Actor Notes – Tim Sailer on Boyet in LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

Ah, “honey-tongued Boyet”!

Whenever I mention I’m playing him in Love’s Labour’s Lost, I’m met with impish grins and arch eyebrows. An aura of mystery and mischief swirls around Boyet. Before I started preparing for the role, I had an inkling of this and was excited to explore it.

I found him to be exceptionally wry and dignified, so I focused my portrayal of Boyet as a sardonic courtier. But I soon realized this wasn’t going to be sufficient.

We had been rehearsing for a couple of days. Allison Glenzer (who plays Katherine) asked: “Who is Boyet? Is he our chaperone or our confidante? Is he like Touchstone?”

Those are the questions.

Touchstone from As You Like It is a good model—up to a point. Shakespeare wasn’t writing professional fools this early in his career. And Boyet’s job isn’t solely to entertain or having license to say what others can’t. His official duty is to attend the Princess on a diplomatic journey to Navarre. But that single role is slippery. Notice how saucy the language is once the Princess leaves the scene in Act 4 (the footnotes in the Arden edition are hilariously clinical). Clutching onto the image of dignified courtier belies the whimsey that occurs in other parts of the play.

Boyet is a chaperone, confidante, entertainer, and more. Normally, I’d be bothered with that open-ended ambiguity. That can make for some muddled storytelling. But, in this case, I began to embrace the fun of leaping from role to role, depending on the situation.  It started to feel like this was the key to playing Boyet.  

Language gave me this permission.

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Tim Sailer as Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Boyet often speaks in iambic pentameter. But frequently, when feeling particularly giddy, he’ll shift to anapestic tetrameter. This is what our director, Matt Davies, calls “the anapestic gallop.”

Boyet:   If my observation (which very seldom lies)
By the heart’s still rhetoric disclosed with eyes,
Deceive me not now, Navarre is infected.

Princess:   With what?

Boyet:   With that which we lovers entitle affected.

Folks, we’re veering near limerick territory!

Boyet further describes the King’s infatuation with the Princess with the following:

Why all his behaviors did make their retire
To the court of his eye, peeping thorough desire.
Methough all his senses were locked in his eye
As jewels in crystal for some prince to buy….

For this speech, Matt encouraged me to take the stage and slow down. I imagine a literal spotlight shining on Boyet at this point. That’s when I realized that this is when Boyet is the star of his own comedy special.

And that’s just one of the many roles he plays in his first scene. Others include an advisor, a courtier, a sass, a diplomat, a jester, a pander. In other scenes, he’s a gossip, a cupid, a libertine, a know-it-all, an audience member, a spy, an interpreter. To reduce Boyet to any one of these roles eliminates the joy and depth of which he’s capable.

Now, these leaps from role to role aren’t random. I’m focused on the ultimate goal of the marriage of the Princess and Prince Ferdinand. And I think I’m keeping it within the parameters of his class and status. Or maybe I flirt with those boundaries. This involves a tricky combination of poise and play—a challenge Boyet is thrilled to take. The union would likely give him a prized position in the French court (ever the opportunist).

He plants the matchmaking seeds from the beginning. When charged with providing the king “such acquitances” (receipts), Boyet admits that the “packet is not come.” The Princess is miffed. But then, quick on his feet (or is this on purpose?) he says to Prince Ferdinand: “Tomorrow you shall have a sight of them.” Boyet knows that if he can stall at least one day, the possibility of marriage is stronger.

And it is. The antics continue with hunting excursions, misdelivered love letters, love tokens, disguises, dancing, a play-within-the-play. It seems like this marriage is well on its way. Too bad Marcadé’s news of the dead King of France obliterates the fun. Boyet is gutted and leaves to prepare for the journey back to France. Love’s labors are lost indeed.

But until the end, I have a blast. It’s not often that my job demands for me to be delighted for two and half hours. And a delight it is to leap from role to role. The language is champagne and amuse-bouche.

And I will continue to resist pigeonholing other characters in the future. This kind of exercise may not be useful for a role like Fortinbras, but it sure would for someone like Polonius (yes, I’m playing both Fortinbras and Polonius in the Ren Season. And yes, I’m in my early thirties; that’s another blog post). Polonius plays a similar variety of roles in Hamlet. The exploration of that variety makes for dynamic and compelling storytelling.



TIM SAILER

THIS SEASON:
Alf in Peter and the Starcatcher; Balthazar, Antonio, George Seacoal in Much Ado about Nothing; Dull, Boyet in Love’s Labour’s Lost; and George in The Fall of King Henry (Henry VI, Part 3).

PREVIOUSLY WITH ASC:
More than 37 roles in 25 productions, including Solanio in The Merchant of Venice; Menenius in Coriolanus; Sir Benjamin Backbite in The School for Scandal; Cassius in Julius Caesar; John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest; Horatio in Hamlet; Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing; Adam in As You Like It; Flavius in Timon of Athens; Truewit in Epicene, or the Silent Woman; Paris, Sampson in Romeo and Juliet; Crewman in Return to the Forbidden Planet; Second Dumaine Brother in All’s Well That Ends Well; Aeneas in Troilus and Cressida.

