Archive for the 'Friends' Category

Acting the Paraphrase

September 5, 2006

A very smart director friend, who doesn’t direct Shakespeare himself, was telling me about a Shakespeare production he saw that wasn’t very good. His criticism of that production was incisive and points to something widespread.

The cast of that production was filled with actors who have had some success on screen — not movie stars, but people you might recognize from appearances on sit-coms or what have you. He said they were strong, confident actors who understood the circumstances and what was happening in the scene. The problem was that they weren’t actually using the words Shakespeare gave them to pursue their objectives — they were “acting the paraphrase,” if I remember my friend’s words correctly. It’s as if their preparation for the role included rewriting Shakespeare’s words into more familiar language; they did this accurately, but then they failed to make the leap back to the words Shakespeare actually chose. The result was intense, committed, connected performances with flat and disconnected language. It sounds like a paradox, but it’s something I’ve seen all too often.

The best acting of Shakespeare, for my money, happens when actors own the language. Another common way of describing it is that the words Shakespeare chose are the only possible way to express what the character is trying to express — the paraphrase never means exactly the same thing. The sounds of the words, the vowels and consonants, carry their own meaning that supports the intent.

Shakespeare gives actors so much to work with. It’s a shame when they don’t use it.


theatre without lighting

August 25, 2006

Lucas Krech, a lighting designer, blogger, collaborator, friend, and frequent commenter here, wrote on his blog the other day about a play I directed several years ago in a community center under the room’s flourescent lighting — he’s interested in why that worked, and in the idea that “Any show should be complete and dramatically compelling when performed under worklights and in rehearsal clothes.” Go read his post. I touched on this idea in a post a while back about the Richard Burton Hamlet.

Our production of Hamlet this summer had very minimal lighting — eight ungelled instruments on two poles. An actor with some tech background was in charge of hanging and focusing them during the setup each night, and his job was to make everything visible. We had no lighting cues — not even a blackout at the end of the show.

I love having good lighting in the shows I direct. But I also like the challenge of sucking the audience in without it. Shakespeare wrote for sunlight.


August 22, 2006

My brother-in-law, Reuben Margolin, designed and built this:

It’s a little hard to tell from the photos what exactly is going on here. It’s a giant mechanical wave that undulates hypnotically. It will soon be on display at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. It is art.

Going away party

July 15, 2006

I saw the show again last night for the first time since opening. It’s looking good. Afterwards, the actors threw me a going-away party at the local dive bar. It was very sweet — several actors from previous shows I directed in LA and Anaheim over the last couple of years showed up, along with a couple of friends from out of town. Lots of drinking and talking and reminiscing.

I moved to LA three years ago with my wife, who was starting grad school (for Epidemiology) at UCLA. I had just finished my MFA in Directing in Seattle, and had no theatre connections in LA. The first year here was almost completely dry for me career-wise, which was incredibly dispiriting after just having completed an intense three years of training. I was trying to find directing work the hard way: sending out resumes to theaters where I didn’t know anyone. Eventually, I did get a couple of gigs that way, and both those gigs led to more gigs, and then people I met doing those first gigs set me up with other gigs, and I ended up working nonstop for the last two years.

Now my wife is done with school, and we’re moving back up to Berkeley (where we’re both from). I have more connections there, but I’m still expecting a delay before the directing gigs start coming.

Ultimately, I’ve been very lucky in southern California. I’ve worked with amazing, kind, generous, talented, intelligent people, and I’m proud of the theatre that we’ve made. Seeing so many of these people all together last night was humbling and inspiring and wonderful. Here’s hoping my luck continues up north.

Comment Starter

May 20, 2006

This blog is getting plenty of hits, but not a lot of comments.  So I'm calling you out.  People from the Directors Lab.  Actors in the show.  Friends across the country.  Essay-needing Google-Searchers.  Other members of the Internet Theatrosphere.  Mom.  Everybody: take a second and post a comment.  If this works, I'll do it again every now and then with a different topic.

What's your favorite experience with Shakespeare?

It could be just your favorite play.  Or your favorite production, whether you were in the audience or a part of it.  If you want to take an extra minute to write about what makes this your favorite experience, so much the better.

(My favorite experience is probably seeing the RSC production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford several years ago, though helping a young actor have a big breakthrough with the language and verse is also way up there.)


April 29, 2006

No post last night, just this tonight.  Busy.  And I have a bunch of papers to grade before Tuesday, so Blogging the Dane might be a little light for the next few days.

In the meantime, Lucas Krech linked to me in a blog post yesterday, comparing BTD to another director's blog — Lucas says I focus on blunt realism as opposed to Isaac's "abstracted metaphorical perspective".   Lucas has a great abstracted metaphorical perspective as well. 

And he's right; this is a blog about the nuts-and-bolts process of directing, and specifically about directing Shakespeare.  I like a good manifesto as much as the next passionate young visionary, but I also really enjoy talking about practicalities and process.  And doing our best work is at least as important as anything else in fixing whatever problems we see with theatre in the 21st century.

Jan Kott, Brecht, and rethinking the plot summary

April 10, 2006

Finally picked up a copy of Jan Kott's Shakespeare Our Contemporary, on the repeated advice of Lucas Krech. It's fantastic — essentially advocating the idea that great art is that which speaks in a particular way to each new and different age or generation. Or turned around: in whatever time and place you find yourself, you can find your own way of approaching and understanding the great works of art. He's writing in mid-20th-century Poland, and he talks a lot about the politics of war in Shakespeare. He quotes — as do many other people writing about Hamlet — Brecht's Little Organum for the Theatre, in which Brecht breaks down the plot of Hamlet from an unashamedly political point of view:

After some hesitation as to whether he should add one bloody deed to another, Hamlet…meets at the sea shore young Fortinbras… Following his example he turns back, and, in a scene of barbaric slaughter, kills his uncle, his mother, and himself, leaving Denmark to the Norwegians. Thus we observe how… the young man, already somewhat stout, badly misuses his new knowledge aquired at Wittenberg university. This knowledge gets in the way… His reason is impractical when faced with irrational reality…

Here's the thing. I don't agree with Brecht's take on Hamlet as a legitimate straightforward analysis of Shakespeare's play as written. It willfully ignores many central aspects of the story, and overemphasises others. But it's all done for a very specific purpose — finding a way in to the play that will reveal its special relevance to a particular group of people in a particular time and place. And there's something about that purpose that appeals to me very strongly.

Of course, I'm working in a completely different time and place for a completely different audience. I'm going to choose different aspects of the story on which to focus, and different aspects to downplay. This is all as it should be, so long as I am similarly striving to bring the play to life in the most compelling possible way for this specific audience (and maybe with a little more respect for the source material).

Much as I may disagree with the specifics, reading Brecht's biased and somewhat devious plot summary makes me rethink some things about the way I'm working. Just yesterday I wrote that the reason a director should write out a plot summary is merely to wrap her mind around the narrative of the play — I even said it probably wouldn't make for interesting reading. Brecht uses the plot summary to state his point of view about the play, his directorial focus, and it makes for very interesting reading indeed. So here is a revision of my plot summary of Hamlet, dropping all pretenses of objectivity:

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