Saturday, June 10, 2017

How do you Solve a Problem like a Bully, Shakespeare-Style?

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

Would Another Name Smell as Sweet?

‘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 clich├ęs. 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

Secrets from an Unrehearsed Stage Manager

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.

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!

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Who is Lady Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth is one of the most compelling and famous characters created by William Shakespeare. She has become a byword for a strong woman behind a man, pushing him towards nefarious ends. The Macbeths are often seen as a sexy, powerful couple, bonded by their evil plotting. To summarize an analysis given in an interview by Laurence Olivier, Lady Macbeth is on a downward track from power ending in tragedy, while her husband is on the rise and their journeys cross each other at Duncan’s murder. Something about these interpretations rings false when compared against the characters’ cue scripts.

Over a couple of blog posts, we will examine the cue scripts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to dig into their relationship and their characters to better understand why these characters hold such a sway over our imagination. Today we begin with Lady Macbeth.

When we first meet Macbeth’s anonymous wife, her words are not her own. She reads a letter recounting events that we, the audience, already know. When we are introduced to a character, we see their true selves. If they are not as they appear, Shakespeare has them tell us. Deceptions in his plays occur between characters while the audience is always complicit in the lie. However, Shakespeare does not give us a true Lady Macbeth in her opening scene. Instead he gives a regurgitation of what we have already witnessed on stage. Lady Macebth is a parrot, exposition. Nothing about her is revealed.

Throughout Shakespeare’s work, language is character: how one speaks and the way one’s text works is how we truly know his creations. What do her first words, her first thoughts, tell us about Lady Macbeth? They offer an excellent example of how language can be used to shape character.

‘Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou are promis’d:’

Her first line is nine beats long (Glamys being pronounce ‘glamz’), and the thought runs into the next line of pentameter. What is interesting here is that there is one word that would fill the first line, making it a full 10-beat line, and completing the thought. Instead there is a one beat pause. She could say: ‘Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be king.

In this instance, we would see a woman in control saying what she means, but we do not. Instead, there is the impression that she cannot bring herself to say the word. There is a pause, trepidation. She continues to question her husband’s ability to do what needs to be done to reach the goal of which she herself cannot speak. There is never a consideration that he may be able to earn the crown legitimately, but that Macbeth must ‘catch the neerest way.’

The first action she takes, is to ask for supernatural, metaphysical help. At this point in the play, this choice does not indicate the strong woman that she is popularly portrayed to be (we cannot say that this is uncharacteristic of her, because we do not know that much about her):

‘…Come you Spirits,
That tend on mortall thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the Crowne to the Toe, top-full
Of direst Crueltie: make thick my blood,
Stop up th' accesse, and passage to Remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of Nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keepe peace betweene
Th' effect, and hit. Come to my Womans Brests,
And take my Milke for Gall, you murth'ring Ministers,
Where-ever, in your sightlesse substances,
You wait on Natures Mischiefe. Come thick Night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoake of Hell,
That my keene Knife see not the Wound it makes,
Nor Heaven peepe through the Blanket of the darke,
To cry, hold, hold.’

The language of Lady Macbeth’s request to darker powers may offer a glimpse of the person she was before taking this step because she asks for attributes she does not possess and to become something she is not. She would not ask to be unsexed unless she felt that her femininity was a liability. She begs to be filled completely with ‘direst Crueltie,’ an attribute she must not already have. ‘Stop up th’accesse, and passage to Remorse’ tells that she believes her conscience to be an obstacle. She prays that it becomes dark enough that she cannot witness her own actions and that Heaven, her religion, does not stop her. If this is what she wants, we can infer these are qualities she does not see in herself. She believes herself to be a woman without cruelty, filled with mother’s milk and full of remorse who is afraid to think that she is capable of the actions she considers.

Throughout her cue script, Lady Macbeth’s entrance cues give us information that contradicts the image of the strong demanding woman. Her first cue is ‘…a peerless Kinsman.’ She is not named here, and while the word ‘peerless’ does appear it describes a ‘Kinsman,’ not woman. This may be a reason why even before she asks for a transformation, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as sexless. If the emphasis is put on ‘peerless’ then she is the prime example of a Thane’s wife. Other words in the character’s cues include ‘delicate’ and ‘t’other.’ She is never named in her entrance stage directions other than ‘Lady.’ (Unbeknownst to an actor using cue scripts, no character ever states her name. Without a name there are psychological limits on how well the audience will ever be able to know Lady Macbeth.)

Over the next several scenes after Macbeth’s return we watch Lady Macbeth control, belittle, manipulate and berate her warrior husband:

‘…looke like th' innocent flower,
But be the Serpent under't.’

