HVSF from a New Perspective, Part 3

Only a couple weeks left of this wonderful Hudson Valley Shakespeare Season.  As a first timer here at the festival it has been quite an experience and I can’t help but realize that I have spent a full five months (almost half a year!) with this cast, crew, and community.  I think part of what makes this place so special is the amount of time you spend living, playing, and creating with all these people.  It becomes more like a family than anything.  After all the shows are open the apprentices begin taking classes and putting together their own production (This year it is Two Noble Kinsmen and I cannot wait to see it in a few short days!).  We get to participate in In Process.  I was able to do the 10-Minute Play Festival and hope to put together a number for the cabaret with my dearest “sister” Regan (played by Eleanor Handley).  The company never stops working at Hudson Valley–truly a very rare feat.  It is like a school, a lab, and a theatre all rolled into one.  As I take the train back and forth to NYC I catch myself eagerly anticipating coming back to Cold Spring.  I have come to regard Catherine’s in Cold Spring as a second home as well and cannot wait for some of the staff to see The Three Musketeers at the end of this week.  In these last few weeks I hope I can appreciate every sunset over Boscobel, every audience, and every show that I get to preform.  And I know that I will be very sad when it is all over.

- Chiara

Playing The Three Musketeers

Playing Aramis – Kyle Nunn

The mythology of Dumas’ Three Musketeers is so entrenched in our society that playing the role of one of the iconic characters is at once easy and incredibly challenging.  The hard part of creating the character has already been done for me, but there are rather large boots to fill.  The pressure to live up to the legendary role of a musketeer was substantial.  However, on opening night, when pre-show anxiety began to mount, I looked out to the field to see a small child with a musketeer hat and foam sword dueling imaginary enemies.  Instantly, all nerves vanished.  The spirit of fun and playfulness returned along with my memories of dueling the same enemies when I was a child.  Most every young boy has shouted the famous ‘All for One” wishing to be a musketeer, and now I get to live that dream.

Chiara & Kyle

Playing Porthos: Pretentious Paragraphs on Portraying a Paragon – Charlie Murphy

First off, I think it’s worth saying that I got really lucky this season. When I got the call from Terry O’Brien (our artistic director) my first thought (naturally) was that I was thrilled to be returning to this great place, and my second thought was: “wait, I get to play which parts?” One of the most exciting aspects of watching repertory theatre is getting to see actors make large switches from one night to the next (Last year, think Ryan Quinn playing the down-to-earth Friar in Romeo and Juliet and the clownish Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost or Mike Borelli playing the no-nonsense Prince and the very-much-nonsense Don Armado), but it always takes a certain amount of magic/alchemy in casting to make that happen.

But now, I had to figure out what to actually do with these parts! I’ll leave Edgar/Poor Tom for another blog post, most of which will be written in poetic gibberish (“Flibbertigibbet!”). Porthos, I thought, would actually be the much easier of the two parts. Instinctively, I felt like I understood the farcical comedy of Ken Ludwig (our playwright), and the part read very easily off the page for me. I came into the first rehearsal having done much less preparation than I did for Lear — I had read the book, watched all the movies, and I felt pretty cocksure (perhaps ironically so, given the eventual character portrayal) about how good a Porthos I would be.

That first day our director, Chris Edwards, gave us some thoughts on his concept, and I nodded along with everyone else. This is a timeless and swashbuckling tale of love and honor, he says, and these three men are the equivalent of superheroes, with their powers of courage and loyalty diminished over time by the crushing weight of their enemies, but reinvigorated by their new friend the brave, young D’Artagnan. I would have said a lot of those same things, say I, and my confidence is reaffirmed. The first read-through goes swimmingly (“what a great cast we have assembled!”) and rehearsals are underway. We quickly get the show up on its feet, our fights are looking great (“look at all the cool stuff I get to fight with! Rapiers, daggers, capes, oh my!”), and all is well in the world.

