Friday, June 12, 2009

Then & Now

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?

Character Presentations tonight!

Tonight and tomorrrow are my favorite rehearsals of the rehearsal process -- character night!

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 !


TOP 10 thoughts for why I'm digging A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

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

Midsummer: romance or nightmare?

The imagery of the paintings Julia shared in rehearsal (see earlier post) point to the fractured, nightmarish possibilities for Hippolyta and Titania. More typically, we tend to focus on the ethereal qualities of MIDSUMMER (see images here I found online) -- dreams, the magic of the woods, luminism, idealization, youth. And yet even in my own reading this time I'm finding a darker side to the story. Drugged lovers (yikes!), conquered brides (yikes!), patriarchal rule (hmmm). Hardly the romantic view represented by the images above. Of course, Shakespeare is elastic enough to allow for many visions, but I am eager to see where Julia and the cast take us. Julia, can you tell us more about your view of the surrealist image, please?
Am halfway through the 1999 movie version of MIDSUMMER -- with Calista Flockhart, Kevin Kline, Michele Pfeiffer. Stanley Tucci makes for a very corporeal Puck....go figure. American screen actors and Shakespeare are always a tricky mix... More after the show.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Well, Alicia, if you like slow reading, you would indeed enjoy being around our table...
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...

Take it slow!

One of the great lessons James Wood, the New Yorker book critic, taught me was to READ SLOW. He suggested going over sentences several times for comprehension and deeper understanding. That jewelly advice changed my reading habits forever. Sooooooo, I am not at all surprised that the cast of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is taking it slow, extracting meaning and personhood from each word, line, scene, silence, exchange. I suggest we try slowing down. Later this month, when we do our community readings in Blue Hill and Deer Isle, we will surely take breaks to discuss a line, ponder the meaning or try to wrap our minds around Shakespeare's language a bit more fully. Call me a geek, but I love a good slow Shakespeare read.

On the other hand, Alicia, the 1960s BBC film version of the play (with young, smooth-faced Judi Dench, Diana Riggs, and Helen Mirren playing Titania and the lovers) has Hippolyta in the opening scene simply staring adoringly at Theseus. In most productions the idea that Hippolyta is the defeated Amazon queen, that she is a booty bride, is elided.

There is no better way to study a text, in my view, than to study it as an actor, with the intent, the imperative, to embody the character and given circumstances of the play. Thus the cast is only on page 12 of table work with the script as of last night. Every idea is listened to carefully--and they are all good. Can you see it in the photos I took? We are serious, and laughing alot. I love this seriousness, and laughing, as though theater matters. On the wall of the Siti Company studio where we are working there is a statement of intent that includes the assumption that theater is neccesary to the spiritual revitalization of the world. My guess is that there is not a person in this room who does not believe this.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Of Queens and marriage and fierce women

How appropriate that rehearsals of MND begin in QUEENS! Reading the text for the first time in a few years -- this time partially influenced by a conversation with director Julia Whitworth -- I've been thinking about the queens in the play. What does it mean to be a queen in Athens and the surrounding wood? And what might Queen Elizabeth I have been thinking as she watched Hippolyta and Titania have their dominion, property and "will" taken from them? Although no one seems to be sure, there's speculation that Shakespeare wrote MND for a wedding. Imagine! In the 1960 production at the Old Vic Theatre in London, Hippolyta appeared in manacles. In our own time, we're still conflicted about what makes a good marriage -- AND even who is allowed to get married. After seeing a production, the unwed QE1 surely must have felt supported in her own decision to remain a "maiden queen." Judith, I like that you describe Hermia and Helena as "wicked fierce." That gives us a parallel duo to consider.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Quarry

Last week was an exciting time at the Settlement Quarry. On June 3rd, artist in resident Tawanda Chabikwa worked with Stonington-Deer Isle students on dance and story-telling though movement at the Settlement Quarry. While at the Quarry, Tawanda and artist Mia Kanazawa, who had designed sea-gull heads and wings for the children to use, helped the students work in groups to create choreographed dance sequences.

The work was in conjunction with the in-development production--Q2:Habitat. Q2 is based on the original 2007 Quarryography. A sneak peak of Alison Chase, Mia Kanazawa, and Nigel Chase collaboration at the Quarry will take place this August 7th and 8th. Full production scheduled for August 2010. Rain date: August 9th

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First read-through brunch in the sweet soft air of Queens

Rebecca and Stephanie, Hermia and Helena, were wicked fierce today; no mild little ingenues these two spitters as they confronted each other over supposed betrayals in the fairy forest. It was an overall fierceness in the cast that most struck me in this first read-through. Puck fierce and chilly and absolutely clear in his detached manipulations; Theseus, with Hippolyta by the hair, so to speak, declaring Hermia's fate if she opposed her father's choice of husband; Titania almost guttural in her passion for Bottom; Bottom so fully full of himself. Lysander just clear (lovely rendering of the language) until his head is muddied by Puck's flower--and then venomous in his rejection of Hermia. I have been reading the play and watching film versions for weeks--never have I heard it so clearly. Already.