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.

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)

 

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.

 

“Wait Until Dark” and How it Can Improve “Medea”

“Wait Until Dark”, presented by the Vertigo Theatre in The Playhouse, was a spectacular production to see. It is the story of a blind woman named Susan (played by Anna Cummer) who finds herself getting terrorized in her own home by con men who are looking for a doll. She discovers that her lack of sight but be her greatest weapon. Susan’s fears and suspense were projected beautifully unto the audience.  The acting was well done for each character, from the charming double-faced Mike to the cackling evils of Roat. The props and stage created a realistic apartment setting for the thriller to play out. The two rooms off to the left created suspense as the audience could not see what happened in those rooms. Based off the 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn, the play does an amazing job at becoming its own unique experience. The directorial decision to move the play back to the 1940’s from the movie’s later 1960 was an ingenious move. The new time setting allowed for a post-WWII film noir feel, through music and costume accordingly. It also brings the overarching service in the war as another complex part of the motivation for multiple characters. The technical work was outstanding, light work created a dynamic use of setting and projected emotions, in one instance putting the audience in Susan’s position. The only downside I noticed was Roat’s one dimensional character. Though portrayed excellently there was no real backstory nor inner reason other than greed that seemed to motivate him. There is a plethora of elements from this play that can be adapted into others, though not all of these decisions would work for every play. “Wait Until Dark” mixed all the elements of theatre to create a spectacular piece for itself.

I will be basing my directorial decisions of “Medea” on the ones made in “Wait Until Dark” [now W.U.D]. There is no specific venue that the play would need but just like W.U.D it would need to be a smaller venue. Vertigo has a perfect ratio of seats to the size of the stage and it creates a more personal experience. As Medea’s inner turmoil is my main focus, I want the venue to be smaller so that her expressions can be seen without the use of over exaggerated makeup.

Continuing with this more personal feel of “Medea” the set and props would portray a Greek garden with a set of stairs stage right that leads to a door. This would be Medea’s garden, symbolizing that it is her space that people keep on encroaching on. The door would play the same role as the two rooms in W.U.D, this is where the scene were Medea kills her children would take place. When other characters enter and leave they will either enter and leave from the stage left or pass by the stairs on stage right.

The casting of Medea would fit into the time zone. Just like W.U.D casted I would cast most of my actors to be tan. Though like W.U.D did with Roat, who wore leather while everyone else wore something plainer, I would want to emphasize Medea’s difference. I would do this with makeup decisions and even things as simple as hair colour. While the Chorus would all consist of brunettes I would give Medea black hair. Just to create subtle difference and emphasize her estrangement to Corinth.

For my performance decisions I want to emphasize Medea’s pain rather than go with an insane kind of Medea. There is a good point that the Artistic director makes about finding inner strength and refusing to be a villain. I will definitely incorporate this into my portrayal of Medea. I would want to emphasize the inner struggles of Medea. Emphasizing the pain of killing her children and even the possible mourning and sorrow as she flies away.  I also wish to emphasize the cowardliness and irritating factors of Jason.

W.U.D has an amazing scene where they turn off all the lights yet continue with the act. This is to establish a connection with Susan. There is another scene where Gloria (the helper) goes off to grab a taxi and it is only shown through audio overlap as Susan sits. This lighting and sounds effects are amazing but a bit too noticeable. For Medea the change of lighting would need to be subtle, to help emphasize her mood but not take over it. The sound decision would work though for when she is killing her two sons so that the horrible act is not on stage.

There is only a minor text alternation that I would make. In certain iteration of Euripide’s “Medea” there are lines where Medea damns her child. Either I would cut that line out or add that it is because of their resemblance to Jason. I wish to continue Medea’s struggle. I want her to come to the realization that her revenge took away something precious from her on the last scene. I also would like to add more emphasize on Medea’s contribution to Jason from their Greek mythos. This will come in the form of the Chorus muttering about some of her actions before Jason comes in.

The last scene will also show the chariot leaving. This will be a set design that is hidden behind the door on stage. This is to visually demonstrate that the gods are on Medea’s side. This decision is to further link with her Greek mythos and her connection to Helios.

