Archive for the 'theatre' Category

Closing Night

August 12, 2006

It’s officially over.

We apparently had an audience of over 700 last night, back in the park in San Pedro where we opened. Of the performances I saw — less than half — this was definitely the strongest. A beautiful windless night allowed the actors to listen to each other a little more closely, and to hit each moment with the energy it needed without striving against the weather. I sat in the front and just enjoyed the show.

My wife and I leave for Berkeley on Monday.

This has been said a million times in a million ways, but there is a kind of magic that happens with a group of people working on a show. Depending on each other, placing trust in each other, taking risks together, and just rolling up your sleeves and working your asses off together for a few weeks in a row… I don’t know anything else like it. A group of strangers come into a room — or a parking lot — with a common goal. Everyone has something to contribute; the success of the group depends on each individual member working hard, sacrificing time and energy, and taking risks. Sometimes there are people who don’t pull their weight, who keep to the sides and hold back and the group never really comes together. Sometimes it feels like everyone is holding back. Other times, though, it’s a group of adults who have chosen this life because they love the work, and they’re all willing to give what it takes and let down their walls and take the risks and support each other through it.

And at the end, everyone goes their separate ways. On to the next project, or the next city. It’s sad. But it’s the good sad, the healthy sad. It means we came together, we gave it our all, we did a show we can take pride in, and we’re leaving on a high note, wanting more. I hope so much that I’ll be able to work with these people again.


another article

June 23, 2006

This one's from a column in the Daily Breeze, and it's all about the Artistic Director and how she makes the festival happen every year. 

There is madness, then there is the fine madness of Lisa Coffi, an altogether intelligent, charming and ambitious woman who should know better than to try running a summer Shakespeare festival. Seriously, can you think of a better way to lose money?

That is, if she was even charging money.

Only she's not.

It's a neat little piece laying out just how ridiculous it is to try to make money doing theatre in our current environment, and it includes a plea for more donations.  Lisa only gets paid if she raises enough money for everything else first.  The actors get paid shares of pass-the-hat audience donations at the shows — it should be enough to cover what they're all spending on gas.  The stage managers, designers, and directors each get a stipend.  Everyone on the production has the chops necessary to do this at a fully professional level; for now, working on great plays with great people in a great location will suffice.


May 28, 2006

I came across this quote from Peter Brook the other day; I'm having my acting students read The Empty Space. This captures something essential about being a director. You're constantly putting yourself out there in rehearsal; you're at your most vulnerable when you're doing your most creative work. It's terrifying and exhilarating all at once.

"Of course, all work involves thinking: this means comparing, brooding, making mistakes, going back, hesitating, starting again. The painter naturally does this, so does the writer, but in secret. The theatre director has to expose his uncertainties to the cast, but in reward he has a medium which evolves as it responds: a sculptor says that the choice of material continually amends his creation: the living material of actors is talking, feeling and exploring all the time — rehearsing is a visible thinking-aloud."

-Peter Brook, The Empty Space

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.)

Open Letter to the Essay-Needing Google-Searchers Who Have Found My Blog

May 3, 2006

So I have noticed a recent spike in the readership of this blog — closing in on 100 hits a day. Pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but for weeks it was holding steady at about 30. I'm pretty sure, however, that this has very little to do with increased interest in Shakespeare direction in 21st-century Los Angeles and a whole lot to do with Google's special sauce moving me up half a notch in its page rankings for whatever reason.

WordPress gives me access to the search terms that led people to my blog. My first guess was that the actors who auditioned googled my name. And I do get a few hits from people who searched for "Josh Costello," plus a few hits from people who followed the link from But the overwhelming majority of my hits come from people searching for things like "plot summary of Hamlet," "why does Hamlet delay," "hamlet loyalty," "what impact did shakespeare have on english," and so on and so forth. (Though one person searched for — I kid you not — "wife fucking Great Dane" and ended up at this blog. …I have no idea what to say about that.)

I teach acting and theatre history, and I don't assign my students a lot of essays. But I do assign research presentations. It's always very obvious to me when my students plagiarize from the web — the information is bad, it's written in a style clearly not their own, and it's exactly the same as a different student's presentation from the previous year's class.

