Thursday, December 6, 2007
The Green Wood Studio is currently in what I will call a “Development Year” and we have decided for a variety of reasons to postpone this year’s annual AIRE event scheduled for January 2008. I am in the process of making some important decisions professionally and am actively pursuing teaching, directing and acting jobs outside of my usual communities which may involve some big professional & personal changes.
That said I am working closely with our beloved faculty and administrators on refreshing and reinvigorating our experience so that when we do produce our next event it will be an even more rewarding experience for all involved. One of the things we are actively doing is scouting new geographic locations in the hopes that we can reach an even wider array of artists to come play with us. If you have any recommendations or suggestions we would welcome your input. Please send any and all feedback to Emi Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org .
I know for many of you this is sad news as you were no doubt looking forward to, as I do every year, exploring, growing, and working with instructors and classmates you’ve come to love. I thank you so much for your dedication to our community and I can assure you we will be back and better than ever for our 10th anniversary season in 2009.
I will of course keep you posted, via email, website and blogspot, as details develop about the exciting changes we have planned. In the meantime I encourage you to take classes or privates with me in various cities I already visit, with any of our other instructors (Ted Hoerl, Steve Scott – Chicago, Rob O’Neill – New York, David Smukler – Toronto, Vancouver) or with someone you find in your own city so that you can keep at the top of your game. Martha Karl and Madeline Muravchik are planning to bring me to teach in Washington DC as soon as possible in 2008 in lieu of attending the retreat and if you’d be interested in bringing me or any of our other instructors to your town for a workshop I’d be more than happy to help facilitate that event.
If you have any questions, please contact me or any of our area coordinators. This week, I am both training actors & in training (YBB for those of you who know!) in Los Angeles so may be slow in responding.
Thank you all again for your friendship and support and I look forward to working together again soon.
Green Wood Studio
Actors' International Retreat Experience -A.I.R.E.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Ted Hoerl - Act One Studio instructor & Casting Director, teaching Auditioning with prepared monologue from contemporary theatre.
Molly Lyons – Director of the Green Wood Studio, international director/classical teacher, teaching Playing the Classics with prepared soliloquy or monologue from classical theatre.
Rob O'Neill – NY based Performer & International Movement Coach teaching Embodiment.
Steve Scott - Associate Producer of Chicago's Goodman Theatre teaching Scene Work with prepared scenes.
David Smukler - York University and Canada's National Voice Intensive teaching Voice.
Elizabeth Bagby, Chicago actor, writer, artist
Thank you for the wonderful experience. Thank you for filling up my tank with all that good stuff.
Kenny Hull, LA actor, director, producer
I have never before been so immersed in my art -- constantly creating while also being creatively filled. The instructors are truly gifted, insightful and specific. They teach with love and respect, while being fully willing to jump in, play and learn along side you! The environment itself also fills the artistic soul. I definitely recommend it.
Lisa Benner, NY actor
I learned more in one short course with the Green Wood Studio than I did in two years at a training institute.
Melina Pyron, Soprano, actor
If you're serious about your craft, willing to do the work, and unopposed to having some fun in the process, you'll not find a better learning opportunity, or value for your money. The setting is sweet, the meals tasty, the staff welcoming and helpful. But it's the program that'll keep you returning year after year ('07 will be my third). The instructors are superb, the best group of teachers I've ever worked with. They're not simply knowledgeable, perceptive, humorous and fully human, they know how to teach.
This acting retreat focused my passion and sharpened my skills. I was given the truth about what I was doing in a useful constructive way. Your Integrity is Respected.
Every person should attend this retreat, whether they’re an actor or not. Molly Lyons and her incomparable team of instructors not only teach us to be stronger actors but better people. Through their combined genius they encourage us to face our fears and embrace our passions. Together we strengthen our work as artists and our spirits as human beings. I recommend everyone to experience what I have had the joy of experiencing, a safe, enlightening and joyous atmosphere in which to grow, learn and laugh with people who are truly inspiring.
I never would have had the confidence (to play the part) without having worked with these great teachers.
I don't know when I've felt more alive. This work is magical and transformative.
The retreat is an experience I give myself as a gift as often as I can. As an artist in this unforgiving world at times it is easy to lose focus and lose the wonderment of the craft. I come to the retreat to stretch my creative muscles and fill my spirit with the magic of the work. Every year I have attended the retreat I have left feeling full of inspiration, with a new and renewed awareness of my craft, my instrument and my artistic self as a whole. I am absolutely nervous, excited, and blessed to have this opportunity. The retreat to me is a sacred place to nuture the artist within by working with people who have the same passion an love for this work. I come to refill my well!!!
Betty Lorkowski, Chicago actor
The whole week was beyond belief. I loved the commitment and the intensity we had. Everybody worked so hard; I learned so much. I came to [the retreat] alone, not knowing a soul, and left with new friends and a wonderful experience of theatre.
Robin Hall, Washington DC actor
Nowhere else have I found such immediately applicable and long-lasting coaching and career advice than this week-long intensive.
Ian Farthing, Vancouver actor
I had my first audition since I've been back and I got the part! I cannot tell you how different my experience was. I was so much calmer and 100 times more confident. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Stephanie Pottruck, LA actor
Thank you for the life lesson.
Abe Brown, LA actor
This is where I go every year to re-open as an artist and sharpen my skill set. Plus you simply can't find better instruction - all assembled in one intensive week - anywhere else in the country. These are instructors who are Masters and it is inspiring to work with them. I can't recommend it highly enough!
I used to think your marketing materials claim of "life-changing event" could not be true. Now that I've attended the retreat, I know it is true.