Charlie & India

Then we get to that point in rehearsals when the laughs leave the room. This is completely natural in any comedy–we’ve all seen each other make a lot of the same choices, and we’re dulled to them. We’ve heard the script so many times, and all of us our focusing on the technical elements of our own performance, and not on how funny everyone else is being. At this point, the aforementioned Mr. Edwards gives me a perfectly normal and helpful note: “don’t worry about being funny, Charlie, just play the scene”. No problem, think I, I can play this thing truthfully–in fact, watch me, I’ll show you just how truthfully I can play this! …and all of a sudden, my house of cards comes tumbling down.  I reach back for my “funny” version, and he’s gone, too–a hollow shell of stale choices. Now, I’m not just worried about whether or not I am funny enough (something that, in truth, hadn’t been a large concern before), but am I even playing a Musketeer? All the different versions of  Porthos start flitting through my head: Chris’ thoughts, the book, all the different movies, and Mr. Ludwig’s own potential dichotomy in this stage version (Is Porthos a rougish, belching Bacchus or a foppish clotheshorse of a dandy?). We were three weeks in, and was I nowhere?

Normally, when faced with this kind of character dilemma as an actor, you can always find solace in bringing the character back yourself.  You were cast in the role, and the director must have liked something about your performance, so just find where the character lives in you. But here’s where the “iconic” idea comes into play..would I be enough? The challenge, I told myself, would be not in bringing the character down to my size, but trying to bring myself, Charlie, up to the fullness that is the famous character. I’d spend the next few weeks working on this very idea. One especially helpful thought Chris gave me at a crucial moment was that he thought Porthos was not as smart as I was, or at least not driven by his intellect. This allowed me to get out of my head a bit, and release some of my inner clown/improviser, which has made playing around a lot of fun. Could I now justify the vain and dandyish line “I’m a slave to fashion…tyrannized by a pair of pumps” in one scene, and the brutish “Bring me a wench! I want a wench!” in the next? Why not? When you’re one of the baddest guys in town, you get to fight hard, play hard, and looked darned good doing it.

But the biggest thing that continually helps me play this iconic character is getting to see Porthos through the eyes of our amazing audiences…especially the young kids. Hearing young boys and girls talk back to us (“All for one!”, “Go Musketeers!”, or “This cape is not silk!”) is so invigorating, and constantly helps redefine and solidify my storytelling. When I am culling choices, the barometer of “could a kid in this audience want to grow up and be like this someday?” can outweigh even the all-important “does it get a laugh?”…and from night to night, week to week, the play and our characters can change based on the mirror the audience holds up. I do very much hope that you’ll get a chance to come join us in that audience, and be a part of this great story!

FROM FREDERICK TO ATHOS – Daniel Morgan Shelley

Playing Athos has been quite interesting because I’ve never seen any of the Musketeer movies so I really had no idea who he was prior to auditioning.  The audition scene of telling the fleur de lis story to d’Artagnan gave me a wealth of insight into who the character was, and it was all I needed to want to play him.  At this point, I still haven’t seen the movies, but I did read the Dumas’ novel for research and Athos is by far my favorite character.

As I got further and further into the novel, jewels about Athos just dropped into place giving me more and more fuel to use in developing the character for myself.  Many times it is said that Athos should be a general and that he seemed to be of noble origin.  Other fascinating descriptions are that he has a ‘Perfect indifference’, an ‘Economic use of words’, and a ‘Serious and severe countenance.’

It’s been a challenge finding the balance between the idea of “All For One And One For All” and Athos’ disposition of being alone.  He has his duty of serving the King and the love for his friends but the rest of his life is very isolated.

In rehearsals, Chris and I discussed a bit about Athos having a death wish of sorts.  Not giving over to it, but definitely not fearing it.  In the novel, Athos has amazing lines like, “…has shed blood for you majesty 10 times and is yet ready to shed it again.”, “Let us go and be killed where we are told to go.  Is this life worth so many questions?”, and my favorite “Do you for an instant suppose that I am at all anxious to live?”.  And Chris gave me a great note to play with in our production that when I say to d’Artagnan, “I never hope to kill anyone, I’m only preventing them from killing me.” that maybe that isn’t the complete truth.  Perhaps Athos is hoping that one day, he will meet a swordsman who is more skilled than he is and can relieve him of his misery….however, that day has not yet come.

DMS

And all of this about Athos comes from one thing, a broken heart and a rash decision; one moment which then defined who he’d be for the rest of his life.  And yet, on the other side of this melancholy coin is his love for Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan, who ultimately is the son he never had.  After the fight and scene in the tavern I have this moment of realizing that if my life had gone another way, d’Artagnan undoubtedly would be my son; and that relationship stays very vibrant with me through the rest of the play.  And it actually reminds me of playing Lord Montague last year in Romeo & Juliet and that helpless feeling of wanting to protect your child from the horrors of the world and in no way being able to do so.

