Sunday, May 6, 2018
Working onAs you Like itis a nostalgic experience for me. In the summer of 2002, this play was my introduction to Demitra Papadinis, The New England Shakespeare Festival and the unrehearsed technique.
That spring, I auditioned for the first time at the New England Theatre Conference in Natick, MA. Standing outside the closed hotel room, waiting for my turn to walk in and do I know not what for a complete stranger, I found myself with a gentleman in glasses with dark beard and moustache. When the door opened, he entered and I could hear a friendly conversation. I felt even more out of place as I was clearly an outsider. I don’t remember much of what followed. The light in the room was dimmer than it should have been. I read a monologue from As you Like it. It was Slyvius. There must have been a conversation about what I was auditioning for (I had never heard of NESF or what was called the unrehearsed first folio cue script technique), but I don’t recall what was said. A couple of weeks later Demi offered me a position as an intern which included the role of Sylvius. I was not to read or see the play, and there was a mandatory 2-day workshop in Loudon, NH. Loudon was an eight hour drive from Carlisle, PA where I was a junior in college at the time. The workshop weekend also started finals week. After a slight hesitation (this was, after all the first professional job I was offered) I accepted.
On my long drive that Friday evening from Carlisle to Loudon, I picked up a fellow cast member at a train station in Connecticut, just across the New York border. John was waiting for me sitting on the sidewalk outside. We arrived at Demi’s farmhouse at around 1:30 in the morning, in plenty of time for the workshop that was to take place the next morning. The bearded man with glasses was at the workshop, too. He clearly had done this before. Kim, as I later learned his name to be, was a regular.
That July was a full four weeks for us four interns: Iris, Mike Y, another Mike Y, and me. Our quarters were above the studio added on to the farmhouse: young artists, flopping in the garret. For the first week we got everything ready: helped with costumes, drove all over New England putting up posters, mowing the lawn. Once the rest of the cast arrived, we had a solid 3 weeks of performing 6 days a week at different small towns from Connecticut to Maine. We interns split our time between performing and being the front of house, which gave us a unique perspective on this weird unrehearsed thing we had gotten ourselves into. The interns drove the vans, and were in charge of packing and unpacking them. We did the laundry. But every night after the shows, some of the cast would gather in a screen room away from the house to play cards, or board games and share whisky into the night – which was a feat considering many nights, we did not return to the farm house until midnight, and whichever intern was on laundry duty had to start about 6am.
There were beautiful drives to Killington and Manchester, Vermont. After a performance in York, Maine one of the cast members, the owner of the York Inn, invited us to a party at the hotel. At that performance, a random passerby guessed correctly (and quite unexpectedly) that we were performing the play in the unrehearsed fashion. It so happened he played the role of the 2ndBrother in As you Like itin the unrehearsed manner for Patrick Tucker in London. He still did not know what the play was about. A van broke down after a blistering hot show in Kennebunkport, ME, and David and I stayed with the van till it was fixed, and drove it back, late at night blasting James Brown on back roads through dark forests. Jarol performed the role of Audrey à la Milton Burle. Polly and I cooked a proper English breakfast one day, baked beans and all. There was the bathroom lined with impossible numbers of rubber ducks. The cast passed the hat when I got a speeding ticket trying to get us to a show on time. I learned that if you have to wear tights for an outdoor performance in the summer, thigh-highs are the best option. After everyone had left, the interns still had a couple of days to help clean up the show, and Demi took us all out to dinner. It was one of the first times I had sushi.
It was an exhilarating and exhausting experience that has informed everything since. It was a great place to be, especially as someone who has taken to the unrehearsed technique. At the time, NESF was the only place working in this manner on any scale, and 2002, I believe, was its 7thseason. It was a great group of people, many of whom returned several times to perform with Demi. Kim Carroll, the bearded man with glasses, has since continued his performing, directing and fight direction / choreography career, and has started teaching at institutions such as Harvard. John Kissingford, my travel companion, and his wife, Kate, returned for another tour with NESF and started No Holds Bard, performing unrehearsed in Denver. Mike Yahn, the first Mike Y I interned with, returned several times as did I. Maybe my glasses are rose-tinted, but that makes no difference to me, nor does it diminish the impact that first unrehearsed job has had on my journey so far.
One of the actresses who played Celia generously bought each intern a gift: a square shot glass engraved with AYLI. It is still one of my favorite glasses to sip a good whisky out of. I plan on doing that quite a bit as I now take on As you Like it, unrehearsed, from the other end – as I like it, and I like it very much.
-Andy Kirtland, Artistic Director
Sunday, January 7, 2018
2018 marks the fifth year of The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, produced by NRTC since 2016. While everything in a young theatre’s life is a milestone, five years is a pretty big marker, and we are excited and grateful to be here.
For our fifth tour, we will demonstrate how, as Shakespeare once said, ‘all the world’s a stage.’ As you Like it and The Life of Henry the Fift display fantastic examples of role-playing in different facets of our lives. They display how we play different characters for one another, and the personas we create for ourselves. When, why and for whom do we put on these characters?