BD Freeman, LA actor, comedian
Thursday, September 6, 2007
As the season began, I was full of doubts as to whether or not I was up to the task of playing Nurse in Romeo and Juliet and Hippolyta/Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
My friend, Ian, gave me the book Will & Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life by Dominic Dromgoole, currently the Artistic Director at the Globe Theatre, London. The book became my muse for creating the characters.
Feeling fairly insecure & as if my very messy life would somehow wreck my work, during rehearsals, Dominic's words about being “human” helped me a great deal. Some of the most important quotes which struck me deeply are:
- "All through my life, when wounds had opened, Shakespeare had appeared with comic balm or tragic suture, to patch things up."
- "With such a shining example of rich and creative complexity before us, how can we not attempt to be as human?"
- And, although I must paraphrase - forgive me - because I cannot find the exact quote, the idea which moved me most to trust that my life, however messy it may be, is all that is necessary to live under the text:
The richer the text, the less we need to embellish but rather let the words remind us of what we have lived. (which was the response I wrote in my journal one night when reading the book.)
As I mentioned in the post below, my other great inspiration over the summer, during performances (thanks to my Canadian colleagues in the cast), was the Canadian television series, Slings & Arrows, about….a Shakespeare Festival in Ontario! The all too brief series (compared to mediocre American tv series which seem to go & on season after seaon ad nauseum) quickly became an addiction for me. I devoured all three seasons, including the extra features like out-takes, interviews, etc. Co-creator Susan Coyne’s comments also moved me to trust the very human experience I found myself struggling with all summer:
- If I have a mission [about Shakespeare], it is to present him as a living playwright for today.
- 400 years later, we're still laughing at a joke ... because we know who these people are ... they're human as we are.
- (About presenting theatre on tv) What we do, the theatre, might be important.
Photo credits of my work with colleagues this summer at SLSF:
Titania & fairies (Emma Hunter, Ashley Keefer, Kaylan Lindsay, Kyle Evans;
Hippolyta & Theseus (Ross Neill);
2 - Nurse & Juliet (Emma Hunter)
Thursday, August 16, 2007
- If I have a mission [about Shakespeare], it is to present him as a living playwright for today.
- 400 years later, we're still laughing at a joke ... because we know who these people are ... they're human as we are.
- (About presenting theatre on tv) What we do, the theatre, might be important.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Molly Lyons as Nurse & Perry Mucci as Romeo
Rain no obstacle to Star-Crossed Lovers
Brockville Recorder & Times
By RONALD ZAJAC
PRESCOTT -- The Fort Town's first taste of Shakespearean tragedy is hardly bitter.The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival's Romeo and Juliet, which opened last night despite the vagaries of nature, is first of all a perfect opposite to A Midsummer Night's Dream in the festival's "Summer of Love" theme.
But it is also a perfect play to ease a local crowd accustomed to comedies, since the start of the five-year-old festival, into the darker side of Shakespeare's work.It is perhaps easy to forget how lightly this tragic tale of star-crossed lovers begins. The dialogue in the early acts is full of quick-firing puns, ribaldry and bawdy humour, lines, such as Sampson's famous "maiden-heads" pun, that one would expect to hear from some of the characters in Midsummer. Where the play turns tragic, where these lovers' story crosses a line beyond which there is no possibility of a happy ending, is in Act 3, Scene 1, when the rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues begins to claim lives. By then, the audience is already drawn in by the strength of the characters and is ready for a descent into darkness that is stunningly choreographed.
Director Craig Walker, who also doubles as this play's conscience in the character of Prince Escalus, had to make some difficult decisions to bring this production down to its practical limit of just over two hours. Gone is some of the dialogue in key moments, and audience members will have to seek reassurance in the original text that the likable Friar Lawrence (compellingly played by Tyler Murree), is forgiven for his well-intentioned but ill-fated scheme. But in return for such textual sacrifices is a tragedy that, by paring away some of the text, provides an emotional crescendo driven by raw emotion.In particular, leads Perry Mucci and Emma Hunter perform the challenging death scene almost like a dark dance, conveying the tragedy through movement rather than words. The resulting shift between the warring families from rivalry to reconciliation, upon the discovery of the young lovers' bodies, is also conveyed wordlessly, with Shakespeare's text serving more to confirm the transformation rather than effect it. This is achieved through the pacing given to the play by Walker's edits, and the effect left the small but determined opening night audience transfixed.
While there are no weak links in this mostly seasoned cast, Mucci in particular stands out because he shows himself worthy of the challenging role of Romeo after the succession of comic characters he has played in the local festival. (Indeed, on the nights he isn't playing Romeo, Mucci will be speaking in a deliberately ridiculous falsetto as Francis Flute in Midsummer.) Romeo is above all driven by an immature emotional extremism that ultimately claims his life, and Mucci, cited by Walker for his "boyish" looks, plays this with the right pitch. Similarly, Hunter captures the fluttering innocence of the 13-year-old Juliet, complete with prattling silliness, in the earlier acts, then grows up very quickly, as she is required to do, in the latter part of the play.
The entire cast, crew and indeed the audience members deserve citations of valour for what has got to be the five-year-old festival's most difficult opening night. As thunder began sounding in the distance, Murree used it to his advantage by incorporating it, at least gesturally, into Friar Lawrence's early dialogue. By the end of the intermission, artistic director Ian Farthing (Mercutio) remained optimistic, telling the audience the brunt of the storm missed Prescott and the play would continue in the Kinsmen Amphitheatre. It wasn't much later, however, when the rain began in earnest and everyone was moved uphill to the nearby tent, to see the play's denouement coincide with an invasion of mosquitoes. It is perhaps a testament to this production's power, however, that during the final scenes the slapping and shooing seemed to diminish for a moment. The mosquitoes were the result of the delay caused by the move to the tent. Festival regulars will know that by now, these Shakespeareans have learned how to time their productions to end right before the after-dark infestation begins. That is, when the weather co-operates just a little.