In the end I want the story of Medea not to be about her going mad, but her anger taking over. I want to emphasize as much as possible that Medea is an outsider. I also want to emphasize that she is pained by her actions. For me Medea is a strong woman that let her anger of Jason’s betrayal take over her better judgement and lives with the regret in Athens.

Mother Courage and Titus Andronicus Review Assignment

For this assignment I decided to see and review the University of Calgary School of Creative and Performing Arts production of Mother Courage and Her Children, directed by Adrian Young and used it as inspiration for my own imagined production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Right when I walked into the theatre where Mother Courage was being shown, I was immediately awe struck by the beautiful and elaborate set. Not only did Young use the stage to set the setting of the play, he used the entire theatre, having sections of the audience area made to look like military bomb shelters. There was also a large, movable structure that was used to make various settings such as a bunker and a pub. On one side of the stage a band was set up, and on the either side of the stage large white sheets hung from the ceiling were used as screens that various projections were cast on. The beautiful set inspired me to imagine Titus to be set in a small intimate theatre, like the Pumphouse Theatre in Calgary, and have the entre theater decorated to look like an ancient Roman court, though I would not go so far as to have sections of the seating blocked off, rather I would just have the aisles and wall decorated.  This would give the effect of breaking down the traditional forth wall and immerging the audience right into the action.

The costumes in Mother Courage were also very effectively used, with the military costumes and period dress of the characters effectively adding to setting and building the world we were supposed to believe we were in (with the exception of one adidas jacket worn by one of the actors that threw me off a little bit). Though it had this effect, the wardrobe was simple enough to not take away from the performance. The props used were also effective, with each item present on the stage being used. This was good, because in my opinion if you are not going to use a prop, there is no reason to have it present. The same thought will go into my production. I want the costumes of the actors to accurate to the time period but at the same time practical for the actors to move around in. Makeup would, again, be simple and practical. The only place where I would want makeup to play a big role would be for when Lavinia is discovered after her rape. I want her to be in a white gown that is stained with bright red blood, and for blood to stain her face as well, to really drive home the image of the horrific assault on her.

Lighting will also play a significant role in setting the mood of each scene, with attention to colours and their effect in creating a specific mood. Young’s use of light in his production effectively did this, with bright yellow light used in lighter moments of the play and the use of various other colours to set moods, like the use of blue light in the scene where Mother Courage cradles and sings to her dead daughter, creating a sad and chilling backdrop. In my production, for example, I would give a hint of red in the lighting when Aaron reveals his plans to us, reinforcing the evil and cunning that lies in Shakespeare’s carefully articulated lines for him.

Casting wise there are a few actors that I have in mind to play the leading roles. For Titus Andronicus, Hugh Jackman, an actor who has not only the looks, but also the ability to pull off the complex character of Titus, as exemplified in his many acting credits, most notably, for me, his role in the epic musical Les Miserables.  For the role of Aaron, I have selected Idris Elba, a man who gives off an air of cunning and power. For the rest, Hugh Grant as Marcus, Idina Menzel as Tamora, Jared Padalecki as Lucius, and Dakota Fanning as Lavinia. For their performances I would instruct them to mostly let the beautiful writing of Shakespeare to shine. I would want them to speak the words as naturally as possible, without any embellished, over-dramatic inflections in their tone. For example, for Titus’s speech after Aaron cuts off his hand and right before the messenger delivers the heads of his two other sons, I would not want him to be overly dramatic and loud, I would want him to the deliver the speech solemnly and with muted passion. Each of the actor’s movements should also be calculated and have meaning, and each word of the text analysed and absorbed into their mind so that they could completely understand their characters and play them as honestly as possible. I would want them to make use of the entire space available to them, including delivering lines from the audience. Aaron, for example, could come in through the audience when comes to tell Titus of the deal he fabricated to give up his hand in exchange for the lives of his son, while making his asides to people sitting in the aisle rows of the audience.

In terms of text edits, there are not a lot of changes I would make. There are some speeches in the play that are pretty long that I would likely shorten, such as Marcus’s speech when he discovers Lavinia in woods after her rape. most of these changes would be mostly for time reasons, but I do believe that a lot of Shakespeare’s work is better left untouched and deserves to be presented in the most authentic way possible.