So here's what I have to say to the essay-needing google-searchers who have found my blog:

A) Your teacher knows you are cheating. You are going to get caught. Unless your teacher is completely senile or drunk, your only hope is that she doesn't care any more than you do about your education.

B) The internet is a really bad place to find quality information. I stand by what I've written on this blog, but it's intended for the very specific purpose of directing this particular production and I doubt it could fit whatever question you've been assigned. The web is great, it's incredibly useful — but you can't just trust whatever you read.

C) Here's the real point: Shakespeare is worth learning about. I know Shakespeare seems really boring at first, especially if you have a bad teacher. But there's a reason you've been given this assignment. There's a reason that Shakespeare is still taught in schools 400 years later. There's a reason we keep putting Shakespeare's plays on stage. I'm sure you're busy with school and work and friends and partying and sports and MySpace and everything else, and taking the time to actually wrap your head around a play like Hamlet seems insurmountable. All I can think to tell you is this: it's worth it. Shakespeare is worth the effort. The more time you spend reading Shakespeare and watching and listening to actors performing Shakespeare — if not rehearsing and performing those words yourself — the easier it gets. And eventually you'll have a moment where the words and the sounds of the words and the meaning of those words all come together to form some completely obvious but nevertheless mind-blowing truth, and the whole world will seem different and more meaningful, and you'll realize that Shakespeare did something truly special and you'll feel lucky that Shakespeare did what he did and that you got the chance to witness it.

Or maybe not. That's what happened for me. And that's why I'm spending my life looking for opportunities to work with those amazing words, despite the almost complete lack of financial compensation, job security, and health insurance. I wouldn't recommend following in my footsteps — but the least you can do for yourself is take advantage of being in school and get to know Shakespeare a little bit.

And it wouldn't hurt to buy a ticket and go see some Shakespeare performed live every now and then. If you live in LA, I know a pretty exciting production of Hamlet you can see this summer in a park near you for free.


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.

The Pre-Paper, Part One

April 9, 2006

For every play my classmates and I directed in grad school, we had to write a pre-production paper before rehearsals began and distribute copies to each directing student and professor. We spent one day of class discussing each paper — and when I say “discussing” I mean beating the crap out of every flaw (especially on the part of the professors). We dreaded the day we had to present, but also thrilled at the chance to get such honest feedback.

We were given a set outline for the paper, two pages with twenty-five bullet-points we had to address. The killer was always #5: “Main action or spine of the play in one succinct sentence.” But there were other doozies: “Concept. A succinct overview of your approach to production. Bearing in mind the connection to main action and theme, is there a metaphor or unifying image that captures the psychic and/or physical space as you envision it?” Addressing all these questions, writing the pre-paper, meant being ready to direct the play.

I’m going to try to write a pre-paper for this production of Hamlet. It may not happen in order, but I’ll try to hit every bullet point, one or maybe more per post. Here we go.

Professional Director Training Program
Outline for Pre-production Paper
Papers and scripts must be circulated no later than 5 pm on the Friday before your presentation. It is assumed that prior to circulating your pre-production paper you will have broken the play into beats and followed the play analysis model and vocabulary articulated by Jon Jory.

Director’s Statement and Goals

1. A short paragraph describing why you’ve chosen the play you will be directing. What passion, insights, inspiration can you share with us as you undertake this assignment?

There are two ways to answer this question. The first is that I didn’t choose to direct Hamlet at all — I was hired for it after directing a successful production of The Misanthrope for the indoor wing of Shakespeare-by-the-Sea last year. But it’s probably better to answer the question as if I had chosen Hamlet, because in some sense I’ve spent the last twelve or maybe fifteen years getting myself to a place where I could direct this play.

I love directing Shakespeare. I think I’m at my best as a director in the early rehearsals of a Shakespeare play — helping the actors take ownership of the language, finding staging that brings it to life. On a certain level, I chose to direct Hamlet because it’s so much fun to take on this kind of challenge, to engage with a play like this. And this play is arguably the most challenging and therefore most engaging of the canon.