Despite what the weather has in store for the next few weeks, Romeo and Juliet is a production that deserves a much bigger crowd.
Published in Section A, page 4 in the Thursday, July 19, 2007 edition of the Brockville Recorder & Times.Posted 4:31:49 PM Thursday, July 19, 2007.
Molly Lyons as Nurse & Emma Hunter as
Brockville Recorder & Times
By RONALD ZAJAC, Staff Writer
PRESCOTT -- Of all the Bard's plays staged at the Kinsmen Amphitheatre so far, this one is arguably the most apt.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, which opened the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival's fifth season on Saturday, is a romp through Shakespeare's "Green World."
It's a play that deserves to be performed outdoors, making the waterfront amphitheatre an ideal setting for it. (Friday's preview performance was indeed staged outdoors, although Saturday night's opener, given the weather, was held inside the festival's nearby tent. On the upside, the tent was full.)
The "Green World," a term coined by the late critic Northrop Frye, is the wilderness to which many of Shakespeare's comic heroes escape.
Under the trees, potentially tragic lovers like Lysander and Hermia are governed not by strict Athenian law, but by whimsical, magical beings who lure them astray with their tricks, yet have conscience enough to make everything right by sunrise.
The Prescott production not only captures the sheer joy of Shakespeare's best-known comedy, but uses the "Green World" magic of the amphitheatre to full advantage. Characters sweep down on the audience from above, while music from an unseen performer wafts over the trees during the woodland spirits' games.
This is, truly, an enchanting way to spend a midsummer's night.
It's also a worthy rendition of the quintessential Shakespearean comedy.
Director Steve Scott has remained faithful to the text and the performers, many of them festival regulars by now, do it justice.
In particular, leads Ross Neill and Molly Lyons bring the right mixture of severity and comedy to the roles of the fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania, while Michael MacDonald, whose talent for physical comedy is by now well known, is an excellent choice for the mischievous Puck.
Meanwhile, the four benighted lovers (Amanda Levencrown as Hermia, Dorian Foley as Lysander, Lisa Benner as Helena and Dan De Jaeger as Demetrius), whose confused trip through the Green World is the core of the play, are also well cast.
In particular, Benner, the delicate Hero in last year's Much Adoe About Nothing, and Levencrown, who gives a somewhat coarser edge to Hermia, make for interesting echoes of the play's two other female archetypes: the fairy queen and the amazon.
And while the St. Lawrence troupe does it for budgetary reasons, casting the same two actors for the Theseus-Hippolyta and Oberon-Titania pairings conveys the message, first delivered with a similar twin-pairing in Peter Brook's famous 1970 staging, that the worlds of the mortals and fairies mirror each other.
But for comedy of the side-splitting variety, enter the "rude mechanicals," the Elizabethan term for lower-class labourers, whose hilarious play-within-a-play, and the attempt to rehearse it, provide the real from-the-gut laughter.
All six of these characters provide the play's comedic climax with their mis-staged tragedy that serves as a satire on the potentially tragic love that has just been healed in the "Green World."
In particular, Craig Walker, as Bottom, takes on the challenge of being unwittingly elevated to main character status when Puck gives him an ass's head, while Oberon magically contrives to have Titania fall in love with him.
And here we find this play's main flaw, likely the bane of every Midsummer Night's Dream director: what to do about that ass's head.
It's a tricky dilemma. Having a character run around with a donkey's head without knowing it is the stuff of pure physical comedy, yet at the same time, the audience needs to see that confusion in the actor's face. The result, as in this case, is often a head with ass's ears, but little else to suggest a donkey Walker compensates for this forgivable problem with all the facial expressiveness Bottom demands, and throws in his own deliberately asinine laugh to boot.
This Midsummer Night's Dream comes with arguably more double-entendre than other renditions, most of it delivered through physical comedy, and there are brief moments when the physical comedy distracts the viewer from the text.
But then, one could argue this is how the Bard intended it, as Puck looks on and observes: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
The Shakespeare festival's "Summer of Love" continues Wednesday with the opening of Romeo and Juliet on Wednesday.
· Published in Section A, page 3 in the Monday, July 16, 2007 edition of the Brockville Recorder & Times.
Ross Neill as Oberon & Molly Lyons as Titania
Friday, July 6, 2007
Here are some audience reviews of a recent performance in Ottawa. In short, it was the 50th anniversary of Duke Ellington's suite to Shakespeare, called Such Sweet Thunder. Ross Neill, Ian Farthing and myself, all from the St Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, were asked, along with another Shakespeare company, to perform with the Impressions in Jazz ensemble.
I learned a great deal during this process, which was a bit hectic to say the least, the most important one being: my passion & joy for simply saying the words is enough to lift me. Playing a bunch of the strong, sometimes bad women, all in one night, was a thrilling experience: Lady Mac, Tamara, Kate, Titania, a witch, a brief revisit with Cleopatra, etc.
Also, I learned when I trust my scene partners, the wave of creativity really takes me on a fun surf. I was so thankful that Ian and Ross were performing with me because I know their work and can trust them. For instance, I saw them both make a really cool blocking choice when we were each taking chorus for a scene from Romeo & Juliet, so I followed suit and imitated them. I believe it made the choral bits work better and lent very tight focus to the 2 actors playing R & J.
