Thursday, December 3, 2009
The insightful new documentary from Iain McCray Martin is now available for sale at OHA. For just $15 dollars, you can own the latest production from Opera House Arts' Imagination Project Public Access Digital Media Studio.
"Life by Lobster" examines the the continuation and barriers for a young generation of commercial lobster fishermen. Martin's compelling footage included images of Deer Isle and Stonington and conversation with local lobstermen. Martin was a 2005 graduate of Deer Isle-Stonington High School and 2008 graduate of Emery University. The film was screened at the Camden International Film Festival, Reel Pizza in Bar Harbor, and the Grand in Ellsworth. To buy "Life by Lobster" and other films produced through the Imagination Project visit the OHA store http://shop.operahousearts.org/main.sc
Monday, October 26, 2009
The Island Readers and Writers Book Tour
Recently, I participated in the Island Readers and Writers History and Book Tour as videographer. The tour, which ran from October 5th till 16th, visited the year-round island communities of Vinalhaven, North Haven, Isle au Haut, Swans Island, Frenchboro, Isleboro, Isleford, Stonington, Mount Desert Island. The tour will visit Matinicus on November 5th!
Chris Van Dusen, writer and illustrator, brought his children’s book “The Circus Ship” to community members and school students, and Opera House Artistic Director and Storyteller, Judith Jerome, told the history of the Royal Tar.
The “Royal Tar” was a steamship, carrying circus animal, that sunk in Penobscot Bay in 1836. It is reported that survivors were taken to both Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven. However, the question of what happened to the animals on the ship lives in many islanders minds, and has created legends and folk tales, which today are still spark active and vibrant dialogue in these small island communities.
"The Circus Ship" is a children's picture book that tells a more cheerful and hopeful tale of historic steamship.
The tour was welcomed in many communities with stories and family traditions related to the steamship the Royal Tar. The team visited island schools and historical societies telling the both history of the Royal Tar and reading and talking about Chris Van Dusen’s new book "The Circus Ship".
Special Thanks to the Maine Arts Commission and the Maine Humanities Council.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Last night, on August 12th, comedian and trapeze artist Amanda Crockett appeared for the weekly "Live! for $5". She wowed the crowd with jokes, juggling, dancing, and trapeze work! She encouraged audience participation with jokes and interaction. "Live! for $5" is made possible through support from the Whitman Family Foundation.
Friday, August 7, 2009
And yet, and yet ... I wonder how many people have actually been to a live dance performance on a stage or, in the case of this blog, at a quarry? And how many of us think: Dance? Dance? I don't get dance.
My answer? Yes, you do. Understanding dance is as easy as watching a Cuban hip-hop singer gyrate onstage. You get it. She's sexy. She's groovin'. She feels the music. It makes sense because you're familiar with what she's doing. You've seen it on TV. Or maybe you've even done it at home. (Don't worry; your secret is safe with me.)
"The more you go to dance, the more you see," said Alison Chase, choreographer for Q2: Habitat, which opens this evening and runs through tomorrow at the Settlement Quarry in Stonington. I asked her how she'd like people to "understand" dance -- what skills do they need to "get" it?
"Trust your own responses," she said.
OK, great start. But there's more you can do ahead of time.For instance: You're at a quarry. The title of the piece is Habitat. There's gotta be a clue in there somewhere.
Also, you can spend a few moments reading other blog entries on this site, OR check out Emily Burnham's recent story in the Bangor Daily News.
The point is: You don't have to go in cold. Or you can. You don't have to think about it beforehand. Or you can. You don't have to know the entire history of dance. Or any of it. But it's also OK if you know all of it.
Follow Chase's advice. You'll get it. Pay attention to whatever draws your eye rather than what you think you should be looking at. You'll feel something. Trust me. Then trust yourself.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
July 24th and 25th were jamming nights, at the Stonington Opera House, with the Deer Isle Jazz Festival. The event was the 9th annual festival and continued with the tradition of showcasing innovative jazz musicians.
