Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pulling Strings

Thomas Azar (Benvolio) reports from Romeo and Juliet tech:

Tech week: the time when the magic of theater is carefully, painstakingly constructed. All of the planning, all of the rehearsing... now we get to see how far we really have to go. It's a long process—tech week can feel like tech month if things aren't going well. The hours can be lengthy, especially if you work backstage instead of onstage. However, if all goes well, then the audience never sees the strings (and there are a lot of 'em), and it all looks like magic.

I have to say, this tech week feels like it's going well. Last night, we teched (yes, that is a verb in theater) the first half of the show, and I don't think we stopped for single moment. That's a big deal, especially considering the tech-heavy scenes like the dance (lots o' lights and sound) and the fights (how thick should the blood be?). When we got to the end of our Act I, Alex (who's playing Romeo) said, with the sound of enjoyment in his voice, “It feels like we're actually running the show.”

Indeed it did, and it's thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of the crew. Seriously, these guys and gals are some truly talented people, and they deserve a round of applause nightly for their work. This show, and indeed all shows, cannot be what it is without its crew. After the actors have left the theater at 12:30am, they're still there, working on lights, sounds, props, etc., and planning the next day. Too cool, these folks, too cool.

So, tech week invariably means we're nearing Opening Night. Previews start Wednesday (got your tickets?) so we as a cast get our first taste of how this thing flies in front of a real audience. If you're planning on coming to see the show this week, might I suggest bringing a blanket? It's been a little bit chilly out at the Bruns this past week. Of course, the weather could (and probably will) change nightly; that's one string we have yet to be able to pull.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thomas Azar on Crowd Scenes, Street Brawls, and Traffic Jams.

This is the latest in a series of actor blogs about our upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. For this entry, Thomas Azar (who portrays Benvolio) writes about staging crowd scenes, the choreography of street brawls, and making it all work.

Mounting a show is always a monumental undertaking, especially when that show is staged in an outdoor theater. Planning starts well in advance of the first day of rehearsals. When we, the actors, show up for that first day, we are greeted with design sketches and renderings detailing the set and costumes, and the director explains the overall vision for the show. This advance planning is absolutely essential to the production, because it gives the actors a (somewhat) concrete frame in which to work and experiment.

Of course, all of this planning doesn't stop once rehearsals start. Once the actors are on their feet, things only get more complicated. Have you ever wondered how much time goes into staging big crowd scenes? Let me tell you: a whole hell of a lot. And there is no shortage of crowd scenes in Romeo and Juliet. The play starts with a melee right in the middle of the street, the “ancient grudge break[ing] to new mutiny” before the audience's very eyes.

Dave Maier, Cal Shakes' Resident Fight Director, worked with us for a number of hours on staging the multiple fights that happen simultaneously. What starts as an exchange between Tybalt and Benvolio erupts into an all-out brawl between the Capulets and Montagues. Discovering and rehearsing the fights takes quite a while, but placing these fights into the action of the scene takes just about as long. It's one thing to work through the fight when the stage is empty, but add props, scenery, and (oh the horror!) other actors, and you've got a genuine traffic jam on your hands.

Jonathan (Moscone, the show's director) takes what Dave has created and shapes it into the story of the play. I kid you not, much time has been spent on stuff like, “This chair needs to go here so this actor can cross to here and say this line.” It may seem like a silly waste of time, but such attention to detail is essential in crafting a tale from the chaos that begins the play. So, when you see Romeo and Juliet, please enjoy the big scenes, such as that first fight and the dance party; we've put a considerable amount of sweat (and perhaps a little blood, but only a few tears) into making them a lot of fun for the audience.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A word from Lord Capulet

Jim Carpenter is still hammering away at his own blog. Read what Lord Capulet has to say about the latest of his seventh (!) productions of Romeo and Juliet here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Letters from Verona

This is the second actor blog of the season; this one is written by Marilet Martinez, a member of the Romeo and Juliet ensemble who is also serving as Assistant to the Choreographer, MaryBeth Cavanaugh.

