Sunday, May 6, 2018

Looking Back at 'As you Like it'

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

Happy New Year 2018: All the world’s a stage

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