 

The Directorial Influences of Mother Courage and Her Children on Titus Andronicus

In a movie or T.V. production we might think of the saying, “lights, camera… action”. In live plays, it might go something like, “lights, venue, casting, performance decision, set design, costumes, text edits… action”. Okay not quite, but the effect of these decisions can influence the impact of a live play on the audience, which is what I will be discussing in my review of Mother Courage and Her Children as directed by Adrian Young at the University of Calgary.

Since this play was directed by Adrian Young as a project at the University of Calgary, the venue and cast used were essentially set for him. Thus, his skill in manipulating and managing the lights, set design, costumes and performance delivery dictated the tone of the performance. His choice in wartime clothing (soldier uniforms, peasant/farmer’s clothing) helped sustain the mood of the play which was a fight for survival during times of chaos and uncertainty. The stage itself was bare and grey which gave off a barren feeling. This decision to leave it bare conveyed the sense of seclusion and wandering which gave off a lonely feeling. Props could have been used to manipulate the stage setting such as covering the floor with a layer of dirt to immerse the audience into the play and make things seem more desolate, however, sometimes the best decisions are to ‘keep it simple (stupid)’. These decisions made by Adrian thus helped carry a hopeful yet grim tone for the entirety of the play.

His decisions on external effects (lighting, music, projections) could have been more focused to allow for a deeper connection with the audience. Lighting was primarily used for both a spotlight on characters during singing segments as well as for control over the transition of scenes (and acts) and give a sense of night and day. Although lighting was mainly used for transitioning throughout the play, the timing of dialogues and when the lights were focused could have been more in-sync. When the timing was off between the start of a character’s dialogue and the focus of the light, it disrupted the ability for the audience to re-immerse into the production world after being given a break between scenes. Especially when the previous scene ended on a hook. The patience to re-establish the connection with the audience would have helped convey a deeper sense of engagement and even empathy during major events. The use of controlled lighting was most effectively used to focus the audience’s attention on certain aspects of the play such as when a character died, helping to magnify the significance of the loss.

Although there was a musical element to the play, the singing segments of the play seemed like a neat/cheap way of providing exposition and the thoughts of characters’ minds. Musical takes did provide some comic relief in one sense since the entire play is situated during war, but it also took away from the sense of Mother Courage’s struggles and dampened the effect of the will to survive.

As far as performance decisions went, you could feel an aggressive stance being played by the actors portraying German soldiers which is unsurprising. However, the contrast between naïve street merchants (the children) and aggressive/cynical soldiers provided a sort of cliché balance for the caricatures presented. The set design was very typical: essentially structures on wheels for easy maneuverability. Given the size of the stage and the setting of the play, these specific structures provided ease of use which was adequate in telling the story.

 

Adrian’s directing choices impacted my decisions for a serious and empathetic take on staging Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare. The presentations of Titus in class delivered a level of sadistic humor, with the audience interaction and the close-up of Aaron during his side-talks. These portrayals of Titus and the overall mood of the plays missed the opportunity to connect with the audience. As discussed in the review of Mother Courage and Her Children, the use of lighting, the stage set, and performance decisions could dramatically alter the effect of a given dialogue and/or event in a scene.

The critical use of all elements in Titus Andronicus would be in the scene where Titus first sees Lavinia after being raped and mutilated. This leads to Titus going mad. The scene can be pivotal in engaging the audience on an emotional level by creating sympathy for Titus. This would be executed by establishing silence on-stage while dimming the stage lights and focusing a spotlight on Titus. A moment of this singular light could help focus the audience’s attention on Titus and his realization of the events. This would magnify his suffering, and help the audience connect with Titus and understand his pain; notably, during Titus’s comment of the fly and how it, as insignificant as it may seem to the rest of the world, still has its own family.

My choice of venue for a serious Titus Andronicus would be staged in Shakespeare’s Globe to pay homage to the creator of the play while providing an old-school ambience. The subject matter would benefit as well because the atmosphere immerses the audience back into the time of Titus.

