Reviewing Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play” with “The Importance of Being Earnest” Directing Choices

Backstage with the Cast and Crew of It’s Only a Play

As Co-Stage Manager for  Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play”, I was able to work closely with the director and hear what made him decide particular elements. Dorin McIntosh as director, at the beginning of rehearsals, focused on the character development for each actor. He would sit down with the actors and ask them a series of questions. These would relate to background, daily life, relationships with the other characters involved in the show. This would be a fantastic way of bringing the characters to life for Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Since both derive from comedic roots, these two are will be a precise match to review.

McIntosh stayed focused on everything coming from an organic structure. He did not want there to be anything that stemmed from an un-natural  place. I would agree with this viewpoint. I prefer when there is a natural essence in a show. This is a feeling I would want to achieve with directing a show. “The Importance of Being Earnest” would be an appropriate play to delve into due to the realistic characters and situations that are proposed in the subject matter. Though it is considered a farce, the characters need to be grounded or else audience members can find what is happening to not appear genuine. There has to be a level of what the characters want that can relate to the patrons, but then the way they go about situations can heighten the comedic elements. As director, I would want to enhance those moments of comedy without going over board. You never want your actors to force a laugh from the audience because then it seems that they are trying too hard. If they use their characters reality- including their wants and needs -this brings out the realism within their actions; no matter how over the top these actions may be.

There is a theatre in New York called Studio 54 that has a classic elegance. As soon as you walk into the theatre you see the chandelier that hangs in the lobby and the detailed work done on the ceiling. Inside the theatre is even more beautiful. I believe it would speak to the class structure built into the play and elevate the set.  The proscenium stage would be appropriate for the time period that the show would be placed and allows to make scene changes between the acts easier to hide with the use of a curtain. The set for Act One is in Algernon’s flat so using colours that one would see in a bachelor’s flat during the 1800s. These would probably include dark wood for furniture, possibly a dark green on the walls, and then lighter tones for accents. In the stage directions it tells us that this flat is “luxuriously and artistically furnished” which helps direct where I would want to go with my staging. Act Two is based in the garden just outside of the  manor so the idea would be to have a white gazebo in summer time. This would be reflected in the flowers with bright and vibrant colours. I would include the path that is in the stage directions in the same grey colour scheme, but have it going from the gazebo to the manor. The gazebo would be more upstage right so it is not the focal point of the scene, but can be used throughout the blocking. Then there would the basket chairs and the table that is indicated in the stage directions; these would be placed downstage left, closer to the manor and in front of the pathway. For Act Three is inside the manor in the morning room. The stage directions mentions that there is a window which I would put on the stage right wall (on an angle so the audience can see that it is looking out onto the garden from the previous act.) I would include a bench at the window for the use of blocking the actors. The colour scheme would be light in this act and some natural light would be coming through the window. Like Act One, the furnishings would be intricate and beautiful. On the stage left wall I would have a set of double doors to indicate the main entrance and exit for the actors to work with. On the centre wall panel (more stage right) there would be a smaller door for another way to get in and out.

The comedy within the text is used to escape the restrictions of the class system in that particular time period. This allowed the audience of the time to enjoy the satire while having it relate to them. Utilizing the characters, the text could still be used to relate to audience members in modern times. Casting would have to play on the actors reality they can create for their characters. For the main actors within the show, these are what I would choose for each character. Ernest/Jack would be someone around late 20s to 30, I would want the actor to play him with an innocence so it doesn’t look like he’s aiming to get himself into trouble. Algernon would be mid 20s and extremely charming with a somewhat mischevious side. Gwendolen would be around Ernest’s age and played with a more responsible, elegant air. Cecily would be around 20 and extremely innocent. She should have a youthful naivety and adventurous side. Lady Bracknell would be late 40s to mid 50s and over the top in personality and in her reactions. She would think herself to have high status and deserves the respect that comes along with that class. Costumes, makeup, and hair should be appropriate for each character due to their ages, season of the year, and time of the play. I would include the fashion forward hats and dresses (at least for Gwendolen and Cecily) of the time for the ladies, possibly a bit more outlandish for Lady Bracknell, and the men would be in suits.

Working on Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play” helped me to see that comedy through reality would be beneficial for directing choices of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Review of “The Exquisite Hour” and “Waiting For Godot” Directing Style

The Exquisite Hour is a romantic comedy dated in 1962, production by The Lunchbox Theatre directed by Samantha MacDonald. It is performed in a small room seating around 40 guests comfortably. The set is simple and unrealistic, but does not affect the quality of the play.  The character consists of two members. A male, Zachary Teale, acted by Curt Mckinstry and a female, Helen Darimont, acted by Barbara Gates Wilson.

Play begins with Zachary in his backyard enjoying his late afternoon with some alcoholic lemonade. Helen enters the scene from the outside of the gate and acquired Zachary’s attention. Helen disguises herself as an encyclopedia sales person and entered the backyard. They got into the topic of the relationship status of Zachary, and decided to create hypothetical scenarios where an encyclopedia would come in useful when approaching a female of interest. Through these scenarios, Zachary began to develop romantic feelings for Helen. Helen later reveals that she is not in fact an encyclopedia sales person, but a receptionist at the auto parts shop Zachary is the manager of and never noticed her. The two then share a moment and exit the stage to dine in a restaurant.

Curt Mckinstry is well casted for the part of Zachary Teale. Curt is a middle age man with a body built that could be described as an office body. Helen Darimont was played by Barbara Gates Wilson. Her performance was extremely dramatic at times. It was clearly the director’s decision for the character to act in this manner. Though it was an attempt to generate laughter, I thought it was annoying and unpleasant.