On Saturday, July 25th, the Pyramid Trio with Roy Campbell (trumpets) performed showcasing avant-grade, modern jazz. Campbell is one of modern jazz's most articulate and wide–ranging trumpet voices. His Pyramid Trio references the musical lineage that spans Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. This year marks Parker's return visit to Stonington; he was a performer and Haystack artist–in–residence in 2004. The trio also includes drummer Michael Wimberly.
Each night's performance was opened by local bands;on Friday, saxophonist Duncan Hardy's quintet; and on Saturday, George Stevens Academy's awarding–winning combo, Musaic, directed by Steve Orlofsky.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
As a part of the weekly Live! for $5, at the Stonington Opera House, Adele Myers and Dancers appeared. The show was an inspiring blend of music, contemporary dance, and storytelling. The humorous and sometimes unsettling choreography explored human interaction in a modern and dynamic manner.
During the Talk Back session, the Connecticut-based dance company explained their dance style and voiced their delight at Deer Isle and the community of the Opera House. The Opera House Arts’ Live for $5 Family Theater Series is a six week long series of hour-long, live performances designed so that all family members, regardless of age, can enjoy live theater.
Live! For $5 tickets are available only at the door beginning at 6:30 p.m. Live! for $5 is made possible with the generous support of the Whitman Family Foundation. For more information call 367-2788.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Last night, the Stonington Opera House filled the house when it screened Iain McCray Martin's documentary: "Life by Lobster." The film is the latest production from Opera House Arts' Imagination Project Public Access Digital Media Studio. Other films from the studio have included "Tire Tracks" and "Island Prom."
"Life by Lobster" examined the the continuation and barriers to commercial lobster fishing for a new generation of lobstermen. Martin's compelling footage included images of Deer-Isle and Stonington and conversation with local lobstermen. A talk-back discussion after the show included impressions from Martin, a 2005 graduate of Deer-Stonington high school and 2008 graduate of Emery University, as well as commentary from the film's subjects.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
If in dreams we be constantly reinventing and reimagining who we are.
The truly amazing thing about Shakespeare's texts is their capaciousness: like a large soul, the works embody and hint at the mysteries of our human experiences in ways that constantly invite us to reinterpret this literary tradition--the one we call Shakespeare.
Dreams, the classics, jazz, theater, religion--allow me to suggest all are ways we meditate on, explore, and reinvent our human traditions: both as communities and individuals. They provide the shared metaphors for our lives, as well as the practices needed to interpret them.
And when it comes to capaciousness of metaphor--a size and generosity of story which allow reinterpretation over centuries--perhaps the only rivals to Shakespeare's in our western cultures are the Greeks and, yes, the Bible. This weekend's readings in our local Episcopal church were the familiar stories of David and Goliath: when I was very young, we watched a Sunday morning cartoon based on these stories. I've known this story all my life, and every time I hear it I understand it differently--now, for instance, most particularly in the ways we understand the histories of the middle east. And so we tell the same stories, over and over, in different ways: constantly transforming our understandings of who we might be, constantly remaking our worlds--hopefully for the better.
Thus there is no "post-Shakespeare"--in Stonington or elsewhere. Our experiences of wrestling with metaphor, through art and religion, are central to our humanity; and there just aren't enough opportunities or time for this work and pleasure. So we are going to let our ShakeStonington blog live on, and hope you will continue to bring to it your ideas, thoughts, and questions: about Shakespeare, about metaphor, about theater, spirituality, life--because ultimately, in the dream we call our lives, this IS all there is.
