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.”

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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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.

 

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.

Review of Macbeth and Impacts on Titus Andronicus

The heavily adapted Macbeth by William Shakespeare has taken many forms in film and theatre consciousness. I chose this cinematized performance to compare its unique directorial interpretations to my previous experiences with the play, and to extract inspiration for Titus Andronicus. In the Stratford Theatre production directed by Antoni Cimolino, Macbeth manifests as a monomaniacal, impetuous antihero trapped in a feverish hell of his own creation.

Macbeth is portrayed by Ian Lake, who at 32-years-old embodies an unusually young Macbeth that is simultaneously galvanizing and perturbing. He delivers his lines furiously and with little intonation, spitting each word with a precision that is decidedly unpoetic. Alternatively, Krystin Pellerin eradicates all preconceived notions of Lady Macbeth. She is a mask of feminine charm befitting Lady Macbeth’s maxim to “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.” This stark juxtaposition magnifies a sense of foreboding, particularly when she summons the forces of darkness to pervert the natural order, or talks cheerily about infanticide. Her deceptive vulnerability is emphasized by simple stage makeup, braided hair, and flowy white dress, all contributing to her youthful image. Seeing the Macbeths in their youthful prime heightened the catharsis – they were at the zenith of their lives, but they chose to plummet from the pinnacle of potential to ultimate ruination.

Digital Image, Front Row Center. Retrieved from Web.

Cimolino’s Macbeth focuses more on the external tumult of the decaying Scotland than on Macbeth’s internalized conflicts. The play begins in media res with a battle scene; a soldier is killed, his body scavenged and used by the three witches in their incantations. This establishes a society in pandemonium while simultaneously entrapping it within a supernatural dome. The thrust stage, designed by Julie Fox, is split into an upper and lower stage; the upper stage is barren and concrete, while the latter is blanketed with moss and rocks, intimating a forest bed. This design insinuates a world that never quite leaves the realm of the witches; they reappear on the lower stage intermittently throughout the drama and after Malcolm has been crowned the new king, perpetuating a sinister cycle – the play began with the witches, and it ends with them.

The creative team cohesively interweaved elements of pacing and lighting to emulate a feverishly-paced show, sequestering the supernatural elements into the first half, running until Act IV before intermission. The initial pacing follows the sequence of decisions made by Macbeth as they progressively become more rash and desperate. After the intermission, the pacing considerably slows so the gravity of the consequences resonates throughout the theatre. Much of the ominous tone was established by lighting director Michael Walton; the stage was shrouded in perpetual shadow, pierced intermittently with live torches. Under the cloak of flickering darkness, actions and motives could be concealed, and from a performance aspect, actors could shift positions, and props could be rearranged seamlessly. There is a conspicuous lack of music throughout the production, however, Macbeth’s hallucinations were reinforced with an anachronistic metallic sound – this effect will be omitted from my production, although I will also exclude music to place the focus entirely on the words.

It almost feels like cheating to take methodologies from one Shakespearean tragedy and transpose them into another. Nonetheless, Cimolino’s Macbeth inspired many decisions for Titus Andronicus, a frenetically-paced tragedy that exponentially intensifies until the crimson climax. I would pull particular inspiration from how Cimolino utilizes the intermission to sequester events in the plot, and to control pacing. Whereas Macbeth had a hectic first half, Titus Andronicus would have the contrary. The intermission will break the play as Chiron and Demetrius drag Lavinia off-stage, and the tragedy will recommence with Lavinia, standing bloodied and alone, in a shredded white dress under an unforgiving spotlight. This will be the pivotal scene that catalyzes the fallout, and I want to condense all of the tragic events in ceaseless succession in hopes of evoking an asphyxiating feeling within the audience mimetic to the war within Titus’ head.

As for other mechanics, the Stratford Theatre is an optimal venue; it is sizable enough that speculation will not be singularly focused, but not so large that it sacrifices intimacy. I will use the dual-level thrust stage to symbolize fluctuating power plays. The iconic Roman procession will initiate the performance, entering in mechanical synchronization to a steady drumbeat – there will be no music, to increase the sense of inevitability – as the procession fills the upper stage, leaving the Andronici, the royal family, and their war captives on the bottom stage.

