Carnival!

August 1, 2011 at 12:32 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

I love to get out during the summer to see outdoor Shakespeare. I’ve been wishing and wanting for months to see the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s carnival-themed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company lets kids in for free, and I thought this might be the perfect play for my boys, who are 6 and 9 and not very good at sitting still. Many of the shows begin at 8 PM, which is too late for us, but I made it out tonight for their 6 PM show, the last of the season! I am so glad.

I meant to get there early for the pre-show carnival games and fun, but we got tied up in DC beltway traffic and only made it about 15 minutes before showtime. The kids still enjoyed some games and had a quick burger before the show began. There was face painting and a sprinkler set up for the kids (I am kind of immune to the heat here, but I think the temp was in the high 90s at the show’s start… it felt pleasant to me and all the seats were in the shade). We brought a blanket and could have sat right up front, but the boys wanted to sit on folding chairs. There are no bad seats.

Molly Moores as Titania & Jose Guzman as Oberon from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I saw Chesapeake Shakespeare do Much Ado About Nothing last year, and I described their incredible outdoor performing space at the ruins of an antebellum finishing school in Ellicott City, Maryland. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they transform the ruins into a circus, with a tightrope, some signs, and lights… the carnival theme is not taken too far.

The show begins with some magic tricks, but again it’s not taken too far. Oberon is dressed as the circus master and Titania is his assistant, but other than that, the carnival theme fades and we’re in familiar forest and fairyland.

Jamie Jager as Puck & Stacy Downs as Peaseblossom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I love this play, and there were no weak parts in this production. The Athenians were hilarious, and I loved watching them running all around, progressively losing their clothes and getting more worn out, leaves in their hair, etc. Funny. It was hilarious watching their fighting and insults and fun to watch Puck and Oberon sitting up in the windows of the ruins “enjoying the sport.”

Puck is great fun in this production — a big guy with cool shades. He’s very funny.

I loved Bottom in this production, as well. My boys have seen bits and pieces of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on video, and the part they know best is where Puck turns Bottom into the ass-head that the love-juiced Titania falls for. This had my 6 year old bending over laughing.

They also loved the Mechanicals — especially Flute playing Thisby. Both of my boys were laughing like crazy whenever Flute was out. They got a big kick out of the chink in the wall (fingers held out), too. The little one kept saying, “This is Ridiculous!” And indeed, it was. This version of Pyramus and Thisby was thoroughly ridiculous… as it should be!

I’m so very glad that I got out to see this production. My 9 year old pronounced this “the best day ever!” on our way home (we also had a hike in the morning and went fishing and butterfly hunting, so there was a lot for a little boy to love today). But I was glad that their first experience watching a full-length live production of Shakespeare was such a success. Bottoms up!

David R Tabish as Bottom, Robby Rose as Snout from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

If you live in the DC area, think about joining the Shakespeare Explorers Meetup Group. They get out to a lot more shows than I do. For example, they’re going to see Taffety Punk stage King John for free at the Folger Theatre tomorrow!

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Shakespeare That Sucketh Not!

July 25, 2011 at 12:05 am (As You Like It, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

I am lucky to live in the Washington DC area, where the Bard is alive and well onstage, especially in the summer. Tonight the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice wrapped up. In a few weeks, their Free for All version of Julius Caesar takes the stage. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has extended their carnival-themed outdoor version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and they are also doing The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged. Jamie who blogs at Maryland Shakespeare has posted about the Empty Chair Theatre’s version of Titus Andronicus which sounds pretty cool. And entering the realm of the very artsy, there are several Shakespeare-inspired shows at the Capital Fringe Festival:

Hamlet Reframed: While Hamlet is off monologuing, what about the rest of Elsinore? Rather than showing Hamlet’s inner thoughts and private actions, this cropping of Shakespeare’s text focuses on how the king and queen deal with a mad and murderous prince.

King Lear: Drunken biker gang leader, King Lear, rashly banishes his thankless youngest daughter, igniting a violent turf war. As Lear rages, his conniving older daughters vie for control of the gang. It does not go well.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Purple Haze? The Lost Rock Sonnets of William Shakespeare: They’ve been broken up for nearly 500 years, but William Shakespeare is getting the band back together and releasing the most ambitious concept album since Hamlet, proving that high culture once was pop culture, and shall be again!

The Shrewing of the Tamed: Are women as funny as men? This feminist adaptation of “Taming of the Shrew” explores the politics of power, performance, sex, and laughter by taking Shakespeare’s original text and turning it on its head.

What, Lamb! What, Ladybird: Think you know Juliet? Think again. Shakespeare’s brilliant heroine is too often sidelined by the masculine world she inhabits, but this one-woman show, performed by Charlene V. Smith, puts Juliet center stage.