Monday, July 13, 2009
From the guy who teaches us how to "biff" mussels in 40 feet of water (shown in red shirt, right); to the guy in the checkered coat who is fascinated with a new way to count grains of sand on a beach; to the guy who eventually strips down to his skivvies and says "I think that is really interesting" throughout the play, triggering waiters to appear and pour more coffee over the pair--"Biffing Mussels" is a terrific way for young and old alike to experience the theater of the absurd. What is absurdity? What is comedy? What makes live theater like this, with an audience full of children, so magical and special? If you don't know the answers to these queries, you will have to attend a show and find out. OHA's full schedule is at www.operahousearts.org.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
And just for fun:
This is why Opera House Arts does Shakespeare. The Bard was a master of crafting beautiful language and sophisticated plots around human conflicts which dog each of us to this day--and making us laugh at the whole thing. As Artistic Director Judith Jerome said at Friday night's Talk Back, our job is to constantly reinterpret and wrestle with these universal themes within our own contexts: to keep Shakespeare alive and vigorous--and ourselves as well.
Yet many productions quail at taking on the conflicts and tensions which underlie Shakespeare's comedies; or fail to interpret the richly-layered language in meaningful ways. Thus, modern productions of Shakespeare can all too often fall into the trap of our popular American culture: playing it on the surface. We don't need another sitcom! Listening to several of the Talk Back participants Friday night, I was grateful to have not previously seen productions of "Midsummer" but to have had my first introduction to the play by reading the text. It's difficult for me to believe that any woman, of any generation, can read the first act and not be caught up in the intense male-female tensions which frame this comedy.
Productions, readings, and interpretations that shy away from Shakespeare's conflicts are no doubt why so many young people yawn when they hear the word "Shakespeare," or think of these plays as merely grim school studies rather than the deeply transformative cultural artifacts they might be. Kids minds are hungry for the challenges of seeking multiple ways to address our natural conflicts. This week, I've had many parents express to me how delighted they are that our lively, somewhat dark production has kept their children enthralled from start to finish. In fact one mother told me that her usually extremely restless son said to her, as they exited the theater, "I love Shakespeare." Mission accomplished.
Thanks, Will, for these amazing plays; and thanks to our directors, Julia and Judith, and actors for daring to take them on as we do in Stonington.
Friday, July 10, 2009
See you Sunday, kids.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
And yet this production has some of the lightest humor imaginable. Three Stooges meet Fred Flintstone. The Marx Brothers. Lucille Ball. Goldie Hawn. Robin Williams. Their spirits are all in the rafters of this production.
In Shakespeare's own words: Very tragical mirth? Merry and tragical? Hot ice?
When I asked Dr. Esther Rauch, a literary scholar and retired vice president of Bangor Theological Seminary, how to think about these wacky contradictions, she said: “I think this play is best read as a kind of a riff on ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ It’s almost exactly a twin play, and they both are based on ‘Pyramus and Thisbe.’ But where ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is very serious, this is a send-up.”
What do Romeo and Juliet have in common with Midsummer’s four young lovers? What is the relationship between laughter and tears? City and country? Athens and Maine? For more, listen to my full conversation with Dr. Rauch or read the transcript.
Better yet: Dr. Rauch and I will discuss all of this – and more – in a talk back after the performance 7 p.m. Friday, July 10 at the Stonington Opera House. Come join us for a conversation about the course of true love and how it never does run smooth, whether you’re laughing or crying.
"Considered by many a director to be a madcap romp in fairyland, Shakespeare’s comedy at the Stonington Opera House becomes something more under Whitworth’s direction. This is not glum production."
"The lush, green backdrop full of dark, leafy greens seductively draws the audience into the action onstage."
"The opulence of the kings and queens, be they fairy or mortal, is dazzling."
AND THE CORKER: "While many theater companies in Maine send audiences home with a new appreciation of the Bard’s work, Opera House Arts is the only one that consistently sends them into the foggy night thinking, questioning and rethinking Shakespeare’s canon."
Reviews are such quirky and debatable acts of journalism: consumer guide? critical analysis? a good read? Is the critic part of the arts world? Should she remain aloof? objective? analytical? And what role does the review play in the life of a show or the career of an actor?