During the play, very minimal sound, lighting, or any other special effects were used. The sound of birds chirping was used at the very beginning of the play to develop setting, indicating a delightful afternoon. Closer to the end of the play, lighting was converted to a dimmer and orange colour, indicating sunset. Simplicity as such requires the actors to carry the setting by using their body expression, emotions, and skills, which both actors demonstrated flawlessly.

Costumes were simple and elegant. The actors dressed as they were in the 1960s. Not many props were used. The main object of the play was the one encyclopedia. This setup allows the actors to drive the plot and deliver the play through their acting skills.

Overall, I believe The Exquisite Hour was well directed and well delivered. The actors were in characters and performed with extensive enthusiasm.

For my planned production, I’ve decided to direct Waiting for Godot. The two plays are quite different but similar in the sense that comedy is involved. Waiting for Godot requires the actors to use body movement to drive the storyline, also similar to The Exquisite Hour. Actors in The Exquisite Hour expressed their emotions quite dramatically, which is the way I will direct Waiting for Godot. Since the plot is actor driven, I will direct the actors to over play every expression which will act as a comedy element.

There is no specific venue I would like the play to be placed in, but it would have to be a smaller size theatre such as the Lunchbox Theatre, which seats about 40 to 60 people. A smaller size venue will allow the audience to be much closer to the stage. The way Lunchbox Theatre has setup their seats place the audience to be higher than the stage, which creates the sense of that the audience is a part of the atmosphere. This is a feeling large venues cannot create.

The production will have very minimal props similar to The Exquisite Hour. Actors will be forced to drive the production and deliver the message across to the audience. The actors will be dressed in poor clothing and the scene will be similar to a desert environment to represent hardship. Scarce amount of plants will be present and no other signs of lives around. This will create a sense of loneliness.

For the casting choice, I would prefer modern comedy actors who have a high amount of exposure in the popular culture. Vladimir will be played by Jack Black. Estragon will be played by Seth Rogen. Lucky will be played by Russel Brand. Pozzo will be played by Mathew Perry. Boy will be played by young Jonah Hill. The production will be heavily focused on comedy with this strictly comedy actors team.

Special effects will be minimally used. As previously stated, the actors will have the ability to deliver the plot and emotions through their acting skills. Lighting will be yellow-orange to indicate a bright, hot sunny day.

A review of “Mother Courage and her Children” and direction of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”

Upon viewing Bertolt Brecht’s classic play, “Mother Courage and her Children,” staged by the University of Calgary’s Drama department, it was evident that the director, Adrian Young, had made deliberate choices on how this play would be performed. These decisions have both inspired and impacted the way in which I would stage Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” An interesting choice made by Young was to have his actors wandering around the main entrance of the theater, conversing with the audience while remaining in character. In addition to this, the audience literally became members of the cast; the second half of the play began with the audience being directed onto the stage by stern and intimidating soldiers, to take on the role of townspeople trying to avoid an army strike. These features effectively immersed the audience into the production, as if we were also a part of the desperate desire to survive.

Furthermore, the captions describing the scenes stated that it was the 17th century, during the Thirty Year War, but the costumes and props were indicative of World War II. This choice allowed for a more obvious link to the allegorical purpose of Brecht’s play. With this is mind, the quality of the costumes and props was remarkable, as there was no question as to which era the soldiers were meant to portray. Furthermore, the economic struggle faced by Mother Courage and her children was also reflected in their clothing, and the anomalous red dress of the prostitute Yvette was well chosen. Another very interesting choice made by Young, was his use of the stage and lighting. In many scenes, he had two different interactions occurring on stage at the same time, whereby the actors in both exchanges would continue their activities but one would carry out in silence, while the other involved speaking. The lighting was used to ensure that the audience did not disregard the other action simultaneously taking place in silence on the other half of the stage, as the events were equally as important.

The inclusion of the audience created a very unique and memorable experience for the viewers. If I were to stage “Titus Andronicus,” I would still like to ensure that the audience is effectively immersed, but I would not do this so literally. Instead, I would have the play performed on an arena stage, rather than the thrust-type stage in the University Theatre. This would allow the audience to be seated on all sides of the stage. Moreover, the actors would enter and exit using the large walkways between the sections of seats to break the imagined barrier between the audience and actors. In terms of the casting, I would have Russell Crowe portray Marcus Andronicus, Amanda Seyfried as Lavinia, Jeffery Dean Morgan as Saturninus, and Scarlett Johansson as Tamora. Titus being the central character, and Aaron being the mastermind behind his demise, makes these two characters imperative for the progression of the play. I believe Liam Neeson would do a fantastic job of delivering a nuanced performance that involves the transition from a stable, well-respected soldier who values his honor and virtue above all else, to a man weakened by recurring tragedy and as a result, wavers between insanity and lucidity. Furthermore, Denzel Washington’s versatility provides him with the capacity to seamlessly portray Aaron’s cunning demeanor and chilling villainous humor as he successfully brings about the downfall of Titus and his family.

Much like the costumes chosen by Young for “Mother Courage,” I want the costumes for “Titus” to be historically indicative of ancient Rome, while concurrently representing the demeanor of each character. Both Titus and Marcus will wear off-white togas with a blue trim, to indicate their wisdom, loyalty, and intelligence. However, once Titus endures the tragedy of losing his two sons, along with his hand, he will then be dressed in a toga with a red trim to signify the bloody passing of his family, and eventually himself. Since Lavinia’s appeal centers around her precious chastity, she will be dressed in a stark white stola that will be tattered and grotesquely stained with crimson red to denote her rape and mutilation. Furthermore, as Tamora was originally the Queen of the Goths, I will ensure that the style of the clothing reflects her transition from a captured “barbarian” to the empress of Rome; upon her first entry, she will be clothed in a tattered black dress, and later wear a pristine purple stola, to imply regality. Since Aaron is Tamora’s secret lover, he will be dressed in all black to indicate both their relationship, as well as his thoroughly evil conduct.