In As you Like it Shakespeare gives us one of his most beloved heroines: Rosalind. Initially dressing as a man for safety in exile, Rosalind’s persona, Ganimed, ends up instructing Orlando, the man whom she loves (and who loves her in return – yet is incapable of seeing through her disguise), how to woo the woman for whom he pines (herself). A woman playing a man, pretending to be a woman - a part that was originally played by a boy - presented on the stage speaks to the play-acting facet of our lives in a very fun way. This is also the text that gives us the famous speech by Jaques, the forest-wandering cynic and philosopher, for which this season is named and which is so well-remembered by many from high school English class. By far As you Like it has the most music of any play NRTC has produced to date, ensuring that this play will entertain.
The Life of Henry the Fift speaks to role-playing of a different nature. Young Henry’s reign and reputation are tested against the raucous image he projected as a youth. He must present himself as the King his people need him to be. Two of the best-known speeches of this play, indeed of Shakespeare’s canon, are exhilarating examples of political theatre: ‘Once more unto the Breach, / Dear friends…’ and the St. Crispan’s Day speech. Are they propaganda to inspire the troops, or strong words to convince himself? Removed from the common people he associated with before ascending to the throne, Henry disguises himself as a rank-and-file soldier on the eve of battle to discover what his people really think of him. He even reverts back to playing pranks as he was wont to do with his pals in Eastcheap. But which is the real Henry: the prankster, or the prince? What does he gain by the parts he plays?
Continuing with our theme that ‘all the world’s a stage,’ and starting our season off in February, NRTC will extend our geographical reach to New York City. We are co-producing a staged reading of Twelfth Night, or What You Will with Holla Holla Productions, directed by NRTC Co-Founder Elizabeth Ruelas. Company Member Nick Benninger will be traveling to the Big Apple to take part in the reading. In this story of love, loss and reunion, Viola pretends to be a man and the servant Malvolio becomes someone he thinks someone else wants him to be. Along with taking USP to Artscape in Baltimore for the last three years, this is the next step in realizing our goal of offering our company members opportunities to perform in diverse markets outside of Pittsburgh. If you will be in New York on February 24 & 25, be sure to check out the show.
Think about what roles you play in your day-to-day dealings with other people. Who do you play them for? Why? When are you a mother? When are you a wife? When are you a friend? What is the difference? But please don’t think about it too hard at the show. We invite you to come and have a good time. The only role you need to play with us is as an audience member – and we’ll be sure to remind you of that.
-Andy Kirtland, Artistic Director
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Hello Friends, Fans and Followers,
The New Renaissance Theatre Company
Thank you for an amazing 2017! This past season was another experience of growth and change for NRTC. We received our first grants as a 501(c)(3) organization. We became one of the inaugural members of Britsburgh’s Performing Arts Society. The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project added performances and venues to its tour, playing in Beaver County for the first time, and returning to Artscape for a third year in a row. We had our largest cast to date and reached more audience members in a bigger geographical area than it has in the past. We had a change in leadership as I took over the position of Artistic Director from Elizabeth Ruelas, my fellow co-founder. Those of you who follow us on social media may have noticed a change. That is due to our company member Nick Benninger, our new Media Manager. Nick will entertain and engage you in the digital world when we are not performing in the real world, and keep you informed when we are.
This is the time in the season when most of the action is happening back stage. The company is working hard setting up our 2018 season, which will include USP’s 5th Annual Summer Tour! And to that end, we are excited to announce that we will bring As you like It and The Life of Henry the Fift to parks in and around Pittsburgh and beyond in July! We are still hammering out schedules and locations, so stay tuned.
We strive to create and offer opportunities for our company members outside of the Pittsburgh area. Some theatres here bring actors in from outside. We want this to work the other way. For example, for the last 3 years, we have taken performances to Artscape in Baltimore, MD. 2018 will see our first project in this direction outside of USP’s tour. We will partner with our friends in New York, Holla Holla Productions, on a staged reading of Twelfth Night, directed by Elizabeth Ruelas. Details will follow.
Another aspect of the company that we will be emphasizing is our education program. NRTC offers workshops in the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique for schools, universities, students, professionals and people of all ages. We will conduct a series of Pay-What-You-Will Workshops in neighborhoods and communities in the areas we bring USP. These will be announced as they arise, so keep your ears to the ground. If you’ve seen one of our unrehearsed productions and wonder how we do it, if you’re curious about the technique or the company, if you haven’t made it out to a show because you don’t know what to expect or you’re just a fan of Shakespeare and want to see a different way of interpreting his texts these workshops are for you. We would love to see you there.
