Review of “Mother Courage and Her Children” and My Production of “Titus Andronicus”-Lauren Kubica Teply

Photo of me with actor Dan, who played Mother Courage’s eldest son “Eilif”

I recently had the privilege of attending director Adrian Young’s staging of Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht. While watching the play, I focused on the various constructive elements that Young deemed appropriate for her play. Doing so provided me with an extensive amount of insight into what I will now employ for my upcoming performance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
What was really quite strikingly different about Young’s performance itself occurred after the intermission. Young moved the audience onto the floor of the stage house and scattered the actors throughout, causing it to transform into a highly interactive experience. Although a neat idea, and quite memorable at that, a few complications arose. One predominant dislike I found revolved around scene change since actors were forced to cease performing, round-up and herd the audience to the next appropriate seating location, and then resume. A plausible solution to that issue would be to stage the play on an arena stage, rather than the chosen thrust type stage. An arena stage allows the audience to feel less removed from the action, thereby creating the same effect as locating spectators directly in the stage house. Attending Mother Courage made me realize this, and I will therefore be manipulating an arena stage for my performance of Titus Andronicus. Additionally, I deem it extremely appropriate for alternating sides of the audience to feel blindsided occasionally from the arena layout, since Titus falls victim to schemes he can’t see. All factors considered, I have decided to stage my production in Regina Saskatchewan’s Globe Theatre and I am excited to announce my A-list cast: Liam Neeson as Titus Andronicus, Patrick Stewart as Marcus Andronicus, Susan Sarandon as Tamora, Joaquin Phoenix as Saturninus, Laurence Fishburne as Aaron, and Amanda Seyfried as Lavinia. Neeson (Titus) is renowned for his monotonous solemnity and therefore Titus’s scenes of rage, such as when he stabs his son Mutius, will be performed in a confident and rather icy manner. Fishburne (Aaron) has a strong intimidating presence on stage and I consequentially have decided that Tamora (Sarandon) will express feelings of inferiority towards him, thereby allowing his plans to be completed as seen in 2.3.
The costumes in Mother Courage were outstanding and exceeded my expectations. The realistic and ample military uniforms effectively fulfilled their intimidating task. Soldiers were scattered throughout the theatre during intermission, causing spectators to gain emotional insecurity and fear. Weapons were also present on the actors, and I have no doubt that a blank was shot roughly twice. At least I hope it was a blank…either way the effect was simply heart stopping, literally. As a war time play, the cast was predominantly male and the only touch of glamour was on Yvette who was a heavily made-up prostitute. I have decided my production will use costumes to the same extent as Young did in her production of Mother Courage. Lavinia will be clothed in an old torn gown that is more blood stained than its original colour of white. She will not change, as I believe she must remain alongside Titus in such a way to serve as an emblem of victimization. Titus will wear white underneath his Roman General attire, as he embodies honest virtue. Saturninus, along with Tamora and her two sons Demetrius and Chiron, will be clothed in black while Aaron will wear solely red garbs to emphasize his demonic role.
As for set design, quite a few elements were manipulated for Mother Courage. Her notorious wagon never left her side, tables and chairs were present on the stage with the actors in numerous scenes. A large hut was also in the rear of multiple scenes, most notably when it became the deathbed for fatally shot Kattrin. Portions of the audience seating sections were blocked off and decorated to mirror bomb shelters and military barricades. Doing so caused the audience to feel as though they were in the middle of the war scene. My production will not trespass audience seating whatsoever, as the arena stage I have chosen keeps the audience in close contact with the action at all times. Furthermore, unlike Brecht, Shakespeare incorporated enough stage direction and imagery into the script that stage designs are not a necessity and could unintentionally distract and block the audience. Stage props should serve only as a crutch, as stage effects are the most impactful way to heighten any emotions in a scene. Through the manipulation of coloured lighting, occurrences become significantly more evident and powerful. In Mother Courage, coloured lighting was solely applied for the use of song with a modern twist. The Lullaby was a glowing scene of blue light, as Mother Courage sang her shot daughter to sleep (death). The blue light provided a bone-chilling coldness that amplified the melancholy tone present in the song. Yvette’s song of Fraternization shone bright red which intensified the effects of passionate frustration. Although song and coloured lighting were applied simultaneously as one in Mother Courage, my production of Titus will subtract the musical element from the equation entirely and will solely manipulate lighting. As Titus becomes increasingly crazed and loses clarity throughout the performance, every setting will become consistently darkened and will be accompanied by various auras of coloured shades. This effect will cease once Titus is fatally wounded by Saturninus, as the stage will be momentarily consumed by complete darkness. In addition, once the rape of Lavinia has occurred, a strong red spotlight will accompany her to demonstrate the rage and strong feelings Titus has whenever he catches sight of her. Once Titus has killed her, the spotlight focused on Lavinia’s body transforms to white which emulates her restored honour and purity, along with a great release of Titus’ grief about her cause.
In conclusion, a significant issue that will be adjusted for my staging of Titus Andronicus will be Tamora’s pregnancy with Aaron’s child. Foreshadowing Tamora’s pregnancy will cause the sudden birth to become more realistic, far less surprising, and will also create a time frame for the audience.