The performance of the actors is the heartbeat of the play and they must be able to convey the message the director wants to make. In my take on Titus Andronicus, the critical point of delivery resides with the ability for actors to show kinship on-stage. A family dynamic emphasizing the closeness between each character must be portrayed. For example, during transition scenes, the actors must exit together and not stagger. This will show a sense of togetherness. As well, when delivering lines with interaction between characters, eye contact must be established and maintained. Also, a British accent has the characteristic of strengthening the authenticity of kinship.

The careful execution of these elements can help establish a better emotional connection of Titus with the audience and result in a deeper storyline.

Are you satisfied with what you know || What are you waiting for?

Stewart Lemoine’s play The Exquisite Hour asks the audience, “are you satisfied by what you know?” In this romantic comedy the two characters Mr. Zachary Teale a department store supervisor for good receiving and Ms. Helen Darimont a secretary from the same department store embark on an adventure to explore knowledge and the meaning of time. Using the “H” encyclopedia as their guide, Mr. Teale and Ms. Darimont improvise scenes about St. Hubert to Hysteria, all in the span of an hour.

This play has been performed in various Canadian cities such as Toronto and Edmonton. The playwright Stewart Lemoine is a Canadian writer based out of Edmonton. The Exquisite Hour was first performed in 2002 at Teatro La Quindicina in Edmonton directed by Stewart Lemoine as well. Samantha MacDonald directs The Exquisite Hour in the Calgary production at the Lunchbox Theatre.

The play’s focus is on challenging a person’s knowledge and having the ability to communicate information in social settings. The casting decision for Mr. Teale and Ms. Darimont was very appropriate. Curt McKinstry played Zachary Teale, the actor was excellent at expressing Mr. Teale’s innocent, nostalgic, and awkward mannerisms. He is a middle-aged man who looked quite average he wore a button up shirt that was tucked into his dress pants. Barbara Gates Wilson played Helen Darimont; she was able to portray a cheerful and mysterious person who wanted to ‘sell’ Mr. Teale on knowledge. She was tall, lanky, and wore a fashionable blue dress.

The choice of venue is considered as a black box theatre, all the walls were black and the bleacher seating arrangement. Lunchbox Theatre uses “festival seating” which is also known as rush or general seating. The seats were quite close to the stage creating an intimate experience for the audience. The closeness was as if the audience was sharing the same backyard space, observing the events as they unfolded.

The stage was divided into thirds and the entirety of the play was set in the middle third. The set consisted of wooden houses from a backyard view; the style of the homes and decorations resembled a retro 70’s time era. This is significant to the play’s plot as it was set in a time where information was not as readily available like it is today. The set featured a white picket fence, a small patio table with two chairs, an “enhanced” lemonade mix, and a bench.

The Exquisite Hour uses the two actors to convey the message in the play. The use of music and the props could have been omitted if the director decided to focus on the idea behind the question “Are you satisfied with what you know?” to entice the audience. Mr. Teale and Ms. Darimont effectively acted out props and separate settings within the play by communicating with the audience about the encyclopedia content they were roleplaying. The actors vocalized when they were at “company picnics” or “going to a forest for a hunt”, they stated the setting props such as “picnic drinks” and “thick forest” for the audience. The interaction with the audience was not direct, yet the method of communication was effective.

The blossoming romance was indicated through the ambient lighting, specifically when Mr. Teale who was acting as St. Hubert recognized the very beautiful eyes of the flaming talking deer that he was about to shoot. As the actors joined each other on the bench to reflect on the “best hour of their lives”, they were accompanied by romantic classical music to create a mood.

This life changing experience paralleled St. Hubert’s journey to priesthood as a new man. The “H’ edition from Ms. Darimont’s sister’s collection was used as a tool to transform Mr. Teale into a socially confident intellectual. Mr. Teale impressively asks Ms. Darimont on a date for pork chops.

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If I were to direct Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett I would focus on the overarching idea regarding “Who is Godot?” It is implied that “Godot” has a possible religious connotation with regards to waiting for god or “Godot” is the idleness of life itself. The play is literally about doing nothing, leaving space for the audience to infer everything in between.

For Waiting for Godot would be most effectively performed in a small venue. I believe that if Waiting for Godot were to be performed in a large theatre the intricate interactions of the play would be lost. The play itself is not showy or extravagant so it would not fit a larger venue such as the Jubilee in Calgary. It could fit other stages like the smaller venues in the Epcor Centre, Lunchbox, Vertigo, or Rodeo Theatre.