‘Was the hope drunke,
Wherein you drest your selfe? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now to looke so greene, and pale,
At what it did so freely? From this time,
Such I account thy love. Art thou affear'd
To be the same in thine owne Act, and Valour,
As thou art in desire? Would'st thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the Ornament of Life,
And live a Coward in thine owne Esteeme?’

‘I have given Sucke, and know
How tender 'tis to love the Babe that milkes me,
I would, while it was smyling in my Face,
Have pluckt my Nipple from his Bonelesse Gummes,
And dasht the Braines out, had I so sworne
As you have done to this.’

‘But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And wee'le not fayle:’

‘Infirme of purpose:
Give me the Daggers: the sleeping, and the dead,
Are but as Pictures: 'tis the Eye of Childhood,
That feares a painted Devill.’

‘My Hands are of your colour: but I shame
To weare a Heart so white.’

All of this comes after Lady Macbeth seeks the aid of dark forces. Much is made of the metaphysical in this play as it pertains to Macbeth, but how does it affect his wife? At his point in the play Macbeth’s dealing with the witches was unsolicited, they came to him, but Lady Macbeth sought them out. Is her strength then a result of ‘Spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts?’

Once the murder of Duncan is concluded, this bullying aspect of Lady Macbeth dissolves, and where before she pushed Macbeth to bloody thoughts she now tries to pull him away from them. Given that the first several scenes of the play illustrate how bloody his acts are on the battlefield, this seems to be a more likely role for Lady Macbeth to play in her home life – but we never see them on a normal day.

‘Gentle my Lord, sleeke o're your rugged Lookes,
Be bright and Joviall among your Guests to Night.’

Keep in mind as well, her request to the dark forces concluded with the murder of Duncan. Once he is assassinated, the contract has ended. She is troubled by the influence she held over her husband. In a rare moment alone with her thoughts and the audience, Lady Macbeth slips into a rhyme, the first and only that she has for herself and the audience as she questions what she has done:

‘Nought's had, all's spent.
Where our desire is got without content:
'Tis safer, to be that which we destroy,
Then by destruction dwell in doubtfull joy.’

This is the only time she second-guesses what she and her husband have done.

It is often posited that the Macbeths are one of the only happily married couples in Shakespeare’s canon. But the language of her text does not reflect this supposition. When speaking to Macbeth, his wife uses ‘thou’ or ‘thine’ (a display of physical closeness) only eight times, and never after he goes off to kill Duncan. She says ‘we,’ ‘us’ or ‘our/s’ only five times. At one point when discussing the murder, she asks, ‘What cannot you and I performe upon / Th' unguarded Duncan?’ (emphasis mine). Her language separates herself from her husband even at the same time she is pushing him to commit a murder they planned together.

In none of her exchanges, most importantly those with her husband, does Lady Macbeth finish another person’s rhyme, and she only has five internal rhymes (two of which were touched upon above). Two of these are to her husband, but have the appearance of the theatrical convention of buttoning or highlighting an important thought:

‘Which shall to all our Nights, and Dayes to come,
Give solely soveraigne sway, and Masterdome.’

‘Onely looke up cleare:
To alter fauor, ever is to feare:
Leave all the rest to me.’

Both of these come at the time when she is convincing her husband that they should kill the king.

Lady Macbeth does have a number of short lines, the majority of which either begin or end her exchanges with other characters, or are single lines. This either means that she has action or pauses at the beginning of her lines, or she is completing someone else’s line, illustrating a dependence on other characters – dependence because the lack of rhyming shows no special affinity with those Lady Macbeth shares lines. One would expect more intimacy in the language expressing a happy marriage. The evidence of contented matrimony must reside in the interpretations of performers, because there is little evidence of it in the text.

Everyone familiar with The Tragedie of Macbeth remembers Lady Macbeth’s iconic sleep walking scene. The image of her in her nightgown with a candle, trying to rub bloodstains from her hands is indelibly stamped on the mind. The way that the scene is written makes it a theatrical coup (often in our unrehearsed cue script workshops The New Renaissance Theatre Company uses it to illustrate how well the rules of the technique work to block a scene in the moment and how a scene that many people think they know can be drastically different and new).

Sometimes it is referred to as her mad scene, only the word ‘mad’ is never used to describe her, although she does warn her husband ‘These deeds must not be thought / After these wayes: so, it will make us mad.’ Neither the Doctor nor the Gentle Woman who witness her sleep walking ever says that she is mad. The Doctor comments that walking in her sleep is a ‘great perturbation in Nature.’ Nobody else sleep walks in Shakespeare’s plays. Claudius and Gertrude, as guilty as they are never walk in their sleep. Lear and Ophelia both go mad, but never sleep walk. This particular characteristic seems to be reserved for special circumstances (possibly those marked by the supernatural?).

