What the Play Treats On

"First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow to a point."

A Midsummer Night's Dream I.2

 

Well, it's Winnipeg Fringe Festival time again, and many of our Ensemble Members (hardcore theatre-makers that we are) have been busy as Biebs putting together their respective contributions.  Here's what I can tell you about them (to find them, click on the title):

 

Because I'm the one writing this blog, I'll start with my show:

 

Lulu: A Monster Tragedy 

 

This show was directed by your humble blogger (Kevin Klassen) and included among the cast is Ensemble member Andrew Cecon, as well as SIR alumnae Alicia Johnston (Taming of the Shrew), Rob McLaughlin (Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello & more) and Charlene Van Buekenhout (Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummer Night's Dream), as well as Winnipeg icon Brian Richardson.  The show also includes video footage edited by SIR's Sarah Constible and props, costumes, audio/video equipment, chairs and risers generously donated by Shakespeare in the Ruins!

 

Speaking of Andrew Cecon, you should also go see:

 

Broken Wings

 

This show was written and produced by Andew, and also features the acting talent of Rob McLaughlin, as well as Shakespeare In The City's program director Claire Therese.  It was directed by Brenda McLean (Assistant Director Henry V) and benefits from the technical expertise of SIR's Eric Bossé (who can also be found as the house technician for KidsFringe).

 

Andrew is also performing in:

 

The Touring Test

 

 

Debbie Patterson is doing multiple fringe duty as a director this year with:

 

 

The Anger In Ernest and Ernestine

 

and

 

The Tracey Fragments

 

So get out there and get your fringe on!

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Warriors

"We are but warriors for the working day"

Henry V IV.3

 

Nine years ago, we (SIR) were in the midst of creating our first spring show outside of the ruins: the "parkade rooftop" Romeo and Juliet.  This was my second show with SIR and my first as a member of the Company (now the Artistic Ensemble).  The process of bringing that show together was, as I recall it, particularly trying for a variety of reasons (logistical issues with the venue; technical demands associated with the overall concept [motor vehicles]; a number of challenges related to personal circumstances, and even a medical emergency).  One early evening in the pub, following yet another day of mind-body-spirit problem-solving, I was marveling at length (as was my wont) in enthusiastic wonder and admiration at the dedication and fortitude of our cast and crew, and their "show must go on" commitment in the face of unreasonable adversity.  Having worked myself up to a head, I closed out my little rant with the exclamation/proclamation:

 

"You know what we are?  We're warriors of art!"

 

Back in our proper home in the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park, in a full-scale promenade, environmentally immersive setting, I am once again overwhelmed by the feelings of joy, frustration, accomplishment, anxiety, exhaustion, and satisfaction that are all inherent to being a part of the SIR experience.  (The above list in its entirety is hopefully reserved for the artists.  However, it is my hope that, frustration and anxiety excepted, our audience will have a similar mind-body-spirit experience right along with us: "Work!  Work your thoughts!".)

 

The sheer physical energy, mental dexterity, emotional resolve and vulnerability, and focus of energy required to perform Shakespeare's plays amid the minimally controllable sonic, visual, physical and meteorological landscape of the ruins and their environs, and the resulting depth of understanding and visceral response to Shakespeare's words which the whole experience (hopefully) offers audience and artist alike combine to create (in my own humble opinion) a uniquely valuable artistic experience.

 

If all that sounds a bit daunting, just think of it as an invigorating walk in a picturesque park, accompanied by a living, breathing, running and jumping representation of one of the world's greatest works of historical drama. 

 

Please don't miss it.

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Admit Me Chorus

"For the which supply, admit me Chorus to this history"

Henry V  Prologue

 

Holy moley: has it really been seven weeks since the last blog post?

 

Well, as you are likely aware, there's been quite a lot happening here at the old SIR headquarters…

 

For one thing, WE'RE GOING BACK TO THE RUINS!!!