Young employed several moveable set pieces, such as the run-down shelter and wagon used by Mother Courage. Thus, moveable set pieces will be used to easily transition from one setting to another, since a backdrop cannot be used on an arena stage. Moreover, in 5.2, I would utilize a realistic, mobile, chariot in which Tamora and her sons can make a grand entrance in their disguises. In terms of lighting, I would implement sudden disorienting red flashes of light, followed by complete darkness each time an act of murder or mutilation is completed. This will creatively imply the horrifyingly bloody act rather than openly showcasing it. Lastly, stage directions, such as the entrance and exit of the characters, will be slightly manipulated, whereby the actors will often remain on stage, allowing actions to occur simultaneously. This was inspired by Young’s choice to have two actions occur at the same time. The most prominent example of this will be in 3.1, when Titus, Marcus, and Lucius argue over whose hand will be cut off in exchange for saving Titus’ two sons. Instead of having Lucius and Marcus go off stage to “look for an axe,” they will stay on stage on the opposite side frantically searching for an axe while Titus has his hand cut off. This will increase the sense of urgency in Titus’ decision, as the mutilation must occur before Marcus and Lucius reassume their position next to Titus.

How Wait Until Dark influences Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus

Wait until dark is considered a classic thriller of the suspense genre. The Vertigo Theatre adaptation directed by Simon Mallett is rework of the original film written by playwright Frederick Knott, which starred Audrey Hepburn as Susan Hendrix and Alan Arkin as Roat. The plot of this horror play takes place in the basement apartment of a newly blind woman in New York, intimidated by three criminals, hoping to get a prized possession of a doll stuffed with a smuggled drug. Sociopathic killer, Roat, who is as sly as a fox, manipulates and blackmails the other two men into getting involved in the crime and, hoped to use the blindness of the lady to their advantage to recover the doll. Since this review is based on my opinion of the play, I would have to say it was a very successful play as I was engaged and entertained throughout the play due to the suspense that lingered till the end of the play.

In the adaptation of the play, Mallett still kept the authenticity of the original movie; however, the length of the movie was cut and adjusted to two acts for the purposes of stage play. The styles of the costumes were in tune with the age and time period the play was set in- 1940’s. Costume designer, gave a vintage touch to the outfits of the characters such as the trench coats, the neutral and earthy colors worn by the cast, the bowler hats worn by the men, and the humble suitcases.

Walking into the theatre in The Playhouse, the set definitely showed a typical New York apartment. The set designer, did an amazing job by creating a cozy New York apartment, and still included every appliance that could make an apartment functional. The switches for the lights, the working fridge and the running faucet helped create a real home-feel rather than a stage.

The lighting director used lighting to help tell the story in the second act, especially in the final scenes when every source of light was turned off in the apartment. Lighting helped climax the second act.

I will be implementing my directorial verdict from Wait Until Dark to the Shakespearean play Titus Andronicus. My preferred venue for my play will be the Boston Opera. I chose a bigger stage because of the several scenes and locations in the play. The positioning of the seats also makes it possible for audience members to view the stage from any angle, and the acoustics of the theatre helps amplify the sounds made.

In terms of casting, I would want a smaller cast with the aim to focus on the depth of the relationships and climaxes in the play. I would focus on scene where Lavinia was found by her uncle to have been raped in the forest, and I also would focus Aaron’s negotiation with Titus. I would cast Meryl Streep for the role of Tamora. I chose Streep because she has the tendencies to easily transition from a lowly captured slave-queen, to a woman made queen in another land.  In addition, all the characters will have dark features.

Inflections and pitch in the dialogues of characters will help showcase the inter-relationships and emotions between characters. Lavinia’s pain and emptiness will be emphasized, as well was Titus’ anguish and confusion when his arm is cut off. The villain, Aaron who has a one dimensional character just like Roat will stand out in his dialogues and soliloquies to emphasize his evil and sociopathic side, which is really all that is portrayed about him.

The set design will include a wooden floor, several Roman pillars with burning fire at the top, a burgundy back drop with a balcony for Saturninus’ palace. The color of every object on the stage will be of an earthy tone to match the time period of the Roman Empire.

The costumes that will be most emphasized will be Tamora’s since she is the queen. Her costume will be a very dark brown with hints of red, as her marriage to Saturninus was as a revenge for being captured, and the death of her son Alarbus. Lavinia will have a long ivory dress to show her innocence and lack of knowledge of the events going on around her. Saturninus will dress in a very fancy embellished robe, while Titus will have the fit of a warrior, though not with the complete war gear.

The only part of the play that I will edit will be Marcus’ long speech. His lamentation will be cut short, and instead Aaron’s speech will be emphasized. This will be to focus on the villainy of Aaron and the effects it had on the other characters. The discussion of the kinsmen will also be cut out in order to maintain a small cast, especially when they did not play a huge role in the turn of events.

Sound designers will play in crucial role in reproducing the audio elements involved in scenes in the play that will not be played out on stage. Just as in Wait until Dark the sound of a train played to help the audience visualize what was not shown, as well as sound of rain and taxis. The lighting designer would work closely with the sound designer. The scene in the forest where Marcus and his nephews go hunting and Lavinia is being raped, the light on stage will be dimmed, and sounds will be all the audience hears, so as to evoke the emotions going on at that time. For every soliloquy, there will be a spotlight on that character, while every other light on stage will be dimmed. Use of light will be most effective in the final scene since a series of deaths occur, the stage will be dimly lit with spotlight on the spot of the dining table, still not bright.