OTHER THEATRES:
Chorus in Henry V, Verges in Much Ado about Nothing (Houston Shakespeare Festival); Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night, Hastings in Richard III (Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, Conway, AR); Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice (Charlotte Shakespeare Festival); Hovstad in An Enemy of the People, Erhart Borkman in John Gabriel Borkman, Jim Curry in The Rainmaker (Commonwealth Theatre Company, Lanesboro, MN); Simon Bliss in Hay Fever (Theatre L’Homme Dieu, Alexandria, MN); Polyphemus/Mantios in The Odyssey (Park Square Theatre, St. Paul, MN); Brutus in Julius Caesar, Andrey Prozorov in Three Sisters, Touchstone in As You Like It (University of Houston, Houston, TX).

EDUCATION:
MFA in Acting from the University of Houston Professional Actor Training Program; BA in Theatre and English from Concordia University, St. Paul, MN.

Co-Director Jenny Bennett talks FALL OF KING HENRY

Team York or Team Lancaster?

Team Henry Tudor!

(I also firmly align with Henry (Lancaster). And Rutland (York). And Warwick (the Kingmaker). And Margaret (Lancaster). And Richard (York). And Elizabeth (York). And most especially with some specific Fathers and Sons in this play who show up in 2.5—Henry is the one who’s most aligned with them, it seems to me, and so I’m often most aligned with him. But like the ‘what’s your favorite line’ question, a hazard of directing a play is loving all of them—especially in a play by Shakespeare, the master of argument.)

This play is packed with bloody battles and relentless backstabbing.  What are some stand-out moments audiences should pay special attention to?

The play begins with a peace treaty of King Henry’s making – a compromise that, like most diplomacy, satisfies neither side fully, but absolutely ends this war in Act 1 Scene 1. It takes immense courage, humility, and sacrifice to achieve that peace—it takes immense strength of character. That moment goes to the heart of the play’s investigations into leadership, power, and the nature of ongoing war. Throughout the play, I invite you to notice how many times we can say: the War is Over!

I think King Henry gets a really bad rap. He’s often referred to as a weak king, a bad king, a wimpy king. Part of this is historical – his dad was super-soldier Henry V ‘who made the Dauphin and the French to stoop’. I mean, it’s not really possible to argue that Henry VI was a terribly effective king, for sure – lots of infighting and power grabs likely doomed any chance of his being a calm and powerful reign when he was crowned as a baby. But as he is in this play, made up of the words and deeds of this Shakespeare-created character, I find a full-throated argument for peace, and actions to back it up. In any conflict, if you want to resolve it, someone’s got to go first. Someone’s got to be the first one to put down the sword. Gosh, what a risk. What nerve. What character it takes to do that. And it comes with a cost.

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Chris Johnston as Henry VI and Allison Glenzer as Margaret in THE FALL OF KING HENRY. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

How are Shakespeare’s Histories distinct from his other plays?

Well, it’s like how Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln is distinct from Steven Spielberg’s movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Both of those are masterpieces. Both of them allow audiences to wonder into the nooks and crannies of rich, wonderful characters in high-stakes circumstances. Lincoln, though, populates its story with real people who affected the history of us – people whose actions were prologue to the history we ourselves are making today. Another consideration for Shakespeare’s (or Spielberg’s) histories is that they are still, to a large extent, historical fiction. Just ask the folks at the Richard III Society (who argue that Shakespeare’s plays have long maligned the true character of the good king) or many Civil War scholars (who resist the hagiography of Lincoln typified in that eponymous film’s gorgeous score and structure).

I love the History plays, and this is one of my favorites. It’s got tragedy, comedy, history— even a little pastoral! Some of the best dramatic speeches in all of Shakespeare:  Margaret’s ‘Brave warriors,’ York’s ‘She-wolf of France’, Henry’s ‘So many hours’, Richard’s ‘Tut!’, Henry’s ‘And let our hearts and eyes, like civil war/ Be blind with tears, and break o’ercharged with grief’ and all of 2.5… the list goes on and on. This play also has some weirdtastic comic scenes – that wooing scene between Edward and Lady Grey (3.2) sounds like it came right out of Much Ado, except the sparring is more regularly matched (and in verse)! But the main distinction is that the history plays take a look at how we got to be who we are now – and that’s always a compelling question.

The Henry VI tetralogy is often presented as a conflation.  What is the benefit to seeing these plays in their full glory?

The benefit is… seeing these plays in their full glory! Some of my favorite speeches, complex arguments and turns of phrase are in this particular play: from Henry, Margaret, Richard, Warwick, York, Fathers & Sons, Edward, and Clifford. In a one-production conflation of all four plays (Henry VI parts 1 + 2 + 3 + Richard III), or a conflation of all three Henry VI plays paired with a standalone Richard III, you sacrifice an awful lot of the nuance, argument, and poetry that everybody gets in this play on its own. These plays are already conflations: conflations of several years’ history squashed down into each single play.

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Greg Brostrom and Shunté Lofton in THE FALL OF KING HENRY.  Photo by Lindsey Walters.

In a pivotal moment, Richard whispers in his younger brother’s ear and changes the course of the scene.  The whisper isn’t included in the First Folio but appears in other editions.  Why did you choose to include the whisper in this production?