It is perhaps these special circumstances that foster interest in the character of Lady Macbeth. Many portrayals of her character show the audience a strong and demanding woman, the power behind the throne, the driving force or engine and something has always felt wrong about it. In some places she does push him, but given the manner of her introduction, she does not seem like the kind of character that would be so assertive towards a husband who is known for his battlefield brutality. In A Midsommer Nights Dreame, Theseus introduces us to his warrior wife, Hippolyta, with the phrase: ‘I won thy love doing thee injury.’ They met in conflict. There is no mention of such a relationship between the Macbeths, which would be an important dynamic for the playwright to set for the audience given the nature of the play.

Questions of supernatural influence on Macbeth must also be asked of his wife. Remember, the first thing that she does is ask for metaphysical help to aid her in making her husboand do what is necessary to become King, even to do it herself. We are never told (explicitly) if she gets that help. Perhaps she does, and that is why once murder is committed, we see a shift in her character as she comes back to her more normal state of being. But Shakespeare never lets us see what the Macbeths were like. It is the equivalent of listening to one half of a phone conversation. We have no definitive way to judge these characters, and therein lies the attractiveness of this play. If the Macbeths were like this, then they were always capable of their crimes. If the Macbeths were like that, then the witches and darkness have power in the play. Perhaps this couple was always on this track, but we can never know, and so these questions make this play and these characters dynamic and compelling.

-Andy Kirtland, Managing Director, The New Renaissance Theatre Company

Lady Macbeth
Gabriel Cornelius von Max (1885)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Learning to Love Bill

When I was first exposed to Shakespeare, I was not a fan. To me it felt too far beyond me to grasp or fully appreciate and I was instantly bored. Perhaps I was young and dumb but something about reading through “Midsummer” in high school left me confused and uninterested. As someone who had aspirations to be an actor, this was unsettling. Weren't all decent actors supposed to inherently understand and love the Bard?

It wasn't until I had the chance to get up on my feet and perform it out loud that I started to love it. Suddenly the whole thing began to make sense to me and it was fun. Something about seeing real, live people embodying these words and working through the story made something click. Shakespeare became a vastly important tool for me to understand both the mechanics of a play and also what my role as an actor was at any time on stage. I started to see how the author had crafted this work to have clues for performers within the text explaining how to play a character, how to be positioned onstage, and even how to set a pace and mood.

In college I had many opportunities to stretch my muscles and explore my relationship with these works. One defining moment was participating in a workshop held by the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project on Cue Script Technique. We learned about rules within the technique to establish character, motivation, stage movement, among other things. This was a big eye opener to me as to what was actually possible within the performance of Shakespearean texts. I feel personally that artists can be most creative when they have a set of parameters that they have to work within. It forces us to think outside the box and work harder, which I feel always yields the best results.

After school, I moved to Pittsburgh and began to dip my toes into the theatre scene. Before long I was fortunate to be cast in a production of Much Ado About Nothing and the following year in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet. These summer productions are very grueling and difficult but always extremely rewarding both for us and our audiences. Working with the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique is very demanding, I like to think about it as exercising for the acting muscle. It requires constant focus, quick thinking and a ton of energy. They also give performers more freedom with the loose style and ability to play different roles for each show. However the hard work pays off time and time again when each audience receives an entirely unique and direct experience allowing them to feel included. I feel the real power behind this technique is that it shakes up people's expectations of Shakespeare and allows them to hear these historical works with fresh ears.

When the performers are so in the moment it allows the audience to be more present and work with the actors to find the meaning of what is going on. The audience becomes another character, participating and living the story, and in doing so allows them to feel more connected, both to the story and the entire production, which should be the goal regardless. Theatre is about community and sometimes in our present culture, that idea can be lost amongst the glitz and glamour.

I am more than excited to be starting a new chapter with this great company. While working with this company, I have learned so much and made many good friends. I now want to use what I have learned to grow in my personal discovery of what my role in this business is and also to see what I can do going forward. I'm also very eager to inspire the love of Shakespeare and theatre in others just as I was inspired.

-Nick Benninger, Resident Ensemble Member of The New Renaissance Theatre Company


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Mac and Me

In its 4th summer tour, The New Renaissance Theatre Company’s Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project will offer me the opportunity to direct my favorite play by William Shakespeare and one with which I have a great affinity: The Tragedie of Macbeth.