Casting choice is quintessential to character. Anthony Hopkins performed a brilliant Titus, and he is my casting preference. Polly Walker, who has portrayed many resilient women in all their square-jawed, composed regality, will be Tamora. As for Aaron, although I hold Harry Lennix’ portrayal on an untouchable echelon, I would cast a younger Denzel Washington as this incorrigible villain. He is an incredibly versatile actor, notorious for delivering witticisms with the suave charisma and self-assuredness that would become Aaron the Moor. In contrast, Titus will deliver his lines with minimal intonation, to maintain internal obscurity. The original text will be left unaltered.

Titus Andronicus pivots on the ambiguous; to compound this, I will mirror Cimolino’s antithetic portrayal of Lady Macbeth, creating an off-kilter feeling within the audience. Aaron will always be in formal attire with neutral colours. Lavinia will be in white, if not primarily because blood is more vivid on white. Light will be utilized to expose harsh truths and to influence tone, unlike Macbeth, which was performed in shadows. As Titus’ morale and mental state disintegrates, the lighting will also dim until it becomes a constant, monochromatic grey, building to the final bloodshed at Titus’ banquet. There, the lights will be harsh and unrelenting, flashing intermittently – each character will be murdered in the dark, and the lights will return to expose the accumulation of scattered bodies. They will dim on the final speeches delivered by Lucius and Marcus, and the curtains will descend on them standing amidst the bloodshed, two bodies remaining in a scattered Rome.

Sorry for the annoying fixture behind me blocking out THE MACBETH POSTER

 

Review, Gracie and Godot

Gracie,written by Joan MacLoed and directed by Vanessa Porteous is a  Canadian coming of age story with a twist. Gracie takes place in a polygamist community, and is told from the point of view of a young girl, Gracie. Gracie has a very unique feel, derived from the juxtaposition of Gracie’s idyllic worldview and the worldview of the audience. The juxtaposition between the way the play is presented and the unease the audience feels is a unique feature of Gracie. The multiple time jumps that the play has confuses the audience and conceals facts creating unease. For instance, Gracie’s marriage is first brought up after a time skip concealing her age, while later dialogue reveals that she is 15. The combination of an uncanny script, stage design, props, and careful use lighting enhance Gracie.

The stage in Gracie was particularly interesting, it was bare of any setting or props. The stage consisted of a series of platforms clustered together to form one large stage with a series of different levels, and a large flat and open stage in the front all painted a uniform gray. The lack of other visual elements on the stage forces the audience to focus on the skillful acting of Lili Beaudoin who played Gracie. Different levels signify different areas or locations, and add visual depth to the stage. The plain stage and lack of props facilitate the confused time sequence of the play and allow the play to take place in a series of different locations. The lack of props in the play made the importance of the single prop that was present, a doll, more visually important. Especially when comparing the colorful clothing it wore to the grey stage.

The lack of props and stage design necessitates careful use of lighting. The lighting in Gracie was used to set the mood, and scenes of the play. The plain grey stage allowed the lighting to be noticed, but muted the colors enough so they remained subtle. Throughout the play there was a use of color gradients to infer that different areas or times were shown, particularly in the backdrop.  It also set the mood, becoming yellower and brighter in happier moments and dimmer and bluer toned during somber ones. Total black out was only used to indicated large shifts in Gracie’s world.

  The staging of Gracie by Alberta Theaters will influence my direction of Waiting for Godot, written by Samuel Beckett. Both plays have similar themes and both use a plain set with few props to effectively tell the story.  Waiting for Godot, and Gracie both work to instill a feeling of unease in the audience.  In these plays faith was a main theme, not faith in God, but instead faith in a person, an event, or a life style. Waiting for Godot is a play about the faith that Vladimir and Estragon have that Godot will come. They have faith that if they wait long enough, and continue doing what they are doing, one day their life will get better for it, Like Gracie. The evolution of this faith is a key theme in both plays.