All good questions. Judy? Readers? Actors? What's your review of reviewing?
Sunday, July 5, 2009
This is why I can't wait to hear the thoughts of Richard Brucher, a professor of English at the University of Maine -- and guest scholar after the 7 p.m. performance (TONIGHT, JULY 5) of Midsummer at Stonington Opera House on Deer Isle in Maine. He will be in the audience tonight and will join Whitworth and me for an onstage conversation with the audience after the show.
For a preview of his thoughts, you can listen to my interview with Brucher or read the transcript.
We'll be talking about how sexy this production is, and also about Nick Bottom, my favorite character in the play. I think he may be Brucher's favorite character, too, because old Bottom is so genuine. "Shakespeare gives him some wisdom about the unpredictability of love," Brucher said. "But of all the characters he seems to be the most willing and able to accept it when it’s offered to him. Nick Bottom is the only one who gets any sex out in the woods."
And believe me, Titania makes a donkey out of Bully Bottom.
TONIGHT: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, 7 p.m. July 5, Stonington Opera House, Stonington, MAINE.
Photo by Carolyn Caldwell, courtesy Stonington Opera House.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
In the case of Donkey, Paulus uses the story of Midsummer, but not the text. It's more Studio 54 than Elizabethan England or Athens. She changes everything to magically tell the same story and a whole new story at the same time. "I am a huge fan of marrying tradition with modern culture," said Paulus earlier this week in a phone conversation. "That’s one of my passions. So to go back to Shakespeare, who in my mind is one of the greatest sources of structure and character and story, and mash that up with some of the elements that we as audience have experienced in not only modern but more specifically in pop culture is a specific interest of mine."
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Now take a minute to count the talented women working in leadership positions for A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at the Opera House: director, artistic director, executive director, composer/music director, lighting designer, costume designer.
Right on, Opera House!
And a shout out, too, to the amazing scenic designer...the man on the team.
Does it matter that women are in these roles? Yes, because women have traditionally been underemployed in authoritative positions in the arts.
So kudos to Stonington. Where the women are rockin' the boat.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The table is covered with empty soup bowls...Stephanie is offering refills of the amazing chicken soup that she and Rebecca made yesterday...drinks in hand, the present company are debating the uses of Shakespeare's text. I'm typing away at the table, enjoying the inside-outside quality of writing while socializing.
Now the talk has moved to great concerts. "I saw Tori Amos in a coffee shop," says Tommy. Stereolab, Lyle Lovett, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tom Petty, Concrete Blonde, Neil Young by himself in an old theatre with a stage full of about a hundred instruments...It is no wonder that people who speak of music as passionately as these people sitting at our kitchen table are drawn to Shakespeare, where the music of the language and the rhythm of the text add a dimension often wanting in contemporary texts.
Now we're talking about Michael Jackson.
It was exciting to run the whole play today. It is wonderful to be back in Stonington to make another play for this amazing community. And when we come out of a barn that was filled with homemade music into a misty night full of fairy lights flickering like nothing I have ever seen before...well, we're here to make a Midsummer Night's Dream, and live in one, for a few strange and admirable weeks.
But all the stories of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy's images,
And grows to something of great constancy--
But howsoever, strange and admirable
I hope I didn't just misquote my own line.
There is music in the living room now, and Jason tells me the backyard is full of fairies. The kitchen has emptied out. The company has moved into the next act, heading towards the only "free" day between us and an audience. Four nights will quickly steep themselves in days...
National Endowment for the Arts Announces Highlights from 2008 Survey of Public Participation In The Arts
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Public participation in the arts is the foundation on which live performance, such as Shakespeare in Stonington, is built. I'll also be bold enough to say such participation is a cornerstone of strong democratic communities . . . and certainly, as columnist Thomas Friedman notes in this Sunday's Op-Ed, a key to the innovation Maine and our nation need to jump start now, during this recession.
