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!
Howdy, Michelle here with a quick update. Really quick, like a brisk run out into the cold air to get some sun, then sprint back in for tea.
No big news yet, as we are ALMOST ready to announce audition dates and locations for The Merry Wives of Windsor, and a space for most of our rehearsals. We are also working on our next fundraiser, a Kickstarter to raise money so we can stage The Merry Wives of Windsor this summer. Thanks to your support we have $500 in the bank, which is about 20% of what we are likely to need. What would you like to see us offer as rewards? Show shirts, picnic dinners, rehearsal in your backyard?
This is usually the time of year I hibernate and prepare to do Lunar New Year art. Instead, we've been busy behind the scenes, talking to insurance agents, friends, contacts, spreading the word about Upstart, researching things like Benefit Corporations and rediscovering important pieces of the recent past -- did you know I used to make stop motion animated films with puppets?
We will be announcing audition and rehearsal space information in February, with a Kickstarter soon after. Get excited for 2018. We are.
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, I’m Kitty and I’m the one whose finals interrupted the flow of introductions. (Sorry.) Over the past few weeks, I’ve closed a one-act play festival alongside two professional actors from Los Angeles, written a 12-page paper on autism symptoms in gifted young adults, presented a proposal for my senior exhibition in composite photography, led a guest lecture on education for Deaf students, and sent out another round of emails to potential agents for my new book. So I guess you could say I’m a Jack (or Jill) of all trades.
Unlike most of the other folks here at Upstart, I did not begin my theatrical career with a love of Shakespeare. In fact, when I had to read Romeo and Juliet in the 9th grade, I loathed going to English class every day for a month. The Merchant of Venice the next year was only marginally better, and when a friend from the theatre told me that I should try to act in a Shakespeare play at some point to bolster my resume, I balked. But how will I ever memorize lines in Shakespearean language? I thought. I can barely memorize a monologue!
Fortunately, that year I also landed the role of Gertrude Hamlet in a school play titled I Hate Shakespeare. I helped to act out an abridged, modernized version of the story of Hamlet, in which I mostly just stood around drinking wine while all my loved ones died around me. My best friend, however, played “Lady Mac,” whose arc I found much more interesting. She had several actual Shakespearean monologues mixed in with her modern dialogue, and I was surprised to find that I knew what she was saying most of the time. In my senior year, we read The Scottish Play in a theatre class, and I ended up enthusiastically volunteering to play Lady Mac myself.
In college, one of the first things I did to integrate myself with the campus community was to join the theatre program. I picked up a brochure with audition dates, and what should I see but Measure for Measure by one William Shakespeare? I was apprehensive, of course, but after my experience in high school I figured I’d give it a shot. I ended up with a bit part and only a few lines, but I had such a great time with it that my opinion of Shakespeare had almost completely changed.
It was a few years later, on summer vacation home from college, that in a fit of boredom I decided to audition for Theatre Under The Trees’ production of As You Like It. That production kickstarted my love of not only Shakespeare, but of outdoor theatre. As a Psychology major, one area of theatre that’s always interested me is accessibility – making theatre available to people with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. Whether it’s sign-language interpretation for the Deaf or sensory adaptation for children with Autism, there are many ways to make theatre accessible, and performing outdoors takes care of a lot of these issues naturally. I’ll probably get into it more in a later blog post, but I look forward to working with Upstart Arts to produce accessible theatre in an outdoor setting that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences.
At the risk of going over word count, I’d like to say something about my role in all this: I’m really making it up as I go along. I’m the visual arts guru at the moment (I made that cute lil acorn logo on our t-shirts) and I hope to use my design background to help out with marketing this amazing new venture. Aside from that, though, who knows? I might act, I might serve as an accessibility consultant, I might even put together an outreach program for children with Autism to act with us (basically the ultimate dream). But I look forward to working with Upstart in whatever way I can. Though we be but little, we are fierce – and once we get our name out there, we can continue to do what we do best: Bringing good Shakespeare to the people of York.
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
I've been waiting for 20 years for someone to ask me what makes me qualified to write music for Shakespeare's lyrics!
The short answer: My entire life.
The longer answer:
My musical education started before I was even born. My mom sang in barbershop quartets, and her quartet did Christmas shows two weeks before I was born. She sang baritone, and I can still sing the lead parts to songs her quartet and chorus sang for competitions in the 1970s.
I started singing with the children's choir at church when I was 3 and continued through high school. Our musical director was also the head of the music department at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, and every other summer our high school choir would go on tour with a musical he had written for us.