So I take all of these factors with me every night as I zip up my doublet bearing our Musketeers symbol, put on my feathered hat and secure my sword into the baldric, and hope that I can give life to this complex character.  It’s never easy, but always fun.

….all for one….

HVSF from a New Perpective, Part 2

All of the shows have come into their own.  With opening nights behind us, we actors have the pleasure of settling into a long run where we can continue to discover the characters and stories we have created.  I’d love to share some thoughts I wrote down a couple weeks ago, when we were still in the throws of technical rehearsals.  Although the final product that we present to an audience is what will be remembered, it is the aching, sometimes difficult, and wonderful work of pulling all the disparate parts together, which makes the theatre so special…

On June 9th, I jotted these thoughts down:
“Last night was the benefit for HVSF.  It was a night straight out of The Great Gatsby–with dancing, stunning views that only Boscabel can provide, and some of the most supportive and energetic donors I have ever encountered. The night before that we performed King Learin the pouring rain (a challenge and a gift). Who wouldn’t want to hear Lear proclaim, “Blow winds” as actual rain pours down over his head?  And today we are facing a long day of technical rehearsals; perfecting the truly fantastical fights in The Three Musketeers.  As you can imagine it has been and will continue to be a couple of very intense weeks.I would describe this part of the actors process as, well, bumpy. Only a week ago we were rehearsing in a New York studio with a few rehearsal props. In the course of a few days we move upstate to the tent (a completely different stage, space, and atmosphere); we start to incorporate wigs, costumes, and makeup; all the while the technical crew creates light and sound cues around us. As you can imagine, it is a somewhat overwhelming experience, but the leviathan always rises out of the depths of the ocean. That is the magic of theatre. All of these elements come together by hook or by crook.”
- Chiara Motley

Costuming All’s Well That Ends Well

It’s appropriate that as I sit writing this blog post about designing costumes for All’s Well That Ends Well that I have the fabulous movie The Princess Bride playing in the background… because it is a bit like our world for All’s Well…

From early on in the design process, Russ asked me to think about this play as a Fairy Tale or Fable… full of iconic characters that live “once upon a time”… and full of madcap witty humor, magical cures, dark shadows, and happy (or at least deserved) endings. The challenge in approaching a design as a fairy tale, especially for a Shakespeare play, is to find a way to tap into that vocabulary without simplifying the sophisticated story… the adultness inherent in Shakespeare’s work.  How do we create a fairy tale for adults?  How do we use the iconic without taking away the pain of unrequited love, the embarrassment of receiving inappropriate affection, the dark places that men in prolonged combat find?

I was an especially lucky costume designer that Russ sent me beautiful pictures of the Unicorn Tapestries and other medieval finds from a recent trip to Europe to inspire me… and I did my own research into the gorgeous, haunting, dark illustrations of Arthur Rackham (if you don’t know his work, I suggest you google him right now)!

And so, after mushing this all up…  along with the creative input of the HVS actors that I have come to adore and admire over the last 3 years: Wes, Jason, and Rick… and the actors I have just met: Jessica who gives Helena a lovely heart, Dan and Dan who make such an enchanting Mother and Son, Ara who will charm you with music, and Jeff who makes a most beguiling wench… I think we have created our Kingdom.  It still has a lot of growing to do, but I hope you will take the journey with us next month.  Now, Inigo is about to find the Man in Black in the Pit of Despair, so I have to go.  See you at Boscobel!

The Widow costume sketch

The Widow costume sketch

 

Countess Costume Sketch

Countess Costume Sketch

Costuming King Lear and Three Musketeers

This season rings a new and exciting challenge for me. It is the first time I have taken on the design of two of the festivals productions. Each show has a very different sensibility, so I spend my days switching from the opulence of c17th century France and the mystic world of Ancient Britain.

I am making full use of our wonderful new costume space at Winter Hill in Garrison, which is at present filled Musketeer hats, Cardinal robes and lots of corsets and on the other side of the studio, the rustic robes of King Lear and his daughters.

