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FRIDAY NIGHT LULL: LET’S TALK SHAKESPEARE

October 22, 2011

Haven’t been dropping (keyboarding?) posts here as often as I would like recently.  Had a frustrating getting in touch with musicians for an article experience and then, next up, interviewed a Holocaust survivor and felt totally inept.  Amazing how much emotion can be compressed into matter of fact.  Tone of voice is something I spend a lot of time paying attention to and suppressed emotion really gets me.

Tone of voice:  let’s talk theatre for a switch.  What does Michelle do when not directing Shakespeare?  Think about next year’s Shakespeare for starters.  We’re doing Midsummer Night’s Dream again.  I think it’s a good one to revisit and it may be my favorite Shakespeare.  There’s broad comedy, mischief, magic, wit, madcap chases, et alia.  What’s not to love?  Well, the first year when I cast two Pucks who had to split the role and they were privately warring off stage and no one bothered to let me know.  Rookie mistake.

This year, I was wondering how to get the meaness and the mischief and the climate affecting war between Titania and Oberon on stage without it infecting the cast.   To quote Titania:  

the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:

So there I was, sitting at the Starbucks counter, looking at the clouds, talking/ranting about music + Midsummer (we have previously used variations and adaptations of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Suite; I love the lullaby) and I was remembering the 2nd Midsummer, when we attempted to use Mendelssohn (for the fairies) and the Rolling Stones (for the Athenians)* and had to pull the Stones at the last moment because the disparity was throwing everything + everyone off. And I had a flash:  embrace the divisiveness.  Split the play into its three parts, keep the actors separate as much as possible, let the awkward parts be awkward, develop three separate costume and music schemes, turn Midsummer into three different plays.  I have no idea what will happen.  My musical collaborator is more willing to experiment than in earlier days.  I suspect that the fairies should probably be the most future forward of the 3 groups, whatever we decide.  And that we should keep the original Buster Keaton/silent film idea for the players**.

I love the players. Once upon a Midsummer audition, a young women was reading Quince and after, looked at me and said, “when do we get to read the good parts”.  It is the only person’s audition sheet I have ever crumpled into a little ball as soon as the party left the room.  My technical director had been downstairs gathering another group, walked back in the room, sensed a new mood and asked “what did I miss?”  Moral:  just read what the director tells you. And try to be cheerful about it.  Yes, I make everyone, ages 7 to adult, cold read Shakespeare.  And yes, I explain to those new to Shakespeare that I don’t care if they mispronounce things, I just care that they’re brave enough to try.  Memorized speeches tell me nothing about an actor’s coping skills or how easily they can develop a rapport with a stranger — or me.

The 2nd Taming there was an actress who read well enough but for various reasons didn’t suit the mix of the play.  She came back and auditioned the next year and I’d found my Portia, partly because she’d gotten points for having the guts to come back.  Portia needs that blind, self centered, move the universe without a lever confidence and lack of awareness of others.  No one else had it.

I like the new Barnes and Noble editions of Shakespeare; saw them on a niece + nephew visit to Baltimore.  They have Midsummer available so I will probably get that as my edition to direct from.  The Tempest is also available, which is on my to consider list, along with The Merry Wives of Windsor and Loves Labours Lost.  As You Like It still makes me twitch.  Rosalind was one of my favorite heroines but staging it was a nightmare.  And a story for another day.  And a private venue.

Twelfth Night is my favorite to direct, which is another story for another night.  It hadn’t been on my radar as a reader of Shakespeare, but I’ve had three (3 and a half) perfect nights of theatre and the first 12th Night provided one.  If I had to pick one to direct, it would be that one.  Olivia has surprised me by leaping past most in the heroine sweepstakes, although I think sticking her with Sebastian is a bit raw.  But as a Shakespeare plot twist, pretty standard so you just go with it.

Alex Knapp of Forbes wrote a good column with solid arguments about Shakespeare writing Shakespeare.  This is a good thing.  Knapp just got hired full time to do more writing and as Forbes Social Media Editor; I think that’s also a good thing.

On non Shakespeare theatre notes, took a lighting design class, looking forward to experimenting with that sometime.  And I had agreed to direct a fun play called May The Farce Be With You, but with the time slot (winter, over Chinese New Year) and the DreamWrights Double Casting policy (director not double cast, at the end of the rehearsal period there’s ten days in a row scheduled), Diane Crews (DreamWrights Artistic Director and the person who designed and survives the insane schedule) and I decided Production Stage Managing or Assistant Directing for me.  It’s been nice to spend more time doing backstage techy stuff at the theatre; I’ve missed it.

Shakespeare seems to be surging.  Corialanus and Anonymous are upcoming movies and locally, five maybe six productions of Shakespeare (or Shakespeare related) productions opened recently.  And Cambio has animated Cliff Notes Shakespeare available.  So pick a Bard of Avon work and run with it.  Maybe it’s time for Lear.  Good twisty family soap opera storylines there.  Or my favorite Shakespeare spoof, which everyone should buy + read ’til it falls apart: Give My Regrets To Broadway.  Omelet, Prince of Denver…how can that be a fail?

And I think that’s me theatre talked out for awhile.  Good night.  Thanks for stopping by.

*Part of the prep was watching Quadrophenia (library helpfully tracked down a copy) and having the rockers or mods debate.  Another part was getting vinyl copies of Rolling Stones albums and trying to figure out how tour and amplify a record player.

**aka Rude Mechanicals, aka Bottom, Quince, Flute, Snug, Snout, Starveling

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