Archive for April, 2012
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“…I know a place where the wild thyme grows…” – Members of the MIDSUMMER acting company talk about their first encounters with this magical playThis interview appears in the recent edition of CSC’s CLASSIC Newsletter. Click here to download or pick up a copy in our lobby. Do you remember the first time you saw A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM? Anthony Heald (Theseus/Oberon): I have no idea how old I was—probably around 10—nor where I saw the performance—probably a college production. But I vividly remember the thrill I got, being immersed in that “fairy world.” Taylor Mac (Egeus/Puck): The first time I saw it where it made an impression on me was at BAM just a few years ago—an all-male production from England. What I liked most about that one was that in the intermission the whole company sang songs in the lobby as a kind of men’s choir, and it was so delightful and sweet and I thought “yes, that’s how you keep the energy of the show going and keep people engaged in the themes of the play and the tone of the play and yet still give them a break.” It broke the barrier between the audience and the performers and I loved that about it. Christina Ricci (Hermia): The first time I saw A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM I was around 10 or 11. My mother took me to a production of it in New York. Steven Skybell (Bottom): The first time I came into contact with it was when I performed in it. At the age of 17, I played Bottom, so it’s been thirty-odd years and I’m still playing Bottom! The first production I saw would have been Tina Landau’s production at the McCarter Theatre back in 2005. What was your impression of the play then? Anthony: I remember being surprised by every aspect—and especially by Bottom’s re-entrance with “the ass’s knoll” fixed to his head. I can still see it! Taylor: How physical the play is and how slapsticky it is. That, combined with the poetry, is really what elevates it for me. I like things that have duality in them and are a big mash-up of a lot of different things. And that’s what MIDSUMMER felt like to me when I first experienced it. Christina: I loved it! It was so magical! I just loved the whimsy and mystery. Steven: It’s such an interesting play because it gives the impression of being a light-weight tale of lovers and fairies and the magic world, and that’s how I’ve always thought of it. I’m amazed to find out as we’ve been working on it that it is much more than that. Our director Tony Speciale says that it’s one of the most-produced shows ever and I think it’s because people assume that it’s easy and simple in its geometry. Now that I’m really delving into it, it’s so much more complicated and murky. So my first impressions of it as a young man are now being turned completely on their ear. It’s much more spikey than people give it credit for being. What drew you to your character? Anthony: The chance to do BOTH Theseus and Oberon – to play both sides of a complex, contradictory person. And to speak those magical lines, that gorgeous poetry. And, of course, to play opposite Ms. Neuwirth—a “dream” come true! Taylor: I kind of call myself a fool in my own work, but I’ve never played a fool before in any of the canon. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to play the fool and that’s what drew me to it. And then when Tony asked me also to play Egeus, I just thought that the range there of being able to do these two seemingly polar-opposite characters was really exciting for me as an actor. Christina: I was more drawn to the play as a whole, not just the character I portray, although, I do love 'the lover' storyline and the high, teenage drama they go through in this play! Steven: The thing that I love about the character of Bottom is that his name sort of says it all. He’s on the bottom. He’s the low man on the totem pole in terms of the world, and yet he has a miraculous thing happen to him in this play, which is he’s picked up by the spirit world and dropped among them and even in that he doesn’t lose his everyman quality. That’s something that I respond to about him and I think people in general in the story respond to as well. He can be talking to his fellow mechanicals, to the queen of the fairies or to the Duke of Athens and he just is what he is. I think that’s something that delights people. He seems to know who he is no matter what world he’s in. I like that about him.