More specifically, though, this particular play has captured my imagination with the complexity and depth of the prince and his plight. Shakespeare took a simple revenge story and used it to tap right into the fundamental sense of doubt that every human being contends with in one way or another. I’ve read all kinds of analysis on Hamlet’s delay, and I’ve come up with my own ideas about it, but at the most immediate level this is a play about uncertainty, about not knowing what to do, about feeling lost. We’ve all felt these things. Hamlet feels them at least as much as any of us, and articulates these feelings better than anyone. When people ask me what I look for in a play, I usually say I want to direct plays that are intensely personal. No play is more personal than Hamlet.

And maybe there’s a third way to answer the question of why I chose this play. I’m moving back to the Bay Area this summer, after three years of grad school and three years freelancing in Los Angeles. This is the last play of this chapter of my life, and maybe the biggest challenge. What a perfect choice.

Henry IV: The Impact Remix

March 22, 2006

In response to this, here’s a couple of pieces from my program note for the Impact Theatre production of a cut of Henry IV: Part One.

“Impact’s mission has always been to make plays for young people, people who tend to think that theatre is boring, stuffy, and has nothing to do with their lives. And that goes double for Shakespeare. If your only experience of Shakespeare was your boring high school English class, this production is for you. If you start to nod off when you see some dude in tights start talking about Love, this production is for you. We want to show you why people say Shakespeare was the greatest writer in the English language, why we have Shakespeare festivals and not Ben Jonson festivals, why you had to suffer through an interminable semester of centuries-dead white guys speaking words no one uses anymore.

Because the thing is, we think Shakespeare is pretty cool. He used the English language the same way Barry Bonds swings a bat. And he wrote about people dealing with issues that are so personal they break through to the universal: love, obviously, but also revenge, family, ambition, jealousy, and friendship. Like no one before or since, he had an uncanny ability to match the sounds of the words — the open vowels or harsh consonants — to the meaning of what the characters are saying. In Shakespeare, every word is onomatopoeia, and that’s fucking cool. His characters are complex and determined and sexy, his themes are tightly interwoven with his plots, and his stories are profound and beautiful.

…At its most ambitious, Impact’s mission is to reinvigorate the American theatre by making plays for people who wouldn’t come to the theatre otherwise. Shakespeare really did do something special, and it would be a shame for anyone to miss out on his plays. Each new generation finds its own way to bring Shakespeare to life. Now it’s our turn. Enjoy.”

Henry IV: The Impact Remix

encouraging imagination

March 13, 2006

Last night’s post about Burton’s Hamlet mentioned this, but I want to explore it a little further today. I said in the post that the lack of costumes and set decorations — the choice not to choose a period setting — never detracted from the story. What I should have also talked about is the way in which this type of minimalism can actually deepen the audience’s experience by encouraging the use of the imagination.

There’s a kind of paradox here, perhaps the more so because of the inevitable comparisons to film. Films, especially films set in the past, tend to have elaborate production design that transports the audience into the world of the story. At its most expensive, theatre can attempt the same thing. But the experience of watching a film and the experience of watching a play are very different things; film’s ability to control focus and point of view through camera work is overwhelming, and allows the audience a kind of passivity that doesn’t work as well in theatre. The best theatrical experiences are the ones in which the audience actively engages with the work. This can manifest in all sorts of ways, everything from cheesy audience participation to the age-old willing suspension of disbelief (the key word here is “willing” — in film, your disbelief is more or less suspended on your behalf).

So a minimalist production — be it a Broadway Hamlet that chooses to make a statement or a basement production with a tiny budget — encourages not just the suspension of disbelief but the active use of the audience’s imagination. Watching a Hamlet in rehearsal clothes, we have to imagine the crown, the battlements, the rich clothes and tapestries and all the details that ground the story in its context. This is not alienating; it actually heightens our emotional involvement because we are participating in the creation of the play.

Getting the audience to participate in the creation of the play is no small thing. Being a part of an audience that does this is thrilling. In a way, this is the highest goal that theatre can achieve.