Closing Night

Posted in Design, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on August 17th, 2009 by mtrainor

Here are some pics of the final show courtesy of the set designer, Juliana von Haubrich:

From the Musical Director

Posted in Music, Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on August 15th, 2009 by kellinewby

Here are a few words form Eric Auld, the musical director of Twelfth Night about writing and producing music for the show (with samples of the music):

Following a performance by spoken word poet Taylor Mali at the College of Saint Rose this past February, Melissa Quirk (our director for this summer’s production of Twelfth Night) and I headed out to a crowded bar in Albany to review the evening’s performance and, of course, to discuss some Shakespeare. After a few vodka cranberries, the conversation sounded something like this:

Eric: “You know what I was thinking?”

Melissa: “What?”

Eric: “You should have original music for the show. Yes.”

And suddenly I was Musical Director.

As primarily an accordion player, I was a bit confused at first, since accordionists rarely get egged on to produce/compose more music than is necessary. (You know the old joke: “What’s the number one request for an accordionist?” “Can you play Far, Far Away?”) I didn’t worry too much about the decision, though, since I knew the music could easily be expanded to include other instruments. So I agreed to take on the role. At the time, though, I wasn’t aware as to exactly how much work would be involved as Musical Director. I figured, “Four… five… no, no… six songs. Can’t be that much work, right?”

Well.

The first task was nailing down the theme of our production so I could work within a specific genre. From what I can recall, the three finalists mentioned at our first production meeting were: Circus, Rock Opera, and the late 1960s. After shaking my head vehemently at Rock Opera (WHAT?!), I could see either of the other two as a possibility. Luckily, because of both the nautical plotlines in the text and the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock approaching, both themes were merged into one: Late 60s Coney Island.

In order to find inspiration for such music, our “Musical Team” (including myself, Alexia Trainor as Feste, David A. Winn, Jr., Michael Trainor, Dan Soha and others) listened to music from the era, primarily Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. etc. etc. We knew that summing up the music of the late 60s in one production would be an impossible task, so in order to simplify things, one initial division was made: the live songs would be performed acoustically and would have a folksy feel to them, whereas the recorded songs (for scene changes) would vary from “Feel-Good Flower Power” to “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida-esque” and would even include some circus themes. (Where else, after all, was I going to throw in the accordion?)

And thus the creative wheels began turning. Two types of music rehearsals took place: one with Feste and Feste’s “Posse” (the live musical accompanists) for the songs in the text, and another with Posse members and other musicians for the recorded instrumental pieces, which were to serve as variations of melodies used for the textual songs. This way, not only could the tunes become recognizable very quickly, but the experimentation with different genres could be explored even further. Take “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain,” for example. The live, folksy tune could be slightly altered (with different instruments, tempo, rhythm, etc.) to give it a jazzier feel or altered even more to sound like as if it belongs at a sideshow on Coney Island.

Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain-Coney-Island-Melody.mp3 Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain-Electric-Version.mp3

Also, not only could this emphasize the musical feel of the scene changes, but, in certain cases (maybe more with “Come Away Death” than “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain”), could even help associate the interpretation of the lyrics of a previously performed song with the interpretation of the scene change itself.

But back to the music rehearsal process. Though I wrote simple melodies for all of the six songs, rehearsals were nothing less than a collaborative effort. I wish the program didn’t read “Musical Composition by Eric K. Auld,” as this is a partial lie; I only brought in some starting points to take off from. As a group, we experimented with dynamics in these melodies to determine (in both the live and recorded versions) tempo, key, rhythm, harmony (for the vocal tracks), what instruments to use, volume, syncopation, repetition, resolution, etc. etc.—in order to attempt to nail down the sound and feel of these primary tunes and their variations. Oftentimes we would go back and forth between decisions involving something as miniscule as a sixteenth note and something as grand as the genre itself. One of my favorite suggestions that I heard was an unresolved ending for “Come Away Death” (suggested by David A. Winn, Jr.), which simply changed the final note of the melody from a tonic chord note to a dominant chord note. This change not only brings out the Doors-esque sound of the song even more, but, by leaving such a song as “Come Away Death” unresolved, it helps to emphasize the unrequited love and woeful dissatisfaction of the speaker. Just as the speaker asks for love and is denied it, just as he/she asks for death and is denied it, the listener asks for a peaceful resolution (what the ear is expecting), but it is never to come. (Ha, ha! Foiled again!)