The first experience that I had with Shakespeare was in 5th grade when my teacher introduced us to the witches’ scene: ‘Double, double, toil and trouble.’ It was Halloween and my teacher thought is was appropriate. For some reason the very politically incorrect lines ‘nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips’ always struck me. These are the first lines of Shakespeare that I ever memorized.

In high school, my first Shakespearean role of was Banquo. We wore the girls’ field hockey uniforms in lieu of kilts. I’m pretty sure that Macbeth and Macduff were cast because they had red hair. Should I never have a career in the theatre, I know why.

Professionally, I have performed in 2 productions of the play. During the first one, we had consistent difficulties with the lighting system and during one show it failed completely and we performed with the house lights on (in my opinion, the best show of the run). It was during the second production when I was first recognized in the subway in New York City. That’s something one does not forget.

Not only do I think this script offers some of the best drama, language, imagery and moments in theatre, but I am excited at applying the unrehearsed cue script technique to this play. Whenever we use scenes from Macbeth in workshops the results are examples of just how well the technique works in creating stage pictures and characters. There are some wonderful demonstrations which prove that just by following the rules of the technique actors can deliver exciting and unique interpretations of well known scenes that are familiar to spectators with even a passing knowledge of the works of Shakespeare. I think our audience will receive some pleasant surprises.

Every time I read the script I am struck by something new: a new image, a new thought about costumes, lighting or staging; a new take on a moment or character. My ego tells me that sometime in the future I will have a career defining production of this play. Peter Brook had his ‘Dream,’ I will have my Macbeth.

This will also be the first play that USP will bring to the stage that has major parts written by a writer other than Shakespeare. Large swathes of the script are attributed to Thomas Middleton. Gary Taylor, the distinguished scholar and professor at Florida State University has even included Macbeth in his anthology, Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. (The impact, if any, that this may have on the effectiveness of the technique will be discussed in another blog post.)

USP’s production will offer everyone involved, myself included, an entertaining and fresh look at this play (I obviously have some baggage connected to Macbeth). Letting go and letting the technique do the work will be a refreshing way to experience a play with which I am very familiar. Most of all, I am looking forward to strengthening my relationship with this play I’ve known for almost 30 years.

- Andy Kirtland, Co-Founding Managing Director of The New Renaissance Theatre Company (which also produces The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Father Figures in Romeo and Juliet, Part 3: Frier (or Father?) Lawrence

Here is the third installment of my look at fathers in The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, and this time we will visit Frier [sic] Lawrence, the ghostly father. He is a surrogate for the seldom-seen Lord Montague as well as the spiritual father of both feuding families. In many ways, he has a greater effect upon the children of the play more than the heads of the families.

Upon his first entrance Frier Lawrence immediately holds forth about the properties of herbs and teaching the audience from his vast experience with nature.

O mickle is the powerfull grace that lies
In Plants, Hearbs, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile, that on earth doth live,
But to the earth some speciall good doth give.
Nor ought so good, but strain'd from that faire use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
Vertue it selfe turnes vice being misapplied,
And vice sometime by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this weake flower,
Poyson hath residence, and medicine power:
For this being smelt, with that part cheares each part,
Being tasted stayes all sences with the heart.

This lesson about Mother Nature is a metaphor about Human Nature and the responsibility of each person to use their virtues to enrich the world, or else these virtues will turn to vice and destroy each one of us. Montague, Capulet nor the Prince make such an attempt of fatherly caution on their children, subjects or the audience. Capulet barks orders to his family and the Prince makes demands. Frier Lawrence also seems to have offered Romeo advice on women, and bemoans the fact that he was ignored.

Holy S. Francis, what a change is heere?
Is Rosaline that thou didst Love so deare
So soone forsaken? young mens Love then lies
Not truely in their hearts, but in their eyes.
Jesu Maria, what a deale of brine
Hath washt thy sallow cheekes for Rosaline?
How much salt water throwne away in wast,
To season Love that of it doth not tast.
The Sun not yet thy sighes, from heaven cleares,
Thy old grones yet ringing in my auncient eares:
Lo here upon thy cheeke the staine doth sit,
Of an old teare that is not washt off yet.
If ere thou wast thy selfe, and these woes thine,
Thou and these woes, were all for Rosaline.
And art thou chang'd? pronounce this sentence then,
Women may fall, when there's no strength in men.

…………………………………………………………………for loving Rosaline.
For doting, not for loving pupill mine.

…………………………………………………………………me bury Love.
Not in a grave,
To lay one in, another out to have.