 

Also, for the past two weeks we've been actually rehearsing for our Main Stage production of Henry V.

 

It's a great play, and it's going to look (and sound) great out AT THE RUINS!!!

 

As of twenty minutes ago, I got myself officially (if not impeccably) off-book, so I thought I'd drop a quick line or two just to say how excited and grateful I (and everyone else to whom I've spoken) am (are) about (for) the opportunity to be working on this magnificent play.

 

Shakespeare has managed to create a portrait of war that challenges our motives and questions the cost, while simultaneously offering a moving and heartfelt salute to the unfathomable (from my perspective, at least) courage and sacrifice of those who fight.

 

I have been given the great privilege of playing "Chorus" and "Captain Fluellan", and I am learning much.  I promise to keep you posted. 

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A Reasonable Good Ear In Music

"I have a reasonable good ear in music."

MSND IV.1

 

Well, it's official: SIR will be participating in next year's SondheimFest with a production of "West Side Story"! 

 

As most people know, this musical is based on Romeo and Juliet, and, after Head and The Threepenny Opera, it seems like a natural enough progression for an organization that's constantly trying to expand its programming and create new challenges for our membership.

 

Not to mention: April Fool.

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My Sex

"Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex"

MSND, II.1

 

Happy International Women's Day!

 

It's an oft-debated question: how did Shakespeare feel about women?

 

There are many who surmise (not illogically, given the plot of Taming of the Shrew alone) that he was, obviously, like all men of his time and culture, a misogynist.  There are countless examples in his work that may be taken as evidence to support this assumption, and I strongly recommend that you (if you haven't already) read all of it.

 

However, if you're really determined to pry open the Bard's soul and attempt to understand all that lurks there, you have but one option, as far as I can tell.  That is: read every one of his plays, and then put yourself in the shoes of EVERY ONE OF HIS CHARACTERS by preparing and executing a performance of each and every role.

 

Having not yet accomplished this feat personally, I can only offer speculation as to what you might discover by doing so, and my speculation is this: no human being so apparently capable of seeing the world from the perspective of such a vast and varied range of fellow human beings could possibly presume an inherent "superiority" over a single one of them, regardless of their gender or any other genetically derived characteristic.

 

Or, to put it another way, if Shakespeare truly believed women to be biologically more shallow, stupid, fearful, or "wicked" than men, he never could nor would have written so many profoundly intelligent, courageous, and morally "righteous" female characters.

 

He shows us women who are flawed, of course, as all human beings are flawed.  Victims?  Certainly, as we all are: victims of the multitude of circumstances (including a misogynist society) that make up the life of a human being.  But "inferior"?  Try explaining that to Beatrice, or Cleopatra, or Isabella, or Juliet, or Lady Macbeth, or Olivia, or Portia, or Rosalind, or Tamora, or Volumnia (to name just the first ten that pop alphabetically into my head)…

 

And, since you (I) brought it up: how about the magnificent Kate?  A woman so strong, so confident, so smart and funny and spirited that the only alternative left for the men in her life who felt they needed to own her was a non-surgical lobotomy.

 

It's a common, dangerous mistake to confuse the words and actions of a playwright's creation with those of the playwright.  However, I'm prepared to believe that William Shakespeare had a lot more in common with his "shrew", than with those who would have her "tamed".

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Grave And Learned?

"Seem they grave and learned? Why, so didst thou."

Henry V II.2

 

The other day, my intrepid Co-Chair Michelle asked me if I thought I might be interested in "teaching" a couple of three-hour workshops with the Prairie Theatre Exchange's PTE @ PTE Company.  She had been approached by PTE's Community & School Programs Director John B. Lowe about sharing all the wisdom and experience she has gained from nearly twenty years of performing and directing Shakespeare.  Having decided that she would prefer to keep that wisdom and experience to herself, but not wishing to leave poor John entirely bereft, Michelle artfully shrugged the invitation off of her shoulders and onto mine. 

