Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Good morrow, fool" -- in which I consider some personal and professional revelations.

It seems like I start out most of these blog posts with a moan and a groan about how rarely I post. This time, I'm giving myself permission to just post what I can and when I feel like it. So ... I feel like doing a little writing and a little thinking at the moment. Hi, and thanks for listening.

At the risk of getting a little personal here, I've been dealing with some pretty severe depression and anxiety over the last several years. I sometimes come across old emails that I sent out 10 years ago, 5 years, and it sounds like a completely different person wrote them. When I rack my brain, I'm able to come up with happy memories in the last 10 years and really it's not even racking ... they come without too much trouble. It's more that my overall disposition and outlook seem to have taken a major dive, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about why.

Well, I still don't have a definitive answer to that question, but I've been making positive strides so far this year. I went off some medication I'd been taking. I've been rethinking a lot of my work and school commitments, trying to figure out what in my life has meaning and where the disconnect is between what I'm doing and what actually makes me happy. In my last post, I vented some frustration about the company and tried to wrestle with what originally drove me to want to do this kind of work. And honestly that did me a world of good.

This wrestling match continues to bear fruit so far in 2014, and I hope it will continue to for many years to come. Despite major ups and downs in my emotional state over the past months (and let's face it, years), I am feeling more in control, more purpose-driven, and more excited about the prospect of the work that we're doing. This month we're presenting a Sunday Shakespeare Series at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. We are doing educational tours of The Course of True Love (a collection of scenes that I adapted). And we're on track to produce our largest summer festival yet with five Shakespeare titles as well as Patrick's original children's play, David & Goliath. And what's more ... I'm excited about it!

Honestly, really, and truly excited about it.

I mean, check this out. It's exciting! And I'm excited! Isn't that exciting?!?

ADK Shakes, this strange and wonderful thing that was born on a tiny wooden platform on a hillside almost six years ago, is growing. It's nice to take a moment and stand back to admire the work we've done and the accomplishments we've made in the last six years. Not to brag, not to feel prideful, but to actually acknowledge everything that has gone into creating this company -- and if you're reading this you are very likely one of those things. Whether you've submitted a headshot, come out to audition, shared a post on Facebook, attended a performance, or worked in the company, I want to take a moment to thank you for all you've done.

Sometimes it feels like I work in a private bubble typing up press releases, creating social media posts, updating the website, or editing scripts ... and it is easy to lose sight of the countless helping hands, but the reality is there is no private bubble. I work really hard, but I definitely do not make this company go all by myself. Neither does Patrick. We need your help and support. This year (as I embrace personal revelations and as the company faces the prospect of some massive growth), I'm not going to be afraid or ashamed to ask for it and in fact I'm going to (at least attempt to) even feel empowered by it. Because you know what? It's really the community that we have each and every one of us created here that gives me the drive to keep going and keep creating.

Thanks. No, really. Thank you.
"The fool doth think he is wise,
but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." 
(As You Like It)
So ultimately what I've gotten out of all this contemplation is that the older I get, the more ready I am to embrace the reality of how little I know. Hopefully this signifies a movement from foolishness to wisdom. Or perhaps it merely confirms my foolishness...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In which I face some hard truths...

Sometimes (read "really often") I have trouble keeping up with this blog. It's not just that I'm busy and juggling a bunch of different projects. That's part of it, sure. But I have a confession to make ... most of the time I don't feel inspired to write. I don't feel like I have anything worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. I don't have anything to say that feels worth sharing.

2013 has been a pretty tough year all around -- work, school, the company, personally, you name it. A lot of things have got me down. But I'm starting to feel (at least a little bit) back in control, and I also finally feel like I've gathered my thoughts into a somewhat coherent ball. At least I'm ready to start going through the tangle.

This year I've done a lot of really hard thinking about ADK Shakes and my role here. The work I'm doing. Why I'm doing it. And honestly, if I even want to continue doing it. I feel like I've gotten swept away by it all. So much time and energy goes into these productions, and I haven't felt rewarded by what I'm doing in a good little while. I've felt sucked utterly dry. I need a reset button.

So I'm resetting.

I'm going back to basics. Why did I want to start producing in the first place? Why wasn't I satisfied with being an actor working for someone else? I must have felt that I had something different and worthwhile to contribute. Otherwise I wouldn't have agreed to embark on this adventure we call Shakespeare IN THE RAW. What was it all for?

After some time spent considering all of this, I've begun working on a "Manifesto for Working IN THE RAW." It addresses some of the fundamental questions that we've wrestled with since that May afternoon on the hilltop in the Brandywine Valley when the whole rigmarole began.

Brandywine Creek State Park Amphitheater, Wilmington, DE
where it all began...

  • Why Word Perfect?
  • Why So Minimalist?
  • Why Not Rehearse More?
  • Why Not Block?
And I think the most important question of all:
  • What Kind of Attitude and Energy Does it Take to Work IN THE RAW?

THE RAW is a strange beast, I'll admit. But we choose to do it because we think it creates an energy of its own, a different energy than I've felt created by any other production I've seen or acted in. It's just different. Differences are grand.