The end scene will be the burial of Saturninus in a royal manner, and the humiliating burial of Aaron to his head. The resolution of this scene is to end the play on a sorrowful but fulfilling note as the villain was captured just as in Wait until Dark.

In conclusion, for Titus Andronicus, I want to highlight how a foreigner full of greed, terror and revenge disrupted a family and almost killed every member of that family.

Henry V play, and its influence on directing Medea

For this assignment, I attended the Henry V play performed at the St. Stephen Anglican Church Theatre. This play was my first historical play in English. Shakespearean plays are well-known for being representative of the English literature heritage. Thus, without a hardworking gifted cast and strong director such plays can fail to live up to Shakespearean standards. The entire crew of this play tours around North America, which means that they live the play every day. The scenes and their acts are a part of their lives. I will discuss several aspects of their particular performance that I found fundamentally improved the play.

The casting and performance decisions in the play vividly mixed the conventions of the era that the play represents with modern times. The female actors who performed in this play were not only responsible for traditionally female roles but they also played chief knights and army generals. As we know, women were not at all part of the army during the era the play depicts. Moreover, female roles in the plays were played by males in feminine clothing and makeup. Thus, using female actors not only to perform feminine roles but also to share in traditionally male roles is a major change that represents modern society. However, the historical theme of the play was not adjusted at all. Such a directorial choice preserves the nostalgic state of the play and adds a sense of who we are as a society nowadays.

Another aspect I found important in delivering the full experience was the venue. The director chose the St. Stephen Anglican Church Theatre for this play. This theatre was traditional in every way. Its chairs, lights, stage, and old stained glass all aided in delivering an atmosphere reminiscent of the play’s era. The experience was so deep that I felt that I could smell the fragrance of that era.

Moreover, the set design represented old theatres’ abilities. The theatre did not use microphones or any high-tech gadgets. The actors performed all the dialogue in the play using loud voices. This may have been done because of the financial situation of the crew; however, I saw this as an advantage. The actors were walking to and fro, performing around the audience. I could hear the far-away voices, and I turned left and right to keep track of what was happening.

This play helped me make several directing decisions for the Medea play. In general, the Henry V cast delivered an experience true to the atmosphere of the era, which showed me that using new technology is not always a good idea. Also, I learned it is important to deliver a nostalgic experience to the audience using every opportunity, even when it comes to sounds and smells. For specific planning, I list the following components below, though it is hard to separate the components because they overlap in several areas.

 

  • Venue: because the Medea play represents the Greek Euripides era, I will build a theatre that mimics the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Performing the play in such a context will put audiences in the Chorus’ shoes. Also, this theatre will be designed with the best scientific approaches to better project the voices of the actors without using microphones. This will be essential to keeping the audiences fully engaged in the play.

 

  • Casting and performance decisions: I know that this will be hard, but I will try to find a widowed woman from an Eastern culture to play the Medea role. I need the actress to be engaged with every painful line, every act, and every movement. The Medea play represents male dominance and how women were used as objects during that period. I want Medea to cry and wail realistically when she performs the infanticide scene. I may not be able to use female actors for traditionally masculine roles like the Henry V play did, but I will devote every decision to represent female grievance in that era.

 

  • Set design and text edits: the Chorus will be seated like a normal audience. They will interject when their time comes. Their dialog with Medea will strongly engage the audience. They will empathize with Medea gradually, to catch audiences’ attention. As Medea talks to them, she will be talking to everyone. The Chorus will not be limited to specific lines of text; they will be free to interject lines of their choosing anytime they want (of course, they will choose the most appropriate times). They will be speaking and crying with the audience. I will make another text edit in the infanticide scene. It will be done while Jason watches the act and Medea suppresses his intervention with her magic. He will cry to death.

 

  • Lighting, sound, and other effects: due to my significant funding, I will build a high-tech, reactive roof. This roof will be embedded with lighting that will reflect Medea’s emotions. Anger, fear, disappointment, and hopelessness will all be delivered to the audience through the lighting. The roof will rain black water when she enacts her revenge—and blood when she kills her own children. The only use of microphones will be to deliver thunder and sounds of pain. Audiences should be overwhelmed with her emotions.

 

  • Costumes, makeup, and props: generally, costumes in my play will represent ancient Greek heritage. Medea will look dirty, ruthless, and ugly at the beginning of the play. She will be overwhelmed with pain and disappointment. But, after she plans her revenge, she will wear a lovely dress with a charming appearance. She will wear beautiful witch makeup, like in Disney movies, to show that she has restored her balance and that everything is under her control. Jason’s appearance will reflect that he is the best warrior of his time. I will present him as a toned, muscular male with an ego. He will be wearing golden Greek armour, which will only cover his chest. When his scene comes, the theatre will be overwhelmed with soldiers charging out from everywhere, who will then kneel before Jason. But, when he comes to see his children for the last time, he will come alone, wearing burnt clothing and looking like a poor monk.

 

If I incorporate all of these aspects, this will result in a very touching performance that I promise will bring tears to audiences’ eyes

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The Unlikely Birth of Didi and GoGo: A play review and it’s influences on the Directorial choices of Logan Teske

The Unlikely Birth of Istvan, by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, is a modern work of intelligence and creativity. Through the use of puppetry and ingenuity The Old Trout’s have created a hilarious, crass, and heartfelt piece exploring the essence of life, death and all the small intricacies they hold. Each element in this piece played together beautifully to help portray the challenges which the main character, Istvan, must over come in order to continue the life he loves to lead.