The attached report from the National Endowment for the Arts, just released on Friday, shows that public participation in the arts is decreasing. Whether we're talking brain research; effective education; or economic innovation, this is a trend which bolds ill for the vitality of American culture--and here in our own little corner of the world, we'd like to do our part in reversing this trend.
YOUR increased participation in the arts is a major reason we have partnered with cultural reporter Alicia Anstead to launch this blog; our "Community Reads" series; and our post-show Talk Backs.
As Alicia (and Theseus) note below, the artistic PROCESS--as well as its final product, the show you see on stage when you buy a ticket--of problem solving and creating can have many positive impacts on our lives and in our communities. Here at OHA, we believe the more opportunities we can offer you to be a participant in the process of creating performance, the greater the benefit these performances bring to you; and the more they therefore strengthen our local communities.
Hope to see you tomorrow at 4 p.m. in Stonington, and Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Deer Isle, for the next round of "community reads" of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"!
Last night at a party, the Brooklin (Maine) painter Bill Irvine told me he is headed into new territory with his work, new formal problems he wants to explore and solve.
Seems that all art is problem solving. How to get a brush stroke to look like a cloud or a sail boat. How to get an actor from one side of the stage to the other. How to make comedy and tragedy out of meter.
In MIDSUMMER, Theseus, Duke of Athens, puts it this way:
The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
That is to say: The artist takes that which is "airy nothing" and gives it form. Bill Irvine's paintings. Shakespeare's plays. Actors in character.
But, hee-haw folks, let's not go too deep. Remember, this is a play in which Bottom's head is turned into the head of a donkey -- and he's got no problem at all with it.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
From Blue Hill:
Head southwest on Main St/Rt 15/Rt 176 towards Deer Isle. After 5 miles, you’ll reach a “T” intersection. Turn right onto Rt 175/ Rt 176, towards Penobscot. After 3.5 miles, follow Rt 176 when it turns left onto Frank’s Flat Rd. After 1 mile, you’ll reach another “T”
intersection. Welcome to Brooksville! Turn right onto Coastal Rd (Rt 176), and follow this for about 3 miles. You’ll see an elementary school on your left, and then the rd will curve sharply to the left. Tinder Hearth is the first house on the right that is close to the road. It is a white, rambling farm house, with an attached barn, and a blue front door.
From Jennifer via Judith
Friday, June 26, 2009
Reading about other productions is a good way to get in the right head space for Stonington's A Midsummer Night's Dream. But keep an eye out for features on the local production in both the Ellsworth American and Bangor Daily News.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Last night's community read at the Blue Hill Public Library was a blast. Midsummer can be tricky to read sitting alone in your apartment, but it's hilarious to read outloud with friends and neighbors, especially when they share your enthusiasm for language and laughter. Judith Jerome, of the Stonington Opera House, and Bob Burke, a carpenter from Sedgwick, were reading Titania and Oberon -- and got a little close in one scene. I especially liked listening to Veronica Young, assistant director at Penobscot East Resource Center, whose British-inflected accent is a little closer to what I imagine Shakespeare's actors to have sounded like. But everyone added a voice to the night, and it made the play sing. We're doing it again tonight, 7 p.m. We'll pick up after Act 3, scene 1 -- but don't worry about reading the earlier acts. I'll give a synopsis and we'll read until we're done. C'mon and join us.
(Out-of-town visitor Peter Katz, of California, took the photos.)
For one thing, he's working within classical conventions of "lovers." Goes back pretty far -- Ovid's Metamorphoses, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and, big leap, movies such as Princess Bride. One of my favorite scenes from that flick is very Shakespearean actually -- and very much on point for our marriage theme. You can watch it here.
