Thursday, January 30, 2014

Looks Aren't Everything?

A recent question has spurred today's blog post: How did you handle the doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

I directed that show in 2012 using the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique, and that is always the number one question I'm asked.  Because large casts mean larger budgets in order to pay for them, many theatre companies understandably try to figure out clever ways to double up on roles to keep costs down.  Since my partner, Andy Kirtland, was directing The Two Gentlemen of Verona in rep with my Midsummer, we narrowed the casting down to nine actors to use for both shows.  Nine versatile actors.  We also added the extra challenge of giving each actor, at least, two different tracks (one track of characters for one performance and another track of different characters for the next one) each.  Some actors had three tracks.

Here's my answer to the doubling question:
Demetrius/Snout/Mustard Seed

The first four tracks are obvious and each character in the track are similar.  For instance: Theseus and Oberon are both kings, so any actor playing that track would need to be able to carry a sense of regalness throughout.  However, finding actors who can play romantic love interests, obedient fairies, and slapstick comedic mechanicals all in the same show can be difficult.

Since MSND and TGV are comedies, the first aspect we looked for in casting was: Is this person funny?  Obviously, because of the variety of roles we needed each and every actor to be comedic, including the 'lovers.'  As an actress myself, I always try to find a moment in every part I play that has a comic element, and romantic lead characters can tend to be a bit boring if they're constantly being 'romantic' and never find funny moments.  We needed actors who could speak Shakespeare's words well, be funny, be versatile, have great attitudes, and could perform in the Unrehearsed technique.

Doubling the lovers with the mechanicals and the fairies was a risk because it would mean many quick changes as well as being extremely physically demanding.  These particular tracks were the most physical ones with the actors either being incredibly active on stage or backstage changing with no rest.  The Unrehearsed Technique doesn't allow for characters to just stand on stage speaking.  "Suit the action to the word" is one of the cornerstones on which this technique is based.  Even if you're not the one speaking on stage, there's an incredibly good chance you're following stage directions that another character is giving you in his/her text.

After the shows, I had many audience members tell me they had never found the lovers scenes funny before until now, and that they so enjoyed seeing the lovers as the ridiculous fairies and as the fun mechanicals.  That's what is so wonderful about Unrehearsed shows: they take the stuffiness out of the shows.  The lovers ARE funny.  They're insane.  One example: in Act II, Scene II when Hermia and Lysander decide to go to sleep in the woods, Lysander is trying to get into Hermia's pants but Hermia keeps telling him to lie further away from her.  Frustrated, but consenting he finally says:

LysAmen, amen, to that faire prayer, say I, 
And then end life, when I end loyalty:
Heere is my bed, sleepe give thee all his rest. 

Following the 'action to the word' rule, Lysander is far away on his bed for "Heere is my bed".  However, following the "thee/you" rule of being closer to the person for 'thee/thou', Lysander flies to Hermia for "sleepe give thee all his rest."  The back and forth leading up to that line as well as the physical gymnastics required for Lysander to fly from one side of the stage to the other in the incredibly short amount of time to say this one line is hilarious!

We were blessed with an awesome turnout of wonderful actors for our auditions, and as any director knows: casting is so difficult, especially when you're trying to get a blend of different types/characteristics.  I, personally, love to see beautiful actors and actresses not be afraid to be funny.  Being funny doesn't make someone less attractive or less of a leading character.  In fact, I think it makes them more interesting.  You don't have to make weird faces or do toilet humor to be funny.  You just need to find the ridiculousness in life sometimes and not worry about how it makes you look.  Taking yourself too seriously is unhealthy, and frankly boring.  Having a sense of humor lasts forever.  Can we honestly say that about outward appearances?

-Elizabeth Ruelas

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