In preparing this script, co-director Jim Warren chose to use parts of the first known printed version of this play, the 1595 Octavo version (he wrote a terrific intro to the Octavo in his program notes). The Octavo text, in general, is often more efficient/ blunter throughout the play than the Folio.  In rehearsal, the actors and I discussed the differences, and sometimes swapped in an Octavo line that Jim hadn’t initially picked, and sometimes restored Folio text we preferred ‘on our feet’. Those choices in rehearsal come down to serving the play’s clarity for the audience, and an X factor of juice and playability for the actor – sometimes, we just liked one version better! We use about 50 lines’ worth of the Octavo text – from a single word or phrase to a few lines, sometimes up to six lines in a row. **Speculation warning: I have no evidence to support this theory except study of the text and its variants, but to me, the Octavo text feels like someone went to the playhouse and wrote down what they heard and saw there, with the technical speed of, you know, quill and ink and memory. It’s such a fascinating glance into how the play was originally perceived, thinking of it that way!

Most often, bits of Octavo text are deployed in this production to help achieve a cut (we cut 30+ minutes from the play that got us to the ASC’s ‘two hours’ traffic’ standard).  But there are a few other differences, and this stage direction is one of them: ‘Richard and Clarence whispers together’ at that crucial point in 5.1. In rehearsal with the actors, we did look at that moment on its feet with that stage direction and without it, and discussed the difference it makes in the characters of all the brothers. Especially in this Playhouse, I’m interested in the staging conditions of these plays – notably, any rarely occurring, explicit stage direction. “Exit, pursued by a bear” in The Winter’s Tale, to take the most famous example, is not the same thing as We See Antigonus Get Eaten, or Antigonus Nobly Fights The Bear and Loses, right? One of those explicit stage directions is this one that implies that George changes his mind after what Richard whispers to him, which has profound implications: it means that Richard makes the difference. Even if George is on his way to making that choice to restore his familial honor, with that stage direction, Richard’s whispers are the final straw in choosing a course that changes the outcome of that battle. Since the ASC is on a four-play arc that culminates in Richard III next season, and given that the structure of Henry VI, Part 3 really does ramp up to that, the Richard-prompted action makes all kinds of sense.

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Rene Thornton Jr. as Richard Duke of Gloucester in THE FALL OF KING HENRY. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Is there anything else you’d like our audiences to know?

This play is one of Shakespeare’s earliest, and it’s terrific historical fiction about one of the juiciest games of thrones in English history – The Wars of the Roses. Here’s another way to think about that: this play was one of those early few that got playgoers all abuzz about some new kid on the playwriting block, William Shakespeare. If showbiz hasn’t changed much in 400 years (and since that biz is rooted in human nature, I doubt that it has), that means this play really is one of a few plays that launched William Shakespeare, got him more collaborators, more access to venues, patrons, and players. It certainly got him some bitter rivals! We know so little from the printed record about Shakespeare the person, but one of the few existing references we have is from jealous playwright Robert Greene, who paraphrased a great line from Act 1 Scene 4 of this very play in order to deride our Will in print. He warns his fellow “real” poets in his 1592 Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit:

‘”…there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.”

Dang, Robert! ‘Johannes factotum’? That’s quite the beef. You’re Greene with envy.

I suspect this play changed the world a little when it premiered.  Its characters were known figures from playgoers’ not-too distant history (these civil Wars of the Roses happened 140-ish years prior to the first possible performance of it—a similar time relationship as we in the States have right now to our own Civil War.) To crib a bit from Harold Bloom’s argument in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, in a society whose understanding of what we now call Psychology was about as complex and compassionate as the Humors of Blood being treated with leeches, and where literary characters on a stage were quite often a Type that would behave predictably within their Good or Bad, Villainous or Innocent, Lawful or Lustful or Heroic boundaries, our Will peopled this play with characters who have contradictions, flaws, heroic impulses and nefarious deeds. And to go back to your original question, with these conflicted, complex characters who persuade and inspire us one moment and horrify us the next, we easily find ourselves switching sides with them, in their battles for peace. (And in that irony lies the human condition.)

Come see the play that made Shakespeare’s fellow writers jealous!  

 

Dr. Ralph’s 10 Things to Know about THE FALL OF KING HENRY

These notes originally appeared in the 2010 Actors’ Renaissance Season program. 

1. When was the play first performed?

It must have been before 1592, when a pamphlet by Robert Greene, a rival playwright, bitterly paraphrases a line from the play and calls Shakespeare “a Tiger’s heart wrapt in a Player’s hide.”

2. Where was the play first performed?

Probably at the Theatre in Shoreditch (north of the City wall) by Shakespeare’s company, then Pembroke’s Men.

3. How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?

This play, among Shakespeare’s first, is part of Shakespeare first “tetralogy,” a set of four plays dealing with the historical period from young King Henry VI’s reign through the death of King Richard III, who will here become a major character.

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Chris Seiler as Richard and Greg Brostrom as Clifford in THE FALL OF KING HENRY. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?

Like the other early histories it is packed with action, overtly drawn characters, flamboyantly decorative verse, and strong dramatic irony. On display is Shakespeare’s usual taste for paradox and contradiction.

5. How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?

All of the Henry VI plays are different from Shakespeare’s other plays because the major protagonist shifts each time one of them dies in the packed storyline. It falls to the weak king and his ferocious wife Margaret to provide continuity.

6. What do scholars think about this play?

Most think it the best of the trilogy of Henry VI plays. Here we see Queen Margaret in full throat, and here Richard “Crookback” emerges in Technicolor verse — “Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile.”

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Rene Thornton Jr. as Richard Duke of Gloucester in THE FALL OF KING HENRY. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

7. Is there any controversy surrounding the work?

No. Greene’s snide remark (see #1 above) seems to confirm Shakespeare’s sole authorship.

