Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brooklyn beginnings for Stonington's Shakespeare

By guest blogger and cast member Cherie Mason

At the end of May, I journeyed to New York City to attend the first rehearsals of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex, which will be performed in tandem June 30-July 16 at the Stonington Opera House. There are 12 actors in the company. Ten of us plus our stage manager and two directors met in rehearsal space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We sat in a circle and went around introducing ourselves and the parts we were playing. Then began the instructive exercise referred to in theater as "table work."

One of the directors is an Elizabethan scholar, and he gave us a sweeping view of the lineages and customs of the period in which the plays are set. Slowly the characters we were playing began to come alive especially when we set about figuring out possible relationships, for example, between Queen Elizabeth who loved to ride horses and Lady Henslowe's husband who was crushed by a horse. (I play Henslowe in Elizabeth Rex, as well as the gentlewoman Ursula in Much Ado.) We worked at least six hours everyday but the time flew. This grounding in the subtext of the plays will be invaluable to the actors.

Certain behaviors had to be decided on: Would we all speak with broad English accents? "No," said the director. "Keep the New England dialect with softened vowels." (That's like our native island neighbors in Maine!) Then there was the business of men and boys playing women, and actors playing multiple roles, which was the custom in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre of London. Challenging to say the least. I also got a glimpse of the drawings for the marvelous costumes being designed for both productions as well as the set designer's exquisite miniature sets.

It was difficult to have to leave after a week of such stimulating activity. I will rejoin the company members when they arrive mid-June in Stonington to continue rehearsals on site. Much Ado will be performed onstage at the Opera House. Elizabeth Rex will be staged in the beautiful new barn at the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society. Coincidentally, that is what Elizabeth Rex calls for as the Queen goes to a barn, after attending Much Ado, where she commands the Lord Chamberlain's Men -- the company for which Shakespeare worked -- to amuse and distract her on the eve of the beheading of her beloved Earl of Essex.

Cherie Mason is a board members of Opera House Arts and a regular performer at the Stonington Opera House. She will appear in both Elizabeth Rex and Much Ado About Nothing this summer.