All’s Well That Ends Well Review and Medea

All’s Well That Ends Well Review and its Impact on My Directorial Decisions for Medea

The Shakespeare Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well was performed in the intimate space of the Vertigo Theatre. The stage was transformed into a square by arranging seats for the audience along each of the four sides of the theatre. A gap was left between the bleachers in each corner, creating four different directions for the actors to enter and exit with ease. The aisles between the seats of the bleachers were also utilized as stage space. The actors frequented the steps, using them as hiding places, seating, or elevating one character above another. Although this technique was engaging and interactive with its audience, the actors often blocked parts of the stage where other action was happening. Because the audience surrounded the stage, the actors had to twist and turn their bodies more to project their voices; this made the performance more playful, but, unfortunately, this meant that one-fourth of the audience was always excluded because an actor’s back always faced one wall or another. This layout made it difficult to experience the emotions of every character and, instead, bred a distracted focus on audience members on the other side of the stage. This distraction, however, was limited because the spotlights on stage usually dimmed out everyone else in the room.
The stage was a dark, blank canvas. Everything was blacked out except for spotlights on the actors. The spotlights worked to bring focus to the actors while simultaneously distancing them from one another. One scene turned the artificial lights off and merely used candles; this was effective for creating suspense and confusion during a dramatic scene. The stage housed no fixed stage props. Props that were brought on stage were minimal or multipurpose; for example, the bed frame the King of France used to rest on was later placed upright and recycled as a frame for Parolles to be tied to. In addition, little to no music was used, and when it was, it was only a momentary drum.
The actors dressed plainly, sporting solid black attire. It illuminated the faces of a predominantly white cast in a dark theatre. The exception was Parolles, who wore solid black with some red, differentiating him and symbolizing what kind of person he was: a deceitful liar. Any makeup used was natural in appearance. The lack of extravagant make-up made it more powerful when the King of France came on stage with his make-up, sickly and pale with red spots, to emphasize his illness. The simplicity created with darkness, minimal props, little noise, and simplistic costume and make-up, combined with spotlights fixated on the actors, created an ability to appreciate the dialogue without the interference of flamboyance.
For my production of Medea, I will use the small theatre of the Vertigo to provide an intimate performance similar to that of All’s Well That Ends Well. Rather than allow the audience to distance themselves from her character in a larger theatre, the closeness of the audience to the stage will make Medea’s emotions inescapable. Because Medea is a more dramatic play, I do not want my audience to miss any emotion accomplished by the actors; therefore, I will present a centered stage along one side of the theatre instead of people spectating from every direction. The actors will also not invade the audience’s seating space, but they may break the fourth wall by acknowledging them.
I will mimic the Shakespeare Company’s performance with minimal, if any, stage props, and no music in the darkened theatre. The dialogue will speak for itself without music dictating how the audience should feel, and the lack of props in a dark space will limit distractions exterior of the play. The lack of lighting will better represent Medea because the simplicity juxtaposes the complexity of Medea’s mindset while simultaneously symbolizing it. I will use the spotlight technique to distance the characters from each other. When Medea is being manipulative, she will be invasive of others’ spotlights; for example, when she begs Creon to let her stay, she will fall to Creon’s knees and her spotlight will merge and consume his, symbolizing her ability to manipulate and overtake others.
The Supremes will sing the lines of the Chorus. They will always be on the side of the stage. Samuel L. Jackson—physically resembling his character, Stephan, in Django Unchained, but with with a weaker self—will play Creon. Ato Essandoh will play a nurturing tutor for the children and Viola Davis will play the concerned nurse. Helena Bonham Carter will be cast as Medea, closely mimicking the body language and discourse of her sadistic character in the Harry Potter movies, Bellatrix Lestrange. Steve Buscemi will portray Jason as an emasculated, unnerving scoundrel. Jason will wear an all black suit with a yellow—the color of betrayal—tie, almost blending in with the other characters. Medea will wear a white dress, tie-dyed red, to represent the blood of those she has shed for Jason. Such as the King of France, Medea’s misery will be emphasized as the only performer wearing makeup: pale skin with thick mascara running down her cheeks. All other characters will wear solid black, blending into the dark background.

The only text edit I will apply will be at the end of the play. Medea will not leave in a chariot because the small set will not allow it. An extravagant exit would diminish the simplicity. Instead, I will black out the theatre following Medea’s last line. Jason will shout his last passage in the dark. The sound of hooves trotting, followed by flapping wings will indicate Medea’s chariot exit, even though she has already left the stage. Jason will exit and the Chorus will move to center stage for the first time. A red spotlight will shine down on them from directly above. Each of the three women will play violins—the first music of the play—as they sing the final lines. After the lines have been completed, the lights will blackout to indicate the end, but the violin will continue to play until the lights return and the actors have completed their bows.