From Gracie I want to adapt the use of lighting in relation to faith, I want to mimic a correlation between the faith that the characters feel and the lighting. In the beginning of the play the lights will be bright, with yellow tones, signifying strong faith. However as the play continues the lighting will dim a little, starting to taking on more blue tones, as faith is questioned. In between acts the lights will not cut out completely, instead they will be very dim, enough to see Estragon and Vladimir exit the stage slowly, while looking back at the stage. In the second act the tones will be primarily blue but bright, and as they further lose faith in Godot they will dim. Finally, at the end the lights will dim again, barely illuminating the stage, just enough for the audience to see that Estragon and Vladimir stay on stage, before the curtain drops.

My production of Waiting for Godot will take place in a small theater with primarily ground seating, the stage should bulge out into the audience. Hopefully similar the Martha Cohen Theatre. The actors in front and center stage should be close to the audience, blurring the line between them. Particularly when Vladimir and Estragon pretend they are in a theater. The stage will be similar to the one used in Gracie, it will be stark, primarily grey and dark grey with a black tree in the center. The leave of the tree, when added will be dark brown and fading greens, symbolizing the strains put on Vladimir’s and Estragon’s faith. The back drop will be a light grey so that lighting can be reflected off of it. This will reinforce the idea of Gracie, and force the audience to focus on the actors, instead of the set. The overall visual of the play will be shabby, most characters will wear plain dull and worn clothing, mimicking the plain stage design. Helping them fade into the bleak stage, to further cause the audience to question why the characters are there, and why they continue to live in a bleak world instead of leaving it. Except Pozzo, who’s different circumstance and free movement from the stage will be highlighted with bright well-kept clothing, like the doll in Gracie.

Estragon will be played by Brent Spiner, and Vladimir will be played by Kevin McNally, who I think suit the roles due to their past acting and visual appearance.  Throughout the performance I want the faith and conversation between Estragon and Vladimir to become strained, and for the actors to act more dejected as the play continues, showing the degradation of faith. However at the end, I also want the actors, to recover a little with the line, “We’ll be saved.” Nearing the end of the play, displays the enduring faith that the characters have. I do not plan to make any edits to the script.

 

 

 

 

The Power of Contrast: Lessons Learned from Vertigo Theatre’s Wait Until Dark

Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark is a play filled with dualities. Characters take on disguises to mask their true nature, an inner-city apartment serves both as a place of comfort and horror and the use of light and darkness on-stage are even imbedded directly into the plot. Vertigo Theatre’s production of the play embraces these contrasts, resulting in a tense and well-executed piece of theatre. The best qualities of the performance that I attended are a result of particular directorial decisions, which I will use as inspiration for my upcoming production of Waiting for Godot.

The casting of Michael Tan as the antagonist, Roat, is a counterintuitive choice. The actor is small in stature, especially when compared to his co-conspirator, Carlino, played by Paul Cowling. This increases the tension in their scenes together, where Roat exudes such menace that Carlino, a hardened ex-detective, is visibly intimidated by him. Tan uses sudden, dramatic changes to his speech and movement, combined with the character’s cryptic sense of humor, to portray a villain that is believably frightening. Physical size quickly becomes an afterthought with such a changeable and unpredictable character.

This has informed my own decisions on the casting and performance of the role of Pozzo. Much like Roat, he is a character who abruptly switches from one extreme to the other. In his first appearance, he treats Vladimir and Estragon with distant politeness, but also viciously abuses his slave, Lucky. By having a physically unimposing man play the role, these sudden outbursts will be far more shocking to the audience. The lines directed at Lucky will be performed with a tone of disgust in order to stand out from his otherwise pleasant demeanor. For this role, my ideal casting is Tom Waits. He exudes an eccentric charm, which suits the inherent strangeness of Pozzo’s appearances in the play. He is also able to portray both quiet menace and forceful rage with his voice, which will be essential in showing the character’s two distinct sides.

