Thursday, January 22, 2015

Much adoe and Me

As we at USP prepare for our upcoming tour of Much adoe about Nothing, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on why this is such a special play for me.  It wasn’t the first Shakespeare play I read.  That was Romeo and Juliet.  It wasn’t the first Shakespeare play I saw.  That was The Comedy of Errors.  It wasn’t the first Shakespeare play I was in or even the first Unrehearsed production I was in.  Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew, respectively.  However, Much adoe… is a Shakespeare play that I am very passionate about and, therefore, of which I am very protective.
My first brush with this comedy was when I was an undergrad.  It was to be one of the first plays of the upcoming fall/winter season and I desperately wanted to play Beatrice.  All of that wonderful wit and not suffering fools coupled with such charm?  Yes, please.  So, I spent the entire summer before auditions studying the script on my own.  Just me and my Schmidt Lexicons (you Shakespeare-philes know what I’m talking about).  I prepared completely and was ready!  Then a few days before the auditions, I was in a horrific car accident.  Against recommendations, I pulled myself out of bed and showed up at the audition complete with bandages and pain killers.  I was not going to be deterred from doing my audition monologue and let all those months of preparation go to waste.  Forgetting all pain when I was on stage, like all actors do, I did scene after scene that the director requested.  Then I came home and collapsed.  A couple of days later, a fellow actress in the drama department called me.  I was in a bit of a pain killer haze so I don’t remember everything she said until I heard the word “Congratulations.”  “For what?” I said.  “Well…you’re Beatrice.” She said, surprised.  Apparently, the casting sheet had been up for a day or so, but due to my injuries I hadn’t gone to school to check.  I burst into tears over the phone.  Tears of joy, release, and gratitude that all of my hard work had paid off even though I was hobbling around the stage.  A few months later, the pain killers and bandages were gone and I was playing a part I had set my heart on and worked so hard to get.
Years later, I was cast as Beatrice in Much adoe… in an Unrehearsed production with The New England Shakespeare Festival (my fourth year with them).  It was supposed to be just one performance for me this time since I wasn’t sure I would be able to do the entire tour since I had other show obligations in NYC.  But, after the wonderful actor playing Benedick called me after the show and said “Let’s do the tour!” – I checked with my director in NYC who was able to work out the schedule so I could go.  Little did I know that this tour would change my life, forever.  My first day there, I met a very funny and very charming man named Andy Kirtland.  He was a vet actor with The New England Shakespeare Festival, like me, except he had been with them longer and just happened to perform on the tours that I wasn’t on.  After years working for the same company, this was our first meeting.  We instantly fell in love – not just romantically, but with each other’s talent and humor (Andy played Dogberry).  Shortly after the tour, we moved in together and were married a few years after that.  During that time, we have worked together on many, many occasions – either as actors, director/actor, co-teachers, co-producers, etc. and realized how well we work together due to our mutual respect and enjoyment of theatre and each other.  Even fellow artistic directors have commented on our awesome working relationship.  We decided to work together on a full-time basis doing theatre that we love and are passionate about, so in 2012 we founded The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project and have taught, directed and produced some wonderful theatre so far (and will continue to do so).
This year, we are doing our first tour with USP.  As Artistic Director, I chose to do Much adoe about Nothing this time to celebrate this play that I have been passionate about and very close to for years as well as to celebrate the play that brought my husband/partner/best friend and me together.  It’s going to be one hell of a show!

-Elizabeth Ruelas
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, January 9, 2015

USP Is Going to France

At the end of the month, I will represent The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project at La Société Française Shakespeare’s 2015 conference in Lyon, France. The topic of this year’s gathering is “Reading Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In the interest of full disclosure, this is not one of my favorite plays penned by Mr. Shakespeare, and my interest in this opportunity lies in the chance to explain our way of working to a new audience.

This international conversation about Love’s Labour’s Lost, the sister convention of the larger one to be held in Paris on 15 February, will host speakers from France, Norway, the UK and me (the only speaker from the USA in Lyon). A vast array of approaches and perspectives of the play will be covered. The topics range from very esoteric philosophic takes on the comedy to performance-based approaches of exploration. I have the honor of being the final presenter of the day.

My paper, An Unrehearsed Perspective on Love’s Labour’s Lost, focuses on the role of Berowne. By examining parts of the cue script that the Berowne-actor would receive, I demonstrate how Shakespeare wrote stage direction into his texts as well as plot and situational information and suggestions for how his actors may play their role(s). There is a great amount of information to condense into a 20-minute presentation. My exploration is limited to the cues that appear in the actor’s cue script, changes and shifts in the way Berowne speaks (or in the way the text appears in cue script form) and the ways in which they mirror and direct changes in the character. I explain the first two basic rules of performing the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique and demonstrate how they can affect a reading of the script. To find out what those rules are and to make an interesting discovery or two about the role of Berowne, you will have to wait for La Société Française Shakespeare to publish my paper on its official website.

On a personal note, I am looking forward to spending what limited time I have in Lyon, France’s second city. Lyon has hundreds of years of history to explore in a very small amount of time. In regard to history, I will be turning an extended layover in Turkey into one day in Istanbul, a city I have longed to visit. On this trip, I will be in the air for about as much time as I will be free in Lyon and Istanbul, but I will make the most of my time in these amazing cities.

Above all, I plan to take every advantage offered by La Société Française Shakespeare and the connections I make in Lyon. Over the past year, USP has put a great effort into expanding our presence online and enhancing our local visibility in Pittsburgh. With the presentation of this paper we will put our first footprint in European soil.

-Andy Kirtland
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project