Casting Waiting for Godot with well-known actors (of whom I cannot name) would entail hiring actors who would have a specific build for each of the characters. The mixed racial nature of the play needs to be specific to Estragon’s French and Vladimir’s Russian names while speaking in Irish intonations. Pozzo would be cast as a dumb and snobbish looking white aristocrat. Lucky would have to be cast with someone from a visible minority that was employed as slaves from the time period.

For the physical attributes I would imagine Vladimir and Estragon to both be quite wrinkly and flabby-looking. Pozzo would look like an angry and rude looking white male as the aristocratic asshole. Lucky would probably be a bucktooth African looking fellow to follow his role as a slave. The little boy will be pre-pubescent so his voice will be high pitched, somewhat indicating he could be a eunuch to parallel the religious context behind Godot.

The costume would reflect the social and physical status of the characters. Both Estragon and Vladimir would be in simple rag in neutral-earth tone colours. Pozzo would appear clownish with garish bright extravagant clothing to represent his social class, while Lucky would be in drab in preparation to be sold. Thinking hat that is elegant and of high class will be included as an intellectual timepiece, indicating that he is able to subvert his role with regards to his mental fortitude in comparison to Pozzo.

To enhance the audience’s understanding of the play, the set would remain unchanged and simplistic to draw attention to the interactions on the stage between the characters. The lighting would stay the same to retain the idea of waiting monotonously, passing time slowly for both the characters on stage and the audience. The set would be kept very sparse and minimal, keeping the barren country road with the mound, and a tree.

The entire premise of Waiting for Godot relies on the actors’ ability to role-play and imagine new scenarios on stage “filling in the gaps” of time. To emphasize the idea of “nothingness” attention will be drawn to the parts when the actors literally do nothing, physical ticks such as the boot and hat, and when the actors have long waiting pauses.

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Both The Exquisite Hour and Waiting for Godot explore the meaning of time and knowledge. The use of time can be interpreted in a variety of ways, yet there is always an opportunity to act out events of the past, which prompts questions regarding the present or future. As an audience, a director, or writer asking ourselves if we are “satisfied with what we know?” begs to fill time with knowledge or nothingness.

The Exquisite Hour & Everyman and Mankind

In the romantic comedy, The Exquisite Hour, director Samantha MacDonald explores the purpose of knowledge and time. The play consists of two characters who connect through creative exploration over the course of an hour. The vibrant Helen Darimont is performed by Babara Gates Wilson, while Curt Mckinstry portrays the soft-spoken Zachary Teal. Both roles were appropriately cast, as Mckinstry’s middle-aged appearance and average build are an ideal representation of a proverbial “ordinary man.” As well, Wilson’s tall and willowy appearance exude the alluring quality of Helen Darimont.

The production was held at the Lunchbox Theater, a successful lunchtime theater located in downtown Calgary. The venue’s small space was effective in fostering an immersive experience for viewers. By placing the audience at a close proximity to the stage, MacDonald creates an intimacy between the performers and the audience. This sense of closeness is reflective of the personal connection that develops between the protagonists themselves.

Terry Gunvordahl’s set design—which features a flower-boarded picket fence, a pitcher of lemonade, and an idyllic neighborhood backdrop—portrays a naturalistic recreation of a suburban summer. MacDonald uses this minimalist backdrop to highlight the performers use of space. With limited constraints on staging position, character development relied heavily on performance decisions. For instance, when Ms. Darimont and Zachary first become acquainted, they are positioned at a distance from one another. However, as the characters delve into each other’s lives they begin to physically draw closer—at a point in the play, Ms. Darimont even caresses Zachary’s cheek. MacDonald uses this deliberate shift in the performers’ spatial positions to indicate their blossoming relationship.

While most of the dramatic action takes place in Zachary’s backyard, the set design also consists of an endless row of adjacent homes. Moving outwards from the center stage, these neighboring homes progressively decrease in size. MacDonald uses this unique scenography to demonstrate shifts in the viewer’s perspective. For audience members ­­this scenic design facilitates an awareness of the bigger, boundary-less world that surrounds Zachary Teale and Helen Darimont’s lives. As well, the centralized position of Zachary’s backyard on stage, helps to guide the audiences’ attention towards the focal point of the action.