It was as if we were influenced by the jazz and were able to jam in realy cool ways.
The music was positively inspiring and the orchestra ROCKED.
Once again, it is always rewarding to be onstage but, I must say, last minute frantic-ness aside, this was particularly FUN.
Molly Lyons as Kate from Taming of the Shrew with Ian Farthing as Lucentio, Ross
Neill as Petruchio and Emmanuelle Zeesman as Bianca with Impressions in Jazz
Conductor, Adrian Cho, looking on.
- The Duke & The Bard audience quotes:
“Your orchestra is superb - I heard the music truly come to life thanks to their passionate and skilful playing.”
Ian Farthing, Artistic Director, St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival
“We were both extremely impressed by the show. The venue, the atmosphere, and all the little extras only complemented the quality of the performances. The pairing of music and acting made for a complete package and a very unique experience.”
“This was a brilliant show. We enjoy baroque music and jazz - it was amazing to have them brought together like that. I've been a bardophile for years, so it was a real treat to hear music express characters. We usually feel that modern settings and costumes don't work for Will S's plays, but the jazz sure did. What a great group of musicians - we'll be keeping track of their gigs.”
“A brief note to congratulate you and your musicians for your wonderful performance last night. I thought it was beautifully put together and executed.”
Jacques Émond, Programming Director, Ottawa International Jazz Festival
“Congratulations on a fabulous show last night! All ensembles were awesome and it was apparent that everyone was having a great time, enjoying both the readings and music.”
“Sweet show! The music was so tight. I loved it as did the gang that accompanied me.”
Mary Catherine Jack
“Just a note of thanks to you and to all of the IJO team for the wonderful evening Tuesday. This was my first chance to hear the orchestra and I was bowled over by the precision and vibrance of the playing - fantastic achievement. The whole conception of the evening was a revelation to me. This is the kind of cross-cultural synergy that is so needed but so seldom encountered. Looking around me, I couldn't find a single face that was anything less than animated throughout the evening.”
“The concert was spectacular and the audience was very appreciative. What you are doing is like a breath of fresh air in Ottawa; we are blessed with some great musicians and you have given them a high class focus for their talents.”
“Congratulations on Tuesday's performance! Everyone at my table was ecstatic; none had heard the IJO before and all said they'd be at future concerts.”
Ron Sweetman, jazz writer and radio producer
Other photos available at
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
(The art washes away from the soul the dust of the daily life.)
Quelemia Sparrow - actor, Elaine Avila - director/dramaturge, Ian Farthing - actor, Bill Clark - composer, Gabriel Faifman - actor, Molly Lyons - actor, Muriel Faifman - actor / playwright and new Canadian citizen.
(And she turned 11 years old during our rehearsal process.)
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
When my mentor, Bill James, was advising me on becoming a teacher and my nose wrinkled, as if to say, “but I’m an ARTIST,” he said: "those who can, do; those who can do better, teach."
Recently, when seeing the work of my several of my fellow teacher / artist peers, I fondly remember how wise my mentor was.
I saw David Smukler, AIRE voice instructor, in The Seagull in Toronto in February. I thought he was charming, dotty, funny, vulnerable, surprisingly forceful … a wonderfully dimensional performance. Wonderfully Chekhovian, too, because he brought both HUMOR and pathos to the play. (Can't resist saying that Kate Fenton, as Masha, with whom I worked at St Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, was born to do Chekhov! So terribly funny until the last moment when her grief retched out of her on one breath.)
I saw Ted Hoerl, AIRE audition instructor, in The Weir in Chicago in March. Now, this is a play I LOVE and it is based in the area of Ireland from whence my people hoist their pints. Of the many compliments I paid Ted, one was: “I recognized you as a guy from my town sitting on the bar stool.” The other amazing thing he did was LISTEN like nobody’s business and this is no small feat, especially with the staging of this particular production. He actually made other people’s stories come to life without detracting from their telling in the least.
I saw AIRE’s scene work instructor, Steve Scott’s production of Rabbit Hole in Chicago in March. How does one recognize the work of a great director? It is nearly invisible, really, but Emi Clark & Betty Lorkowski (who saw the show with me) and I agree that there is a recognizable Steve style: careful attention to human detail. Particularly in the supporting characters, there were such amazing human quirks and foibles, little lifts of the eyebrow or tiny straightenings of the spine that told me Steve spent weeks asking questions! (Review of Steve's recent work, Frozen, is a couple of posts below.)
Although not directly Green Wood Studio / AIRE related, I saw colleague Craig Walker in Candida in Kingston, Canada, last week. Craig is a drama professor at Queen’s University, hence the relevance, & played Benedick to my Beatrice last summer in St Lawrence Shakespeare Festival’s Much Ado About Nothing (co-directed by meself & Steve Scott). Tricky thing for Craig with Candida was, he directed himself as one of the leads: Rev. James Morrell. I thought his direction of the show was excellent: clear, clean, uncluttered, no schmacting; his take on the show seemed to be to let Shaw's feckin brilliant text shine. I also liked his performance very much. He gave us a full range of human behavior: warts and all. Who the heck is crazy enough to take on a role like that and direct themselves? What was he thinking? Oops. Pots & kettles calling each other black.
It gives me great satisfaction to say that I am blessed to work with a fistful of artist / teachers who can do better.
This summer, I get to work with two of them again: Steve Scott is directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Craig Walker is playing Bottom and I am playing Hippolyta / Titania. Craig is directing me as Nurse in Romeo & Juliet.