8. What characters should I especially look for?

Queen Margaret and Richard Duke of Gloucester (future King Richard III), but you won’t need to look for them; they will be no harder to find than the Wicked Witch of the West or the Joker.

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Allison Glenzer as Margaret in THE FALL OF KING HENRY. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

9. What scenes should I especially look for?

The play is chock full of great scenes, but two of the most memorable scenes are at the beginning of the play: the “Molehill Scene” in Act One, scene four, where Margaret torments the Duke of York; and Act Two, scene five, in which the miserable King Henry watches the war being waged in his name.

10. What is the language like?

Lots of chewy speeches, playful rhetoric, and black humor.

 

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Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen is Co-Founder and Director of Mission of the American Shakespeare Center, author of ShakesFear and How to Cure It, and Gonder Professor of Shakespeare in Performance in the Master of Letters and Fine Arts program at Mary Baldwin University. 

Audience Spotlight: Completing a tour through Shakespeare’s Histories

ASC Audience Member Robert Hoyle completed his journey through all of Shakespeare’s Histories with The Fall of King Henry (Henry VI, Part 3) in late September.  He has been attending the American Shakespeare Center since our opening in 2001.

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Greg Brostrom as King Lewis XI and Shunté Lofton as Lady Bona in The Fall of King Henry (Henry VI, Part 3).  American Shakespeare Center.  Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Congratulations on completing your personal quest to see all of Shakespeare’s Histories.  What draws you to them?

The history plays teach us about the Middle Ages and early Renaissance political life of Britain.  They are a blend of intrigue and excitement.  Shakespeare’s Histories introduce us to unforgettable characters and real life royalty.  Thankfully, they also are both tragic and comic in spots.

Do you have a favorite of the Histories?

Though I enjoy all of the history plays, I especially love Henry V and Richard III.

Now that you’ve completed your tour of the Histories, are you setting your sights on the full canon?

Actually, I have seen all but two of Shakespeare’s plays; many of them I have seen multiple times.  My two remaining plays are Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus.  I had reserved seats for last year’s production of Coriolanus, but, sadly, a spring snowstorm prevented my coming to the American Shakespeare Center.  I live about 4-5 hours away near Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  I do hope to see these two remaining plays at the American Shakespeare Center.

You’ve been attending plays at the Blackfriars Playhouse every year since we opened in 2001.  What keeps you coming back?

I come once or twice a year, seeing two plays during each visit.  I keep coming because the productions are exceptional.  The actors are absolutely amazing.  I have seen them so many times that I have come to think of some of them as a second family.   Their professionalism is unquestionable, some of the best acting I have ever seen.  I am also impressed by their musical talents.  I enjoy the musical interludes.  

Do you have an all-time ASC favorite production?

Choosing one all-time favorite play is impossible.  I have never been disappointed and always leave more than satisfied.  Sometimes I bring friends who are astounded.  I am a retired English teacher (35 years), and I have occasionally brought students with me.  They love the experience.  For one last note, I have also read all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  I am now working to complete his major poems.

On the Road with Pat and Bob Schieffer

Our administrative assistant Sarah Stone reflects on her experience driving the Schieffers to and from Staunton for the 2017 American Shakespeare Center Annual Gala.

IMG_3806.JPGThe plan was to get there fifteen minutes before I needed to be there, but I pulled up to their building five minutes late. The whole way to DC in my little grey car, I could hear my dad’s voice in my head reminding me to be focused and calm when operating a vehicle, but sometimes it takes a lot of energy to heed that advice he gave me so many years ago.

Today, I was stressed about the heavy traffic and the timing kerfuffle, but the cobblestone drive, the circular fountain, and the uniformed doorman calmed me down. “I’m here to pick up Bob and Pat Schieffer,” I told him. “I’ll just use my cell to call them to let them know I’m here.” He nodded and stepped back into the lobby while I waited for their voicemail greeting to finish. Then, as if he had taken my initial words as a request, the doorman presented The Schieffers and their luggage. We loaded up – Bob in the front and Pat in the back – and started the journey to Staunton, VA.

You know who knows how to get around DC during crazy events? People who live there. Amid roadblocks and half-naked runners, I would have been lost if Bob and Pat hadn’t steered me beyond where my iPhone was telling me to go.

Once we got out of DC, the conversation flipped from frustrations about DC traffic to excitement about the ASC Gala, college life, various productions of Hamlet, and books (those we’ve read and those Bob has written). As I-66 turned into I-81, we discussed the beauty of Virginia, the delight of Staunton, and any imaginable opportunities that lie ahead. And dogs. We chatted about our dogs.

“What kind of dogs do you have?”

“Two mutts, both about 30 lbs, which makes them great apartment dogs. What kind of dogs do you have?”

They’ve always had beagles, but they haven’t had dogs for 13 years.

We’re nearing Staunton, but amid roadblocks and witches and wizards, I wasn’t worried about getting to the Blackfriars Playhouse to drop the Schieffers off for the Gala rehearsal. Because you know who knows how to get around Staunton during the Magic and Mischief weekend? People who live here.

I dropped Bob and Pat off at the entrance to the Playhouse and waved goodbye. I saw them briefly at the Gala, but between conversations and pictures (and a starring role in the Gala performance for Bob), they were in high demand.

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Bob and Pat Schieffer at the ASC Gala. Photo by Lauren Rogers.