Whew! All this Shakespeare everywhere I look, and I hadn’t been able to see any of it. Then, the Maryland Shakespeare Festival was supposed to come to my town, Gaithersburg for a couple free performances of As You Like It. I thought, yay me! I finally get to go to a show. But guess what? Washington tends to get a little warm in July (tourists drop like flies here!). And Friday and Saturday our heat index was up in the 120s, so they cancelled the shows. I guess they did not want to have to wrestle in the damp heat!

Luckily for me, I was able to go to the rescheduled show tonight. What fun! As You Like It is such a funny show, and Maryland Shakespeare Festival does a great job of bringing the lightheartedness to the forefront of this production. They start with their “Riotous Youth” group giving an animated pre-show show explaining the plot of the play to kids (and grown-ups) in attendance. It helps set the stage perfectly.

This group did As You Like It this past spring as a Bare Bard (raw, unrehearsed) production and they have tightened it up (and rehearsed a few times!) to create the freebie show that is traveling around Maryland parks this summer. I’ve seen one of their Bare Bard’s (The Merchant of Venice) and I went to their summer freebie last year, Romeo and Juliet. They are an energetic company, exploring the original staging practices of Shakespeare’s time, while also making the plays fun and accessible to modern audiences. We are lucky to have them here.

With a minimal set and simple costumes, the actors were all wonderful comedians, from the early action with the wrestling match, the banishments to the magical forest of Arden, the great lines that everyone knows (“All the world’s a stage…”) to the craziness around Rosalind (disguised as the boy Ganymede) and her subtle wooing of Orlando, while fighting off the advances of Phoebe, and orchestrating the final happy ending with the four weddings (and no funeral!). All quite fun and fast-paced, with Touchstone the clown adding to the levity.

The title for my post comes from the T-shirt of one of the stage crew tonight. Truly, Maryland Shakespeare Festival is Shakespeare that Sucketh Not! And the price is right for this show ($0). The summer tour winds up next weekend with shows in Frederick and Denton. Try to catch it!

Celia (Erin Branigan), farthest left, and Rosalind (Teresa Spencer) watch while Orlando (Ian Sullivan) is on Wrestler’s (John Kelso) back during their wrestling match. Photo: Bill Green for the Frederick News Post

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Not Your Grandma’s Shakespeare!

July 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm (Live Performances, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I must be butta, cuz I’m on a roll. I attended yet another live performance of Shakespeare last weekend! Gaithersburg was the Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s first stop on a tour performing Romeo and Juliet at outdoor venues around the state this month. What fun!

The MSF artistic director, Becky Kemper, trained at Mary Baldwin College and the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia (home of the Blackfriars playhouse recreation I visited last month), so it’s not surprising that this troupe uses original staging practices (audience interaction, fast pace, minimalist sets, actors playing more than one character, live music, etc). From their website:

Company Aesthetic – The Festival Atmosphere & Original Practices

This is not your grandma’s Shakespeare!  Maryland Shakespeare Festival believes in playing like they did in Shakespeare’s day, and is one of seven Original Practice Laboratories in the world.  With extensive research and training by the core company, MSF works to bring Shakespeare back to life as the playwright intended for his plays, players and playhouses.  We play with (and light) the audience, including them in the story.  We include interludes (instead of intermission) filled with live contemporary music.  We create an atmosphere of play and imagination, of poetry and visceral storytelling.  The jokes are funny, the sad parts touching.  We believe Shakespeare was never meant to be a dose of cultural medicine, but a vibrant, fun, and communal event that makes a difference in our lives.  It is a central piece of our mission to bring Shakespeare out of the dark and stuffy theater and into the park where everyone, no matter their cultural or economic background, can enjoy.  For more information on what it means to perform Shakespeare using Original Practices, click here.

The show is so much fun! I arrived a couple minutes before showtime, while the cast was providing a fun and spirited preview of the play’s action. The weather was picture perfect (in stark contrast to the humid heat at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performance I attended on the 4th of July) and there was a nice crowd assembled for the freebie show at Gaithersburg City Hall.

These are professional actors, and the show is well done, even with less-than-perfect circumstances. Gaithersburg is a railroad town with the stage located maybe 30 feet from an active track and right on a busy street. There was a train with whistle blaring early in the show, but the players just stopped action briefly to let it pass. No problem! There was a guy talking on his cell phone and a heckler (maybe with Tourette’s) through the first half of the show, but the actors didn’t seem to notice. The show must go on! And it did, much to my enjoyment. I sat right up front at the edge of the grass… a great view.

The players are well cast. Juliet is believably young and naive; Romeo is her dreamy young lover. They’re a good match. Tybalt (played by a woman) is his usual annoying self. I really love Mercutio in this version. He is fiery and excitable. Perfect! He did the whole Queen Mab speech, and I was surprised at how exceedingly long it felt in performance. It’s so odd!