The interplay of color in the play also assists in establishing the audience’s focus. MacDonald uses dramatic color lighting, in particular, to dictate moments of joy—like the final scene where a romantic connection ensues between Zachary and Ms. Darimont. MacDonald parallels this emotional moment with a pink lighting and Sound Designer Aidan Lytton, underlines the fantasy with slow, classical music. The effect is a romanticized mood that encapsulates the wistful chemistry between the performers.

Curt Mckinstry, Barbara Gates Wilson PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo

MacDonald’s use of color also extends to the play’s vibrant costumes. Zachary Teale is dressed in a yellow polo shirt, and Ms. Darimont in a pale blue dress. These colors are evocative of summer and help to develop the play’s lively atmosphere. As well, the backdrop of white houses creates a deliberate contrast to the performers’ costumes. This enables the performances to appear three-dimensional against the stage setting. MacDonald’s use of colorful elements also conveys the play’s themes of curiosity and imagination.

As part of my directorial decisions for Everyman and Mankind, my production will be held at the Westbeth Building in New York. This particular venue houses a small drama theater, similar in size to the Lunchbox theater. By executing my production in a smaller space, I hope to achieve the same intimate audience/actor relationship that was a key feature of The Exquisite Hour. Establishing this sense of closeness in my production will help convey the play’s theme of a universal human experience.

The New School for Drama, Westbeth Building, New York, NY, USA 

MacDonald’s casting for Zachary Teale is commendable as Curt Mckinstry portrays the ideal physicality of an archetypal “ordinary man”. Similarly, in Everyman and Mankind, the protagonist serves as a personification of all humans. To achieve the sense of universality that MacDonald evokes through her casting choice, an individual of average height and of middle-age will be cast for the role of Everyman. Taking this idea even further, the performer will wear a mask to create the effect of an androgynous identity—hence, gender will not play a role in my casting decision for the lead.

Another key element of MacDonald’s production was the performers thoughtful use of space. Similarly, in my own production, the spatial arrangement of actors will be used to convey relationships. When each of Everyman’s false friends are introduced, they will be positioned at a close proximity to him. But, as Everyman explains the circumstances of his journey, the false friends will gradually distance themselves—until Everyman is positioned on end of the stage, and the false friend on the other. This performative technique will help to convey the transience of Everyman’s earthly relationships.

My favorite element of MacDonald’s set design was the endless row of idyllic homes. To convey a similar “big picture” effect, my scenic design will consist of three stage divisions; Earth will be center stage, as this is where most of the dramatic action occurs, while Heaven and Hell will be found on stage right and left. This set design will foster an awareness of the spiritual realms that exist alongside the play’s physical world.

In my production of Everyman and Mankind, I will also incorporate MacDonald’s use of colorful visual elements. The colorful vibrancy of my production will serve as a momentary escape from the play’s sorrowful themes, just as it did in The Exquisite Hour. When each of the Everyman’s false friends are introduced, lighting effects will shift to a color that is representative of that character. Goods, for instance, will be associated with green lighting—a color that typically signifies greed. Everyman will be dressed in a white robe, which will be lit up with the colorful lighting. This technique will immerse the performer into the surrounding set as Everyman becomes a reflection of the world around him.

-Liz

 

Wait Until Dark & Influence on Medea

Simon Mallett’s production of Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark proves to be a gripping adaptation of the classic thriller. With a beautiful set design and outstanding cast, the Vertigo Theater provides the perfect intimate venue for this suspenseful production.

            Wait Until Dark is full of a vibrant cast of characters with their own motivations, reactions, and character development. Protagonists have moments of belligerence, self-pity, or spite while antagonists would show hesitance or reluctance in their actions. This, paired with the excellent casting decisions, conceived complex characters with convincing motivations and character depth.  Anna Cummer’s portrayal of Susan stands out among these performances. She brilliantly portrays the strong-willed Susan who is still coming to terms with her disability, deflecting insecurities with humor. Cummer brings this character to life from would-be-victim to heroine. It is refreshing to watch the journey of such a resourceful female protagonist.