As I sat in the Decidedly Jazz Dance Studio theatre, patiently waiting for the show to begin, the eye popping colours of the small set caught my attention. The rows of flowers all lined the edge of the small stage which surrounded the compact area which would become the playing area. On the top of the small playing area the inside of a cartoon-esque house could be seen with each item build in it’s own fantastically simple way. No single element of the set seemed to stand out as particularly odd creating the joyful environment of the play.

What I found particularly amazing was the complexities of the simple things which wouldn’t have been possible without the use of puppets. The limit of language by the puppets was a choice which I felt added to the sincerity of the puppets movements and gestures. Although the nature of the content was racy and mature, the child like nature of the puppets made every moment accessible. Each challenge face by the puppets would be answered by a clown logic answer. From saving a pig by means of ordering a pig rescue kit to placing a flower into a coffin in order to give it a proper burial. No matter what the challenge was an answer was always given, often including the audience in on the joke. While these moments of comedy were present they often were used to veil very serious points of discussion such as revenge, and grief.

This show also used costume to it’s advantage. Although the majority of the characters within the piece were puppets, the red outfits worn by the actors (Petyu Kenderes, Peter Balkwill, Teddy Ivanova, and Nick Di Gaetano) seemed to create a cohesive atmosphere within the piece. The colorful nature of the set seemed to play joyfully off of the childish costumes creating a cohesive world of wonder and delight.

After seeing this wonderful performance I began to reflect on the production of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett which I intend to put on in the next few years. I believe the natural existential questions which appear all through Mr. Beckett’s plays, would be complimented by the absurdity and relativity of puppetry. Both plays bring into question the odd monotony of life in two very different ways.

If I were to cast this piece I would most likely choose two actors who I believe would have extremely good chemistry with one another, namely Edward Norton as Estragon and Michael Keaton in the role of Vladimir. Both Of these actors play extremely well off of one another in the 2014 movie Birdman and have a look which might not be considered traditionally beautiful which I believe is a necessity when putting on a play which asks so many questions such as Waiting for Godot. Rounding off the cast I would place the Old Trouts team of puppeteers who would be manipulating the puppets of Lucky, Pozzo, and The Boy.

I have chosen to place the set within the small and intimate space of The Big Secret Theatre in the Arts Commons in Calgary, AB. As I feel that the audience needs to share the feeling of entrapment which Estragon and Vladimir feel throughout the play.

As far as set is concerned I believe it is necessary to keep the set simple yet inventive in order to keep the integrity of Beckett’s piece alive. The Set would be a grey center stage with a large tree blooming, there would also be an outer ring with a space large enough for a puppeteer to comfortably manipulate a puppet from one side of the stage to the other. the outer ring where the puppets would appear from would be colorful and bright. The reason I would do this is to contrast the world in which Estragon and Vladimir feel they are in.

As far as costume is concerned, I would put Vladimir and Estragon into tattered suits showing the mundane world they come from. For the Puppets they would appear bright and colorful similar to the set, I believe by doing this I will able to convey the way which Vladimir and Estragon see the world differently than it actually may be.

The most important element that would come about in this piece would be the special effects. The use of stage magic within The Unlikely Birth of Istvan was one of the most powerful tools for stating a point of interest. I would use some of the techniques Whenever Estragon or Vladimir would approach of touch the colors they would change to a grey or beige coloration. This would be done through the mechanics of projection of color or clever puppetry tricks such as the flowers physically deforming upon the approach of the men.

I also observed from The Unlikely Birth of Istvan how language is relative and a series of grunts, sighs, and moans can be equally effective as words. I believe this would translate very well over into my production. While Vladimir and Estragon are capable of speaking quite well, the remaining characters in puppet would deliver their lines through gestural work as well as simple vocalizations. This would once again illustrate the disconnect the two protagonists face with the real world.

The Unlikely Birth of Istvan was a delight to the senses providing a constant flow of inspiration, not only for my production of Waiting for Godot, for all of my future productions.

(I failed to take a selfie of myself at the theatre however I held onto my ticket stub, artist pass, and the program for the show)

 

Shakespeare in Contemporary Calgary

The Shakespeare Company’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well has a good grasp of the difficult language of Shakespeare, but is still not without it’s problems. Thinking back, I can begin to piece together the story of a girl from a lower class, allowed by the king to marry a count, who then flees the marriage. During the play, however, I was genuinely confused; the details of the play and even the names of most characters were lost on me. Having never read All’s Well That Ends Well beforehand I wondered if maybe I should have. Seeing as this particular play is not one of Shakespeare’s more well known, and is considered to be one of his “Problem Plays,” I can begin to understand why it was so difficult for me to follow.

The complex plots of Shakespearean comedy, especially problem plays, require great attention to make sense. If the text and action is not clear, the plot is lost. I was consistently wondering about the relationships between characters; After reading All’s Well That Ends Well, I discovered it was a directing choice to make Bertram sexually attracted to men, and at the end, a woman. I found this problematic, not only because it looked as though Peter Hinton included a token gay character, but also because it made the plot confusing. In the original text, Bertram denies Helena because she in unattractive. In the production she is denied because of Bertram’s attraction to Parolles. This was confusing because later on Bertram becomes infatuated with a woman. I believe, if they had remained true to the text, the plot would have been clearer.