 

Obviously never having been one to turn down an opportunity to bestow upon a captive pair of ears my own personal Shakespearean dogma (nor to turn down a quick buck), I hungrily pounced on the offer before affording John even a moment's clarity of thought, and the deal was sealed.

 

I spent the first hour and a half with (in no particular order other than, from my seated perspective, house right to house left) Samara, Adam, Gislina, Dan, Lisa, Christine, Alissa and Jessie explaining (to the best of my ability) who I was and why I was there, and going over the

 

10 Things I Do When I Have To Perform Shakespeare

(Which I will now gladly share with you, sans the 90 minutes of elaborative blah, blah, blah, which is really the meat of the matter, and for which I would have to charge you whatever portion of their registration fee my unfortunate acolytes forked over for the privelege.)

 

1. Read the play

 

2. Read another (complete) version of the play

 

3. Cross-reference the punctuation & formatting of the working script with that of the First Folio

 

4. Scan the verse

 

5. Chat with the director and various scene partners

 

6. Revisit scansion

 

7. Learn blocking/movement & apply it to the text

 

8. Learn lines (out loud!)

 

9. Revisit scansion

 

10. Integrate text/scansion/blocking/wardrobe/set (revisit scansion)

 

Once all that was out of the way, we had a look at a popular little Shakespearean number that goes something like: "To be, or not to be, etc, etc…", starting with Step 3.  I don't think I exaggerate much when I report that we were all surprised and delighted (not to say titillated) by the differences between the Folio text, and that of the version I had taken from the inter-web.

 

We proceeded to make collaborative decisions as to which version of any given choice best served the needs of the actor (id est: which was the most active, natural, interesting choice [in that order of priority]) by speaking the text aloud, according to the various incarnations.  Once we had settled on a text that incorporated the most desirable punctuation, spelling, and (in some cases) choice of words, we started in with Step 4: scansion.

 

The process of scanning Shakespeare's text (selecting which syllables deserve the most emphasis) is a surprisingly rich and rewarding exercise for the serious Shakespearean actor, presenting the reader as it does with such a myriad of thought-provoking choices that we only managed to work our way to the end of the third line of verse:

 

"The Slings and Arrowes of outragious Fortune,"  

 

before having to call it a night.  I assigned my new friends the task of scanning the rest of the soliloquy on their own time (on their own terms) before we reconvene next Wednesday, and I look forward with giddy anticipation to hearing, seeing, and experiencing the discoveries they have made.  (Hopefully, enough to eat up another full three hours…)

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For Forth He Goes

"For forth he goes and visits all his host."

Henry V, III.7

 

Those of you (if any exist) who have been paying close attention will know that I am currently engaged in a province-wide tour of the Norm Foster play The Melville Boys, at the behest of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.  Though I remain a significant distance from the feverish goings-on at the SIR office (I am presently, pleasantly  ensconced in a beautiful bed & breakfast castle in the heart of picturesque Minnedosa), my thoughts refuse to stray for long.

 

Having said that, it has clearly proven to be a challenge for me to find the time, the wherewithal, and relevant subject matter with which to post a regular blog.  I can only hope that the recent infrequency of these postings has resulted in an increase in demand and a sharpened sense of anticipation among my loyal readers (if any exist).

 

However, inspiration and opportunity have conveniently collided with one another this (ominously) warm and sunny Super Bowl weekend, and so here I am.

 

We had the great pleasure last Thursday of staying and performing in the town of Gladstone and, while there, paid an afternoon visit to a book fair at the Gladstone Elementary School which (as well as providing a chance to meet some very nice people and to receive a hug from a young student whom I assisted with the purchase of a book about kittens) brought to mind what is possibly my all-time favourite and most meaningful memory of performing Shakespeare.

