Saturday, June 20, 2009

O,o,o, that Shakespeherian tango!

Can't wait to see the choreography of MIDSUMMER. It's such a physical show, I can well imagine the transformation of what director Julia Whitworth calls "tedious" and "fun" blocking to elegant and funny movement by the time the rest of us see it. "Asshead" ballet? Get out!

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

News Flash

We've been building a sequence that has been affectionately dubbed the "Asshead Ballet."
Another name for it: the "Half-Ass Tango."

Good fun. Come check it out!

Forest for the trees?

This week the work of rehearsal has been all about "blocking" -- that is, figuring out the physical movement onstage. It's slow work -- sometimes tedious, sometimes fun-- and often during the process of working scene by scene, beat by beat, even bit by bit, it's easy to loose sight of the big picture.
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


Ten years ago, I organized a Shakespeare program with disenfranchised single mothers in Upper Manhattan. They were insightful interpreters of Shakespeare -- although sometimes class had to be reshaped because "real life" would stomp forth: Someone would get kicked out of subsidized housing, one of the women had an unexpected abortion, another needed to talk about a visit with her son in prison. Our final event was a Broadway production of ROMEO AND JULIET, and the women offered rich criticism -- they understood the dangers of the hood, the strictness of the law and the compulsions of young love. It was one of the most revealing Shakespeare experiences I've had.

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.

Interesting stuff.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Feminists Could Hate Midsummer (but won't in Stonington)

This is a play that begins with dialogue from Theseus to his captured bride-to be, "Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword,/And won they love doing thee injuries . . ." and goes quickly on to father Egeus citing Athenian custom in regard to his rights to marry off his daughter:

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 . . .

Truth or Catholicism?

Now reading Clare Asquith's SHADOWPLAY: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare in which she investigates the plays by looking at the religious rules and undertones of the Reformation, Henry 8, Bloody Mary, the Counter Reformation, QE1 -- and basically says that Shakespeare was on the Catholic side. The "Shakespeare as Catholic" question is not a new one, and while some of my favorite scholars dismiss the Bard's religious beliefs as irrelevant, there isn't a Catholic among us (or at least me) who doesn't feel some sense of triumphalism in this speculation. (It's like when Stephen Colbert makes insider Catholic jokes on late-night television.) Asquith lands Shakespeare squarely into the Protestant-Catholic brawl with A Midsummer Night's Dream, which she sees as exposing his split loyalty -- on the one hand to religion (Cat'lic), on the other to his queen (early WASP). That's why all the light-dark, high-low tension in the play. Dark Oberon (Protestant), light Titania (Catholic). Short Hermia (P), tall Helena (C). And yet, and yet, that wicked cunning Shakespeare is so clever that everyone felt validated by the poetry. And we still do. Bless you, Will.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I *miss* being in the midst of rehearsals now that I am back in Maine ("Green and cold," Nick, our local bookstore owner remarked, looking thoughtfully out the window--"that ought to be the new Maine license plate slogan."). Multiple projects are pressing, not just one that I can sink down in to. Alicia's post about QE1 referring to herself as "Prince" reminds me of how much I want to do Timothy Findley's "Elizabeth Rex," in rep with "Much Ado About Nothing." Peter Richard's idea and I am thinking 2011.

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.