The winding web of a storyline aside, the actors did a brilliant job in mastering the dense Elizabethan language, with help of text coach Kevin McKendrick. I found the diction in this play to be very precise and the character of Parolles (played by Braden Griffiths) was particularly interesting to me. Griffiths seems to have understood the text quite well, otherwise the many jokes of Paroles would have fallen flat, particularly on a contemporary crowd. However, I found it difficult to connect with the leads Bertram (Brett Dahl) and Helena (Allison Lynch), which I suspect was the result of not understanding the plot.

I found there was many elements of Peter Hinton’s directing that was effective and consistent. I found the blocking to be especially effective, which had to accommodate for the in-the-round seating. There was no point where I could not see an actor for a significant amount of time, and when I did not see an actor because of their position on stage, I could always see someone else in the scene. Seeing as in-the-round is less common in contemporary theatre, it was a nice change from proscenium arch staging, and presents a challenge for actors, directors and even audience members.

Though beautiful, I found the lighting to be problematic at times, and often found it difficult to see much of the action. There was a heavy use of spotlights in this show, and while that can be visually stunning, if an actor is not directly in the spotlights, their faces were not seen. The last scene before intermission is one that stuck out for me, being lit by approximately two lights with gobos to break the light up into small spots, and a candelabra with five candles on it. It was aesthetically beautiful, but I was unable to see most of the actors faces. I enjoyed the costumes, not only because they looked unified, but also because you often see directors and designers use colour in Shakespeare as a tool to help the audience remember which character is which.

Looking at another Shakespeare play, If I were to stage Titus Andronicus I would try to remain true to the text for major plot points. If I were to make cuts, it would be to sections that don’t alter the action of the play, and any major character choices, such as Bertram being attracted to men, I would try to make sure it makes sense given the text. I believe that as a director it is not my right to rewrite the play, but make choices in adapting it.

If given the opportunity to stage Titus Andronicus in The Shakespeare Company’s space “The Studio”, I would use a thrust staging, instead of in-the-round, not only because Shakespearean plays were originally staged in a thrust(The Globe Theatre), but also because it is easier to block the show. In-the-round has a very specific blocking technique, whereas thrust staging is simpler, because of it’s back wall.

When it comes to the design elements, I found the light in All’s Well to be quite beautiful. I would adapt this interesting style to be more practical, so that visibility isn’t such a problem. I also found the single colour of costumes(apart from Parolles) to be an interesting choice, but I would change this colour to white, not only for visibilities sake, but also for stark contrast of white costume against the black walls of a black-box theatre space.

Casting this particular show in Calgary, I think I would want to use local actors in order to support the developing theatre arts community here. A good fit for Titus, would be Haysam Kadri, and Natasha Strickey would be well cast as his daughter Lavinia. I also think that Karl Sine could work well as Titus’ brother, since Kadri and Sine already have a close relationship. As well, I would cast Anna Cummer as Tamora and Tenaj Williams as Aaron. I also think it is important that for a professional production of a classical play, you have actors that know how to tackle the dense and seemingly foreign language, and all of the actors I have chosen have at some point, worked for the Shakespeare Company on a classical production.

 

Notes on a Theme: Six Guitars and Waiting for Godot Styles

I attended the theatrical performance ‘6 Guitars’ written and performed by Chase Padgett and written and directed by Jay Hopkins. It is a play about six characters and unlike a traditional play which would have been performed with a large cast, all the characters in ‘6 Guitars’ are performed by one actor. Padgett assumes the characters of six different guitar players all who have different musical styles, voices, and views about the world. In this fashion, Padgett takes us on six different musical journeys.

The show was performed at the Lunchbox theatre in downtown Calgary. The theatre has riser seating as the stage is at ground level which helps to create an intimate atmosphere that allows the audience to feel a part of the production.

Chase Padgett, when performing the six different characters’ makes the clear transition between characters by playing different music and acting lively or mellow depending on the character portrayed. It would have been interesting to see the six different characters interact on stage with one another, but that’s another play for another day.

The performance decisions of the play clearly had a great amount of thought. The six characters, Padgett played were: an old bluesman, a pretentious jazz player, a young rock prodigy, a worldly classical musician, a bubbly folk singer, and a middle-aged countryman. Differentiating between which character the actor was portraying was based on how each character would behave. When he was playing the bluesman, he would act fragile and remain seated and drink whisky. As the folk singer, he would stand up and march around and clap his hands. When the young rock prodigy was on stage, he would get on his knees and shred the guitar. Every action presented was deliberately chosen to mirror the character.

The set was simply designed so the audience could focus on the character being played on the stage and not be distracted by busy props and staging. Because the idea of the play to be portrayed with one actor portraying six characters could result in confusion for the audience, it made sense to have the set blacked out, with only a wooden chair, a side table, and a simple backdrop to focus all attention onto the actor.

There weren’t many stage effects used as the music the actor would play throughout the play was enough to establish what character Padgett was at the time. A spotlight that would fade in and out between character changes helped the audience to identify, as well as show when the actor was making a character switch.

Costuming, makeup and props were not important in the show since the actor would rely on actions, music and body language to express each character. The props used in the play were minimal such as a glass of whisky for the blues guy, and one guitar used to play the six different styles of music. It would have made it more interesting if the actor would do a quick outfit change in between characters to give a visual of the character, but the actor did a great job of assuming each character and separating their identities.

For my planned production, I’ve decided to design and direct ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett. ‘Waiting for Godot’ is very different from ‘6 Guitars’ as it has an ensemble cast rather than one actor to play all the characters. In ‘Waiting for Godot’, it is essential that the characters interact with another to move the storyline. The decisions that were made in the play ‘6 Guitars’ influenced my production decisions to emulate and differentiate from ‘‘6 Guitars’’.