Wish I'd thought of that.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
In the past 48 hours I've seen people overcome by internal impulses and paralyzed by intellectual pursuits, while others have been torn by instincts in multiple directions and liberated by an artistic aesthetic years in the honing. While I thoroughly believe it takes time to build a company, it is amazing to me that this ensemble, en masse, met just sixteen days ago.
We're getting there. Someone in an earlier post used the word "Whirlwind", and as I looked around rehearsal this afternoon, no other phrase could better capture the apparent dichotomy of forces at work. People spoke words, taught children, experimented with sounds, hoisted weights, jumped around, argued, laughed, and sang ... and all somehow paid attention to the other groups in an effort to create some sum vastly more powerful than the individual ingredients. It was literally order being applied to chaos, or chaos let loose in the midst of order. Perhaps it's an observer's inability to tell the difference that allows and demands we label it as that "magic" that happens en route to an opening..
And that was only inside the theatre; no doubt similar dances were executed in the office, on the phone, and within vehicles running errands around the area. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we attempt to do some theatre.
I hope it continues, as this mass of human endeavor, is literally, inspiring. Stonington, more than most places, should know that a high tide floats all boats, and this collective effort asks, better yet, incites me to rise to the occasion. I can only speak for myself, but maybe that's why we do it: what a thrilling challenge.
Click here to listen to the podcast.
Today, we brought the forest in through the trees.
Too few people get to experience the wild creativity that happens BEHIND the scenes in a theater. With a Scenic Designer, Costume Designer, Technical Director, and tech crew all in residence building out the set and costumes for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” there are so many types of creativity buzzing around the Opera House it could make your head whirl. Today, another wet Wednesday, we fetched a large (15’) log from our woods, and had long discussions as to how to rig it to fly onto the set—as well as how to rig it to ride in on my pickup to the Opera House! Meanwhile, we also fetched and delivered a special type of sewing machine, since our costumer, Jennifer Paar, and her two excellent high school interns, Hannah Avis and Lily Felsenthal, are busy making horned helmets for our fairies; papier mache ass-heads for our “Asshead Ballet;” and minotaur tattoos for everyone. Don’t you wish YOU worked at a theater?! (Photo is from an early costume prototype from the production. Volunteers get to have all this fun, too, so email me if you want to spend some time with this creative whirlwind.)
So that's an invitation to join us tonight and tomorrow -- 7 p.m. Wed June 24 and Thurs June 25 -- at the Blue Hill Public Library, where regular -- no, extraordinary -- citizens (like you) will gather to read and revel in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. A comedy this time. I'll be there. Actors will be there. But otherwise it's Shakespeare, his words, your voice and our collective imagination.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
An exciting heads up from this end. Stay tuned for TWO audio interviews with: one of the world's leading Shakespeare scholars STEPHEN GREENBLATT, who spoke with me from Harvard this week, and another with RICHARD BRUCHER, one of my favorite interpreters of Shakespeare from the University of Maine. They both have big thoughts about The Man, and about MIDSUMMER's take on marriage, sex and what happens in the wood...
Teaser: Who's the only person in the play "getting any" -- as one of the scholar's put it?
Friday, June 19, 2009
Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy, and not just because it observes the generic convention of a marriage (or three) at its end. It has a lot of funny stuff in it -- fights and sight gags, plays on words, etc. But being who I am, I'm interested in the shadow side of this humor as well -- where the laughter of the play covers, just barely, the tensions that lay behind it.
Linda mentioned the penalty named in the first act for defying the patriarchy -- death (or celibacy) for young Hermia, if she does not marry her father's choice. By the end of the play, it all gets worked out, by hook or by crook, through many shenanigans in the forest.
We are working hard to figure out those shenanigans right now, but I'm trying not to forget that darkness of the set up, the stakes that face these characters. The scenes in the woods are all a little crazy, and we are playing with the idea that everyone's ids get a little "blown out" in the dreamscape of the fairy forest.