It's hot here! No really, it's hot. When Jonathan (Moscone) asked me to lean against the back wall of the rehearsal hall and just imagine that it was a sweltering afternoon in Verona, it wasn't much of a stretch! With a cast this size and spring in full bloom, the temperature in that rehearsal room has to be at least 80 or above on any given day. But it's not just the bodies and the weather that make the room sweat. It's the energy. So much life and passion is being breathed into these characters that "hot" is an understatement.

It's no revelation that these star-crossed lovers ignite a fire in their audience, that returning us to being in love for the first time. Provoking us to think of the first time someone professed their love for you, or you for them. Recalling the first time someone kissed you on a dance floor. Or just the pure feeling of being utterly obsessed-in-love with someone. This play is a classic for so many reasons, and even though we know how it ends, I think we watch it in hopes that maybe, just maybe, this time it will work out for these two kids. Many of the cast members have been in other productions of R and J, and yet there is still a magic and suspension of disbelief that we are all so willing to go along with. Mainly, because it's FUN!

As an ensemble member, one of the joys is getting to create your character from scratch. There's no text to inform you, no lexicon to reference. Only the vision of the director and what you bring to it. In our version, we are in modern-day Verona. The kids are technologically savvy, full of hormones, and ready to rumble. My character, who I've named Veronica, is one of Juliet's bff's. I get to listen to an iPod as the Capulets and Montagues get into a fight. Then...I get to join in. Chicks in Verona are tough, what can I say?

Soon after the battle, created by the very talented Dave Maier, these Veronians find themselves at the party of the year, where the cast does a number to Rihanna's "Shut Up and Drive," choreographed by MaryBeth Cavanaugh. I had the immense pleasure of assisting her with the choreography. When she and I got together, she explained that Jonathan had this idea to mix in some 1950s dance moves, applying them to this very modern pop tune. To be honest, I had my suspicions—I wasn't sure how it was going to work. But when MaryBeth started teaching me the choreography, it started making sense. There is a carefree and released quality to the movement; it's just the right amount of sway and cool. The cast was fantastic at learning the dance—all in one day, I might add. And it has to be said, these cats can moooove! Everyone is inhabiting the dance in his or her own unique way. The only downside to learning this dance was having to listen to the song over and over again. It's safe to say that we all left that day singing "Shut up and Drive," whether we wanted to or not.

I can't believe we start tech next week! I'm sure many things will change and readjust around that time, but the one thing that will stay strong is the dedication and focus this amazing group of collaborators bring to the table. OK, more coming your way real soon.


Monday, May 11, 2009

First actor blog of the season! Or, insights from inside the warehouse

What follows is our first actor blog of 2009. This one is by Thomas Azar, who plays Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, currently in rehearsals. Tom also portrayed Valentine and Curio in 2008’s
Twelfth Night (yes, he was one of the guys in the purple pants), and was in the Ensemble of 2007’s Richard III.

Since rehearsals for Romeo & Juliet have been under way for about two weeks now, it seems kind of silly to try to start from the beginning. However, it does seem necessary to catch you, dear readers, up on what's been happening inside the big warehouse that is the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall. Here are some interesting tidbits from the past two weeks:

- This R&J is fast and violent. Jonathan Moscone, the director, has more than once referred to the idea that the characters are trying to catch up to the plot. The events of the play happen in very quick succession, and this production seems to heighten that even more, to the point where, as characters, we are trying our best not to drown in the misery that can (and will) envelop Verona.

- For those of you wondering, yes, it is a "modern-day" adaptation, but don't let that turn off the purists. Jonathan is very true to the heart of Shakespeare's words. As a matter of fact, as we read through the scenes for the first time, he asked us not only "what are you saying?," but just as (if not more) importantly, "why?". These are real people with real problems, and Jonathan does not let anyone forget that.