At this time of year, I am thankful for the cast, crew and company for a great season; the company and board members for all of their hard work getting us to where we are today and pushing forward to where we will be in the future; all of the people and organizations that have partnered with NRTC; and to our fans, friends and followers who give us a reason and the support to do what we love to do. The New Renaissance Theatre Company could not have come this far, The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project’s fifth anniversary (!) without all of you. For your past, current and future support, you have my sincerest gratitude. Thank you.
The New Renaissance Theatre Company
Thursday, August 24, 2017
These blogs were originally posted on my personal blog in 2012 when USP directed The Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Midsommer Nights Dreame for UnSeam'd Shakespeare Company. I think they represent my feelings and thoughts about the play.
As I set out to direct The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one characteristic of the play becomes undeniable: this is not one of Shakespeare’s better plays. However, it is better than usually given credit for.
The play is obscured by attempts to improve upon it or by digging for deeper meanings than the play contains. The characters themselves are treated either much more loftily than written, or not given the respect they deserve. Violence and homosexual overtones are added making the plot and action more implausible than it already is to modern sensibilities. These improvements still often leave the audience unsatisfied.
The play was not meant to disappoint, but to entertain. Shakespeare wrote the play by the dramatic rules governing comedy. When he wrote this play he had not yet the tools to break the rules as he would later. Modern critics believe that Shakespeare hatched fully developed in his powers and it is the playwright of Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello that they credit, or fault, with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. We cannot blame William Shakespeare of the late 1580’s for not being the playwright he would later become.
Any writing on The Two Gentlemen of Verona must begin with its conclusion, probably the most criticized and problematic element of the play. When taken as the only acceptable outcome given the style and rules Shakespeare followed in its construction, the ending is logical and believable. The conclusion is awkward enough to our modern sensibilities and expectations, but it is truthful to the world of the play and in no way violates the rules.
The end of the play begins with the attempted rape of Silvia by Proteus.
Proteus Nay, if gentle spirit of moving words
Can no way change you to a milder forme;
Ile woo you like a Souldier, at armes end,
And love you ‘gainst the nature of Love: force ye.
Silvia Oh heaven.
Proteus Ile force thee yeeld to my desire.
This is all that is given us textually, because Valentine, who was listening nearby immediately jumps into the scene. But what is he breaking up?
The line, ‘Ile woo you like a Souldier, at armes end,’ can be taken a couple of ways. Either Proteus could mean: ‘I will love you at the end of a weapon,’ or ‘I will lay my hands upon you.’ Given the imagery of ‘Souldier’ and the different meanings of the word ‘armes,’ either could be acceptable and a valid point for the use of violence in this scene. However, Silvia’s response is: ‘Oh heaven.’ (emphasis mine). There is no exclamation. Given everything that has happened in the play up to this point: Proteus’ use of guile instead of force in his dealings, Silvia’s ability to handle men with her charms, the fact that they are not alone – Julia (dressed as Sebastian) is present; all of these factors, when reinforced by strong characterizations by the actors, go to alleviate any possible danger in the exchange. If anything Proteus is biting off more than he can chew, and it is quite plausible that the ‘armes end’ that Proteus’ speaks of are Silvia’s and she may actually be holding him at bay.
Also within the rules of the comedy, there must be reconciliation. Valentine must discover Proteus’ betrayal and he must forgive him. For that reason, Proteus must make a big show, believable or not, for Valentine to witness. Modern interpretations make more out of this attempted rape in an attempt to make the play more exciting than it is, but by doing so what comes after is hindered and made awkward.
Only 15 lines later comes this exchange:
Proteus My shame and guilt confounds me:
Forgive me Valentine: if hearty sorrow
Be a sufficient Ransome for offence,
I tender’t heere: I doe as truly suffer,
As ere I did commit.
Valentine Then I am paid:
And once again, I doe receive thee honest;
Who by Repentance is not satisfied,
Is nor of heaven, nor earth; for these are pleas’d:
By Penitence th’Eternalls wrath’s appeas’d:
And that my love may appeare plaine and free,
All that was mine, in Silvia, I give thee.
In making the rape dangerous, this forgiveness becomes impossible to accept. Nothing in The Two Gentlemen of Verona is dangerous. From the outset of this comedy we know that the friends will end friends, that the lovers will be together, and protagonists’ reputations will be intact. The introduction of a real danger shatters this, and should be avoided for the unity of the piece.
On the heels of Valentine’s forgiveness comes the most troubling line in the play: ‘All that was mine, in Silvia, I give thee.’ Much of what people feel about The Two Gentlemen of Verona hinge on the interpretation of this line. What are we supposed to think?
Many believe that the line is a show of absolute sacrifice on behalf of Valentine to prove that his friendship with Proteus has been thoroughly healed. Here male friendship is paramount in the range of human emotion and the throwing aside of one’s hard-earned beloved is seen as a fitting demonstration of this ideal. Is this what happens?