The smaller venue of the Vertigo Theater perfectly suited the space of Susan’s Greenwich apartment. For a play that occurs entirely within one room, the smaller stage enhanced the intimate atmosphere of the apartment creating a closeness that would have been lost in a larger theater. The apartments thoughtful pieces of furniture and décor created a space that felt lived-in and believable. Coupled with clever lighting and sound effects, one could almost believe there were streets beyond the walls of the set.

With any thriller, establishing an appropriate atmosphere is vital in generating audience responses of suspense, dread, and fear. Wait Until Dark takes full advantage of its audience’s senses through a chilling score, but most importantly its lighting. Susan’s blindness, what seemingly begins as her weakness, becomes her greatest advantage in saving herself. Wait Until Dark goes beyond using lighting as a tool of effect to Susan using it as her greatest weapon. When the lights are on we are made witness to those who use Susan’s blindness against her. We watch her fumble and struggle as she is manipulated by those around her. However, when the lights are out this position of power is swapped from the antagonists and the audience to Susan as she uses her other heightened senses to her advantage. This brilliantly allows the audience to experience the vulnerability of the antagonists when the lights are off and a taste of Susan’s reality.

This adaptation of Wait Until Dark instantly makes me reminiscent of Medea, another female-driven thriller. Medea and Wait Until Dark are both plays in which many of the plot developments occur out of the audience’s sight. While they are both filled with action and violence we see very little of it. However, this makes them no less thrilling. Components of Wait Until Dark’s directorial decisions that most influence my own are it’s detail to set design and costume, and its use of music and lighting to create an immersive experience for the audience, just as Wait Until Dark did by shutting off all the lights during the final fight scene.

Beginning with cast, I would choose Mia Wasikowska as Medea. Though she is younger than I would imagine Medea being, upon watching Wasikowska’s performance in Stoker I am confident she could embody the alien and morally ambiguous nature of Medea in portraying her as the anti-hero/villain. For Jason I would cast Michael Fassbender. Based off his performance in Macbeth, I see Fassbender capable of portraying a hero becoming the villain, while still remaining somewhat sympathetic. Finally, upon seeing Ian Mckellen’s performance as King Lear I would cast him as Creon for his performance as a manipulated king/father figure.

The set of Medea, like Wait Until Dark, occurs entirely in one setting: in front of their house. Wait Until Dark was marked by its characters interaction with its surroundings. The set felt realistic and I would want to translate that to my adaptation of Medea. Medea and Jason being wealthy, I would imagine their courtyard being elaborately decorated and well kept. Stone walkways, colourful greenery, children’s toys, and benches would adorn the courtyard and a large and elaborate doorway marks the centre of their house. I would want the characters to interact with their surroundings; sitting on benches, touching greenery, etc.

Similarly, the costumes would be elaborate and appropriate for the character and their rank. Medea, marked by her foreign and alien nature, would wear elaborate robes the colour of purple, which is often associated with magic. I would see Jason wearing elaborate armor meant more for formal reasons rather than practicality, exhibiting his shift away from the heroic character of his past.

The events of Medea occur over one day. Because the play is set outside, I would want to show this passage of time through the lighting representing the sun. While the beginning of the play would occur during the daytime, I would want the illusion of a sunset to occur and eventually nighttime during the proceedings of the play. This decision is influenced by Wait Until Dark’s similar use of lighting.  Though it occurs entirely indoors, there was one small window that’s lighting would change from the light of the daytime to the glow of streetlamps at night. During the end of the play, the sun shone through the window indicating that it was sunrise.

Wait Until Dark used its background music more between scenes rather than during them, sometimes playing during moments of sudden danger or plot developments. This caused more of a focus on dialogue, something I would want in my adaptation of Medea. What I most appreciated of Wait Until Dark’s production was its use of off-screen sound effects. Character voices, sound effects, etc. created an effect of the set being much larger than it really was. Within my production, I would want to emulate this effect to have the audience really immerse themselves into the world of Medea.

Wait Until Dark provided a unique theatrical experience and brilliant adaptation to Knott’s classic. I found its use of sound effects, lighting, and set design especially influential in my directorial ideas of Medea in creating a truly immersive and believable experience for the audience.