Okay, but what do I mean by saying it's "raw"? I see this term bandied about constantly. And it's losing its punch for me. (Just like "accessibility" which is a whole other blog post. Back to "raw"...) What does it actually mean when we say it? Here's what I mean.

When I think about "raw," the first thing that comes to mind is food. Raw sugar, raw diet, raw meat. Raw sugar has been rather gentrified in the Starbucks age. We want something closer to its natural state than refined white sugar. The taste has more flavor, more boldness. The crystals have a larger shape, with more edges. It's less processed, less produced. Frankly I don't know much about a raw diet, except that it allows for no processed foods. The idea (at least as I understand it) is to consume foods in the most natural state possible, not to break down the vitamins and nutrients. On the other end of the food spectrum: raw meat -- bloody, slippery, dangerous. Of course we can't eat raw meat. It needs to be cooked, but beware of overcooking too. You can dry out the meat and kill the taste, make it rubbery, and completely unsatisfying.

This is how I think about our product, our RAW performances: More flavor. More boldness. Rough around the edges. Less processed. Filled with nutrients. But also bloody. Slippery. A little dangerous.

I know not everyone likes their theatre served RAW. And that's ok! It takes all kinds for this world. I want there always to be big budget musicals for people to enjoy. I want there always to be huge venues filled to bursting with people to see concerts, to see films, to see new media shows. I want there to be tiny black boxes playing brand new works. I want there to be cabarets, to be parking lots, to be parks performing children's theater, performing Shakespeare, performing modern classics, performing anything. And everything!

But this ... the RAW ... this is my kind of theatre, and I won't apologize for it.

Stay tuned for the Manifesto itself in future posts as it's still under construction!

Friday, February 15, 2013

5 Tips for the Anxious Actor

Audition season always seems to sneak up on me. It's funny, but I still get jitters. I love meeting new people, sharing the dream of our company, and getting psyched for new possibilities every season. The excitement spills over into nerves, especially the day before and the morning of. This year's no different!

Tomorrow, I'm taking the bus down to NYC to audition a group of 40 actors whittled down from nearly a thousand resume submissions. We'll have another round of about 30 actors at the end of the month in Albany. And I know already it is going to be an incredibly difficult job figuring out the right 7 people to fill the open spots in this summer's company.

Now, I know I'm not the only one with audition jitters. So here's a few tips to ease your mind while you're in the room with us.

  • Don't apologize! You're already in the top 10%. You have an impressive resume. You've got nothing to apologize for. Be proud! Even if you stumble a bit or you're feeling under the weather, I'm looking for how you handle yourself in a tough situation. Starting over is not the end of the world, and handling tough moments gracefully (with no apologies) can still land you a gig. It's happened before.
  • Be polite. This one should really go without saying. We're a small company and a tight-knit bunch. We're not sending casting interns or assistants to these auditions. You've got the Artistic Director in the room, and I don't take kindly to anyone being rude to my people who are signing you in or handing out sides. Even if you're nervous, don't be abrupt! Smiling at someone will probably help you relax a little.
  • Don't choose a "10." I know it's tempting to choose a monologue that showcases your ability to go from 0 to insane in 2.5 seconds or less. It's incredibly difficult to get to an emotional 10, or even a 7 or 8 in the audition room. You don't have the advantage of the structure of the play, the context of the action, and neither do I. We haven't been on a journey yet! What I'm really looking for in a monologue is how you can speak the verse. Are you aware of the rhythm? Are you using the rhythm or fighting it? The sides will be a much better guide for me to see more of your range. So absolutely choose a monologue that shows you off because you do it really well. But don't put yourself at a disadvantage by choosing something where you have to rage or weep or be all sorts of crazy.
  • Look around. A lot of casting directors seem to prefer when actors look at the clock over their head and pretend that's a person, but that drives me crazy. I'm right there! You have a fantastic group of actors all around you! Use us! When we perform Shakespeare IN THE RAW, the audience is right there and they love it when you engage with them. Engage with us in the room, too!
  • Have fun! This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer. Even if you're feeling terribly anxious, take a deep breath. This is an opportunity for you to do today something that you love doing. Today, you are Prospero. You are Trinculo. You are Macbeth. Or Lady Macbeth. Maybe both! Enjoy this moment today, because it is awesome!

I can't wait to be back in the city tomorrow if only for a few hours. You can bet I'll be grabbing a delicious scone at Alice's Tea Cup and trying to contain my excitement at having some amazing actors bring two of my favorite plays to life right before my eyes. My excitement may look a little like this:

The Malvolio Jig
Break a leg!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Macbeth and Tempest Actor Tracks

Scaroon Manor Amphitheater, New Year's Day 2013
What better way to usher in 2013 than with auditions for the summer? It's been awfully cold upstate this winter, which is delicious, but it sure is making me nostalgic for summer!

We at the Adirondack Shakespeare Company are planning our season auditions, which will be held in NYC on Saturday, February 16 and in Albany on Monday, February 25. Our Fourth Annual Summer Festival Season will feature mainstage productions of The Tempest, Macbeth, and an original children's production of David & Goliath. We're making some changes this season due to budget cutbacks, including trimming our company from 14 members to 9. One of these members will serve as the Assistant Stage Manager for all productions. Two of the other members will act in one of the main stage shows and serve as "Conductor" for the other. (I'll describe this position more in a later post, I hope!) The remainder of the company members will act in all three shows.

If you're an actor viewing this post, welcome! Following is a list of our potential tracks for the two mainstage shows, The Tempest and Macbeth. These tracks are set only for each show and not paired up between the two shows yet. That is, I haven't yet decided how the Propsero track in The Tempest might pair up with any track in Macbeth, or if perhaps that track might serve as Conductor. All that will depend on who shows up in the room! All roles are open.

So without further ado, the tracks in The Tempest (listed in descending size order) will be:
Actor 1 - Prospero / Master
Actor 2 - Ariel / Miranda / Boatswain
Actor 3 - Gonzalo / Stephano
Actor 4 - Caliban / Ferdinand / Adrian
Actor 5 - Antonio / Trinculo / Juno
Actor 6 - Sebastian / Iris / Spirit 3.1
Actor 7 - Alonso / Ceres / Spirit 3.1
Actor 8 - Conductor

And in Macbeth:
Actor 1 - Macbeth
Actor 2 - Lady Macbeth / Ross / Seyton / Hecate / 3 Murderer
Actor 3 - Malcolm / 2 Witch / Old Man / Porter / 2 Murderer
Actor 4 - Macduff / 3 Witch / Duncan / 1 Murderer
Actor 5 - Banquo / Siward / Hecate / English Doctor
Actor 6 - Lenox / 1 Witch / Young Siward / Fleance / Boy
Actor 7 - Lady Macduff / Donalbain / Gentlewoman / Hecate / Angus
Actor 8 - Conductor

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Comps Installment 1

It is the start of a new semester. Actually, we are already a few weeks in. I've been devoting the last few weeks to shoring up one of my comps lists on the Early Modern English History Play. So the blog has been a bit quiet of reading responses. I'll be adding a reading response post over the weekend or early next week on some of the Henry VI's, but in the meantime I'd like to share how this list is shaping up.

Shakespeare really corners the market of the English history play. He tops my list by more than ten to one, if we also include those he likely co-authored. I'm excited to be able to order some of these texts on Amazon and others I have access to via EEBO (Early English Books Online).

Shakespeare, William.
1 Henry VI2 Henry VI3 Henry VIRichard IIIRichard II1 Henry IV2 Henry IVHenry VHenry VIIIKing John
And the plays that have been engulfed in the authorship debate lately:
Edward III (New Cambridge Shakespeare)Sir Thomas More (Arden Shakespeare)
And in the firmly, non-Shakespeare camp:
Marlowe, Christoper. Edward II.Ford, John. Perkin Warbeck.Heywood, Thomas. The First and Second Parts of King Edward IV. (EEBO / Revels Plays)
Peele, George. Edward I (c. 1591) (EEBO)
Anonymous. The True Chronicle History of King Leir. (c. 1590)
--. Famous Victories of Henry V.--. Thomas of Woodstock. (Revels Plays)
I'm a little on the fence about including King Leir, but it is billed as a "True Chronicle History" so it seems worth it to have on there at the moment. I can always delete it later on.

I'm really intrigued by adding the following series of poems to my list. Although they don't fit neatly into the category of "history play," it seems clear that they were influential to many of the plays written in this period.
Baldwin, William et al. Mirror for Magistrates. (EEBO)
Since I am also focusing on performance in my dissertation, I have acquired a few of the following already. Some are films, some are filmed stage productions, some I have yet to find but am hoping they are available.
The Hollow Crown. Dir. Richard Eyre and Rupert Goold. BBC, 2012. 
The Wars of the Roses. Perf. Michael Pennington. BBC and English Shakespeare Company, 1989. 
Wars of the Roses. Dir. John Barton and Peter Hall. Perf. David Warner and Ian Holm. Royal Shakespeare Company, 1965.
An Age of Kings. Perf. Robert Hardy, Sean Connery, and Judi Dench. BBC Worldwide, 2009.
Edward II. Dir. Derek Jarman. Perf. Steven Waddington, Kevin Collings, and Andrew Tiernan. Sales Company, 1991. 
Edward II. Dir. Richard Marquand and Tony Robertson. Perf. Ian McKellen and James Laurenson. BBC Worldwide, 2009. 
Richard II. Dir. William Woodman. Perf. David Birney. Bard Productions Ltd., 1982. (Just ordered on eBay!)
I know there is also a 1971 production with Ian McKellen as Richard II, but I have not been able to track that down anywhere. I also believe I found some copies of the NBC Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production (1954) starring Maurice Evans. University of Delaware, UT Austin and UC Berkeley libraries have copies according to I also think I can get a copy of the 1997 production of Richard II starring Fiona Shaw at the NYPL. Included in the BBC Complete Shakespeare Collection should be the 1978 Richard II with Derek Jacobi as Richard. If so, I'll be ordering that on eBay as well.

We're going to need a bigger bookshelf.

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