It is widely commented on that after Silvia’s utterance of ‘Oh heaven,’ during the attempted rape, she is silent for the rest of the play. Why? If she is given to Proteus as a token of supreme friendship, it is supposed that she is passively accepting of her fate, or that she is angered into silence. The audience is not given an insight into what she is thinking because as soon as Valentine says this line, Julia (still disguised as Sebastian) faints, and the next 36 lines are devoted to the discovery of her true identity and the happy reunion and reconciliation of her and Proteus. Silvia does not break this moment with any sign of protestation, nor does she say anything when Valentine declares his love for her, openly defying her father the Duke and Thurio, nor anything when her father consents. Already in the play she has demonstrated that she is willing to defy her father, spurn the advances of unwanted suitors and run away risking her life to be with Valentine. Silvia is no wilting flower, bowing to the whims of men. But in this interpretation of the line, the entirety of her character’s actions have been forgotten, and she is made a complacent mute.
It has been suggested that ‘All that was mine, in Silvia, I give thee,’ is meant to say that ‘all the love that was for Silvia, I give to thee as well.’ This interpretation still begs the question: why is Silvia silent? At this point, she has been reunited with Valentine, in the next she is witnessing Julia and Proteus together (as she has been advocating for), she sees Valentine stand up to Thurio and the Duke and ultimately gets what she wants: to marry Valentine. What words can express such happiness?
Any anger, spite or vengefulness at her situation at the conclusion of the play violates the laws of the comedy. It puts a strain on the plausibility of the action, and Shakespeare strains his audience enough with the devices he uses to reach the pre-destined happy ending. Modern directors and critics should not add more.
Homosexual overtones are often added to The Two Gentlemen of Verona to absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Harold Bloom says of Valentine that he ‘becomes worth consideration only when we take his perverseness seriously, since it appears to go considerably beyond a mere repressed bisexuality.’ It would be a feat for Mr. Bloom to show any example of bisexuality in Valentine, or indeed any character in the play, or to demonstrate anything even approaching perversity in the text. Yes, Valentine and Proteus have a strong filial affection for each other, but there is no hint of attraction. Their conversations revolve around their travels and being in love with women.
Could all this talk of travel and women cover deeply repressed homosexuality? Yes, if the play were written by Tenneessee Williams, but it is not. It is written by an Elizabethan playwright who did not write psychology, but only action for the stage.
The only chance here for any homoerotic themes or action is when Julia arrives disguised as Sebastian. Unlike Viola in Twelfth Night, she does not make half-veiled advances towards her lover. She only comments on her situation when she is with strangers or alone on stage with a sympathetic audience. Unlike Olivia in Twelfth Night, Silvia does not fall in love with the woman dressed in drag. Unlike Rosalind in As You Like It, Julia does not try to trick Proteus into seeing the girl beneath the boy. This type of play is out of bounds in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
By making Valentine and Proteus secret wishful lovers, Mr. Bloom and others add a level of complexity to the characters and meaning to the play that does not exist. Giving sexual tension to Proteus and ‘Sebastian’ would do the same. It would be just as easy for an American to understand Cricket by applying the rules of Baseball.
As with the homosexuality and violence, some try to find a deep meaning in this admittedly shallow play. Andrew Dickson thinks ‘The Two Gentlemen seems to ask, at the very least, whether ideals purchased at this kind of price are worth their cost. Is Valentine’s ideal of friendship worth abandoning the woman he is engaged to marry? Can Proteus’s [sic] ever be trusted again?’
The Two Gentlemen of Verona asks no such questions. The play asks nothing of its audience. This perhaps is the hardest thing to grasp. We think that this play must be something other than it is because Shakespeare wrote it, but it is not very good. We must be missing something.
What is missing is its simplicity. Valentine is named so because he proves to be a true lover. Proteus is named so because he is as changeable as his namesake. The play is a comedy, therefore the friends must remain friends and lovers must be together in the end. There is a bit with a dog and witty servants. There is a woman dressing as a boy, outlaws and music. What else should be expected of a comedy?
The play shows how love changes us. Proteus changes from a lover to a kind of tyrant. Valentine, from an adventurer to a lover. Julia, from a woman to man. Silvia, from a clever woman to a mute. The Duke, in his story of love, from an old father to a young man. The only person who is not changed is Launce, who loves his dog. Of course, everyone else is turned into a clown by love, and that is Launce’s natural position. Perhaps it renders him immune.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as a play, is what it is. It is not up to us to make the characters more interesting than they are. It is not up to us to make the story funnier or more exciting. It is our job to bring the story that is there to life, not to fight it, but to work with it. So what is there in the play?
Mark Van Doren points out that ‘Friendship is one of the gods here.’ The other god must be Love. This is a play about two young friends on the cusp of growing up and dealing with these two deities. Making it about anything else does a disservice to the play. It may be a harbinger of things to come when compared to the rest of Shakespeare’s cannon, but on the stage The Two Gentlemen of Verona must be allowed to stand on its own. It may not be one of Shakespeare’s better plays, but it can do that just fine.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. © 1998 Harold Bloom
Dickson, Andrew. The Rough Guide to Shakespeare. © 2005 Andrew Dickson
Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. © 1939 Mark Van Doren
Much is made of Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Some critics believe that he was added later to spice up the unpopular play. But why go back to add this one character rather then rewrite them all? More likely Launce was Shakespeare’s most inspired invention in this apprentice play, and it may just be due to the originality of Launce that Shakespeare’s career went further.