After brunch the next day, I picked Bob and Pat up from their hotel. After we pried Bob away from a few conversations, we three loaded into my little grey car and started back for DC.

“I’m relying on you two to be my GPS,” I said. “Is that OK?”

Pat smiled. “We’re just going back to our house? Oh, yes, we can get you there.” Good.

Our conversation started with my hopes that they’d had a good time at the Gala, which was greeted with enthusiastic (but exhausted) comments about what an enjoyable evening it was. We reviewed the people they met, the things they learned about the theatre, and the possibility of coming back to see Hamlet at the ASC after the New Year. As I-81 turned into I-66, we discussed the various unions associated with the performing arts, Pat’s newly acquired producer credit, professional next steps, and coffee.

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Co-Founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, Burbage Award recipient Lesley Currier, Goodfellow Award recipient Robert C. Vaughan III, Honored Guest Bob Schieffer, and Managing Director Amy Wratchford. Photo by Lauren Rogers.

Traffic started to bottleneck as we reached DC; there were fewer roadblocks, but just as many delays as there were the day before. With the turn of the wheel, the car entered the serene environment of Bob and Pat’s driveway. As we got out of the car, the doorman greeted us: “Same girl!”

“Yep! Same girl as yesterday!”

Bob and Pat got out of the car and collected their belongings. We hugged, and I agreed to call them next time I’m in town for any length of time.

“You were a good driver,” Pat said as they turned to go into the building.

“Thanks. My dad would be very pleased to hear that.”

I waved goodbye, got in my little grey car, and quietly drove back to my two 30lb mutts in Staunton.

Sarah Stone is from Cleveland, OH and lives with her husband and two dogs in Staunton, VA. She likes to talk about food, classics, and rules that are bendable.

 

 

Photo Blog: 2017 Gala Highlights

“This is the most fun I’ve ever had!” -Bob Schieffer, probably just being really polite

This past weekend the American Shakespeare Center held its annual Gala, a weekend full of activities including one-night-only performance performance of Emma Whipday’s In Search of Shakespeare, featuring renowned newsman Bob Schieffer in full Elizabethan garb.

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Bob Schieffer and David Anthony Lewis in In Search of Shakespeare.  Photo by Lauren Rogers.

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Guests enjoy In Search of Shakespeare.  Photo by Lauren Rogers.

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Allison Glenzer in In Search of Shakespeare.  Photo by Lauren Rogers.

The performance was followed by dinner, award presentations, and dancing at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel.

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Table design by Amanda Williams.  Photo by Lauren Rogers.

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Co-Founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, Burbage Award Winner Lesley Currier, Goodfellow Award Winner Robert C. Vaughan III, Honored Guest Bob Schieffer, and Managing Director Amy Wratchford.  Photo by Lauren Rogers.

Burbage Award recipient Lesley Currier is the founder of Marin Shakespeare Company in San Rafael, California.  She leads the company’s Shakespeare for Social Justice program which uses drama therapy techniques with acting instructions to give inmates the opportunity to study and perform Shakespeare, learn teamwork and positive goal-setting, practice self-reflection and self-expression, and build emotional competency and empathy.

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Leslie Currier.  Photo by Lauren Rogers.

Robin Goodfellow Award recipient Robert C. Vaughan III is the Founding President and CEO of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

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Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen and Robert C. Vaughan III.  Photo by Lauren Rogers.

The evening capped off with some solid dance moves.

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Photo by Lauren Rogers.

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Hidden Figures author Margot Shetterly and Former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove doing the Wobble.  Photo by Jeremy Douylliez.

A special Sunday morning brunch followed the next morning featuring a conversation between Ralph Cohen, Bob Schieffer, and Robert C. Vaughan III.

 

 

 

Behind the play: Matthew Radford Davies talks LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

Love’s Labour’s Lost joined the repertory of the Summer/Fall Season last week.  Today we catch up with director Matthew Radford Davies to hear his thoughts on the newest addition to the Blackfriars Playhouse lineup.

You’ve directed the Mary Baldwin University MFA company in the Blackfriars Playhouse, but this is your first time directing the resident troupe.  What’s different?  What’s the same?

Working with the resident troupe, I find myself practicing what I preach during the semester, which is an enabling experience.  The professionals are skilled musicians, not just of instruments, but also of the sound box that is the Blackfriars stage.  They play the frets that we spend time locating in class.  One of the central tenets of our MFA approach is collaboration, which is a buzzword in theatre pedagogy but which is even harder to effect than to spell.  I’m delighted to affirm that the collaborative spirit as the ASC, to which our students aspire, is alive and well.

You mention in your director’s note a 1930 quote from Harley Granville-Barker. “Here is a fashionable play now three hundred years out of fashion.”  Why was he wrong?  What makes this play fashionable in 2017?

I don’t think Harley G-B was wrong.  (Is he ever?)  But plays have their times, their kairotic moments, and just as quickly find themselves out of joint again.  Coriolanus, a long-neglected play, is everywhere at the moment, perhaps unsurprising given the current political climate.  As the world stumbled from Edwardian excess into a Great Depression, and the threat of war began to rear its head once more, it’s easy to see why theatregoers might struggle to care about the emotional anxieties of la jeunesse doree.  Post-war, I suspect the play started to re-engage with sexual politics, feminism, and the battle of the sexes.  Meanwhile, the slipperiness of the language and the generic uncertainty of the ending clearly appealed to the postmodern sensibility that favored skepticism and heterodoxy over conformity and hierarchy.  Beneath its elegant exterior and its plotted edicts and male-directed mandates, lurks a roguish energy of doubt and questioning that, I think, contemporary directors find intriguing and appealing.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is often heralded for its linguistic brilliance.  We’ve been calling it “Shakespeare’s most exuberant word-fest.”  Shakespeare is, of course, known for his mastery of the English language.  What is it like working on a play that’s particularly spectacular even by the high standards set by Shakespeare’s other works?

