Directing Much Ado

The cut is done, concept chosen, and we just had our first full production meeting.  Very happy to be directing Much Ado About Nothing for Rice University this fall!

Kenneth B and that nonpareil of actresses, Emma Thompson
Kenneth B and that nonpareil of actresses, Emma Thompson

Although I’ve seen productions at various theatre companies and enjoyed several film versions (Emma Thompson, anyone?), this is a Shakespeare play I have never before been in — or involved with — directly.  How exciting!  What articulate woman doesn’t feel some affinity for the witty, passionate, vulnerable yet joyful Beatrice?  Who doesn’t delight in the verbal sparring and chemistry of this more mature, more socially savvy Kate and Petruchio?  Throw in some misdirection, a couple of bumbling cops, and a literal bastard as unapologetic as Aaron the Moor, and you’ve got a very strong domestic comedy.

But where is the magic?  As the daughter of a director whose office drawers are filled with different kinds of glitter, I’m drawn to plays and stories that transcend the ordinary.  I want to be engaged by something I don’t experience every day, surprised and moved when I recognize the universal human truth, then inspired by the exploration of — and maybe solution to – the central question.  Much of that will (hopefully) be found through collaboration with the actors but so far the magic of this play seems to lie in the power of self-determination; people trying to sculpt, reject, or discover who they are.  That focus lead my design team and me to set this production in 1840’s Texas.  A time just after the Mexican American war (giving our boys a conflict to return from), a place with relaxed enough gender rules (enabling Beatrice to be desirably fun instead of embarrassingly shrewish, as well as some fun casting options for gender-flipping), and so many colorful groups of different people looking to seize and build a new life/identity.

Beatrice will be in skirts but probably not Conrade...
Beatrice will be in skirts but probably not Conrade…

Sound engaging?  It does to me!  For a taste, you can check out some of my and my team’s inspirational images or glance over my 1840’s Texas character breakdown below.  Would love to hear your thoughts or stories of other productions!

MEN: 10
Leonato — An open-minded patriarch whose fruitful ventures in the West have made his family comfortable and happy
Don Pedro — Of aristocratic Spanish descent but loves his new country and the frontier army he leads
Don John — Haughty in his loyalty to Spanish heritage, he has nevertheless become an expert at exploiting the lax laws of this new society
Benedick — A rakish man of the land who enjoys the fraternity, if not always the structure, of the cavalry
Claudio — A young cavalry officer with hot blood and aspirations to Eastern refinementCalifornia Rancher
Borachio — Unlike his employer, Borachio made sure he wound up on the right side of the war . . . but his timing will never endear him to the officers, a slipperiness of character often overlooked by the ladies.
Balthasar – Leonato’s faithful ranch hand with a surprising gift for culture and eye for beauty (needs to play an instrument)
Dogberry — Heard far too many Western legends and now fancies himself the deadliest and most seasoned cowboy ever to tame the wrong-doings of the wildest outpost
Friar Francis/Seacoal — A missionary of infinite patience / A silver prospector who lost the trail and found the bottle
Verges/Messenger — An adoring and loyal citizen intent on honoring the title of “Deputy” with both his intelligent thoughts / a young Ensign in Don Pedro’s army
WOMEN: 6
Antonia — A woman strong-willed enough to pack up and head West with her brother, she is infatuated with the Spanish Texas society she missed by several years.
Beatrice — Blessed to now be in the perfect part of the world for her to blossom, she is as delightful as she is savvy . . . in spite of her hardships back East
Hero — Raised very conventionally in the East but thrilled with the adventure of her new life
Ursula — Bookish and efficient, used to taking on the settlement’s responsibilities whenever reading and writing are required
Margaret — Local girl who has been happy to capitalize on the male to female ratio in this part of the world
Conrade — Dangerous and useful, knows how to live off the land and those who inhabit it
Frontier Wash Day by Jerome Thompson
Frontier Wash Day by Jerome Thompson
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The Speckled Band — Last week!

Photo by Pin Lim at Forest Photography
Photo by Pin Lim at Forest Photography

My run as Helen Stoner, the damsel in distress, is ending this weekend.  This Gothic, Sherlock Holmes adventure of The Speckled Band has been a dark ride and I have enjoyed working with the Classical Theater Company (Houston, TX) a lot.

Whenever a show is about to end I feel myself doing a quick, emotional analysis.  Am I the appropriate level of sad that the show is ending?  What exactly will I miss?  Did I enjoy the rehearsals?  The production team?  The cast?  The run?  No matter how fulfilling the production is, there is almost always that anticipation of having some evenings off — which is ridiculous, because I go crazy when I’m not working and immediately compile an obsessive list of ten million things to do.

During this particular show, I have definitely enjoyed sharing the stage with my castmates, though it was an new experience for me to be the only woman in a cast of more than two or three people.  Thanks to some inspired gender-swapping in some of the Shakespeare productions I’ve done, there has always been at least one other woman.  Even if I didn’t exchange lines with her (TSC had a female Ariel when I played Miranda), she was still a palpable energy onstage.

James Belcher as Dr. Roylott
James Belcher as creeper Dr. Roylott

In The Speckled Band, Helen spends the  entire  play either grieving for her dead  twin sister or  fearing her own immediate  demise.  She is emotionally isolated,  physically abused, and denied connection  at many points throughout.  These  circumstances make me jump back to  Ophelia, whose world was similarly bleak  in my production at HSF but who still had  Gertrude.  The presence of a woman to  idolize and whose  sympathy could be  hoped for/appealed to — even  if her  rejection was the norm — felt very different.  Ophelia also has the mess of a relationship with Hamlet to lean on (until that prop gets shattered) while Helen becomes engaged to a man we never see and rarely talk about.  Dr. Watson, the warmest character Helen encounters, is still a fairly distant outsider to the every day struggles at Stoke Moran.  When Watson first offers friendship to Helen in our play, I believe Helen’s dependency on/loyalty to her forceful step-father, Roylott, is a much stronger compulsion.

I still feel this lack of love interest and lack of female companionship during the course of the play, which may be the very things that make Helen ultimately more capable than Ophelia.  It’s been pretty cool to discover that my own instincts — or habits — are to seek a fellow woman or the romantic partner in my character’s moments of distress.  Without these crutches, however, Helen still resists the accusations of madness and continues to scratch her way towards justice for her sister and a secure life for herself.

So yes, I’ll miss playing her.  For tickets to our last three performances, visit www.classicaltheatre.org/tickets!  Tonight and Saturday at 8:00, Sunday at 2:30.

Helen Waits... (production photos by Pin Lim at Forest Photography)
Helen Waits… (production photos by Pin Lim at Forest Photography)

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

It's a Wonderful Life 2014
Connor Hammond, Elizabeth Price, James Taylor Odom, Amelia Fischer, Alex Van, Matt Magill

Driving away from my contract with the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, I had time (when taking a break from my audio book and striking out trying to phone-a-friend) to enjoy the experience of the last few weeks.  My third time performing in this show, I so enjoyed playing Mary Bailey again this year but with a new cast and in my hometown!  Sharing the stage with my brother was incredible, and being a part of rediscovering this lovely story in the radio format was a blast.  We played to sold out houses in Brenau University’s Downtown Center (a theatre I grew up playing various Cratchit children in) and partnered with the local radio station, WDUN, to broadcast the show live on opening night and Christmas night.  Favorite on-stage sound effect this year: a metal washboard and scrub brush to produce the engine of a train!