Have been considering for years if I wanted to sit down and write a "How To Direct Shakespeare" guidebook. I have also mulled over the possibility of doing a general sort of a podcast. Instead of one or the other, welcome to the Backstage At Upstarts podcast, where I roam around with my phone before rehearsal and give the listener some insight into my creative process, where the production is at the moment, what I plan to discuss with the cast, what has caught our attention, snatches of scenes or songs and possibly, a movie or book recommendation. It's a good way for me to focus, as well as get my very strong opinions on how to approach Shakespeare, comedy and leadership out there. Tune in.
But if you've ever done a show with me, you already know that's true ; )
My weekends have switched recently from Friday-Saturday to Sunday-Monday. I'm still getting used to it. So there I am, on a recent Sunday, reading while listening to the light classical Music Choice Channel on the TV when I see Shakespeare Suite #2 on the screen under the name Englebert Humperdinck. Curiosity triggered, that kicked off a search for who was Englebert Humperdinck and what does that have to do with Shakespeare? Turns out he's a German late 19th early 20th century composer who wrote two Shakespeare suites, full of several pieces of music for four different Shakespeare productions, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, The Winter's Tale, and Twelfth Night. The suite contains a storm for The Tempest and "On Such a Night", a piece celebrating two not often discussed Shakespearean characters, The Merchant of Venice's Jessica and Lorenzo. Jessica is running off with Lorenzo, which gives Shylock the ONLY human moment in Merchant, when Shylock describes to Tubal the ring Jessica took with her.
It's not Shylock's oft quoted speech that brings his commonality home to us, it's this little moment when the shard of an emotion is revealed, still deep in a wound now freshly bleeding.
And then, back to my ramble through Sunday, having got on the subject of music and Shakespeare and being captivated by the energy of the vivacious Rita Moreno as she steals the show in the rebooted One Day At A Time, Gayle and I ended up in a discussion of which play Cuban music would suit best (on another segue, Xavier Cugat music is nigh impossible not to get up and dance to). Which lead to a discussion of other shows I want to direct, which always leads to Gilbert and Sullivan and/or The Hot Mikado and me asking if Gayle could do something like that with The Pirates of Penzance. Answer, a long maybe, from which I bounced to reading some 18th century American short stories that could possibly be adapted for a chilly spooky October event, which looped us back to "will we get people auditioning for Merry Wives," which reminded me I needed to find the link to the article comparing Quarto-Folio versions of Merry Wives so I can discuss that with Meredith, the assistant director, and in a future blog post. Which reminded me I needed to write a blog post. So I am. On a Tuesday, post weekend. Enjoy!
After the Upstart caroling event, we're ready to jump into the new year!
Gayle, Paige, Meredith and Paula spent a couple of hours on Dec. 23 caroling around downtown York. On a rainy Saturday, there weren't a lot of people around, but the ones who walked by as we took our art to public spaces smiled and waved. At Martin Library, a librarian invited us in for hot chocolate, then let us sing in the atrium -- amazing acoustics! Another spot with unexpectedly amazing acoustics: on Market Street outside the York Pretzel Co. The tall buildings really contain the sound, and the people eating pretzels and next door at The Roost seemed to really enjoy our carols, plus we each got a free pretzel out of it! There are a couple of videos on our Facebook page if you haven't seen them.
With our first public event under our belts, Upstart is looking ahead to this summer's performances of The Merry Wives of Windsor in local parks. We've already scheduled several dates, and we'll be opening at Pinchot State Park, as is our tradition. The park rangers I've talked to are very excited to have us, and there are just a few logistics to work out before we announce the full schedule. Most importantly, we need liability insurance to perform at the county parks, and I'm also looking for an indoor location for one performance, for those who must have air conditioning. We're also looking for a site for auditions and rehearsals. If you have a lead, let us know.
And we're applying to perform at the York Fringe Festival, which will be held at the end of August, during Yorkfest. We're working on an idea Theresa Strange had, involving some of our favorite Shakespearean scenes.
There are also some more fundraising ideas floating around that we'll be working on before auditions for Merry Wives. Things are getting busier behind the scenes so keep an eye on our Facebook page so you don't miss anything!
Hi! Michelle here. College finals season* has interrupted the steady flow of Upstart Introductions so let's take a peek behind the scenes. Usually, this is my season to let Shakespeare lie fallow, but rebooting TUTT is requiring changes in the traditional flow of things. So I'm doing more Shakespeare prep than usual this time of year. Which started with getting a group of people together to read through The Merry Wives of Windsor. We'd done a reading like this for Henry V, to see if it was suited to our staging requirements, although the rules for the Merry Wives one differed a bit. Instead of putting people in specific roles, since I want to keep a clean slate for auditions, everyone picked random parts at the start of each act. So I read Simple in Act I, Mistress Quickly in Act IV, and Falstaff in Act V. There were also a bunch of readers who got to have fun with accents, Shakespeare has written them phonetically into the script for two characters so they can't really be banned. Plus, funny.
Merry Wives is a very lively play, very focused on its two main comedy points: pranking Falstaff and Anne Page's multiple suitors. Turns out there are many differences between how editors deal with the discrepancies between the Quarto and Folio versions**, so I'll be spending some time reading different editions and discussing the possibilities with my assistant director (one of the Upstarts you've yet to meet, see college finals note above).
Thanks to everyone who participated (most in the photo above). Shakespeare is best on the ears not the eyes so I appreciated the chance to hear a variety of voices explore the text. Next up for me is sorting through the books Ashley loaned me, starting with Kristin Linklater's Freeing Shakespeare's Voice: The Actor's Guide to Talking the Text. I'd read her first book, Freeing The Natural Voice, years ago and picked up some of the vocal exercises -- or at least I remember trying to get Gayle to use them in warmups.
Have a good wind down of the year, take care and stayed tuned.
*not finals season for me, but I could tell you a story about a night in a small room in the basement of Sargent Hall, a 2 ft. high stack of plays and my Intro To Greek Tragedy test the next morning. Sleep would have been weird after that marathon skip reading session.
**explained to me in a mini lecture from Ashley, after the test run finished