I remember once reading that language in LLL is a character in its own right.  If so, then this character is as intriguing and untrustworthy and compelling as all the others in the play.  Throughout the canon, Shakespeare displays the fabulous paradox of an author both enamored by and deeply skeptical of, the written language.  In Love’s Labour’s, as in so many of his plays, letters are the guarantors of disaster, but in this play the spoken word gets equally challenging treatment, since what the characters say is as untrustworthy as it is seductive.  So, as theatre makers, we need to do more than just say the lines clearly, we need to luxuriate in them, their syntax and sound, their rhetorical dexterity.  Not surprisingly, amid such linguistic opulence, the simple lines — often short and expressed in Anglo-Saxon terms – land most powerfully.  One of my favorite lines in the play, in the entire canon, in fact, is Berowne’s simple, sudden exclamation, “ — O, my little heart.”  But that purity of expression gains its power, its energy, emerging from its rhetorically dense context.

We think Shakespeare may have written a sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost called Love’s Labour’s Won, but there are no surviving copies.  Some scholars believe LLW might actually just be Much Ado about Nothing.  Do you think there is any merit to that idea?  Is it special to direct a production of LLL playing in repertory with Much Ado?

While the RSC recently staged this clever conceit, with the same actors “appropriately cast” across the two plays — Benedick/Berowne to Beatrice/Rosaline, for instance — with the narrative conjoined, or divided, by the Great War — I strongly doubt that Much Ado is LLW (which quite possibly existed and is now lost).  I am, however, delighted that the ASC is bringing LLL and Much Ado together in one season, especially as they’re both in period dress, since audiences can judge for themselves how well the plays work as companion pieces.  I am personally as struck by the differences as well as the connections, and the way the two productions ask us to view a similar theme and cast of characters from very different angles.

What scenes or characters should audiences specifically look for?

In this production, we have worked extremely hard to fashion individuals from a formulaic plot structure.  While the lovers are clearly patterned in groups, their concerns echoed and enriched by the “rusticals,” we also wanted to ensure they had their own arcs and expectations.  Not only do the lords and ladies each have journeys to travel and lessons to learn, they all pursue their developing loves in subtly different ways.  We’ve also worked to tie the comic subplot, featuring the love triangle between the hearty Jaquenetta, the lusty Costard and Armado, the Spanish knight down-on-his-luck, as tightly as possible to the main plot. Comedy, romance, and potential tragedy (in the form of a melancholic undertow), intermingle in this play of sophisticates, sophists, and simple rustics, and we want you, the audience, to never quite know what will float to the surface at any given moment.  We hope that the characters constantly surprise you, and challenge all of our easy expectations.

Is there anything else you’d like our audiences to know?

Romantic comedies work best when the audience is playing catch-up, just one step behind the love trysts and the comic shenanigans, and panting in excitement to keep up.  Put on your running shoes, and tune your ears: you’re in for a frantic feast of wit, wisdom, and waggery.

Much Ado about MUCH ADO

 

The 2017 Summer/Fall Season at the Blackfriars Playhouse kicks off this weekend with performances of Peter and the Starcatcher and Much Ado about Nothing.  Today, we’re catching up with Much Ado‘s director, Jenny Bennett, to get some thoughts on the show’s opening.

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Left: Allison Glenzer and David Anthony Lewis in Much Ado about Nothing.  Photo by Michael Bailey.  Right:  Jenny Bennett.  Photo by Lindsey Walters.

This is your third time directing at the Blackfriars Playhouse.  What do you most look forward to about directing here that is different from other venues?  What is similar? 

I love getting to play in Shakespeare’s staging conditions, especially the #SharedLight.  (Wait- is that a real hashtag?  If not, it should be: #SharedLight #ftw.)  There’s no distance between the actors and the audience here: they see us, we see them, we see each other seeing them and each other.  In the shared candlelight of the Blackfriars, we are all right here, right now, making this story together on the great words of these great plays.  It’s some ultimate theatremaking, in my opinion.

I’m a big fan of making theatre that makes the most of the medium, that uses artistic elements that can only happen/that happen best on a stage full of powerful actors inventing a story with the audience right exactly now.  As an audience member, I love it when a production trusts me to imagine along with it—“Oh – that actor I recognize who was just the delighted ingénue in the last scene now has on pants, stuffed her hair in a hat, and is a whole new person called Boy?  And I’m to believe that just because she and the other actors say so?  On the power of their word?  Yes, please.  Awesome!  We will imagine right into that, thanks; we will absolutely join in making this play.

We are so game out here in the audience – we’re hungry to participate in something big and smart and beautiful.  In this Playhouse, we get to unite for a few hours, bound together by a great play spoken by great actors who we imagine along with in #SharedLight (look, I did it again).  It doesn’t matter who we were when we walked into the Playhouse;  by the time we’ve walked out of it after the show, we’ve helped make a play out of nothing.  Well, nothing but words spoken and listened.  Shakespeare might relate ‘words’ to ‘wind’, though, and wind is air, and air is airy…nothing.  Far from diminishing the value of the word, what I take from him is that all human possibilities come from the word.  We exist in language, in a theater or not.  We exist, because we say so.