Come-Away-Death1.mp3

After the weeks upon months of this (at which point we surprisingly weren’t entirely sick of the same six tunes), it was time to record it all, both for scene changes and a CD, since the idea of selling a CD to unsuspecting audience members was presented early in the process and nobody happened to oppose it. (Thus we are immortalized!) Todd Hamilton (Berkshire Idol Champion and T.D. for this show) was very gracious to donate his four hours at Skyboro Sound to us, and Jamie Choquette was even more gracious to reconstruct the recording studio for us (since Skyboro Sound is now officially closed) for those four hours, as well as record and mix the tracks himself. It was a fairly simple process, and Jamie got us in and out with what we had hoped for—the nine recorded tracks for scene changes—in that short amount of time. A big thanks goes out to Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Choquette. Also to Mike Trainor, for allowing us to record the live songs (for the CD) at Chez Ballou (a.k.a. “Mike Trainor’s mics”) and for mixing those tracks for us.

On a more somber note, the most difficult part of this process was losing Ellen Bindman-Hicks, a very talented young guitarist and vocalist. (See story a few posts down for details.) Though I only had the chance of rehearsing with her once, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to meet and listen to her for that brief period of time. She had an incredible amount of potential, and it’s always a shame and a true loss when such a life is unwillingly cut off at a young age. I just wish that we at Main Street Stage could have gotten to know her a little bit better.

So. After numerous rehearsals, decisions, changes, losses, transpositions, etc. etc., we have finally made it. It was a long summer… yes, a very long summer. The role of Musical Director encompassed more work than I originally had imagined—more work on top of playing the role of Duke Orsino as well. But that’s all one, our play is done—almost. One performances left. Come see and listen for yourself!

Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain1.mp3

Raising Funds

Posted in history, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on July 17th, 2009 by kellinewby

In the three years I’ve been involved with Main Street Stage, I have participated in three fundraisers.

The first, a dinner and a show ticket for $50.00 that involved a lot of preparation and catering for one weekend’s worth of Irma Vep performances, was a lot of work.  We had a cook station set up in the basement.  We blew a the fuses a couple of times.  Lex, who was also starring in the show, was running around trying to get the food ready too. It was good food and the lobby looked great, but the ticket price was high and we didn’t sell out the two shows as we had hoped.  In the end, after all the work, we made about fifty bucks.

After that fiasco, we decided to strike out in a different direction–a dance party.  I went to a city council meeting and we were approved for a one night liquor license.  Lex and I bought a keg (and considered driving to Mexico, but then returned to the theatre).  We had a DJ from North Hampton donating his services.  We charged $15.00, figuring it was a fundraiser and people might pay a little more.  We postered everywhere, talked it up.  But the attendance was low.  We made enough to cover the cost of the keg and we had a great time dancing, but, again, not much in the funds raised department.

This summer, before we even saw how little was available through grants and sponsorships (we’ve made a total of $250.00 from that drive), we knew that we needed a fundraiser to get us through Twelfth Night.  We had the age old discussion–do we do something fancy and expensive or cheap?     This evolved into a Woodstock style music festival, which would be a great  show for the community in and of itself.  But it’s hard to find an outdoor venue in North Adams where you can charge admission; believe me, we tried.

As the weeks passed, as we thought about past attempts to raise funds, Lex decided the simpler the better, and we had to agree.  The fundraiser was going to be two weeks before we opened and mounting a second show in the middle of the big show sounded less and less doable as the summer progressed.  We lined up two local musicians who have been very supportive of the stage (and who we adore as people and as musicians).  We got RBIT to perform. We rented the American Legion–who provide a cash bar as part of the rent.  The intern went around and got local restaurants to donate food and the cast made the rest.  It helps that we had a lot of foodies in the company.

We postered, we sent out press releases and we put ads on WNAW (something we’ve found has really upped attendance).  Then we waited.  And we worried.  Would people even know about it?  Had we done enough?  We kept getting bad news–Zombie Prom was opening that night, and Wild Oates was having some BBQ and it was a third Thursday in Pittsfield.  Even postering was difficult.  Usually you can find some space on a board, but there were several we couldn’t find any room on.

An hour before the doors were set to open, I went to pick up the tickets from Papyri and found not a single one had sold.  We had five reservations.  The dread I’d been feeling for a few days only got worse.   Lex shrugged and said, “As long as ten people show and we cover the rent for the space, the cast will have a good time and a night off.”

And then, at 5:30–people!  Lots of people!  I kept counting and recounting the money in awe.

So why did this one work?  We put less energy into it than any of the others.  We had less riding on it, I guess, and we catered more to families (the door price was only $12.00).  We had a really great raffle that raised over a hundred dollars.  We’ll sit down and get to have the meeting we’ve been wanting to have about a fundraiser for years–the “what went right?” meeting.  I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Rehearsal photo essay

Posted in Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on June 29th, 2009 by kellinewby

Here are some photos from a recent rehearsal that focused on Olivia and Viola’s first encounter (Viola is in disguise as a boy and Olivia falls in love her her/him).