What happens when they return to civilization, however? How will the excesses of desire, jealousy, and new love, be regulated again? We're not there yet, I'm afraid to say -- so time will have to tell.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I was reminded of that today reading about a production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at San Quentin State Prison in California. The inmate-actors have been rehearsing alongside members of Marin Shakespeare Company for months to stage the play for the Big House. A lockdown canceled opening night -- an equipment problem apparently. But even in prison, the show must go on, and it did Monday night. You can read more about it here.
But it got me thinking. Again. What is it about art that speaks to people across all lines? What can we learn about Shakespeare from prisoners? What does Shakespeare say to them?
One answer is embedded in this excerpt from the director's blog: During the rehearsal I, like Hermia, struggle with trying to figure these men out. I can’t do it. Who are they? Are they actors? Are they criminals? What are they thinking? Like Hermia and her struggle to understand Lysander– I cannot read their minds. I can only read the smile on their faces and trust that the words coming out of their mouths are true.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her,
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.
Shakespeare's most beloved comedy, indeed. And the joke is on . . .?
Needless to say, neither our incisively smart director Julia Whitworth (Taming of the Shrew) nor journalist, commentator, and literary scholar Alicia Anstead will let us or Shakespeare's complicated, often-allegorical text off easily on this one; still, it is frustrating that this "masque" hinges on, well, let's for now just call it the "same old, same old" plot devices as our current sitcoms!
Stay tuned to witness how such a well-worn plot can be intelligently unraveled . . .
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Reading and discussing the text, however, as Jason fully knows, and as Julia articulates below in her character excercise, is not the only way this company of actors explores the play. Physicality is a hallmark of Shakespeare in Stonington productions, and each rehearsal begins with a Viewpointing session. Here is a quote from the SITI Company website on Viewpointing:
"The Viewpoints is a technique of improvisation that grew out of the post-modern dance world. It was first articulated by choreographer Mary Overlie who broke down the two dominant issues performers deal with - time and space - into six categories. She called her approach, the Six Viewpoints. . . The Viewpoints allows a group of actors to function together spontaneously and intuitively and to generate bold, theatrical work quickly. It develops flexibility, articulation, and strength in movement and makes ensemble playing really possible."
Then, as in the last rehearsal I attended, the actors are asked to create a "composition," in ten or fifteen minutes, using elements of the play, and a varying set of parameters that Julia gives them. Language may or may not be used. As the rehearsal process goes on the Viewpointing itself becomes more and more about the play, physical articulations of relationships and energy.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Seeing pictures of ourselves in rehearsal, (funny, I don't _look_ Puckish) reminded me of the juicy gap between the play's genesis and what we're now doing with it. Surely Shakespeare would balk in puzzlement at the host of activities we now 'do' with his plays.
Like, reading them, for example. They were, after all, written to be heard, not read. The overwhelming majority of Elizabethan London was illiterate, paper and ink were prohibitively expensive, and the canon wasn't published in an organized format until seven years after his death. The very word 'audience' is echoed in journal entries of the time: "This afternoon I heard a play by a William Shakespeare ...", and stands in stark contrast with our modern habit (as spectators) of 'seeing' a movie. To the Elizabethans, language ('action of the tongue') was the firework display, the CGI, the set change, and the orchestration of entertainment. In a society commonly without books, newspapers, internets, (or blogs!), Today's Play was all of the above, plus an education on religion, the law, history, royalty, gossip, and current events.
It would be quite a feat if our Midsummer qualifies as all of the above to our Stonington _audience_ in twenty short days. But before we panic, we should remember that the original production had far less time to prepare. Contemporaries of Shakespeare's King's Men offered new plays at a furious pace, one year premiering 180 new titles. With just a few days, no Director as we know it, a grab-bag repertoire of dances and fights, and an ensemble that had been through the Wars of the Roses (on stage) together, the 'mounting' of new work must have been bracing. Also, many plays only ran one performance - and failed; as the playwright wasn't paid until the second, if there was a second, the finances must have been bracing, as well. (Well, _that_ hasn't changed!)