What about Much Ado about Nothing is different from the two other plays that you’ve directed here (The Winter’s Tale and King Lear)? What are you most looking forward to about this play?

You know, it’s interesting that all three of these plays I’ve gotten to direct here have featured moments of the idea of ‘nothing’ (just a few examples – Leontes’ big WT speech beginning 1.2.284 ‘Is whispering nothing?’; KL sequence beginning with Cordelia’s reply to her father’s request for public love 1.1.87 ‘Nothing.  Nothing?  Nothing, my Lord.  Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.”; Much Ado….about Nothing.)

‘Nothing’ is an idea Shakespeare was very interested in, if you measure interest by the frequency the word and its puns show up in the canon.  I could be projecting, for sure: I’m definitely interested in this idea.  No – thing.  Absence of something.  Infinity.  Possibility.  A moment of creation from which tales can be spun toward harmony or chaos, depending on the spinner (and the listener).

When you add in the accent of English spoken by Shakespeare’s actors at the time, of course, you get all these homophone puns on ‘noting’, too – what we ‘note’, what we pay attention to, or not.  It’s explicit in this play on multiple occasions – Balthasar’s song intro in 2.3, ‘noting’ the daughter of Leonato in 1.1, the Friar’s ‘noting of the lady’ in 4.1.

Much Ado about Noting.  Much Ado about Nothing.  Which is it, do you think?  I think it’s both.  How great is that?  Thanks, Will.

Directing in the Blackfriars is a collaborative process.  What is it like to work with actors who have been on our stage for so many years? 

I love these rockstar nerds.  (And I mean ‘rockstar’ both literally and figuratively: the ASC troupe of actors is my favorite band.  ‘Nerds’ I mean literally, my highest praise.)  Acting in these staging conditions attracts the brave.  It fosters that courage to be present and spontaneous over a five-month run with a few hundred people looking you right in the eye.  The confidence in being, the trust in an audience that comes from long experience on this stage is a precious gift.  The staging conditions are very much about the actor and the text – just the way I like it!

Directing is always a collaborative process wherever it happens — the Theatre itself is a collaborative medium full of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, producers, and a variety of staff, and a play doesn’t happen without all of these contributions.  The whole ASC team and the artistic community they make together is a delight to get to be a part of as a guest.  I’m so excited to see the ASC bringing playwrights into the mix with the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project, too!  They’re gonna have a blast, writing for the possibilities of this troupe, where the words have power and the actors are game.

Do you have a favorite scene or line from this play?  Have any become your favorite through the directing process? 

My favorite line and scene is all of them.  That’s what usually happens to me through the directing process, alas!  But here’s a list of dozen delights that leapt to mind at your question.  I’ll let readers listen for who says them in the show, or let readers guess the speaker, if they’re a lovely supernerd who likes a Shakespeare line quiz:

“Adam’s sons are my brethren, and truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”

“One doth not know how much an ill word may empoison liking.”

“Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.”

“Let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.”

“For it so falls out / That what we have we prize not to the worth / Whiles we enjoy it“

“Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy if I could say how much.”

“If her breath were as terrible as her terminations there were no living near her: she would infect to the North Star.”

“He is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it.”

“Out on thee, seeming! I will write against it.”

“O villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this.”

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?”

What scene or characters should audiences specifically look for? 

Audiences want to look out for the wittiest couple that ever sparred in Benedick and Beatrice.  Throughout the whole play, in fact, every character has some kind of Euphuistic wordplay.  The topic setup, volley, volley, volley, SPIKE of puns, twists, and other feats of wit in this play have tickled audiences into high hilarity for four centuries!

Another thing that I love about this play is the notion that since we’re all invented out of nothing, we can reinvent ourselves out of nothing, too.  Several people in this play are confronted with a rebuke of who they are, or how they’ve been behaving – they overhear people talking about them or are directly told they’ve made a terrible error.  The real mettle of a person is revealed by what they choose to do with that information.  Grace is available to those who take action to repair what’s broken, to be available to Love, to be ‘good men, and true.’  Along these lines, I’m quite fond of our 5.3 Tomb scene.  Chris Johnston, Music Director, wrote the most beautiful song.  I won’t spoil it here, but I hope you love it as much as I do.

You’re ending this play with a big song and dance number.  What inspired that choice? 

Benedick did.  He says ‘Play music!’ and so I said, okay.  We’re fair giddy at that point (that’s his conclusion, anyway), so we went ahead and danced, then, too.  It’s a couple of lines earlier than the Folio’s [Dance] instruction, but we start dancing again there, as well.  Though for the other two songs in the play we chose to keep the text and write the tunes (Tim Sailer composed the delightful ‘Sigh no more, ladies’ that he sings as Balthasar;  Chris Johnston composed the gorgeous Tomb Song), the ASC often takes on musical moments in the plays as they would have been taken on in Shakespeare’s original staging –contemporary, known to the audience—something I’ve always loved as an audience member here.  That guide felt like what was wanted in this exuberant moment, so I looked for a contemporary song.  The one we picked I came upon while on the treadmill (which I stumbled off of, happily thinking this might be it).  I wrote Chris Johnston and said ‘this?’ and he said ‘YES, PLEASE!’  Gotta come to the show to see what it is, though.