Like at the performance I went to in Staunton, Virginia, the players provide musical entertainment during the intermissions. They played “Sweet Caroline” (changing the lyrics to “Sweet Rosaline”) during the first intermission and during the second break I really enjoyed their acoustic version of “All Along the Watchtower”  (marred only by the guy behind me who apparently thought it was call and response and then added his very shrill and weird wildcat howls). Anyhow.

There’s free Shakespeare in parks everywhere you look this summer. Get out and enjoy some! And if you’re in Maryland, try to catch the MSF’s Romeo and Juliet at a park near you!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Shakespeare In-The-Ruins

July 5, 2010 at 12:37 am (Live Performances, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

The ghosts of Southern belles are dancing in my imagination right now. I saw Much Ado About Nothing performed in the ruins of an antebellum finishing school today. It was the coolest thing! Well, it wasn’t cool. It was nearly 100 degrees and muggy when the play started. But it was really cool!

 
 

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs outdoors, in the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, Maryland (not far from Baltimore). I found this information about the ruins:

Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Patapsco River Valley in Historic Ellicott City, the Patapsco Female Institute was founded in 1837 and operated for more than 50 years as an elegant finishing school for young women. The stabilized ruins of the Greek Revival structure are open for tours, and serve as a beautiful setting for special events including Victorian teas and a summer open air theatre.

So, there were hoop skirts here. Young Southern belles during the Civil War. I bet they had dances like Scarlett O’Hara went to in Gone with the Wind. 

Anyway, what a cool place to see a play! Huge trees surround the ruins. For the 4th of July, they started the play at 5 PM so we would have plenty of time to get out to see fireworks afterward. The actors also read the entire Declaration of Independence before the performance. That was kind of amazing to hear! 

The seating is very casual and family friendly (kids get free admission to all performances). Some sat on blankets, others brought camp chairs. CSC provides 200 folding chairs, so I took one of those. We all moved around quite a lot to get out of the sun for the first 45 minutes or so. Once the shade from the trees kicked in, everything was much more pleasant. It would be really lovely in the evening. 

The CSC provides pre-performance entertainment (jugglers, activities), but I arrived at showtime, so missed out on that. You could make quite a day of the outing. Because it was a family-oriented performance, one of the actors began by taking the kids (and any interested grown-ups) aside to explain the plot of the play (with photos) so they’d be able to follow along better. I thought that was really nice. 

They did a great job with Much Ado About Nothing. The stage is a series of platforms and ramps built into the L-shaped side of the ruins. So, the actors perform there as well as using the many doors and windows of the ruins. It gives them a lot of flexibility and they use the space well. 

Lesley Malin as Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

This production is set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The acting is terrific! I enjoyed everyone. Beatrice has a lot of spunk and presence. You could see her cracking her gum in a Rosie the Riveter job. And she has that Big Band era chic… she looks great with her hair nets and stylish outfits. 

Katie Molinaro as Hero, Steven Hoochuk in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

One thing I noticed in this production that was not evident in video versions or from reading the text — Margaret during and after Hero’s jilting at the altar. Wow. So, it’s Margaret at the window with Borachio (they staged the window scene quietly here). Then the next day, Claudio humiliates Hero at the altar and accuses her of being a whore. So, all the while, Ms. Margaret, Hero’s trusted servant… is doing what? Why wouldn’t she set things straight at the wedding (blushingly waving, ummm, ahemm, excuse me, can I say something?). I don’t remember seeing her at all during the post-jilting in the film versions. 

Well, here, I watched her on the stage. It was interesting. Everyone else ran to Hero’s aid when she fainted. Margaret stood aside, by herself, nervously playing with a bouquet and quietly contemplating her navel. I kept looking at her. Why wouldn’t she speak up? But then it worked for me. Here she is, a servant. The jilting is huge: Big Drama involving the daughter of the governor and all these important people. I could see then… it would be very difficult for Margaret to own up to the truth here (although I still think she could have done it later, in private). But here, the big scene, how strange it would be for a servant to pipe up with the news that Claudio and Don Pedro were mistaken and that it was she having sex with Borachio at her mistress’s window while he called her Hero. How would she explain that here? So then, I understood Margaret a bit more. 

Only one thing bothered me during the whole show. You may have noticed that I love Balthasar’s song, as I’ve started many of my posts about Much Ado by quoting it. So, I was looking forward to hearing it performed. Guess what? Balthasar sang it in Spanish in this production! Oh, darn. 

It was really fun to watch this play, it’s so entertaining… really a pleasant outing. If you’re in the area, I recommend catching a show here at the ruins. Hamlet is running in repertory this summer with Much Ado. It’s a lovely venue. 

And I got home in plenty of time to see fireworks. Happy 4th of July! 

James Jager as Claudio, Michael Sullivan as Benedick, Theo Hadjimichael as Don Pedro in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved. 

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