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