David: Sorry I don’t have a review of Seagull !!
Signal's The Weir opened last week to critics' raves and enthusiastic applause.
The Daily Herald's Barbara Vitello writes, "Prentice's discreet, graceful direction underscores a wonderfully understated production from Signal, a relative newcomer to the Chicago scene and a company that bears watching. So convincing is this well-acted, well-paced production, you might find yourself tempted to order a pint and join in the conversation that unfolds over the course of a stormy evening in this out-of-the-way pub in Northwest Ireland."
A "must see" show for
"Features a note-perfect set by Melania Lancy and subtle, unhurried performances...— Reid, Chicago Reader
"This is a brilliant production of a fantastic play with five outstanding performances that unfolds as one mesmerizing night at the theatre. This is one of the finest plays of the year!" — ChicagoCritic.com
"John Zinn and Ted Hoerl anchor this amazing show. " -- Chicagocritic.com
"There’s Jack (Ted Hoerl, expertly tempering sarcasm with regret) a mechanic who opens the dam’s floodgates with a fairy story and closes them with a bittersweet, cautionary tale." -- The Daily Herald
"Hoerl, in particular, is in fine form as the cantankerous old man of the group." -- Time Out Chicago
"The players emote with such casual competence that you almost forget that they’re acting….Hoerl’s affectionate portrayal of Jack has an edge-worn, lived-in feel that rightly owns the show." -- Centerstagechicago.com
Taken from the March 21, 2007 Illinois News Wire
Dan ZeffCopley News Service
Review of Rabbit Hole at the Goodman Theatre
CHICAGO - Why would anyone want to watch a play about two parents trying to deal with the grief of losing a child in an accident? If it's a play like Rabbit Hole, the rewards are considerable, thanks to sensitive and honest writing blended with humor, all presented in a flawless performance at the Goodman Theatre.
The David Lindsay-Abaire drama was a surprise hit on Broadway last year. Lindsay-Abaire made his reputation with a pair of absurdist comedy-dramas called Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo, neither of which prepared audiences and reviewers for the finely tuned realism and compassion of Rabbit Hole.
Given its off-putting subject matter, the play wasn't a candidate for a national tour. Goodman picked up the show for its subscription series, for which local theatergoers should give much thanks.
The storyline is simple. Howie and Becca are a thirty-something husband and wife living in the suburb of Larchmont, N.Y. As the play begins, it's been eight months since their only child, a 4-year-old boy named Danny, was killed by an automobile when he ran into the street to chase the family dog. The first scene is disarmingly light, with Becca bantering and bickering with her disheveled younger sister Izzy, who hasn't been able to get her life together and now finds herself pregnant.
The casual humor of the opening minutes gradually yields to a portrait of both Becca and Howie floundering emotionally as they grieve over their boy's death, each in his or her own way. Becca is tortured by reminders of the boy scattered throughout the home and even wants to sell the house. Howie treasures those reminders, whether they are a videotape of the boy just before his death or his childish paintings pasted on the refrigerator door. Becca's mother Nat adds to the emotional mix, a blunt woman still dealing with the suicide of her adult son 11 years ago.
The play is shot through with tensions among all the characters, including Izzy and Jason, the high school boy who drove the car that killed Danny. The marriage between Howie and Becca is under psychological siege. Both characters are locked in their own worlds of suffering and they often rub each other raw. Ironically, the flighty Izzy seems to grow in strength of character as her pregnancy advances.
To the playwright's credit, he offers no easy solutions or bogus happy endings to the agony of the bereaved parents. For them, a term like "closure" is psychobabble. They will never get over the death of their child, but in the play's final moment there is a hint that perhaps they can face their loss with a resolution that will preserve their marriage and their mental health.
In a play of this delicacy, the production is everything. One false note of melodrama or sentimentality would shatter the evening. The script must have been a scary project for director Steve Scott, but he rose to the challenge with a staging of sustained intensity, leavened with humor, that looks and sounds just right every moment.
The performances are beyond criticism. Each of the five characters comes across with realism, credibility and humanity. I can only speculate on the emotional toll the play must take on the cast each performance. But, they all seem born to play their roles. The obvious centerpieces of the ensemble are the actors who play the parents, yet I'll start with Jürgen Hooper, who makes three appearances as Jason, the young driver of the car that killed Danny. The boy is obviously suffering a misery of guilt and regret over the incident, but he speaks with an understatement that delivers more impact that any weeping or breast beating. Hooper's rendering of the boy's quiet pain is indelible.
Lia Mortensen plays Becca and Daniel Cantor plays Howie. Both capture the anger and frustration and agony of their situation without a misstep. Mortensen and Cantor create decent and intelligent people struggling to handle an appalling catastrophe, which at this time looks like a lifetime sentence of unending sorrow. They reach out for consolation but the ache and desperation are often just too much.
Mary Ann Thebus provides some welcome comic relief as Becca's outspoken mother trying to cope with her own demons in the loss of her son. Amy Warren, an actress on the rise in area theater big-time, is just right as Izzy, the disheveled sister who talks a lot of undiplomatic common sense to Becca and Howie.
Scott Bradley designed the bi-level set that authentically re-creates the kitchen and living room of the suburban home on the first level, with the bedroom of the dead child above. Birgit Rattenborg Wise designed the contemporary costumes, Robert Christen the atmospheric lighting, and Richard Woodbury provided the sound design and original music.
The show gets a rating of 3 1/2 stars.
Bernard Shaw’s State of the Union
Theatre Kingston's comedy sees two men - a poet, the husband - fight for Candida's love.