The longing for Launce to be a time-traveler is a symptom of a larger sickness often mis-diagnosed inThe Two Gentlemen of Verona, and that is that while there is humor in the play, it is not very funny. This criticism is wrong-headed and stems from a belief that the lovers are much loftier than they are; that they are older than they are; that because they are capable of such reasoned arguments that they are much more mature than they are. It is this view, and this characterization on the part of the actors, that the back-and-forths in the text somehow become parlor room tennis matches of wit written by Oscar Wilde. They are not. Shakespeare’s verse and rhetorical devices are the vehicles that he uses for expression in all his plays. Any character at any time is capable of speaking in verse, that does not mean that character is elevated, educated or elite. At their very cores, Silvia and Julia are maids and Valentine and Proteus are at the age when young men
‘seeke preferment out.
Some to the warres, to try their fortune there;
Some, to discover Islands farre away,
Some, to the studious Universities.’
The characters are young and playful. They are not standing on opposite sides of the stage, kegs turned out, three quarters to the audience declaring verbal backhands. There is horseplay, intimacy, alternating shyness and bravado. They are vibrant and over-the-top in their emotions. But that is only part of their humor.
The other part is in their behavior. Yes, Proteus does terrible things to his friends, but always remember that this is comedy, this is farce, and there is never any danger of things ending badly for these characters. Does that diffuse the drama and remove the tension of the play? The short answer is: Yes. But the play is not meant to be dramatic or filled with tension. Any tension in the play has been imposed upon it and violates the world of the play. The results are usually unsatisfying productions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Think of ‘a very special episode of [insert prime-time sitcom here].’ Everything starts out as expected: stock characters going through the motions, audience laughter punctuating expected jokes, the same conventions being exploited that you saw last week. Then there is an accident, someone gets hurt in a drunk-driving accident, or a friend has overdosed on cocaine. They die, and there is an attempt at gravitas at the close, which is without the theme music and laughter that always ends the show. Then, the cast appears backstage, sitting in folding director chairs to give you a heartfelt message expressing the very real-life dangers that have entered the make-believe world of their characters. It is all so unbelievable, because it violates your expectations, your assumptions, and the world of the comedy. The ending is disappointing and unfulfilling. The next week, the show continues as if nothing happened, because to dwell on the event would be to change the show completely. This is what happens when tension and danger is added to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and when the characters are treated as something other than they are.
This may be a simplistic view, but this is a simplistic play. To treat it as anything else hurts the play and bores the audience. The Two Gentlemen of Verona should not be taken seriously.
As far as Launce is concerned, he is a wonderful creation. He is often the second favorite in the play, behind his dog Crab. We will leave Crab alone because we cannot conjecture on what was meant to happen with the unwritten role of the dog. If it obeys, it is funny. If it does not listen to its master, it is funny. Had Launce been an interlopation, and on top of that the crowd favorite that he has become, most likely Shakespeare would have found a better exit for him from the play rather than have him disappear to find Proteus’ dog only never to return. One expects that had he been added later, or improved upon, he would appear once the lovers had been united to tell us about his adventure with Crab. Instead he fades away. The actor who originally played Launce probably also played another important character in the last scene, but even so his absence is not commented on, letting us believe that he should not be missed in the first place.
While entertaining, the servants’ stories are not important to the plot of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Their absence only becomes worth comment because they are treated more honestly and truthfully than the lovers. The servants are allowed to be human, physical and emotional, while the lovers are almost always treated as ‘gentlemen and ladies.’ They are allowed to be witty but are restricted from being as humorous as Shakespeare wrote them. Their actions are treated with more seriousness and gravity than they deserve or is called upon in the script. When they are given that liberty to be played as written, much of the play falls into place in ways from which it is usually restricted and the humor of the servants no longer eclipses the play.
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Whenever I tell people that I am currently directing The Taming of the Shrew, I inevitably get asked “What’s your vision?” Then I tell them that I’m using the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique and spend several minutes explaining what that is. However, that’s not what a lot of people want to know. With today’s political climate, the various hate crimes, and stories of violence that we are bombarded with every day, there is the concern that this play’s title alone will cause an uproar. I blame that on previous productions where the ‘vision’ turns it into a story about an abusive marriage or where the director puts their own spin on the words that Shakespeare wrote and completely changes the meaning of the text. But, honestly, if you look at ALL of the text from beginning to end – it’s really a play about a bully who uses her fists instead of her words and how the one man who’s not afraid to stand up to her helps her to realize how to use her brilliant mind, and shows her what it means to be a true partner in a romantic relationship. And it all starts with that often deleted introduction scene involving Christopher Sly.