 

It was the 2008 tour of Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet, and I was playing Juliet/Mercutio (along with Andrew, Matt TenBruggencate and Glen Thompson).  We had set up in the Gladstone Elementary school gymnasium, and managed to squeeze in (as far as I know) every student in Gladstone, starting with the Kindergarteners in the front row, all the way to the grade 12 graduating class in the back.  We elected to spare the sensibilities of the younger students by smoothing down the edges of the bawdiest bits, and were having a great time performing for such a range of ages, when a most heartbreakingly beautiful thing occurred.

 

I didn't actually witness it myself, having been "dead" at the time, but I'm certainly willing to take the word of the other actors who did.  Apparently, as Romeo approached the "sleeping" Juliet in the tomb (having handily dispatched poor Paris), a handful of wee ones sitting up front quietly began to chant in unison: "Kiss-Her! Kiss-Her! Kiss-Her!".

 

The implication of this is, I hope, as breathtakingly wonderful to you as it was to me.  A clear and irrefutable proof that these youngsters, who couldn't have been older than five, had not only been able to follow the story (delivered in the original Shakespearean text) and knew exactly what was happening on stage, but had been affected by what they were seeing to the extent that they couldn't help but try to affect the outcome, resorting to a strategy to which they had been conditioned to believe in by thousands of years of folklore and fairy tales: a kiss to wake up the sleeping beauty.

 

Now, as then, I can't help but wonder how it made those youngsters feel when their time-honoured strategy failed, and the lovers' doomed romance reached its denouement with a double-suicide instead of a "happily ever after".

 

And I can't help but wonder what full grown adults are really thinking when they claim that nobody actually gets Shakespeare, they just pretend to understand it so that other people will think they're smart or sophisticated.

 

Five year old children.

 

Whom do you suppose they were trying to impress?

 

Shakespeare is for EVERYONE!!!

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Know Your Worthiness (Audition Time)

"Read them; and know, I know your worthiness."

Henry V, II.2

 

Happy New Year!

 

Here's hoping 2012 brings us all, in all things, no more and no less than we can handle.

 

Speaking of all things: SIR is holding auditions next week for this spring's exciting production of Henry V, to be directed by our own Michelle Boulet!

 

(Stay tuned for more details about the show as they materialize.)

 

Men will be asked to read the part of Henry in Act 1, Scene 2 starting from:

 

“Now we are well prepared….” up to and including: “We hope to make the sender blush at it.”

 

Women should be prepared to read the part of Katherine in Act 3, Scene 4 as well as the part of Henry in the scene outlined above.

 

Auditions will be held at Prairie Theatre Exchange on:

 

Thursday, January 12th & Friday, January 13th

 

To book please email artisticchairsir@mts.net or call the office at 957-1753.

 

Hope to see you there!

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When And Where And How

"When and where and how we met, we woo'd and made exchange of vow I'll tell thee as we pass…"

Romeo And Juliet, II.3

 

Much is being said about RMTC Artistic Director Steven Schipper's decision to set his Romeo and Juliet in modern day Jerusalem, and the extent to which that decision does and does not affect the action and the text of Shakespeare's play.

 

Some seem to feel that this production should have taken further steps to modernize the play, including a suggestion that, in place of Friar John failing to hand-deliver a letter to Romeo in Mantua, a more compelling choice would have been to have Friar Laurence's e-mail lost in Romeo's spam filter.  (This particular idea came from someone who further posited that had the actors been asked to deliver Shakespeare's "antiquated" text while "waddling" about in Elizabethan dress, the audience would likely have had a more difficult time following the action.  I, and anyone who has seen SIR's Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet can confirm that this presumption is simply asinine.)

 

Some people seem to think that the real life tension and violence of the real life Israeli-Palestinian/Middle Eastern Jewish-Muslim conflict should have somehow been reflected more in this telling of the story, including a suggestion that Friar Laurence be represented as a Red Cross/Doctors Without Borders triage medic.