The venue I have chosen for my play will be The Centaur Theatre in Montreal, Quebec. It seats about 440 people which I believe is a good size for a play like ‘Waiting for Godot’.  It is similar to the venue choice of the one actor play ‘6 Guitars’ in that the smaller audience size allows the actors to connect with the audience.

For the casting, my wish list is to choose well-known and successful actors that have played similar characters in other roles and have experience with stage productions. This will allow the audience to quickly gain an understanding and rapport with the ambiguous content of the play. The content will challenge the audience but it is the cast that will allow the audience to find some kind of understanding in the play’s message. My cast is as follows:  Vladimir -Robert De Niro. Estragon- Tommy Lee Jones. Lucky – Rowan Atkinson. Pozzo – Patrick Stewart. Boy – Freddie Highmore.

Since this play can be complex and hard to figure out, I would select a minimalistic stage set design similar to ‘6 Guitars’ and would allow an atmosphere to develop that highlights the pointless and hopelessness expressed in the characters. I like the idea of just having a single tree on stage that the scenes of the play take place at, but the rest of the stage will be blacked out so it feels timeless and eternal.

Like ‘6 Guitars’, I will use stage lights for the production and sound effects. I will have a still spotlight on the tree throughout the play and use sounds to signal the start of a new day, or when one of the characters remembers something that’s happened already.

Unlike ‘6 Guitars’ I would elect to use theatre makeup, costumes, and props. I would chose to dress Estragon in a baggy pants, shirt, coat and a beige bowler hat and often he is only wearing one boot. Vladimir is dressed more in raggedy type clothing with both his pants and jacket being loose fitting and oversized along with a black bowler hat. The two are described as “tramps” so their clothes are quite dirty and distressed. Pozzo is an aristocrat who also wears a bowler hat and a loose-fitting suit. He carries a pipe, pocket watch, monocle, breath freshener, and a rope to control his slave, Lucky. Lucky wears a white undershirt with brown trousers. He carries Pozzo’s coat from time to time, as well as a picnic basket, and a suitcase full of sand. Boy will wear pushed up trousers, and an off-white baggy dress shirt and no shoes.

With the choices and decisions on the elements, I have chosen for my production, this production of ‘Waiting for Godot’ will be discussed and dissected for years to come and be the standard for theatre production for decades. Or not.

 

Review of Mother Courage and adaptation of Waiting for Godot

I went to see “Mother Courage and Her Children” on February 24th at the University Theatre at the University of Calgary. The play was a part of the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Preforming Arts, drama program’s 2016-2017 season. Mother Courage was directed by graduate student Adrain Young and performed by drama students, as well as drama faculty member Val Campbell. After viewing this play and reading Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, I decided that using some of the decisions made by Young and the creative team on Mother Courage, I could develop a performance of Waiting for Godot.

When watching Mother Courage and Her Children, there were three components of the performance in particular that struck me: the performance decisions made by the actors and director, the set design, and the effects that the lighting and sound had on the play as a whole. Firstly, the most entertaining, and in contrast also the least entertaining, aspects of this performance were seen in the performance decisions. I think the most interesting decision made by director Adrian Young, was the use of a faculty member as the main character. Using Val Campbell was a strong decision as she added an element of professionalism and a higher quality to the performance. Anther decision in the performance that was appealing as a viewer was the audience involvement in the performance. During the performance, the actors spoke directly to the audience members, asking them questions and directing their speeches directly to them. Another unique aspect Young used to involve the audience was to have the last act of the play presented in a reverse manner. The audience was asked to sit on the stage while the play’s action happened in the auditorium seating area. This allowed for an intense connection between the audience and the performers as they acted down on them. The last performance decision, which I found not particularly effective, was the inclusion of singing. Personally, I felt the singing was not performed very well and was not needed to enhance the play. Another aspect of this staging of Mother Courage that I did find interesting was the set design. The most appealing decision made about the set design was the fact that the set was not only on the stage, but it was also brought into the auditorium. And finally, I was intrigued by the use of lighting, sound and other effects. The most enjoyable part of this performance were the musicians that played live music. Along with the live music the lighting was very well done. The lighting rig was used as part of the set but also allowed for the use of a traveling spot light, which enhanced the experience for the audience.

After watching Mother Courage and her Children, I envisioned many ideas of how I would adapt Waiting for Godot. To start, the venue used for this rendition of Waiting for Godot would be a thrust stage. Using a thrust stage allows for a connection between the action on stage and the audience, which I found very impactful while watching Mother Courage. In Waiting for Godot, the characters make references to the fact that there is an audience watching them, which can be enhanced when the actors are closer to the audience. When casting for this performance of Godot I would call for an all female cast. I think this would bring a different energy to the play. The female cast members in Mother Courage were so strong in their character development, which made me think that these types of actresses would add an interesting addition to Godot. With the use of female cast members, the performance would exhibit a lot of differences in how the text can be delivered. Because this play has a limited set, I would want to add more so that I could include the audience to a greater extent, which I found so effective in Mother Courage. The only set actually on stage would be the Tree that is written into the play, but I would add fabric over some of the seats in the audience to make a river effect, adding to the overall scene. Lighting for this performance of Godot would be very minimal, with low light and darker colours. This would enhance the serious tone of the play. I would like to use live music in this performance, like in Mother Courage. I think this would add to the performance by enhancing the connection to the audience as well as allowing again for a more creative adaptation. For this version of Waiting for Godot, I would have the main characters dress in high fashion with very fancy clothing. I think this would add another layer to the characters by imposing on them a different approach to life and adding to their back stories. The Estragon character would also have some rips and tears in her costume to show that she has been attacked, as written in the script. There are a few changes I would have to make to the script to fit my adaptation of the text. Frist, I would need to alter the names of the character to make them more feminine; Estragon would be changed to Ester and Vladimer would be change to Val. I would also take out some of the stage directions in the text to allow for more freedom of creation for the actors and director. Taking away some of the stage directions would allow me to use the thrust stage more effectively and provide opportunities for more connection to the audience by leaving the stage and going into the audience or even directing some of the speech towards the audience.