Now, this ‘Induction’ scene often gets cut out completely from modern productions to save time and because the characters in it aren’t really seen or heard from again, except for a few lines thrown in after a couple of more scenes. However, I think this scene is vital to the set-up of Taming. In this scene, we learn that the entire rest of this play is really a play-within-a-play just like in Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which takes the edge off of it a bit. Also, the audience learns, along with Mr. Sly, that this play is “a kind of history”, which it is in more ways than one. Four hundred years ago, women did not have equal rights and many were treated like property, so for Shakespeare to write back then that this is a ‘history’ reminds us how it’s even much more of a ‘history’ now.
Let’s cut in to the meat of Taming and why I think this is a play about dealing with a bully named Kate. Kate is extremely unhappy and instead of dealing with her frustrations constructively, she lashes out with insults and hits. She can’t be reasoned with, and she’s constantly finding fault or mocking others. She threatens people, ties up her sister, and destroys a perfectly good lute over a guy’s head. Nobody can get her to listen or make her see how unreasonable she’s being, which just makes everyone miserable. Enter Petruchio, who thinks that he can help.
First, Petruchio and Kate only have one scene where they are truly alone, and that is the famous wooing scene in Act II Scene I. They bandy about with words, Petruchio flatters Kate over and over again, and she insults him over again. Then she hits him. He does not hit her back. In fact, he never hits her throughout the play. But he abuses her in other ways, right? Well, yes, but at his own expense and health. Every time food is brought to them in the homecoming scene, he sends it away. She doesn’t eat, and neither does he. In Petruchio’s monologue from Act IV Scene I, he talks about how every time she tries to sleep that he makes a huge commotion so that she can’t:
Last night she slept not, nor to night she shall not:
As with the meate, some undeserved fault
Ile finde about the making of the bed,
And here Ile fling the pillow, there the boulster,
This way the Coverlet, another way the sheets:
I, and amid this hurlie I intend,
That all is done in reverend care of her,
And in conclusion, she shal watch all night,
And if she chance to nod, I’ll raile and brawle,
And with the clamor keepe her stil awake:
So, she’s not sleeping, but what’s more is that not only is Petruchio not sleeping – but he is running around the room throwing things and making a huge noise, so he must be utterly exhausted. Even more exhausted than Kate. Some actors play this monologue as if it’s a big brag, but where is that in the text? At the beginning of the monologue he says:
And ‘tis my hope to end successefully:
He hope[s] that he is successful with all of this. Not that he WILL be or that he is SURE of it, but he HOPES. Then, at the end of this monologue he says:
He that knowes better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak, ‘tis charity to shew.
He is asking for help! If anyone in the audience has any better ideas, then please share them for charity’s sake. Again, not the words of someone bragging about their technique. This is an honest account of a tired, hungry man who is doing his best with what he’s got.
Next, I want to mention the Sun/Moon scene in Act IV Scene V. I was brought up in the South where we were taught to never fight with your spouse in public. In a marriage, you two are one person, and you should always be on their side in front of other people. However, when you get home and are in private – that’s another story! Basically, that is kind-of what is going on with his scene. Being in a relationship sometimes means compromise. It’s not healthy to constantly contradict your partner in public per Petruchio’s line:
Evermore crost and crost, nothing but crost.
Petruchio is using an extreme way of demonstrating this to Kate with this Sun vs. Moon bit. Kate has stopped using her fists finally (like she did in several of her previous scenes on everyone from Hortensio to Grumio) and is trying to make an argument on how he is wrong. Even though we all know she is right in this scene, sometimes a spouse has to be the bigger person and let the other have their way. It’s just not worth the argument in this case. She eventually figures out the best way to deal with him verbally, and they are on their way. No insults, no hits…just letting the other person have their way and showing them that you are on their side. Even if it’s ridiculous.
Finally, we come to Act V Scene II with that endless monologue of Kate’s about how women should respect their husbands. I believe that both spouses should respect each other, and this monologue should be taken from both sides. Yes, it just says how wives should be more loving and obedient (16th Century, people!), but I am having the wonderful actresses who are taking turns playing Kate deliver this monologue honestly to everyone.
Come, come, you forward and unable wormes,
My minde hath bin as bigge as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haplie more,
To bandie word for word, and frowne for frowne;
Both sides in a relationship should be more loving and kind. If one half of you has had a hard day, then the other should not come at them with complaint upon complaint as soon as they walk through the door. Love each other. Respect each other. Listen to each other. Be on each other’s side. Without these basic concepts in a relationship, you will be stuck with a shrew. An unhappy shrew. And nobody wants that.