Anything else our audiences should know? 

“We are the only love gods.”

“And if a merry meeting may be wished, God prohibit it!”

Much Ado about Nothing is on stage at the Blackfriars Playhouse through November.  More at –> amshakes.center/MuchAdo

Shakespeare’s Mom Was Definitely Better At This Than We Are (But We’re Trying Anyway) #WorldBakingDay

Hi!  We’re Beth and Jeremy two home bakers from the American Shakespeare Center.

DSC_4532At the ASC, we recover the joy and accessibility of Elizabethan theatre, but today we’re on a mission to find out if the Elizabethan kitchen is worth recovering too!

We’ve got ​​a 1658 recipe (found here), turned our baking brains on, and watched enough Great British Bake Off to figure this out.  The recipe is pretty vague, so we’ll probably try out some variants and see what works best.

Take a pound of ſugar finely beaten, four yolks of Eggs, two whites, one half pound of Butter waſht in Roſe-water, fix ſpoonfuls of ſweet Cream warmed, one pound of Currans well pickt, as much flower as will make it up, mingle them well together, make them into Cakes, bake them in an Oven; almoſt as hot as for manchet, half an hour will bake them.

The journey begins . . .

Jeremy looks it up and finely beaten sugar is probably just sugar.  Powdered sugar was called “white powder” which sounds like cocaine and we didn’t have time to buy that.

DSC_4533We’re making rosewater (don’t tell the neighbor but we clipped her rose bush) because we couldn’t find it at a supermarket anywhere near us.  Turns out rosewater is exactly what you’d think it is and super easy to make at home (and useful to keep around!).

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We actually found currants at the supermarket (no indication as to whether or not they’re “well pickt” though)!  We got chocolate chips too because YOLO.   Jeremy says the currants just taste like raisins.  Beth disagrees.  To her, they’re a “weird, tiny raisin.”  Fundamental difference.

Neither of us feels entirely confident about the order of ingredients.  Beth feels like this is probably an “all in one/mix it all together” type thing but Jeremy feels like the butter and sugar should be creamed first.   We go with Beth’s instincts.

Some Notes on the Process, Measurements, and Temperature

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What does being “wafht” in rosewater mean?  Should we rinse the butter in rosewater?  We opt to  add just a couple of tablespoons and mash it together.

We used Google to figure out how much a pound of sugar is, but you could also use a kitchen scale or just guess!

We used a tablespoon for a “fpoonfull.”DSC_4556

There’s no set cooking temperature and we have no clue what a “manchet” is or how hot it should be baked.  We preheat at the tried and true 350°F.

Anyone trying this recipe at home should definitely experiment with all of the above.  We want to hear how it turns out.

Time to Mingle

DSC_4559Then we used Ye Olde KitchenAid mixer to “mingle” sugar, butter, flour, cream, and eggs because our peasants were busy in the fields.  We looked up some other recipes which instructed the reader to beat for a full hour.  We’re not about that.  KitchenAid to the rescue!

“As much flower as will make it up” – what the heck does that mean?  We’re going to attempt multiple flour combinations to see what gives us the best (i.e. least terrible) result.  But, let’s get real, with butter, sugar, and eggs, it will probably taste good.

We start off with just two cups of flour.  The consistency resembles more of a thick batter, so we’re baking it in a muffin tray to see what we get. (Say hello to our assistant, Sunny.)

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Then, we add more flour, probably a cup and a half but at this point we’ve ditched the measuring cups.  Jeremy calls it a very “tacky dough” and the dough yelled “YOU’RE TACKY LOOK AT THAT SHIRT.”  We decide these are best as a typical drop cookie.

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Another cup and a half (ish?) of flour, and the dough resembles shortbread – crumbly, but still holds it’s shape.  All tackiness is gone!  We press these into small cakes and we’re ready to go!

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Into the Oven

We don’t really trust the recipe’s suggested guideline of thirty minutes, so we’re going to check them every 10.

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10 minutes in and they’re looking pretty good.  Still got a way to go!

20 minutes in and batch two are ready to come out.

22 minutes and and batch three are good to go.

30 minutes and batch one is looking good.

Let’s taste!

Batch 1

These are by far the most “cake”y by modern standard.  They’re light, fluffy, and buttery.  The lack of any kind of extract or zest makes them taste kind of plain, but the rosewater comes through nicely on the finish.  (Also, we totally know muffin papers aren’t historically accurate.)

Batch 2

Beth says this batch tastes like cream of wheat.  Jeremy has never eaten cream of wheat so he can’t agree or disagree.  She grabs a chocolate chip variety and – “Oh my god those are so much better.  God I could put those away.  I’m so hungry.”  The rosewater isn’t coming through on this batch at all, probably because the extra flour has neutralized it.  All in all these are pretty underwhelming.

Batch 3

This batch is dry as bones.  They’re decent enough to eat fresh out of the oven (meh but edible).  But after cooling for a little over an hour they’re hard as rocks.  Don’t even try these in your home.  Stick with 1 or 2.

Moral of the Story

Baking is fun!  Eliza-baking is like a riddle, with a pinch of myftery, and a dab of rosewater.  We learned that the modern advances in baking are truly magical, but that these Elizabethan bakers could make a truly tasty cake.