Madness - or rather the attribution of madness - appears as the lightest of comic leit motifs in George Bernard Shaw's Candida.
When a character's behaviour pushes beyond the borders of the conventional and the expected, he or she is quickly judged mad by those who db not comprehend it.
Prossy, the straight-laced. outspoken and love-struck secretary to Morell; Marchbanks, the naive, romantically obsessed but surprisingly resilient poet; Morell, the Christian clergyman and pious socialist whose other god is honesty and straight speaking; and Candida herself, Morell's eminently practical. managerial wife - none are immune from the allegation.
As Burgess, Candida's father, says, "Why, it must be catching! Four in the same house!"
These precipitous attributions of insanity give rise to some of the comedy in this pleasantest of Shaw's Plays Pleasant. But they also function as satiric Shavian fingerpointing at those who fail to understand his ideas. They serve, too, as a warning to his audiences that they must look beneath the surface to grasp the meaning of the conundrum presented in his play.
And what is the conundrum in Candida?
How is it, Shaw asks, that we are able to do good in the world? From where does the strength, the grace to do so, come? Does it come from being in the right and wielding the power and the authority that flows from being right? Or does it arise out of the love of one human being for another?
It is somewhat more than 100 years since Shaw wrote Candida. In Theatre Kingston's production of his play, the puzzle still intrigues and the working out of the resolution continues to delight.
Paula Schultz's Candida is a woman whom, in Morell's words, "Everyone loves... they can't help it." She is clear-headed, charming, tender, motherly and, when provoked, indignantly angry. Above all, she is sensible and practical. Schultz switches neatly from role to role and it is easy to see why she can become all things to all men.
However, Candida is placed on something of a pedestal. Much of the tension in the play arises from the fact that each man sees in Candida whatever he desires her to be.
Conflict is inevitable. and those who have the most invested in herthe parson and the poet - must do battle for her:
The Rev. James Mavor Morell is Candida's good-looking, vigorous, honey-tongued and charismatic husband. Passionately committed to the socialist cause, he thunders it from the pulpit and night after night whips up the members of various social action groups to enthusiastic applause.
Morell loves Candida; to him she is the perfect marriage partner: To Candida, however, he is "my boy... spoiled with love and worship." Craig Walker gives us both of these sides of Morell and lets us see clearly that he is ripe, and probably overdue, for a fall.
Naive in his way and piously certain of his relationship with Candida, when Morell's marriage is threatened; Walker modulates nicely from confident laughter through doubt-filled anxiety, then genuine hurt, violent anger, to climax in child-like self-pity.
But Walker, rightly, never allows his character to become merely pitiable. Rather, Morell struggles honestly with his fears, confronts them courageously, and finally understands and accepts Candida's role in their marriage.
Mr. Eugene Marchbanks, the son of an Earl, the romantically anguished 18-year-old poet is cast as the threat to the Morell's middleclass love nest.
Marchbanks is blind to how Candida can have fallen in love with Morell. He is appalled that Candida must slice onions and ruin her hands wielding a scrub brush.
Instead, he offers to sail her away "far from the world. where the marble floors are washed by the rain and dried by the sun." Goodness and beauty don't belong in the ugly, real world.
If occasionally he appears to have an overly "shrinking manner" (Shaw's description), Adam Wray as Marchbanks creates an effective foil to Morell in which his tormented passion and acute sensitivity are a worthy match to the parson's sermonizing.
Inevitably, the conflict between these two is foisted on the mother/goddess, Candida: "I am to choose, am I? ... I am up for auction it seems." And with her decision resolving the Gordian knot that Shaw has created for us, the play ends.
Much of the laughter is provided by supporting characters.
Proserpine (Prossy) Garnet, played by Emma Hunter; is lovingly obedient to her superiors and, on the other hand, earns some fine laughs cutting down to size her over-pretentious peers, Lexy and Burgess.
David Condren as the Reverend Alexander Mill (Lexy), is delightful in his over-the-top dotage on his master; Morrell.
**** out of 5 stars
THEATER Virginia slayings could make audience cool, even to hot performances
April 18, 2007
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Critic
What a difference a day makes. Until Monday's slaughter at the Virginia Institute of Technology, the ideas about violence, retribution and forgiveness in Bryony Lavery's 2004 "Frozen" -- a London and Broadway hit now in a stunningly acted Chicago area debut at Next Theatre -- might have reached receptive audiences. They might even have bought into the British playwright's neat assessment of the difference between those who act out of willful evil and those driven to do terrible things as a consequence of damage caused by physical and emotional abuse in childhood.
But now, all that research might seem like so much hogwash. True, there are thugs who kill and destroy for venal or radically political purposes. Equally true, there are those whose violent acts might well be rooted in the extreme cruelty meted out to them early in their lives. Yet when the corpses pile up -- and your own child, parent or loved one is among the innocent victims -- does it really make a difference? And is acceptance and forgiveness the best way to move on?
Lavery's play is set in a rural English town where Nancy (Laura T. Fisher), has been emotionally frozen for 20 years -- ever since her 10-year-old daughter was abducted, raped and murdered by Ralph (Joseph Wycoff), a serial killer since imprisoned.
Now, Agnetha (Jenny McKnight), an American psychiatrist with a severe case of panic disorder, has come to London to deliver a research paper written in collaboration with a married man she loved, and who was recently killed in an accident.
Agnetha's thesis is that the brain of an abused child does indeed develop differently, so the adult actions of that person cannot be condemned as evil but as the consequence of illness. Incarceration might be necessary, but compassion and forgiveness also are needed. So in a climactic scene, Nancy visits her daughter's tormentor, and both appear to find mutual catharsis, even if this takes radically different forms.