-Elizabeth Ruelas, Artistic Director, The New Renaissance Theatre Company
Sunday, March 5, 2017
‘Good name in Man, & woman (deere my Lord)
Is the immediate Jewell of their Soules;’
- The Tragedie of Othello, the Moore of Venice, III.iii
Naming something gives us power, a sense of ownership and relationship. A name is a definition and identity. That definition and relationship differs with everyone, but without a name there is no starting point. As an experiment, try to think of something for which there is no word, no name in your language. It is impossible. If a name does not exist, we invent one. Even if the name is a title. If someone is only a title, Prime Minister, then she is defined by her position and we have certain expectations. Lisa, however, is someone else completely different. Given our previous relationship with Lisa, we treat and define Lisa differently from Prime Minister Lisa, and even more so than the Prime Minister.
The power of names is important in theatre, often symbolic, and Shakespeare, whether or not he fully consciously understood their power (there is evidence enough to suggest he did) uses names to control, or at least influence, how his audience relates to his characters. We are going to look at four naming conventions Shakespeare used in his plays: full names, last names and titles, and first names. In a later blog, we will examine how this affects the feelings and definitions engendered in The Tragedie of Macbeth.
First off, let’s examine full names. Shakespeare’s audience would have been fully aware of the historical figures and their full names in his history plays. For this reason, here we will pass over the History Plays to examine his intentional use of full names. This is not to say that a character’s full name is always (if ever) used, but in some way or another, the audience is aware of the character’s full name. For example, in As You Like It, Orlando is the son of Roland du Boys. Ergo, his full name is Orlando du Boys. (This also means that we know his brothers’ full names as well). Nobody ever calls him Orlando du Boys. While there are interesting characters in the play, we follow the story of Orlando and Rosalind.
There are only a few examples that are given outright, or at least emphasized in the plays: Romeo Montague, Juliet Capulet, Titus Andronicus. Knowing a character’s full name gives the audience a more complete picture of the character. We know Romeo to be a Montague, and we hear a lot about ‘the Montagues’ throughout the play, leaving everyone with expectations. Then we meet Romeo, and while he is under the umbrella of ‘Montague’ we come to associate unique characteristics with him and he becomes a more rounded person. His friends Benvolio and Mercutio have no last names (although we know Mercutio to be related to the Capulets). Romeo’s father and mother are only Lord and Lady Montague. Who in this family do we care about? The same question can be asked of Juliet Capulet. Among those we see her with, with whom do we identify? Perhaps this is one reason this story has resounded so much, because we feel there is a possibility to know these characters better than most. Of all of Shakespeare’s characters, fans could say to be more emotional about these two characters than any others. Tourism has grown in Verona thank to this couple (and clever marketing) in a way that has not been inspired by any of Shakespeare’s other creations.
‘Retaine that deare perfection which he owes,
Without that title Romeo, doffe thy name…’
- The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, II.ii
Although he does not have the following that the young lovers do, Titus Andronicus elicits a maximum of empathy from the audience for the pain and travails he suffers. We follow his journey on a visceral level that many modern sensibilities do not wish to recognize. The catharsis at the end comes only with a strong identification with the protagonist. We know his family are Andronici, and their suffering means more to us than other instances of cruelty in the play. Hardly anyone weeps for Aaron, Tamora or her sons. This cannot be explained away simply because they are the ‘baddies’ in this play. Richard III and the Macbeths do some awful things, but through their relationship with the audience, theirs are the stories we follow and on some level identify with. How they are named will influence the relationship we have with them.
Other instances of knowing a character’s full name allow the audience to draw a sketch or make assumptions of a character. There is a long tradition of naming characters after their professions or other attributes, and Shakespeare was not immune to it: Nick Bottome, Peter Quince, Mistress Quickly, Mistress Overdone, Flute the Bellows-mender, Snout the Tinker, Snug the Joiner, Starveling the Tailor among others. These appellations tell us almost everything we need to know about the characters, drawing conclusions and snap judgments from clichés. This kind of name puts a distance between the audience and the characters by not allowing the audience to think too much about them. The exception in this group is Nick Bottome, the Weaver. We know his name and his profession, and he is one of the most loved of Shakespeare’s creations.
Last names are used quite frequently. Sometimes place names or titles are substituted for last names. Gloucester, Albany, Clarence – as these usually come from titles the expectation is one of rank, or a ubiquitous knowledge of historical figures who held those titles, or of the person currently inhabiting that position. These titles engage groupthink, much like the professions of lower characters. This person is like everyone else with this name and we can reasonably project that others of his kind in the world would behave as he does.
Whereas titles can sometimes function as last names, also last names can also function as title. Fathers and heads of households often carry the family name and they are meant to define that family. These characters, however, never garner our affection. There is a distance. The position is one to be respected and familiarity between the character and the audience is held to a minimum. [This does not hold in the history plays because, again, a known historical figure would already be familiar to the audience and Shakespeare was canny enough to exploit those sentiments.]
First names are the most commonly used by Shakespeare. Many of the famous characters are known only by them: Hamlet, Ophelia, Othello, Iago, Rosalind, Prospero, Claudius, Gertrude, Benedick, Beatrice, Petruchio, Kate, Mercutio, Malvolio, Olivia, Viola, Orsino, Feste, Cordelia, Regan, Gonerill and on and on. First names offer the quickest familiarity, especially in a place and time when only close friends referred to each other by their given names. There is an immediate affinity between us and them because we feel like we are allowed to know them in an intimate way.