There are many elements I won't miss from Midsummer's Elizabethan roots (the audience's smell and their proclivity to throw vegetables, to name just two ... oh, and the plague). But as we embark on day four of rehearsal, I will revel in the luxury of in-depth character study, the collaborative generation of a vocabulary, and the flourishing of an imaginative world as fantastical as a Dream. What could be more Shakespearean than that?
After a few days of working on the text, discussing themes, ideas and characters, I always invite the actors to create character presentations based on a set of questions that I assign them. They are encouraged to use a "sky's the limit" approach to their imagination, and they are assured that they will not be held to anything they come up with so early in the process.
And tonight they present their work -- I can't wait.
Here are the fill-in-the-blanks that I assigned them:
My name is ______
I'm from _______
My age is ______
Three things I know about myself from the text are:
Three things I intuit about myself are:
Some ideosyncrasies I have are: (3-5)
Some things I might do during the course of a performance are: (3-5)
My dream is:
My nightmare is:
A shape (in my body) that says everything about my character is:
A way of locomoting is:
Two gestures (behavioral or expressive) that illuminate my character are:
[the last three are demonstrated, rather than spoken]
I can't wait to see what these smart, creative actors come up with !
1. Lovers lose their minds over each other. Relate?
2. In case you think you're special, love apparently has always looked the same. Ergo, the Demetrius/Helena/Lysander/Hermia mash.
3. Try fitting this line into a conversation today: "Methought I was enamored by an ass."
4. Who names their kid Snug? or Snout?
5. If I were Titania, I would SO wear a fabulous tiara.
6. If I were Hippolyta, I would dress like Xena.
7. Bill Bryson -- the Walk in the Woods dude from Iowa -- wrote a book about Shakespeare. No, there's no bear head on the cover.
8. The Folger Shakespeare Library edition calls Bottom an "ass-headed monster." Scholar humor?
9. QE1: Bad makeup. Called herself "prince." Was the "Faerie Queene.' Wait, what century was this?
10. MIDSUMMER is the Elizabethan code word for: Go crazy, people!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Julia, here ... director of Midsummer. This is, officially, my first posting on any blog, anywhere. (took me about 10 minutes just to figure out how to initiate a post.) I'm more of a live communication kind of gal.
But, we are off, and it's thrilling to be in the room (and the phone, and the internet) with this magnificent team. For those of you who have followed the nine years of Shakespeare in Stonington, you'll find that there are many new faces in our midst... four new actors, three new musicians, new designers and technical director, and some new young ladies from the community that will be joining us onstage as Titania's fairies. It's exciting and a little frightening to continue to expand our ranks -- it's a short rehearsal period, and to do the kind of ensemble physical work that I love to do (and the OHA audiences have come to expect), we have to move quickly to create a tight artistic and intellectual community. But that sometimes means moving slowly -- very, very slowly when it comes to unpacking a play as dense as Midsummer Night's Dream, or the conceptual framework I'm laying upon it. I'm sure we all are having some panicky moments about wanting to get MOVING, but I'm a firm believer in laying a strong foundation to support a complex work. So that's what we are up to.
One of the ways I like to spark conversation and reflection on a play is to show imagery that has been evocative for me when preparing. Here are two works I shared last night:
The first is a Dali painting, "The Woman with and Egg and a Spear." For me, the surrealist quality of this is important, as is the composition itself. Is this Hippolyta? The second, is the British romantic painter John Edward (I think) Fuselli's "The Nightmare." I love the little hobgoblin sitting on the woman's chest. Is she dying? Is she in ecstasy? What's with the horse (or mare, as the case may be) on the margins of her dream? Is this Titania?
Neither of these is aesthetically related to our production (well, the first, sort of...) but both animate aspects of the play for me in exciting ways. Hope they do so for you as well...