Click here to download or pick up a copy in our lobby.">This interview appears in the recent edition of CSC's CLASSIC Newsletter. Click here to download or pick up a copy in our lobby. You've done both tragedies and comedies by Shakespeare. Do you have a preference? No. I love working on them both and find that they often overlap. Shakespeare rarely introduces us to a world that is purely one thing or the other. His plays are full of paradoxes and contradictions—just like real life. It's his "tragical mirth" that interests me: the juxtaposition of humor and terror, poetry and blasphemy, the ridiculous and the sublime. I find that to be a wonderful common denominator in both his comedies and his tragedies. I love that MIDSUMMER starts off as a tragedy in Act One, but culminates in a triple wedding in Act Five. The journey from beginning to end is epic. Those kinds of stakes and events are fun to play as an actor and fun to shape as a director. What attracts you to MIDSUMMER? It’s a perfect play. The structure, the poetry, the action, the conflict and ultimate resolution is satisfying to work on and satisfying to watch. There’s a reason why MIDSUMMER is usually the first play we all read in school: it’s utterly accessible to a modern audience. It just works. On the flip side of that, each scene introduces a staging problem to solve as a director. How do I deal with Bottom’s transformation into an ass? Who are the fairies and what makes them visually interesting and different from the mortals? Where do I place Titania so she can sleep on stage unnoticed for two whole scenes? How do you stage Pyramus and Thisbe for a modern audience so that it doesn’t feel hammy and antiquated (in a bad way)? There’s a lot going on in any given moment in this play and the potential interpretations are bottomless. It’s a fun challenge as a director to organize and articulate all of these elements while keeping the play’s engine running towards the denouement. It seems, with this play, that the director becomes most essential in figuring out how to deal with the fairies: who they are, how they function, what they look like and what exactly is the magic that they wield, in short: how does all this manifest itself? Can you talk a little bit of how you envision this aspect of MIDSUMMER and how you came about it? I started with the idea that the fairies were part of a traveling sideshow called Fairyland, which was strolling through Athens, Ohio to perform for Theseus and Hippolyta on their wedding day. The fairies translated into oddities (the magician, the fortuneteller, the medicine man, the hoochie coochie dancer, the bearded lady, the strong man, the ventriloquist, etc.). For me this was a way of contextualizing the play’s magic, illusion and theatricality. As a kid I remember going to county fairs and circuses and was mesmerized by magicians and other oddities. I wanted to be a magician myself for a while and even had my own magic kit, which I frequently used to terrorize my neighbors. From a very early age I was enthralled by magic. I wondered whether these oddities’ abilities were somewhat real, or was it all just make-believe? There’s a lot of that same wonder in MIDSUMMER, so I wanted to embrace the visual vocabulary I loved so much. There also can be a real roughness and darkness to magic, which seems to support the play’s visceral imagery. This is where I started. It’s evolved a lot since. The vocabulary of the fairies as oddities is still there but it’s less literal. The fairies now represent figments of the mortals’ imaginations, their dreams (nightmares), and the manifestation of repressed desires and fears. By the time Hippolyta and Theseus exit the first scene in act one, they’ve reached an impasse. They go to bed separately and dream in order to work out their real-life conflict. This has to happen before they can peacefully marry. In our production, the rest of the characters in Athens share the same dream. All of their storylines intersect in the woods, which represents their shared dream state. Theseus becomes Oberon, Hippolyta becomes Titania and the mechanicals become the fairy-oddities. The doubling is symbolic. Each person has to work out his/her issues through role-playing or dreaming. It is said that love is the waking dream and that it follows its own logic. Both dreaming and falling in love can shake you up but both can ultimately be transformational. Shakespeare understood the psychology of dreams before there was a Jung or Freud! After the characters detox in the woods, they can return to Athens and enter relationships, which are healthy, mutually satisfying and full of respect…for the most part. This is Shakespeare at both his most comedic and lyric; the verse is rich, with a propensity toward rhyming couplets and other artful poetic conceits—how do you work with actors to make that feel natural—or should it feel natural? What is one to do with this extraordinary, ornate, linguistic banquet that Shakespeare has given you? The language is everything in Shakespeare. There are so many clues embedded in his poetry that can inform and activate the physical choices an actor makes. When I work on any Shakespeare play, the actors and I spend several days around the table picking apart each line on a cellular level. This is one of my favorite parts of the rehearsal process—textual forensics. We discuss and question everything: word choices, scansion, imagery, punctuation, repetition, tonality, rhythm, musicality, vowels and consonants, we paraphrase and “translate” into modern English; all in an effort to unearth as many interpretations as possible so that we have plenty of options when we finally get on our feet. Yes, Shakespeare’s language is heightened but its heartbeat (iambs) is the same as ours today, and that is what makes it modern and universal. People talk to themselves in real life just like they do in Shakespeare’s plays and we’ve all waxed poetically at times. There’s more similar than dissimilar in our languages. The key is to make every word mean something specific to the actor so that no one is ever speaking generally about anything. I think that’s what will make the text ultimately sound organic. We understand that next up for you is ROMEO AND JULIET at Actors Theatre of Louisville; can you talk a little bit about what your focus might be on this other, more tragic tale of love? I’m very fortunate to be able to work on these two plays back to back. Each has illuminated important aspects of the other for me. I read somewhere that scholars believe Shakespeare actually wrote them in tandem, which I find fascinating. I like to imagine a young Shakespeare working on his comic masterpiece during the day, and at night turning to the darker aspects of his “story of more woe.” You definitely get a sense when you read them together that they stem from the same creative period. In a way, one is the photo negative of the other. MIDSUMMER starts off as a tragedy but quickly develops into comedy. ROMEO AND JULIET starts off as a comedy and it isn’t until Mercutio dies that the play crosses over and becomes a tragedy. Both deal with young love, mysticism and bad parenting. The myth of Pyramus and Thisbe, which is only play-acted in MIDSUMMER, is sadly fully acted out by the star-crossed lovers in ROMEO AND JULIET. In terms of my focus for the Actors Theatre production, I’m still in my dreamy-dream phase of imagining all the possible interpretations. However, the one thing I know is I’d like to do a modern production. I’d like to embrace and accentuate the exuberance of youth and the culture of violence, which the play seems to be obsessed with.