…………………………………………………………………did not so.
O she knew well,
Thy Love did read by rote, that could not spell:

He assumes the role of tutor to the young Montague, showing him how to be a good man, a good lover. These are conversations that should take place between father and son, but Montague, through his lack of attention (created through a lack of stage time) never gets to have these moments of instruction with Romeo. Perhaps this is an illustration of a situation in which the son cannot talk to his father about these things, through embarrassment or lack of communication, but this would just be conjecture.

Lawrence’s lessons seem to have worked because the next time he returns to the stage, he is ready to marry Romeo and his new love. Again, the first thing that he offers is a word of caution.

These violent delights have violent endes,
And in their triumph: die like fire and powder;
Which as they kisse consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his owne deliciousnesse,
And in the taste confoundes the appetite.
Therefore Love moderately, long Love doth so,
Too swift arrives as tardie as too slow.
Here comes the Lady. Oh so light a foot
Will nere weare out the everlasting flint,
A Lover may bestride the Gossamours,
That ydles in the wanton Summer ayre,
And yet not fall, so light is vanitie.

At this moment, he becomes a father to both Romeo and Juliet in a more concrete way. Through this marriage, he seeks to mend the feud between the Capulets and Montagues, a feat the heads of those families have been unwilling or unable to do. This is the most civic-minded action of the play. The secret wedding, overseen by Lawrence, is the only attempt to quell the strife that has been tearing Verona apart. Capulet says that he does not believe it should not be a difficult task, but aside from stopping Tybalt brawling with Romeo at the family festival, neither Capulet nor Montague do anything concrete to achieve this objective. Capulet’s proposed marriage between Juliet and Paris are more to secure his daughter’s position and that of the family – but would it have benefited Verona?

This man of the church could hope for no other gain than the well being of the polis, the community that he served, his flock, his children. This is the role of a Father, and a role that only he assays to fulfill.

When Romeo is in trouble, he runs to Lawrence for protection, not to his family. Here, Frier Lawrence has the chance to expresses tough love in his efforts to reconcile his son’s secret marriage with his public murder.

Art thou a man? thy forme cries out thou art:
Thy teares are womanish, thy wild acts denote
The unreasonable Furie of a beast.
Unseemely woman, in a seeming man,
And ill beseeming beast in seeming both,
Thou hast amaz'd me. By my holy order,
I thought thy disposition better temper'd.
Hast thou slaine Tybalt? wilt thou slay thy selfe?
And slay thy Lady, that in thy life lies,
By doing damned hate upon thy selfe?
Why rayl'st thou on thy birth? the heaven and earth?
Since birth, and heaven and earth, all three do meete
In thee at once, which thou at once would'st loose.
Fie, fie, thou sham'st thy shape, thy love, thy wit,
Which like a Usurer abound'st in all:
And usest none in that true use indeed,
Which should bedecke thy shape, thy love, thy wit:
Thy Noble shape, is but a forme of waxe,
Digressing from the Valour of a man,
Thy deare Love sworne but hollow perjurie,
Killing that Love which thou hast vow'd to cherish.
What, rowse thee man, thy Juliet is alive,
For whose deare sake thou wast but lately dead.
There art thou happy. Tybalt would kill thee,
But thou slew'st Tybalt, there art thou happie.
The law that threatned death became thy Friend.
And turn'd it to exile, there art thou happy.
A packe or blessing light upon thy backe,
Happinesse Courts thee in her best array,
But like a mishaped and sullen wench,
Thou puttest up thy Fortune and thy Love:
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.

Again, it is Lawrence who thinks clear enough to come up with a solution that, in his estimation, will keep Romeo safe, rejoin Romeo with his wife and reconcile the feuding families. His plans are sweeping and forward thinking, unlike those of Capulet.

Still as these plans unravel, he plots for reconciliation. Upon finding Romeo dead, his next idea is to keep Juliet safe but ushering her into a convent. Capulet, on the contrary, threatens his daughter as opposed to securing her. Once this course of action is thwarted by Juliet’s suicide, Frier Lawrence, sacrifices himself and tells all:

I am the greatest, able to doe least,
Yet most suspected as the time and place
Doth make against me of this direfull murther:
And heere I stand both to impeach and purge
My selfe condemned, and my selfe excus'd.

Of all the men in The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, Frier Lawrence exhibits the most characteristics of a parent, of a father figure. His concern is for those in his care, not for himself, and he treats them as such. At no point does he look exclusively for his own safety, but his attempts are to enrich others. He teaches. He offers succor. Maybe Shakespeare is trying to make a comment that the church is the real father of a community. In any event, the one character in the play who has dedicated his life to not having his own children is the only character in the play that makes a concerted effort to look out for them.
-          Andy Kirtland, Co-Founding Managing Director of The New Renaissance Theatre Company (which also produces The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project)