Director Steve Scott, who has a terrific flair for casting, has chosen his cast to perfection. Fisher, in a brilliant portrayal, easily suggests a 20-year gap, and McKnight, sensual and mysteriously wounded, is quite the neurotic. As for Wycoff -- head shaved, eyes like bits of coal and strangely sexy in the hypnotic, rhythmic patterns of his speech -- he will wow you. In fact, for a few days now, I've been compulsively repeating Ralph's little mantra ("Oh, yes; oh, yes").
Lavery's argument is very hard to swallow, but these actors will make you bite all the same.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
"Clumps" - part of
Carolyn Cox - Seattle
Vicky Drake - Seattle
Valerie Sing Turner - Vancouver
Lisa Levan - Seattle
Tricia Rogers - Chicago
Liz Bagby - Chicago
Norm Stamper - Orcas Island
Kristen Nedopak - Seattle
Kara Whitney - Seattle
Emi Clark - Chicago
Eleanor Crowder - Ottawa
Christi Proffitt - Seattle
Betty Lorkowski -
Steinmanis - Vancouver
Your performances were, after all, riveting. God bless Rob for being able to
focus as it was.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
You may not believe that this is the kind of feedback you want but, in my opinion, it is.
I am neither going to read your script just now nor give you "criticism" on it. Harsh answer, right? I believe it's a just answer.
Here's why: first of all, I don't feel like I have the appropriate relationship with you to really offer you the kind of constructive "criticism" a new play deserves. Secondly, I don't have the time right now to invest in your project as it deserves. Thirdly, I don't believe that new plays should be indiscriminately read and judged because great damage can be done to the project, the playwright and your process.
So, my advice is thus: you will get plenty of criticism. Draw a sacred circle around your project and invite only those people into it you utterly trust to help you develop YOUR VISION FOR YOUR PROJECT not offer opinions on what they would do differently, how it would work better, how to deconstruct to reconstruct. I'll say it another way: find advisors WHO ARE EXPERTS who know about developing a vision into a tangible creation and only trust those people. Find a couple of trusted friends who will not tell you how to write your play to whom you can rant about how fucked up everyone's feedback is and how horrible they're being to your baby.
I've had too many of my own projects killed by "helpful" friends and seen too many colleagues have their joy robbed from them by "helpful" colleagues. Somewhere in my soul I have a hole for those creations because they never got staged.
Read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way to find out how damaging or helpful people can be and her advice about how to protect, nurture and develop your creations in helpful not hurtful ways.
That is my feedback. If it is disappointing, I'm sorry, but I still believe it is some of the wisest feedback you will get.
Come to class or the retreat sometime. Then, you'll really see what I mean.
Wishing you a healthy process in your creation!
Monday, January 15, 2007
I must say that I was not only pleased with the actors' work but found the material very rewarding. Included were a good range of classics, European realism and a variety of both Canadian & American contemporary plays. Given that this year's retreatants included our largest contingent of Canadian actors and our faculty now includes Canadian instructor, David Smukler, I think it important the variety of material was present. Thanks to Ian Farthing for all of the Canadian material.
This year's event was, for me, more cohesive, deeper in discovery and more clearly focused. I set simple goals for myself as both an administrator and instructor so, if and when problems arose, it was so much easier to make decisions. I knew the faculty was supporting each other and being extremely flexible with our curriculum so that we could listen to the needs of the group and make adjustments. The addition of Voice to the retreat was crucial and created the possibility for actors to deepen their work in new ways.
Being that this event is a dream come true for me, this year's dreams were realized in far more tangible ways.
I couldn't be more thrilled.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
I figured out that this wasn't the contest against my tendency to screw things up after all. It was about aligning my mind and my body to the task at hand. It wasn't about working against myself: it was about working with the wood. I was no longer guilty of believing in my inability more than in my ability.
Monday, January 1, 2007
In a world where everything is fast, solutions are quick, pain is instantly relieved and grief is a 3 day bereavement leave, I have discovered that many artists also resort to the quick fix for their creative processes. As an acting teacher, I encounter this question more than any other: how long will it take me to ‘get it’? As a director, I perceive the pattern from day one: I must get it right and do so NOW. As an actor, I find that my process can often be very slow. My studio teacher in grad school, Paul Blake, once said, “In 10 years, you won’t have to think about this, it will be ingrained in you, keep working on it.” So, I worked, trained and stayed in classes for 10 years after grad school and, voila, he was right! Certain aspects of technique had become delicious habits.
What is the current burning need to hurry up and get it all? Certainly, we have a cultural pressure to accomplish things faster by spending longer hours at work, whether it be in an office or constantly available via instant technology to answer the world’s demands. I believe that the artist’s impulse to hurry up & “fix” everything comes from a deeper need to fill a hole at the center of our creative spirits. If we liken what we do in our work, pulling a character up out of our souls, to a well from which we must draw up clean water to drink, then, without great care and replenishment, the creative waters may get stagnant, muddy, hit rock, then, eventually, the well may parch and run dry. It is that parched dryness which I believe burns up and burns out many a creative soul. It is a vain attempt to fill the gnawing void quickly that leads us to patterns of burn out which can eventually destroy the creative source.
I took nearly a decade from the professional stage because of just such a dryness in the well of my creative spirit.
Michael Gellman at Second City Theatre told me that someone did a medical study of the impact of an 8-show week on an actor’s body and that it was the physical equivalent of a minor car wreck. This pouring out that we do has a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual impact on our tender instruments.