My Great-aunt Delcie taught me to play "Doe a Deer" on the piano when I was around 6, and my mom continued to try to teach me to play piano through middle school or so, although I never really got the hang of playing with both hands at the same time. In fourth grade, I started playing clarinet, and I still consider that my main instrument. I was lucky to take private lessons from amazing teachers through high school, and the band director in high school thought I hung the moon. I added tenor sax and guitar in high school.
I did at one point consider making music a career, but I decided in the end to go with the so-much-more-stable field of journalism. I continued playing clarinet in bands through college, including three years with the Northwestern University Wildcat Marching Band -- it would have been four, but I had an internship about seven states away fall quarter of my junior year.
Michelle and I moved to York in 1990 after I finished grad school, and for a couple of years I did little except work. But in 1994 I started singing with the Greater Harrisburg Sweet Adelines, a women's barbershop chorus, and I sang with them for about three years, during which we won two regional competitions and sang at two international contests. So yes, I can say that I sang at the Superdome, while wearing heels and false eyelashes, no less.
I started adding theater to the mix in 1997, and Michelle and I started TUTT in 1998. I had never realized before how much music Shakespeare put into the plays (more on that in another blog post sometime). For the first couple of years, I adapted music for our shows, such as Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream Suite and Celtic folk songs for The Tempest. The first time we performed Much Ado About Nothing (2002) was the first time I wrote music for Shakespeare's lyrics, and I've been doing that ever since.
Over the years, I've gotten to add a few more instruments to my quiver. I'd love a chance to play the alto recorder again, and I discovered that it's a lot easier to play electric guitar if you're not thinking about the notes and instead are just looking at the frets. Also, bagpipes are designed to be played by men who are 6'6'' and have spent their entire lives walking up and down the mountains in Scotland. When I tried to play them for As You Like It, I nearly fainted every time. And nearly anything can become a percussion instrument -- I drummed on a cooler the second time we did As You Like It.
And I've gone back to church music as well. I play in the handbell choir at St. John's Episcopal Church (doing a duet on Christmas Eve), and I sang with the York Ecumenical Choral Society for a couple of years, until my work schedule changed.
By the way, I"m also the city editor at The York Dispatch.
Anyway, enough about the past. This year we're planning to do a bluegrass-themed Merry Wives of Windsor, and I already have lots of songs running through my head. Anybody know a good banjo player?
I think it is about time to meet Ashley Pierce, finally. So, I am Ashley, but before I begin to tell you why I love Shakespeare and Acting and Upstart and well all the amazing people you are going to read about, I need to preface something. I have feelings about Shakespeare…strong ones…sorry. Now that we got that out of the way allow me to tell you a little more about me and how I fit into this crazy puzzle known as Upstart Arts.
I cultivated my love for the Bard young, like when I first started to read young. My mom purchased me a copy of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. For those of you who do not know this publication it is in essence a handful of Shakespeare’s plays formatted in narrative stories. I read it in one day, probably less since at the time I just learned to read on my own and had a severe addiction (which never went away). Once done I went to her and asked for more. I was so enthralled with the tales and characters that I could not get enough. So, at the tender age of roughly 5 (mom was a kindergarten teacher so we did things early in our house) my mom purchased me my first Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. I can still remember the first time I saw his writing style and how it didn’t seem hard to me to understand his meaning. Research actually shows introducing children to Shakespeare when they are first learning to read is the best way to help them comprehend the language. I devoured that play and asked for seconds, it wasn’t too long before I had read every play and knew I was hooked for life.
Shakespeare has become so much of who I am as a person that I decided to become an Actor. I have been performing in his works for over 19 years (off and on). I have performed in most of his plays, some plays multiple times, and have been cast as males and females throughout his cannon of work. My first play was Romeo and Juliet and I have performed in that work over 8 times. Shakespeare is so much a part of my life that I went to Graduate School and hold two Master’s degrees in Shakespeare and Performance.
All of this allowed me the opportunity when I was in high school to discover Theater Under the Trees, an outdoor touring Shakespeare show in the parks of York, PA. This is where I met all the amazing people who now make up Upstart Arts. I worked with them off and on since 2005, a few years I was out of state and could not perform with them. However, I always come back (they fed me once and now can’t get rid of me). So, when Upstart Arts started this year I knew I would do everything and anything I could to support and continue to work with these amazing, talented, intelligent, and wonderful people. (Plus, I keep trying to get them to give me the name of Supreme Overlord of Shakespeare).
I am looking forward to this upcoming season and the chance to start something new and wonderful with Upstart Arts, as we continue to bring theatre to York, Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas.