…why do you start and seem to fear/ Things that sound so fair?–MACBETH, I iii

Well, we closed Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Macbeth yesterday with a two-show day that began with a 10:00 am matinée, obviously designed to prevent as much of the sentimental melancholy of closing a show as possible – despite which I’m going to indulge in one more bit of silliness before I get back around to the business of learning Stoppard’s Guildenstern and making sensible Folio acting editions of the 2017 Kentucky Shakespeare summer shows. No big whoop.

Said silliness is this Macbeth mix, which has little or nothing to do with our production in particular, but exists generally for my own entertainment. As always, whether title, lyric, or groove inspired a given song’s inclusion is left to my whim.

Playlist:

“Chicken Strut” – The Meters   (“And their dam. And your servants. Jeez. I have said.”)

“Season of the Witch – Donovan   (Self-explanatory)

“Our Day Will Come” – Blossom Dearie   (Could you resist making your fate happen if the sweet voice of Blossom beckoned?)

“The First Cut Is the Deepest” – P.P. Arnold   (The rest of the gashed stabs are easy after you break the seal)

“Promise Her Anything” – Tom Jones   (Again, self-explanatory)

“It Was a Very Good Year” – Della Reese   (Duncan’s dying thoughts)

“What’s Mine is Mine” – The Ray-O-Vacs   (Generally true of these folks, I think)

“Too Much on My Mind” – The Kinks   (Calm down, Mac. Take a nap…)

“Fool’s Paradise” – Rufus featuring Chaka Khan   (…and if you can’t nap, just wonder.)

“What Does a Bad Person Look Like?” – Joe Beard   (For the Children of the Student Matinées)

“Bad Blood” – Neil Sedaka   (The only good thing about bad blood is lettin’ it sliiiide.)

“Hey Porter” – Johnny Cash   (Because.)

“I Wish It Would Rain” – The Cougars   (“Where we lay, our chimneys were blown down…”)

“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder   (Actors. Whaddaya gonna do with ‘em?)

“L’Anarchie Dans L’U.K.” – Pastel Vespa   (Ireland, Scotland & Ireland are cooperating in this play. So, you know: fiction.)

“Cut Your Coat According to Your Size” – Apolos Empire Rhythm Orchestra   (Sage advice as only Afro-Lypso Pidgin Highlife can convey it.)

“Repressed Hostility Blues” – Katie Lee   (“By a queer turn of psych,/ I’m bound to be pleasant to those I dislike.”)

“River Deep, Mountain High” – The 2 of Clubs   (Despite it all, they do love each other.)

“Sleep and Dream” – The Keystoners   (At this point I’m just rubbing it in.)

“Are You Sleeping?” – Davy Jones   (Come ON.)

“Tomorrow” – Jay and the Americans   (Creeps.)

“Trust Your Child, Pt. 1” – Patrizia & Jimmy   (In the end, it’s a play about the next generation.)

“One Tin Soldier (Theme from Billy Jack)” – Winthrop Elementary School, Massachusetts Spring Concert   (As the director kept saying was the message of the play: “Use your words, boys.”)

“Our Day Will Come” – Sharon Tandy   (Reprise.)

“Sleepwalk” – Santo & Johnny   (Stop it. Seriously.)

…trippingly on the tongue… – HAMLET, III ii

As Kentucky Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Actors Theatre’s Macbeth continue and as rehearsals begin (with a merciful trickle, schedule-wise) for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, I have been thinking lately about pace and airplanes.*

For the last several summers, and for a few spotty ones before that, I’ve been part of a company that performs outdoors. (Which I’m glad we’re getting to do in this final fifteen year span of Liveable Summers before we have to hide in caves for six months of the year.) That meant something different in 1602 than it does now. Since that time, we’ve figured out airplanes, helicopters, emergency vehicle sirens, and motorcycles – or, rather, not the cycles themselves but the particular biker subset who don’t think they’re riding unless they’ve got minimum 110 db happening. Bless their hearts, in the full Southern sense of that phrase.

Fortunately, we’ve also figured out body mics, which take care of the whole overpowering-siren factor of outdoor performance, though I’m one of those who sees “necessary evil” as a two-word phrase. C’est la guerre. Not my department.

But the body mics in no way affect (my war against the non-dental use of “impact” as a verb will continue until they pry “affect” from my cold, dead hands) the holding pattern or runway option or whatever that Louisville International Airport seems to choose starting around 11:00 pm. That pattern passes right above our stage. Sometimes it seems like right above our stage. Like in the actors-getting-sucked-into-jet-engines-like-so-many-Canadian-geese sense of “right above our stage”. A few strays inevitably come by earlier in the evening as well. Planes, not geese. Also sometimes it rains.

The airplane convention the company has established is that whosoever hath the ball calls the play. So if serious doings are afoot, then everyone holds still, extending the silence they’ve created (if you understand “silence” to mean “deafening plane sound); if foolishness, then there’s more leeway. The audiences love these moments, I think precisely because they can’t be planned. Sometimes they require a little improv, like when a WWI-era Two Gentlemen of Verona servant yelled “The Kaiser!” and ducked. Sometimes what we do with the silence is enough: I particularly remember an invasion of “Pyramus & Thisbe” in which five mechanicals cowered in fear and I, as Bottom, just glared at the son-of-a-bitch pilot ruining my monologue, and also the loudest, longest train whistle I’ve ever heard popping in right after Caliban said “The isle is full of noises” to the audience’s (and cast’s) delight. He cursed that train backstage the next night when it came by late, during the next scene. “They don’t even need a laugh.”

Anyway, what the impending and inevitable strafe does affect is our pace. The show needs to be done by 10:45 at the latest or we’re going to be stopping every third word, at which point it is no longer entertaining to anyone. Which means that when I watched the Titus rehearsal the other night – which is not outdoors, though it’s almost ninety degrees here today, so it might as well be – the thing really moved for the most part even without the Tyranny of Boeing poking it in the backside with spears. And I’m pretty sure that’s because the majority of the cast, regardless of their other knowledge and experience and capabilities of self-editing, has performed under threat of airplane.

I’ll add to that the observation that sloooow Shakespeare is usually enslowenated for two reasons: 1) the belief that it will help the audience understand and 2) general hamminess. History tells us nothing can be done about 2) but I’ve listened to audiences tune out when it’s too slow and I’ve seen them lean forward when it’s just the right pace plus a little extra. They do just fine. They get rapidly accustomed to characters who talk a lot, think to themselves by talking, and even pause by talking.

This whole airplane thing, coupled with the encroaching darkness and people having to walk a little ways to their cars, also means the plays get trimmed. Which means my other personal goal, after I get people to stop verbing “impact”, is as actor and company text coach to get all our tongues tripping at the proper rate so season by season we have to trim less and less. The Kentucky Shakespeare audience is surprisingly savvy, and do not deserve to be bored for a second.

So when you hear me talking about Shakespeare Fast ™, know that I mean it in all the senses: tied tight, kept hungry…and trippingly on the tongue.

 

 

*I’m also putting together a Shakespeare performance workshop, so this sort of thing has been on my mind of late.  Cheap plug here.

Remuneration!–LOVE’S LABOURS LOST, IIIi

I probably should have brought this up before, but here’s the deal with me and Shakespeare of late. The reason I’m writing all this nonsense.

He’s putting money in my purse.

It’s happened before, but never to this extent. Since about February of 2014, I have, depending on how you count it, been a part of either twelve (12) or fifteen (15) Shakespeare productions. Which, I am led to understand, is not normal. This immersion has been full-bodied and has left my brain simultaneously exhilarated and numbed, or if not simultaneously then toggling rapidly from one to the other. This blog is among other things an attempt to get all this down before I forget it, as the brain space is at a premium these days what with all the verse, etc.

For my own sanity and your clarity, let’s lay them out in briefest possible C.V. here:

Hamlet – An abbreviated (a redundancy when talking of Hamlet, I guess) eight-actor touring version in the spring of 2014 in which I played Polonius, the First Gravedgger, and Osric. I continued as Polonius in the full-cast version that followed as part of Kentucky Shakespeare’s summer mainstage season.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I finally got around to playing Bottom in my fourth time doing this play (Demetrius in my 20’s, Theseus/Oberon/Wall and Flute/Thisbe in my 30’s). A delight, even with an excessively large, musty, thirty-five-year-old ass head on. This would be the one about which I’d write my Anthony-Sheresque memoir (Bottom’s Up!, obviously). This also marked the stage debut of Oscar, my splendid toupee (named for Oscar Jaffe of Twentieth Century), on which may the iron door never be closed.

Henry V – Fluellen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rounding out my 2014 Summer of Yammerers.

As You Like It – a remount of a six-actor cutting I did in 2009 of this one, with commedia masks, an Old West setting, and the opportunity to play Jaques and Touchstone simultaneously thanks to dowel rod lorgnettes and a lack of shame.

Macbeth – another abbreviated touring version leading up to a mainstage remount. I want to count this one as two, though, seeing as I played Duncan/a Murderer/Doctor/Seyton/Probably someone else on tour and the Porter/Lennox on the mainstage, so I had all of about four lines overlap. Felt like a separate production to me, at any rate.

The Tempest – Stefano, with a large sweat-absorbing prosthetic belly and probably more rouge wine blossoms than strictly necessary. 2015 was the Summer of Entering From the House, what with Stefano’s shanties, the Porter’s crowd-climbing/-accosting and…

The Taming of the Shrew – …Petruchio’s big wedding entrance. I had the honor of playing opposite my wife for this one. Saving that for a post of its own. Or the book. (Oscar was in this one, too.)

(I should note here that for the previous three productions I was also company dramaturg/text coach because I suggested that one would be helpful and that it should be me. I seem to have inadvertently pulled some sort of Jedi Mind Trick on the Artistic Director, because it happened. This continued to be true for the following Kentucky Shakespeare shows.)

Twelfth Night – Malvolio, this time opposite my wife’s Olivia. Another pleasure, and, like Bottom, one I had been waiting to sink my teeth into for a long time. I have a much better Yellowstocking Tale from a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, but again, another post. This was on Twelfth Night itself (and the evenings surrounding), blessedly indoors instead of on the magnificent-in-summer-but-uncomfortable-in-January stage in Louisville’s own Olmstead-designed Central Park.

Two Gentlemen of Verona – Another pairing with my wife, who was Speed to my Launce. Maybe pairing is the wrong word because of the lovely Hope (Crab), who stole most of our laughter, applause, attention, and pride, which is the way of this show and I suspect has always been. I also got to write the setting of “Who is Silvia” for this production. (I played Proteus in college in the 90’s, in the days when all my hair stayed attached to me after the show.)

The Winter’s Tale – Polixenes. What a weird role. What a weird play. I love it dearly. But I defy anyone to deny its weirdness. Unlike anything else. Also a thoroughly justified appearance by Oscar in Act I. And another setting, this time for Sonnet 97 (“How like a winter hath my absence been”) as sung by Mamillius.

Romeo and Juliet – Friar Lawrence. July 2016 being the hottest month in recorded history (until August), it was nice to balance out Launce’s 1919-ish three-piece suit with the updrafty Medieval caftan of Polixenes and the monkish robes of the Friar. Such a pure functionary, which is a great thing to get to play. You’re not going to steal any scenes (or you shouldn’t) because the audience really only deeply cares about two people. So join them, I say. (I was also the dramaturg/text coach for the spring tour of this one, as well as being responsible for the cutting, which was a bit of work and makes me want to count this one twice as a bonus, maybe.)

Titus Andronicus – a Kentucky Shakespeare fall rarity. Previously mentioned in gory detail here. Purely behind the scenes on that one. It opens Thursday.

Macbeth Again – So much Macbeth, this time at Actors Theatre of Louisville until near the end of this month, with a small role that provides plenty of knitting time and time to cobble together this Shakespeare workshop I’m teaching soon.

Purely onstage, that makes twelve (12) productions and in the neighborhood of twenty-two (22) speaking roles large and small over the space of two years, eight months. Somewhere in that time I’ve also finished two separate cuttings of Julius Caesar for next spring/summer, a cutting of Antony and Cleopatra that I think conceptually brilliant but have yet to convince anyone else of (or try terribly hard yet, honestly) and a fair heap of preliminary leg work on another yet-to-be-announced play for 2017. And the trip to Stratford!

I’ve done other things in there (three or four plays from the last hundred years and an understudying gig, probably ninety or so audiobooks recorded, a reasonably major intestinal surgery), but none so connected to each other that they made me want to dedicate an entire blog to them just to clarify my thoughts and tangentially drag other people along for the ride.

So when I seem loserishly footstuck in the Jacobean mires of the rules of performing verse and so on, please remember it’s all I’m allowed to think about. If I didn’t keep a blog, I’d just turn my brain off and play Assassin’s Creed some more and what would that accomplish? (Although a Macbeth or Henriad edition would kick ass. Think on it, Ubisoft. “There’s not a one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d – this one’s name is MacGregor. He’s an Assassin.”)

And when I mention one or another of these productions (and I think I’ve at least mentioned every Shakespeare I’ve ever done – wait, no: another Twelfth Night, an Othello, a Richard III, and a college Much Ado About Nothing) eventually in this furious jumble of bloggery, I’ll be able to find them here.

Thanks for the indulgence.

No, ‘tis impossible he should escape.–HVI3, IIvi

Quick one:

So I came home from tech last night, made toddies for self and spouse (it’s turned off very suddenly rainy and cold here, I got a flat on my bike this afternoon, allergies, four hours of audiobook narration followed by seven hours of tech excluding supper, lemons that were about to go off…all kinds of good reasons for toddies), and peeked at the DVR to see what relaxation it might afford.

The other night was the end of the Turner Classic Movies month-long celebration of slapstick, programmed specifically for me, obviously, and part of their run of films from the latter end of the last century included one I haven’t seen for years but watched seemingly hundreds of times on cable in the mid-80’s (whenever they weren’t showing Beastmaster, as required by law), the Bob & Doug McKenzie epic, Strange Brew. Just the ticket, I thought. Big dumb fun, I thought. Empty the brain, I thought, with nostalgic goofery.

But before Greg Proops had even finished his intro, he said it: “Elsinore Brewery.” And I remembered: Strange Brew is more or less a moron’s (compliment in this context) version of  either Hamlet or Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, from the meta-story that begins the movie – and yes, I would watch a full-length version of Mutants of 2051 A.D – to the gender-swapped Hamlet & Ophelia equivalents (no one drowns, though Bob does beer-pee out an inferno) and the tainted-alcohol-based climax.

Heady stuff for an 80’s comedy about back bacon and a flying alcoholic skunk-dog.

I bring all this up because not only am I happily and gainfully employed by Shakespeare for the next year at least…I am haunted and accosted by him when I try to avoid him. This happens not at all infrequently. Which scans, I noticed after typing it, which awareness was followed by what a dramaturg friend calls a Chekovian Sigh. I’m no Pacino, I thank whatever gods may be for my unhistrionic soul, but just when I thought I was out, if for only a few hours, they pull me back in.

10 out of 12 today and tomorrow. Good knitting awaits.