There is a difference between knowing someone’s full name, and using it. To know it is to have a fuller picture of that individual. To use it constantly is to create a personal distance. When you can only refer to a character by the first name, it gently forces a kind of intimacy. We feel a friendship with these characters and seek to replace empathy with sympathy. Even the antagonists become closer to the audience when we use their first names. We can find some kind of connection rather then pushing them away completely.
After reading his plays these conventions work on us in a subconscious way. In a later blog post, we will take a look at how this affects our relationships to the characters in The Tragedie of Macbeth.
- Andy Kirtland, Managing Director, The New Renaissance Theatre Company
Sunday, February 5, 2017
I have been a stage manager for several different things, including shows, musicals, conferences, dance shows, ballets, and yet nothing can compare to the excitement of working backstage of an unrehearsed show. Between being outdoors, no rehearsals of lines, and so many elements like dogs in the audience, an unrehearsed production is never boring and always the best.
Each season and each tour I have been beyond blessed to work with amazing and talented people. Between our wonderful production staff and our beyond talented actors, I have learned so much and I have been a part of incredible performances. After working as a stage manager on an unrehearsed production, every other show is a piece of cake. Having rehearsals for the entire show, tech rehearsals, inside facilities, technology, lack of bugs, a “normal” production of any show is just not as exciting! I still love being a stage manager in every description of the word, but after falling in love working with this unrehearsed technique I will never love a stage show as much as I love working with the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project.
- Charlene Jacka, NRTC Company Stage Manager
This season I am beyond excited to work on Taming of the Shrew and MacB. Each production we do provides its own set of complications. As a stage manager, I love being able to solve problems and work out solutions! One of a Stage Manager’s largest fears is having something happen that is beyond their control, I know because it is a big fear of mine. During an unrehearsed production as soon as the whistle blows, the game is on and anything can happen.
Last summer during our final production of Romeo and Juliet the weather decided to take part in our show. Minutes before we were ready to go, after fight call and dance call and our stage walk thru, the heavens let loose. I am not talking about a little bit of water, I am talking about a monsoon that came upon us, I think the gods thought we were doing The Tempest. So we had to pick up our actors tent, our backstage tent, and all props and costumes to move under the giant yellow tent provided by the park. When I say pick up the tent that is exactly what we did. Our wonderful tent crew took a corner of the tents and carried them under the large tent. While they were moving the tents the costume crew was trying to safely and dryly move the costumes under cover and the props crew was trying to safely move all props and armory under cover. While this was going on, the audience was trying to stay dry under the same tent. Once we were able to get everything moved under cover we had to begin sorting it all and resetting everything for pre-show. Like we say during our curtain speech, during Shakespeare’s time there was no such thing as electricity or spot lights or house lighting, this is why we have our shows in the middle of the afternoon or the early evenings during the summer. This day however, the monsoon brought with it dark ominous clouds that covered the light.
So lets recap – We had gallons of water coming from the sky, winds whipping, thunder and lightening, props to be saved, costumes to be saved, 2 tents to be moved, darkness taking over the sky, a full house, and the show must go on. Our cast was made up of incredibly hard workers who all joined to get everything reset and in its correct place. So the cast began to get redressed into their first costumes and recheck all their props, and one of them comes up to me “My costume has a large tear on it, can you help?” Without skipping a beat I grab my emergency sewing kit from my stage managers kit and began to sew the tear. This is when I realized just how dark it had become, so I grabbed our emergency lanterns and hung one up back stage and then had my cellphone light set up so it was shining on my hands and the tear. While this is going on, the wind began to pick up again. I don’t know how familiar those of you reading this might be with portable clothing racks but they are far from sturdy especially when about 25 costumes are hung up and it is windy. The racks began to blow over, in the mud, with all our beautiful costumes hung up, and I had a needle and thread in my hands. Our costume crew did their best to catch the costumes (we only ended up with a few casualties) our props crew was trying to catch our paper props from blowing all around and our tent crew was trying to stake the tents into the ground. It was mad chaos all around. Backstage was like a beehive, everyone with a job, everyone rushing around, and everyone helping out.
After everything was set and we were ready to go, we realized that we needed to do another fight call in our new playing space, after the move we were a lot closer to the audience then before. So the audience was able to watch how smooth of a machine we really were. A few things posed a problem at this point, one happened to be that the rain was so very loud that the actors had to shout to be heard. Projecting became an art form. We tried to hold off as long as we could in the hopes of being able to hear! After what seemed like 45 minutes or so we only ended up starting the show 15 minutes late. Only 15 minutes late, with everything that happened. It was incredible to see how wonderful our company worked to accomplish moving a mountain!
- Charlene Jacka, NRTC Company Stage Manager