The first round of fittings for Three Musketeers have taken place and I am getting ready to fit the cast of Lear in the costumes later next week. All of this work requires expert help , so I am very lucky to have two wonderful assistants working with me . Aleksandra Kolanko has been fashioning beautiful garments for the likes of Milady and the King of France and Jana Violante is busy creating signature pieces for Lear and his clan.

In a few short weeks we will move everything to the tent and start to see the costumes come to life with each actor’s performance.

- Charlotte Palmer-Lane

Milady's dress for the ball in Progress

The Three Musketeers: Milady’s dress, in Progress

Goneril Costume

King Lear: Goneril Costume, ready to be fitted

First Day of Rehearsal for The Three Musketeers

Rehearsal Report #1

As I reflect on the first day of rehearsal for the Three Musketeers, I found it quite inspiring, exciting and daunting at times.  I am excited to work with the returning and new company members.  I found the read of the play very funny, what a huge relief for me.  As a director I sometimes have a hard time finding what I am reading funny, especially when it comes to situational or behavioral comedy.  I find that working on so much Shakespeare has made me look for language comedy first.  The Three Musketeers is a play that focuses on action, character and theatrical spectacle.  The need for theatrical spectacle was what I found the most daunting today.  As a theater we tend to move away from spectacle, so I always become a little self-doubting when it comes to putting spectacle on the stage – that said I am excited about the possibilities.  It is also great to be reminded that a play only really exists in the space not on the paper and needs the life force of the actor.  Luckily we have actors with amazing life force.

I thought I would share with you some of my notes from the first day of rehearsal and how our day was scheduled.

Introductions of actors and their roles

Light read through of the entire play

A few notes

  • D’Artagnan’s father reminds me of Obie Wan Kenobi from Star Wars
  • Whenever someone says D’Artagnan they should be brimming with pride
  • Rochefort and Milady may have a relationship history.  They are vying for status with the Cardinal and each other.
  • Is Gascony in our culture like Appalachia?
  • We have to work on pronunciations of all of the names – either go English or French pronunciation.  Will check in next week.  May be some comic possibilities.
  • The women in the play work to control their own fate.  Does it succeed?
  • First act run about an hour and that is with reading stage directions – yay!
  • How do I create a balcony, closet, barricade, sword break, swinding D’Art in a space with no set pieces?
  • The queen is an enigma to me.  What is the actual relationship with Buckingham and the Queen?  Smart?  Put upon? Damsel?
  • Swinging in on a rope.  Will it work?  I hope we can make it happen.  Make sure the vom is not narrow this year.
  • Need to add a character we may have forgotten about – The Servant.  One line – how did we miss that?
  • Why is the Protestant War scene in this play?  Aaarghhh!
  • These actors are funny and having a good time.  HUGE!
  • Whole show read 2 hours and 4 minutes with a 10 minute break and stage directions read– yay time to play.

Look at costume renderings, listen to early music choices, and talk about characters and discoveries from read through.  End of day.

I am very excited about the next day of rehearsal.

Chris

Director of The Three Musketeers

Shakespeare, King Lear & the Endless Possibilities

During a recent actor training session, Voice Trainer Andrew Wade was working with our acting company on a speech of Leontes’ from The Winter’s Tale.  The company sat in a circle starting at the top of the speech, and each person took a single line and they went around the room counter-clockwise.  Then they did it legato.  Then they did it staccato.  Then they took smaller sections.  Then they overlapped words.  Then they said words redundantly.  Then they asked each other questions as they read.

As I listened to the same speech over and over and over, I realized that I wasn’t at all bored with what I was hearing, not in the least.  In fact, the more they worked on the speech, the more interesting it became.  It was as though through repetition, they were uncovering the meaning of the speech, and of the play, new meanings each time through, and the depth of the language seemed bottomless.  I once again realized how appealing a choice it is to dedicate one’s life to the plays of Shakespeare, because, even though there are only 37 plays, the material never runs out, it’s infinite.  It is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

In working on King Lear, I’ve been trying each day to shed the accumulated work from the previous rehearsals and to do my best to begin each day with a blank slate and to leave myself open whatever discoveries the actors or I might make.

As with the Leontes’ monologue, a full-length play, like King Lear, becomes more interesting the more we look at it, and the more closely we look at it.  It’s counter-intuitive, but, as opposed to narrowing down our options to a specific set of choices, the more we work on the play, the more possibilities are opened.  For instance, we might have a day where we thought we had really ‘cracked’ a scene, only to come back to the same scene two days later to find that whatever that ‘cracking’ discovery was, is no longer interesting to us, or even made sense.  That leaves us to start from scratch, and see what we can turn up.  Who knows, it might be even more interesting and exciting than what we threw away.

