out of the building and around the block (or through the restaurant next door, should the staff be feeling generous).
  2. There is no fly loft.  The ceiling is ten feet from the stage floor.
  3. There is almost no backstage storage for large set pieces.
  4. The stage is raked (angled, higher at the back and sloping down toward the audience) so all doors must open upstage or have really good latches, else they will swing open during the show.  Also, good luck putting wheels on anything.
  5. The stage is 14 feet across at the front and 17 feet across at the back.  It is 25 feet long.
  6. You have access to a well-stocked wood room with many flats and platforms.  You also have access to a lot of handy people.
  7. Here’s ten bucks.

Have fun kids!

For extra credit: Juliet needs to be in a balcony.  Romeo must not be able to touch her when she is in this balcony and he is on the ground.  It must be believable.  Juliet’s head is not allowed to be in the lighting grid.

I like to think of the space in terms of poetry.  Many people balk at writing formal verse:  the idea of having to find a certain number of syllables with a certain rhythm (oh, and they need end rhyme).  However, it’s easy to see when something in a sonnet isn’t working.  It makes you think hard about each syllable.  Every decision matters and must communicate something.

This carries over into every aspect of production.  At the Main Street Stage, the audience is literally two feet away from the actors.  The power of being in the Keller’s backyard or in the streets of Verona is a huge asset to our productions.  It also means we can speak in much more film-y ways on stage.

On the other hand, when people are that close, you can’t fake old age through make-up and you can’t hope no one sees the tear in that costume.  It rules out many convenient theatre tricks.

I hope to be updating you on the progress of the Twelfth Night design and construction as is progresses this summer.  Stay tuned.

The Red(and Green)room, Decemeber 2008

Posted in Past Shows, The Redroom on May 21st, 2009 by kellinewby

We were fresh off the success of Romeo and Juliet.  We had a much bigger and more active company.  We had a much bigger and more active audience.  M.  had this great idea–let’s do Christmas Carol.  Let’s really do Christmas Carol.

After all, it is a play about an old guy who is part of a community that he doesn’t much care for and doesn’t know at all.  Then, one day he wakes up and realizes that being part of the community around you is what makes you alive and that you should celebrate it!  The metaphor was not lost on us.

The problem–no Scrooge.  (Incidentally, this is a recurring problem at the stage; we have no older men.  See also All My Sons)  We spent a frantic month or so trying to find a Scrooge, pestering, begging, pleading, but to no avail.  Half as a joke, I suggested Jeffrey Borak, the local critic.  He’s an actor (a good one, so I’ve heard) and he’s the right age, and he’d look good in a Victorian top-hat…

We all laughed.   Then I thought, wouldn’t that be interesting…I sat down with a copy of Dickens’ story and started work right away.   The idea eventually became “A Critic’s Carol.”  The story is of Benjamin Montgomery, the much feared local critic, who has come to play Scrooge at a small local theatre company that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.  During the course of the first read through, Benjamin is visited by three performances (from Christmas Carols Past, Present, and Future) who remind him why he loved theatre in the first place.   As with most Redroom ventures, the company shaped the piece after the initial script had been written.

So, we had half a Christmas show.  The company then got together and wrote a series of skits for the first half of the show, creating a Holiday-themed, more traditional Red Room.  These acts included workplace Secret Santa and Yankee Swap gift exchanges gone terribly awry, a parody of “Carol of the Bells,” a bittersweet dance, readings by local writers about Christmas memories, a skit with a chain-encumbered Jacob Marley trying to sneak home after a night of drinking without waking his wife, and, a personal favorite, “Jonathan’s Jewish Corner”–the Redroom’s answer to all those well-intentioned people who try to play up Hanukkah so that they don’t feel bad about being over the top with Christmas.

The show ran four nights and was a success.  It was an experiment–a Redroom with a lot of rehearsal that ran the same show more than once–but it worked.  We’re hoping to do a musical review this summer in August building on what we learned this past December.

Redroom grows up, kind of

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21st, 2009 by kellinewby

The Most Offensive Redroom Ever (MORRE) did offend a couple of people, though friends in the audience reported that the patrons were more upset with the language than anything else we pulled.  Topics covered included:

  • The Secret Pro-Choice Agenda
  • Director’s Commentary on an Al Qaeda Video
  • “Don’t Wake Daddy,” a delightful skit about an abusive alcoholic father
  • Elizabethan Auditions (sure, dressing up as a clown when trying out for Shylock is fine–actually wonderful–but a real woman??)

And much, much more.  The hardest part of the evening was the projector.  We’ve been meaning to work short films into the rotation, but MORRE was our first real attempt.  You wouldn’t believe how many cords there are to get knocked out of various things with a projector.  We had some technical difficulties.

Despite the subject matter, the Redoom definitely took a step forward this past Saturday.

  1. We are rehearsing.  Last summer, we had merely seven days between Redrooms to rehearse material, and very little access to the theatre (R&J was a demanding show), but now we’re doing full run-throughs before we go up!  It does take a little of the excitement out of it, but, as the projector proved on Saturday, something can always go wrong.
  2. We are also having to cut material.  There are about 5 writers coming up with skits at the moment, so more and more we’re getting to select based on what works best (rather than what is written and ready to go).
  3. We are working on an aesthetic for the cast.  Some might call it “costumes.”
  4. We’re talking about a Redroom Musical.

The next show will be June 25th in collaboration with the Down Street Art opening.  Cafe Trio Budapest will be playing.  We are very excited.  Also, look for Redroom to make an appearance at the opening of 2 actors, 10 Artists at the Eclipse Mill on June 26th.

MCC logo

Summer…and…go!

Posted in Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on May 21st, 2009 by kellinewby

The cast has been chosen.  The set design is in progress.  Rehearsals begin next week.  The summer’s schedule is full with improv, children’s theatre, Redroom, puppet shows and Twelfth Night.

[Click here to see the complete schedule]

I hope in the upcoming months, the director and the executive director will be adding their voices into this conversation.  I will be giving you a lot of Redroom and a rehearsals from the point of view of an actor.