The strongest element of Vertigo’s production is the use of lighting and sound to build tension. In the opening scene, Carlino wanders through the apartment, which is only visible through exterior lighting shining through the window. He walks around in near silence, with only his footsteps and the occasional swell of ambient sound to punctuate the action. During the climax of the play, the lights are cut and much of the action takes place in complete darkness, forcing the audience to experience the scene through on-stage sound.  The commitment to minimalism in these scenes builds tension and works in contrast to the other, dialogue-heavy sections.

In my production, I would like to implement these techniques to a similar effect. By limiting the use of off-stage music and sound effects, the pauses and breaks that frequently appear in the dialogue will be further accentuated. This reflects themes in the play, as the absence of sound is a subtle way to highlight the concept of “nothingness” that is explored. The same principle will be applied to the lighting, which will stay mostly uniform throughout the performance. I would like to use warm, orange lighting to give the set a dream-like, surreal look that will also make the time of day ambiguous. I will make subtle changes near the end of each act in order to give a sense of unease as day finally passes into night. The overhead lighting will transition to a cold, blue color, and ambient wind sound will fade in. This will be repeated identically in both acts to add to the feeling of repetition that the play thrives on.

Another impressive aspect of this production of Wait Until Dark is its set. The play takes place in a post-World War II Greenwich Village apartment, and the attention to detail is immediately noticeable. It looks lived in, and the space is utilized to its full potential through interaction between it and the cast. This level of realism makes the fake dwelling feel alive and familiar. When the situation becomes physically dangerous for Susy, the protagonist, at the hands of Roat, lighting and sound techniques are used to transform the set from comfortable to foreboding. This contrast makes the climax far more unsettling for the audience. A home is a person’s refuge from the world, and to see it become a place of imprisonment and terror is disturbing. This feeling can only be evoked when the audience is able to suspend their disbelief with relative ease and inject themselves into the story.

My set for Waiting for Godot will be very different in its execution. Rather than a grounded, specific location, the play takes place in a barren, unnamed place. The only major set piece will be the iconic, seemingly dead tree, which will be located center stage. While the set will be sparse in nature, the focus on detail and audience investment present in Vertigo’s production can still be applied. My primary aim is to make the set appropriate for the abstract nature of the play. I would like the tree to be detailed and imposing, thick with intertwining branches. In the second act, the leaves that have appeared will be brightly colored in order to highlight the visual change that has occurred. When night falls, the tree will be backlit, casting shadows across the stage, menacing in comparison to its daytime appearance. A large stage with lots of unoccupied space will highlight the sparseness of the setting, making Theatre Calgary an ideal location in the city for the performance. All of these decisions will contribute to a surreal aesthetic that draws the audience into the unusual world that the play occupies.

While Wait Until Dark it is a fundamentally different type of play than Waiting for Godot, Vertigo Theatre’s interpretation has given me vital insight into how I can stage my own, effective production.

Kinky Boots Review & Influences on Titus Andronicus

On February 21st, I attended Harvey Fiersten’s Broadway production of Kinky Boots, at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. This musical truly captured the audience with its illustrious use of lighting, and song.

The first production of Kinky Boots was performed at the Bank of America Theater in Chicago in October of 2012. The organization and layout of this theater is extremely similar to that of the Jubilee, making the Jubilee an exceptional choice of venue for the performance of this production in Calgary. Both venues are relatively large and have multiple tiers of seating, making it so that any seat in the auditorium provides an adequate view of the stage. Furthermore, the acoustics of the Jubilee only enhance the sounds and songs of the musical. The Jubilee’s stage also complimented the set immensely. The majority of the plot of this production took place in a shoe factory, and the set for which was quite simple yet effective. I really enjoyed how the set was designed so that Mr. Price’s office was on a platform above the actual factory; it added a level of dimension to the set design while mimicking the authenticity of a true factory.