In this shot, you can see what the set looked like as of a week ago, that is to say it was bright green tape on the ground and the All My Sons murals were still up.

tn-rehersal-oliv-and-mal

"Call in my gentlewoman."

tn-rehearsal-oliv-and-m-veil

My gentlewoman throws my veil o'er my face. Here, my gentlewoman has selected a fake beard as my veil.

tn-rehearsal-vio-and-oliv

Viola woos Olivia for Orsino (clearly, Olivia is impressed by all of this).

tn-rehearsal-vio-and-mal-ring

Malvolio returns the ring that Viola left with Olivia. Only Viola left no ring with Olivia.

tn-rehearsal-vio-gets-notes

Time for notes!

Rehearsal Process, part 2: Dropping In

Posted in Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on June 19th, 2009 by kellinewby

Dropping in is weird.  And uncomfortable.  It is everything you might make fun of in an acting class.  But, it works.

Here is the process.  Let’s say there are two people in a scene,  Sebastian and Viola.  The two actors sit directly across from each other, feet flat on the floor, knees alternating (yes, that close).  The director and assistant instruct the actors to roll forward and create an actor pile.  The actors are then told to breathe deeply and evenly as they get massages.   They slowly return to sitting position and make eye contact.  There is no breaking the eye contact for the entirety of the exercise.

Behind each actor sits someone with a script.  This person feeds the actor lines and questions, instructing the actor to repeat only the word of phrase that comes from his or her lines.  It goes a little something like this:

Director: Spirit.  Are you a spirit?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Father, son and Holy Spirit.  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Why do you say this?  Are you a ghost?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Do you think she’s a spirit?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Are you afraid of ghosts?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: Is Spirit the name of an airline?  Spirit.

Sebastian: Spirit.

Director: A spirit I am indeed.

Sebastian: A spirit I am indeed.

As you can see, it is a long, slow process, but it is meditative.  The purpose is get away from intellectualizing the script after the table talk sessions.  The director poses questions to both the character and the actor.

Last year, I was highly skeptical process going in, but by the end  I was a believer.  Most of the suggestions just float by and a lot of the power of the exercise is being that close to someone you don’t know for so long (you certainly feel like you know each other after an hour of uninterrupted eye contact).  Every once and awhile, a question will strike me powerfully.  During a dropping in session last year between the girl playing Juliet and myself (I was playing Lady Cap), I was asked, “When was the last time you laughed together?  When was the last time you were in her room?”  The answers that came from purely gut response motivated my acting decisions and the intimacy of the drop-in created a warm, family-like repore between Juliet and I.  It was very easy to grieve when I found her “dead.”

So right now, in between getting things up and moving and making physical choices, amdist the chaos of clowning, sometimes we turn down the lights, breathe deeply, look each other in the eye and let  the heart of the play speak to us.

Designing Twelfth Night

Posted in Design, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on June 12th, 2009 by kellinewby

Here is what Juliana has planned for us:

Model of the Twelfth Night set

Model of the Twelfth Night set

What you are seeing is a 3D mock-up of the set, which will feature murals on the side and back walls and several levels of docks.  The one on your right will run off the stage and into the aisle of the theatre. Click here to see more floor plans, etc.

Juliana drew a lot of inspiration from pictures of Coney Island, and she particularly liked the image of the Wonder Bar.

wonder-bar-head

You can see more of her research and inspirational pictures by clicking here. I’m a big fan of the rainbow colored Mermaid.

The show is full of clowning, drinking,  mistaken identities, people caught up in the moment falling in love with the wrong people–seemed perfect to set on a boardwalk.

We’ve decided to set Twelfth Night in the late 1960′s  because the themes line up well (gender bending, free love, clowning).  In addition, there is  a lot of music written into the show, and the summer of ’69 brought us Woodstock.  Also, as we discovered last year, it is really hard to costume an older period when you’re working on the kind of budget we are working with.

tn-set-box

Last year, Juliana approached us and asked us to collaborate with her on a Halloween project that I will cover in another post (or maybe two–it was quite and ordeal), and afterward she offered to come out of retirement and  design a set for the Main Street Stage.  We, of course, took her up on it.  Twelfth Night will be her second set with us.

As we begin to build, I hope to take pictures and post them here, so you can watch the progress.  We’ll have a before and after.  As for now, the set is a tiny scale model sitting on a table and a lot of bright green tape on the stage floor.

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.

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.