So I’m trying to seek the largest set of possibilities, and I’m asking the actors and myself to be willing to shed the accumulated work of the previous days, and to be open to any new discoveries we make, and to be willing to erase our previous work to let in new ideas.

It’s scary, but hopefully we can continue to make this happen through rehearsal, and beyond, into the performances at the tent, where, hopefully, each evening we perform the play, we’re starting from scratch, and discovering it with the unique audience who is with us in the tent that night.

- Terry

HVSF from a New Perspective

We’ve read the plays, and begun to discuss our scenes.  We’ve started to explore who our characters are, and we’ve looked at costume renderings. More importantly, though, in these few short weeks I feel as if I’ve been inducted into a warm and welcoming family. The unusual thing about Hudson Valley is that you not only rehearse the plays with members of your cast; you are also given the luxury of learning with them. Classes in yoga, speech, clowning, and meditation serve as a base for all the company (new and old) to come together and play with one another. And the spirit of play, as Chris and Terry are showing me, is as necessary to theatre as breath is to life.

I’ve been rehearsing King Lear for two weeks now, and every day I see the text unfold more before my eyes.  It is perhaps the densest Shakespeare play I’ve worked on. It has also always been my favorite.  As Goneril I am constantly oscillating between wanting to embrace her ferocious will, but not to make her a one dimensional cartoon out of Cinderella. Who is this woman who is capable of so much hatred? When does it start? What feeds it? Dark questions to ask, complicated to answer.

And then there is The Three Musketeers: big characters, broad comedy, duels and love affairs. I can already tell I will love playing the Queen.  She has an immense heart and great wit. As an actor the higher the stakes, the more fun and rich it is to play that character on stage. I’ve been blessed this summer–both Goneril and The Queen are strong women fighting (albeit in very different ways) every way they can to stay alive and thrive. There is lots of work still to do, but at least I know that part of each day will be dedicated to belly laughing with my cast before diving into rehearsal.

- Chiara Motely

Life of a Company Manager

I have become a reverse commuter. Each morning I catch a train out of New York City heading for Cold Spring.  And each day as I look out the train window at the Hudson River and the beautiful country side, I think about how much I am going to enjoy seeing this all summer long.

The cast has all arrived and rehearsal is in full swing.  Each cast member has a role in 2 plays and sometimes with understudy roles in a third.  I don’t know how they do it, memorizing lines for 2 plays and keeping it all straight in their head.   We have a nice mix of veteran actors and new comers to HVSF.  As June fast approaches, everyone is looking forward to getting out of the rehearsal studio and to the tent to perform the plays in front of an audience.

I am busy preparing for the cast arrival upstate.  My job as company manager is to provide administrative and logistical support for the cast and crew.  Much of my job is behind the scenes, making things run smoothly so everyone can focus on producing wonderful productions for our HVSF audience and community.  It takes a lot of planning and preparation to move 25 plus people up state for the summer.  As you can imagine, there are a lot of bags, boxes, and bikes to move up, as well as the all-important people. Then of course I have to make sure our housing is ready for everyone’s arrival.  It is much like running my own small hotel, making sure we all have sheets, pillows, towels and kitchen supplies.  I have been busy practicing my turn down service.  The cast & crew like chocolate mints on their pillows, I hope I have enough.

- Alyce Stark

All’s Well…

It’s great to get in the swing of rehearsals again at HVSF.  The acting company is filled with the energy of new projects and we are enjoying finding solutions as problems are found.  In my company we have HVSF alumni: Richard Ercole, Jessica Frey, Wesley Mann, and Jason O’Connell.  New comers: Jeff Gonzales, Dan Matisa, Ara Morton, and Dan Tracy have all jumped into the project, and the mix of new and familiar has begun to brew. It seems to be a wonderful crew.

“All’s Well” is a challenge, and our “troupe of strolling” players is finding out how to turn our company of 8 actors into a cast of many.  Luckily, we also have a great core of musicians, and those who attended the “Bard’s Bash” were able to hear some examples of their work.

I’m looking forward to getting the production on its feet and finding the life that makes it special.

Russ Treyz