Review of “Wait Until Dark” and direction of “Medea” – Josiah Sinanan

Set in 1940s New York, a world of con-men and mobsters and in many ways an uncertain and suspenseful time period, The Vertigo’s production of Wait Until Dark is an edge-of-your-seat performance. Many aspects of the play caught me off guard (in a good way), and the presentation was very realistic. Multiple components were put into the program to create this effect, and were intentionally and skillfully used to bring out the features of the plot in the best way possible. Watching Vertigo Calgary’s rendition of this mystery play, I gained valuable insight into modern drama, which influenced my own personal decisions in directing a version of Medea. The three specific components I will address in this performance which will influence my own artistic decisions are the set design, the lighting effects, and the usage of props.

Watching Wait Until Dark, I was initially skeptical of its execution, as the play was advertised as a suspenseful thriller. I was unsure how this genre would be presented in the context of a single set with a blind protagonist. The set itself was one static scene, and was designed to be the living room of a basement suite apartment. Including an entryway, a small living space, a kitchenette, and a faux hallway leading to other unseen rooms, the space was used very well to enhance the components of the plot itself, with each part of the set becoming familiar to the audience and used for a purpose. Since the main character is blind, she must feel her way upon each feature of the room, which adds a certain extra value to what would otherwise be normal features of a house. These tactile features of the home become important as the plot unfolds as the characters must make use of what is known – with or without the lights. This usage of the set certainly intrigued me, and I think it would be amazing to attempt a performance of Medea all in one space. Besides scenes such as the Queen’s murder, I think this is something that would be possible, given the dialogue-driven scenes and poignant action-oriented moments. In order to do this, everyone could come to Medea as the play unfolds, and the chorus could be consistently present. I think that by using the set in this way, Wait Until Dark allowed the viewer to become an empathetic part of the protagonist’s world, which I would personally love to include in Medea.

Another notable feature of Wait Until Dark was its usage of lighting. One of the main reasons that protagonist Susy Hendrix begins to suspect she is being taken advantage of is the fact that certain lights are left on or off – she consistently asks trusted companions (such as her upstairs nuisance child-neighbor Gloria) exactly how light or dark the room actually is. The lighting also lends to the play’s general mood from scene to scene, with those in low lighting evoking a sense of mystery, others in full lighting to highlight certain dialogue or the time of day. There are key scenes that additionally take place in complete darkness, during the moments of highest suspense. The audience is left in the dark themselves during these moments (both literally and figuratively), and perhaps the most suspenseful scene of the play is Susy’s cornering of her potential murderer. Happening completely in the dark, Susy’s plans are thwarted by the villain’s opening of the refrigerator – the one light source that Susy forgot to account for in her scheme. This moment is packed with sickly surprise, and the lighting completely gives itself to this scene’s sense of thrill. Matches are also used to illuminate a “chase-scene” within the house while the threat of murder is looming, and the inability to see clearly does create an uncomfortable and charged atmosphere. This would be an incredible component of a modern-day interpretation of Medea, specifically using low lighting or shadows in a dramatic sense during the suspenseful or more villainous scenes of Medea’s rage towards Jason. Just like in Wait Until Dark, full and comfortable lighting could be used to highlight dialogue – but lower lighting or alternate light sources (perhaps a torch or the like) could equally be used to illustrate the action-oriented scenes.

Lastly, a powerful element of Wait Until Dark was its usage of stage props. Like the set itself, props were used so effectively in this performance, notably with a blind protagonist. A significant prop was the telephone in the apartment. An old turn-dial phone, this prop was used symbolically as the only connection the apartment had to the outside world. Yet, it was also used as a code-sending mechanism by almost every character. Like the phone; the window over the sink, the refrigerator, and even the piping along the wall were used in a similar fashion. On one level, these props were used in their conventional manner, yet on another they were also used unconventionally – sending coded messages and creatively making use of their alternative functions (i.e. as a weapon, a light source, or a sound-maker). I believe this could also be used effectively in Medea as well, although perhaps more so with costumes and makeup, as there are not a large amount of props written into the script. Items such as the poisoned crown that Medea sends as a gift for the Queen could certainly be stylized to become more symbolic – but the usage of costumes to highlight character contrasts (i.e. that Medea is a foreigner in her land through distinct garb and makeup) could be another use of props that could truly outline and extenuate the features of the play, just as Wait Until Dark used its props to do.

Overall, I believe the strength of Wait Until Dark’s artistic direction draws from its intentional usage of the set, lighting, and props as components to bring out the best of the plot and this is an aspiration I would desire to utilize in my modern production of Medea.