- The party where our star-crossed lovers meet has a kicking dance sequence. (Kickin' as in high-energy and fierce, not kicking as in can-can. -ed) I think Mary Beth Cavanaugh, the dance choreographer, has done an awesome job of creating a grungy/swingy feel. And it's really fun to do the "Moscone jump."

- Vespas are deceptively fast little buggers, especially when you have no prior experience driving one.

- This cast is a marvelous ensemble. I've had the pleasure of working with many of them before, most right here at Cal Shakes. And those that I haven't worked with before are most likely not new to you, especially if you've attended any Bay Area theater in the past decade. Even though we're still a couple of weeks out from opening, one can already get caught up in watching the actors work on their scenes. These guys and gals are truly a talented bunch.

So, you are more or less up-to-speed with Romeo & Juliet rehearsals. Keep your eyes peeled for further insights from inside the warehouse. (And for even more backstage lowdown, come to the free Inside Scoop tonight at the Orinda Library, for a panel discussion and Q&A with director Moscone, dramaturg Philippa Kelly, and actors Alex Morf and Sarah Nealis—Romeo and Juliet, respectively.)

Cal Shakes in the New York Times

Late last week, Cal Shakes was included as one of four California theaters mentioned in this Sunday's "Summer Stages" feature in the print edition of the New York Times; the article shows Jay Yamada's gorgeous photo of our 2008 production of Pericles, along with a brief summary of our season, focusing mostly on celebrated stage and screen actress Marsha Mason’s starring turn in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (Aug 12-Sep 6).The web version of the article is headlined by a big, beautiful version of the photo, taken by Cal Shakes board member, volunteer extraordinaire, and unofficial staff photographer Yamada. The web article contains the same text as the print edition, and includes more of the Bay Area theaters; you can view it online here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Music to write corridos by...

Octavio Solis, who is adapting John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven for its world premiere on our Main Stage in 2010, sent me this list some time ago. It's the playlist he put together to inspire his crafting of the corrido that will tell the story of the Lopez Sisters. If the song has a link, click on it to hear, sample, or download the track.

1. "El Zorro de Ojinaga" by Los Suspiros De Ojinaga

2. "Gregorio Cortez" by Pedro Rocha y Lupe Martinez

(Part two is here.)

3. "El Corrido de Texas" by Silvano Ramos & Daniel Ramirez

4. "Corridol Pensilvanio" by Pedro Rocha y Lupe Martinez

(Please note: The link above will open a media player on your computer.)

5. "La Crisis" by Duo Latino
(Please note: The link above will open a media player on your computer.)

Click here to read more about our Steinbeck Project.

Photo above courtesy of Lucy Atkins/San Francisco Chronicle.

Romeo and Juliet images are up!

If you pop on over to the Romeo and Juliet page of our website, you'll see some of Raquel M. Barreto's lovely costume sketches on display (if for some reason you don't, just click on the "Multimedia" tab). Click on the thumbnails to see the costumes of Juliet, Friar Laurence, lady Capulet (below), and Lady Montague in greater detail.

Also on the R and J page, click on the "Photos" tab to see Kevin Berne's fantastic publicity photos of Alex Morf and Sarah Nealis as Romeo and Juliet, respectively. There's also this one, of the whole cast:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Presidents and Shakespeare

Last week, the New York Times ran an intriguing piece about Presidents and Shakespeare, moving from Obama--who cites Shakespeare’s Tragedies as a favorite book on his Facebook profile, but has yet to start quoting him directly--to the Bardophile Lincoln, and then giving the rundown on the Shakespearean proclivities of Reagan, Clinton, Jefferson, and others. Unsuprisingly, our nation's leaders tend toward the histories and tragedies; but we'd wager that the man we saw singing "At Last" in his wife's ear at the Inaugural Ball--and who participates fully in 21st-century technology--would get a kick out of the fresh, fast-moving, and modern take on Romeo and Juliet currently taking shape in the Cal Shakes rehearsal hall.*

Read the NY Times piece here.

*Oh, and have we mentioned that single tickets are on sale?