Harrison Ghee was spectacular in his role of Lola, a flamboyant drag queen who partners up with the protagonist and shoemaker, Charlie Price to make a line of footwear designed for drag queens. Ghee’s vocals were brilliant and, much like the character of Lola, very extra. His portrayal of Lola was extremely genuine. Alternatively, I found Ciarán McCarthy’s portrayal of the protagonist; Charlie Price, was only satisfactory. McCarthy’s acting was very good, however I found that his vocals were often overshadowed by the vocals of actors playing merely supporting roles. In addition, I didn’t really enjoy Rose Hemingway’s portrayal of Lauren. However, I don’t believe this had to do with casting as much as it had to do with certain performance decisions surrounding her character. I found her to be very ostentatious, and quite frankly annoying. Her vocals were very purposely pitchy at certain points throughout her performance, which I think was an attempt to enhance her character, but in my opinion, just took away from the entire performance.

The music for the entire show was written and produced by Cyndi Lauper, and it was truly incredible. I believe that the music truly enhanced this play; it allowed the audience to connect with the characters and storyline on a whole new level. The music in congruence with the lighting really helped establish the tone of all the scenes. The lighting itself was spectacular. More often than not, the lighting was very colourful and vibrant, evoking a feeling of joy to the audience. There were, however, select scenes that were dramatic and somber, and in those scenes the coloured lights were traded for more neutral hues.

The costumes in Kinky Boots were amazing and far surpassed my expectations. Especially those of the drag queens, they were so colourful and alluring, and left the audience in awe. The rest of the costumes were also quite good, and consisted of flat caps and button down shirts, all clothes expected of factory workers in 20th century England. All in all, the costumes helped establish the time period, as well as, the setting.

Overall, I really enjoyed this musical. The music in coherence with the lighting, the costumes and the set were truly perfection. The final scene of this production is a prime example of how all these elements came together to create something truly magical.

While watching Kinky Boots certain aspects of its execution and directorial decisions really stood out to me and influenced my decisions for directing Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Being a musical, song played a huge role in the Kinky Boots, however I do not believe that making Titus Andronicus into a musical would be effective. In fact, I think it would undermine the nature of the tragedy. I think music should be incorporated in a more subtle way though the use of background music to enhance the tone. In general, for Titus Andronicus the tone of the entire play is relatively dark, so I would use music that is equally as dismal. In terms of lighting, I would like to use light to evoke emotion to the same extent as Kinky Boots, however I want to stick to strictly neutral monochromatic light for the majority of the play. For certain scenes however, such as, Lavinia’s rape I will continue to use monochromatic light but incorporate the use of colour by replacing the neutral lights with flashing red ones in order to create a mood of terror.

I truly loved the costumes in Kinky Boots for their complexity and vibrancy and I thought they were one of the highlights of the production. Nonetheless, they all had an underlying implication of promiscuity, which for some characters, such as Tamora and Aaron is perfectly fitting, but for others, such as Lavinia, is contradictory to her characterization. While it would be interesting to take inspiration from Kinky Boots and dress Lavinia in a similar costume to that of Lola; with bright colours and glitter, I think it would be far more effective to dress her modestly and in all white to convey her innocence. On the other hand, I would dress Tamora and Aaron in colours, such as red and black, because both have strong elements of sexuality, as well as, darkness associated with their characters. When trying to decide on the cast for my production of Titus Andronicus there was no question as to who would play Tamora. I believe Angelina Jolie would make the perfect choice; she embodies the right amount of sensuality, as well as, wickedness, which is evident in her brilliant role as Maleficent, in Robert Stromberg’s film Maleficent.

Finally, much like the set for Kinky Boots, my set for Titus Andronicus will be quite minimalistic and simple. I would add the same level of depth to my design by adding tiers to certain scenes. For example, incorporating a platform into the first scene on which Saturninus and Bassianus would stand to highlight their power and ranking in society. As for the venue, I do believe that the Jubilee would make a good choice. Because I took inspiration from elements of the set of Kinky Boots to create my own set, I believe that the Jubilee would complement my set as nicely as it did the set of Kinky Boots, due to its size.

-Sonja Gigovic