So, what can we do to keep our instruments finely tuned for the work? Pursue and promote the best fitness possible: mind, body, and creative spirit.
For this essay, I want to focus on the creative spirit and simple, little things we can do to replenish and refill our creative wells so that we always have fresh and fragrant water to pour out in our expression.
First, do you journal your process? There is nothing like writing out your responses to rehearsals, performances and workshops to point out habits, weak points and strengths to better your craft. If you do not know how to begin, read & do Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY, it’s a great launching point for understanding the creative process.
When you are not in production (rehearsal or performance) are you always fine-tuning your craft? When a show closes, get back in class so that you can work on those things which arise when you are expressing your creativity. Are you always in the same class or do you explore different aspects of the craft? Widen horizons and take improv, movement or voice, a deep exploration of text or directing just to better understand the process. Stephen Covey, author of SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, calls it “sharpening the saw”. Our tools must be in great shape in order to accomplish the creative task at hand.
Do you get adequate rest when in rehearsal or performance? Know your limits and take care of yourself.
After auditions, do you explore the feelings that arise out of them and let them stir around in your spirit? I find most actors ignore the feelings which arise out of auditions and “stuff” them, pretending that auditions don’t matter. Of course they do or we wouldn’t go out on them!! I have learned that there is a grieving process which occurs after auditions when I don’t get the job and a celebratory high which occurs after auditions when I do get the contract. In both circumstances, I used to be reluctant to explore those feelings out of either shame or caution. Shame when I don’t get hired, like I am not good enough; caution in the face of my colleagues, in case they aren’t working. Create for yourself a sacred circle of friends or family with whom you can share your reactions to auditions and do so. I celebrate every one of my students’ contracts and mourn when they don’t get hired so that they will learn to do so, too. Journal these discoveries so that you can learn from them and expand your toolbox.
When shows close, do you allow yourself the feelings which arise from saying goodbye to that production? Again, grieving occurs. Sometimes, we deeply miss a show and the routine of preparing for, arriving at, and expressing ourselves in the theatre. Sometimes, like a relative with a lingering disease, we are relieved to see a show close. Either way, explore and journal your reactions to finishing a project.
Finally, there are small, ongoing events, which I consider tasks of beauty, I do before, during and after pouring out my creative spirit which help me rest and replenish. I encourage you to explore and find out what soothes and rejuvenates your soul. If any of mine inspire you, STEAL THEM, I give them to you joyfully.
I draw myself a bath, light some candles and listen to Baroque music.
I go to a museum and sit in front of an intriguing piece of art with my journal. Sometimes, I even explore a character in a piece of art and journal what they might be thinking, feeling or wishing.
I read some of my favorite poetry; I read a book that is beautifully written, I love Irish writers and classics like Jane Austen; I read Shakespeare’s History plays in chronological order just to learn something new.
I get a manicure or, better yet, a pedicure; visit a licensed massage therapist; give myself a luxurious gift for my body which is different from my regular physical conditioning.
I take myself to a movie that is lovely and watch it all by myself; I go to a concert, the symphony or the ballet.
I sit by my pond, light a fire and simply watch the embers glow while drinking a favorite tea or really good wine.
I set a sacred circle of time around auditions or performances wherein which I will not have emotional confrontations with people. Once, a friend wanted to talk to me about a bump in our relationship the morning of a performance of my one-woman show and I politely declined, making a firm commitment to a specific date to meet her for coffee later and then kept my word.
I relish in practicing other hobbies which refresh & stimulate me: gardening, stained glass, embroidery, ethnic dance classes; creative tasks which awaken & nourish my creative spirit without always being tunnel-visioned about the theatre. I always have a discovery about the creative process which is immediately applicable to my work in the theatre when indulging myself in other forms of artistic expression.
I journal during/after all of the above.
When I awaken and nourish all of my senses with beautiful experiences: listening to music, seeing great art, feeling my muscles stretch, tasting freshly grown herbs, moving and expanding my whole instrument, my spirit feels refreshed, enabling me to continually pour out water which will be rejuvenating for me and refreshing for my audience.
If you are tired, find a way to receive so your spirit is renewed BEFORE you burn out. If you have poured out your creative waters past the point of being fresh, take a break, rest and take good care of yourself; quickly give yourself some space from your primary art and explore something new.
As my mentor, Bill James, said to me when I faced the decision of stepping away from my calling from sheer burn-out, “If you can find no joy in your work, you will bring no joy to the theatre, your colleagues will find no joy in trying to create with you. Take a break, restore your joy, the theatre will be there when you come back.” It was hard to believe that time would not rush by me if I stepped away, that the “best years” of my career might have been spent in hiatus, but, more importantly, my joy was, indeed, restored. I took classes from respected teachers and reawakened my creative spirit. I opened an acting studio and re-discovered, through my students, my joy. I began an annual winter retreat with colleagues I love and respect where artists can find a place to renew and recharge their creativity. When I returned to the stage, I created mission, vision & values statements for the different aspects of my career: actor, teacher, director, writer; and use those as a barometer for healthy, rejuvenating creativity. I have, as part of my vision statement, a credo that is simply, "I envision myself working where I want with the people I want who are of like mind, heart and spirit." It means I work less than if I threw myself at every venue but, I'm happier, healthier and get chewed up less often.
If you decide it is part of the “work” of playing in the theatre that you take the time to refill the well, your creative waters will always be worth drinking. Rest, replenish, receive, refresh, restore, renew, rejuvenate, and you will discover you are always ready to create & re-create.