When developing an adaptation of Waiting for Godot, taking aspects from Mother Courage I was able to invent a new vision for the play. By using a thrust stage and a set that uses part of the auditorium, the play is more relatable to the audience creating a stronger relationship.

The Importance of the Relationship Between Text and Visuals

The Shakespeare Company’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well demonstrated the importance of a uniform visual style, and how the disparity between visuals and story telling can affect a show’s outcome. From the usage of minimal lighting, to confusing usage of stage props, this show suffered from a muddled vision that could have been remedied with a few minor adjustments.

Director Peter Hinton’s artistic vision was quite dark, the show’s use of minimal lighting and dark clothing created an image that read as bleak. However, the play is one of Shakespeare’s rare problem plays (originally thought to be a comedy) so this decision to shroud the play in darkness created a chasm between the nature of the play and its visual style. The show utilized low lighting throughout the piece, highlighting the actors with either spot lights or practical lighting such as candles. While this was visually striking, it made it hard to see the actor’s faces. This lighting also clashed when characters would make jokes regarding sex, or when they would prance around in their underwear, or when they would flirt with one another; while low lighting can be effective for certain shows, in “All’s Well That Ends Well” it creates a void between the characters that they need to gap in order to demonstrate the relationships that Shakespeare wrote. Lighting within a scene should be indicative of that scene’s themes, but the show seemed to favour its overall artistic vision rather than these instances.

There were very few objects on stage at once, the most the audience sees is a table with a candelabrum set on top of it (or a comically oversized book.) A lack of stage props can be very interesting, it forces actors to explore their space to its fullest extent and it generally fulfills another purpose be that metaphorically or literally. However, in this production, it hindered the show while also signifying nothing. With the number of locale changes in the play, the use of stage props to symbolize new locations would have been very useful, especially considering the fact that the play moves from France to Italy during intermission and all the audience has to symbolize that was an empty bed frame. The lack of a distinct set in this scenario caused confusion as there was no clear indicator where the play was now set, nor what the bed frame was supposed to be. That bed frame created said confusion more than once, as it was used for several different things but was never given any clear rules as to how it behaved as new objects.

There were several moments throughout the play that got big laughs, they were comedic scenes that the audience enjoyed immensely. Anytime Parolles was on stage, the audience seemed to be captivated, and that’s fair as his performance was one of the best in the show. However, it’s because of how much I laughed that I remember them and not because of what was happening plot wise. The plot seemed to be incidental for the scenes that were guaranteed to get laughs. The combination of dark lighting and sparse set design made it difficult to follow what the actors were saying. This show isn’t absurd, it has specific locations it takes place in, there are several references to these places as well, but the lack of world building makes these references hard to catch, when these references are hard to catch, the show is hard to follow no matter how familiar the actors are with their lines or characters. Furthermore, there were instances in the play that seemed unmotivated and essentially random. Parolles’ and Bertram’s kissing, for example, was baseless and didn’t come from the text itself. It didn’t serve to say anything about the play or society nor did it add another level to the characters, so it felt unnecessary.

Taking these points into consideration, it gives me a clear idea as to how I would stage my own production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. To eliminate any sort of confusion regarding setting, I would choose an outdoor location as the venue for the performance, a desolate country road perhaps. By removing a live venue from the equation, the audience is put in the mindset that this play takes place exactly where they are standing. This works for the play as there is no set location, just two men and a tree, which is exactly what the audience would get with my production.

For this production I would need two skilled actors who also share great chemistry and stage presence to play Vladimir and Estragon. Considering Gene Wilder’s comedic timing and acting prowess I would cast him as Estragon, while Alan Rickman would be his Vladimir. I believe that these two actors would play off of each other very well, especially considering Rickman’s affinity for stoic characters and Wilder’s ability to play the unexpected. Pozzo would need to be someone that demands attention, I see John Goodman taking this role, his voice has a distinct bass that draws the ear. Lucky would best be played by a very physical actor; Andy Serkis comes to mind. Dylan and Cole Sprouse would be great as The Boy, as the role could be played by a different actor in each act while still looking identical to the other.

Something that The Shakespeare Company did well with their production was the comedic timing, line delivery was snappy when needed and was varied in it’s tempo throughout the show. This is something I could apply to my production of Waiting for Godot, making sure my actors are on top of their cues when there needs to be quick back and forth dialogue, and allowing them to slow down their delivery when moments of stillness need to be apparent.

The setting is luckily provided by nature itself, however the tree that Vladimir and Estragon wait by would need to be created for the show, it would need to look frail, almost like it would crumble just from a single touch. The actors would then be able to play with their natural environment. Lighting and sound effects would be absent, I would want the outside world supply these aspects. It is helpful to look at All’s Well That Ends Well and how they used light, it was very difficult to see the actor’s faces due to the absence of light, so my production would need to take place at dusk, just before the sun disappears. The actors would all be dressed in very worn down suits, to show the passage of time and how long they have waited for Godot. Lucky would be bogged down with suitcases which could possibly be tied to his person.

Ultimately, The Shakespeare Company’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well is not a poor show, there were moments that were well directed with very fine performances from it’s cast, but the overall artistic vision hindered the outcome. It’s a good example of how a director’s vision needs to be in line with the themes of the play, and what can happen when these two ideas clash.