 

Considerations such as these regularly come into play whenever SIR prepares to mount a new Shakespearean production.  In its entire history, Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet is the only Shakespeare play that SIR has set in the Elizabethan era.  Alternative settings have included The War of the Roses, the Restoration Era, America's Wild Western Frontier, the Roaring Twenties, Fellini's mid-20th Century Italy, a South American banana republic, and modern-day Transcona.

 

As has been asserted in the case of RMTC's current production, each of the above location changes has been made in an effort to contextualize Shakespeare's work in such a way that it can be a fresh experience for the audience, and to help underline the timelessness of his characters, their behavior, and their circumstances.  Each choice (despite Shakespeare's unequaled capacity for contemporary relevance) presents a number of challenges in dealing with certain anachronistic references and societal constructs, and each choice ends up walking a fine line between being a distraction from Shakespeare's original intention,  and providing additional immediacy and resonance.

 

As in all things artistic, the final analysis can only be subjective and, to a large extent, depends on the preconceptions and personal experience of each individual audience member. 

 

Speaking for myself, I think I would rather see a production that aims to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet based in the city of Jerusalem than a production that somehow tries to tell a story about the city of Jerusalem, based on Romeo and Juliet.

 

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Wedded To Calamity

"Affliction is enamoured of thy parts, and thou art wedded to calamity"

Romeo And Juliet, III.3

 

Here's another aspect of Friar Laurence which has always puzzled me: when Romeo comes in and tells him that he's fallen in love with Juliet (without even mentioning her name: he merely refers to her as "the fair daughter of rich Capulet"), the Friar says nothing about the potential danger of this relationship.  He somewhat mercilessly chides and mocks Romeo for having dropped, overnight, his infatuation with Rosaline for a new love, and then, in the blink of an eye, agrees to marry them, apparently with the sole intention of reconciling their families.  From the outside, this decision has always struck me as a little rash (especially for the Friar), and from the inside, until just recently, I found it very difficult as an actor to motivate.

 

However, I believe I have figured it out

 

In Act I, Scene 2, when Romeo is reading off the guest list for the Capulet's feast, it includes "my fair niece Rosaline".  Which means (obviously) that Romeo starts the play in love with a Capulet, and the Friar already knows all about Rosaline.  This explains why the Friar doesn't warn Romeo of the dangers of falling in love with the enemy: they've already been through all that, probably a hundred times.  (It's interesting that Benvolio thinks the best place for Romeo to get over his obsession with Rosaline, a Capulet, is at a Capulet feast populated by more Capulet women.  Perhaps Romeo would have been better off checking out the action at a Montague mixer.)

 

This also explains why the Friar is so quick to marry the two lovers with the hope of ending the feud: he has been thinking about the possibility, and perhaps even formulating the plan, since Romeo came to him with the great news that he had fallen in love with Rosaline.  Of course, the fact that Rosaline "hath sworn that she will still live chaste" and has refused Romeo's advances tells the Friar that this particular relationship is not the great love story to melt the hearts of the feuding families.  But when Romeo insists that Juliet "doth for grace for grace and love for love allow", Friar Laurence is convinced he's got the winning ticket.

 

Shakespeare pretty much establishes that Friar Laurence and Juliet are familiar with one another, and given all of the Friar's subsequent action in the play, it's not difficult to imagine that he sees in her what she seems to inspire in everyone she meets: as her father puts it, "she is the hopeful lady of my earth".  As for Romeo, despite his adolescent propensity for the occasional hormonal histrionic, "Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well govern'd youth".  Indeed, after the play's opening brawl,  Capulet himself sees hope for peace between the two households.

 

In this context then, and given his faith in a god that (presumably) wants peace, it's difficult to condemn the Friar too harshly for believing that, by wedding the two young lovers, he has found the solution for finally ending the town's "ancient grudge".

 

Of course, in a way he could never have imagined, and would never have desired, he has. 

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