Everyone knows Taming of the Shrew for its warring leads, but the action of the story begins with Lucentio’s quest to marry Kate’s sister, the fair and mild-mannered (or is she?) Bianca. In honor of our show opening tonight, we took the time to interview our Lucentio (Brian Martin), our Bianca (Shay Wisniewski) and our Tranio (Sam Bertken), Lucentio’s loyal servant who in some ways spends as much time courting Bianca as Lucentio does.
So who are you, in a hundred words or less.
Brian: I am Brian Martin, a native San Franciscan and a recent graduate of the theater program at SF State. I have been acting steadily in San Francisco for several years now.
Shay: I’m a performer in the Bay Area that loves to dance, act and sing (only alone in my apartment with my cat). I started a theater company with two of my good friends senior year of college called Do It Live Productions and have been producing lots of shows, including new work in the area.
Sam: I’m a Bay Area native returning from four years in the Midwest. I like writing, performing, drawing stories in general.
And how did you get involved with Theater Pub?
Brian: I got involved with Theater Pub in its first year when Stuart Bousel asked me to be a part of the Lovecraft staged reading series, and since then I have done a reading of The Dragon, and was in the second Pint Sized Play Festival.
Shay: I had started going to theatre pub a few years back and have always been interested in what it was all about. Finally, I was asked by Stuart to be a part of Taming of the Shrew
Sam: I met Stuart while volunteering at the SF Fringe Festival. I was described as “always auditioning,” which I guess is how I got this part!
Who wouldn’t hire that smile? Actor Sam Bertken is one tricky slave.
What’s got you excited about working here?
Sam: Honestly, at first I was just excited to be performing in San Francisco, but the sense of camaraderie is very infectious.
Brian: I’m so excited to be back at Theater Pub; I have a blast every time I perform here. I really like the atmosphere and excitement that comes with performing in a Theater Pub show, the audience always seems to appreciate the work and the fact that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere.
What’s got you worried?
Brian: So many things can happen at Theater Pub shows that you have no way of preparing for in rehearsal, so I am little worried about doing a full production in this situation but it’s also part of what makes this process exciting.
Sam: Yeah, I’m mostly worried that I’m going to step on someone.
Shay: Well, im always excited to do theater! And I always get excited about doing Shakespeare. Doing a show with a company that I have never worked with is always a thrill, I just worry that I wont fit in so I stay shy for a good portion of the process. I get worried about putting up a show with a three week rehearsal process, especially Shakespeare. It always takes a bit longer to learn the lines. But, I
have put my trust in this very talented cast and will perform with all my confidence in them.
Shay Wisniewski: too trusting for her own good?
Have you ever been in this play before? What’s your history with this show?
Shay: I had never been in or seen this play. I had actually never read it all the way through (bad theater student)! I have seen the wooing scene done in high school at competitions, and those scenes always stand out in my mind so because of that, I have always wanted to be in it! One day I will conquer Kate…
Sam: Never been in Shrew but I have been in other Shakespeare plays! I watched some classmates do the opening scene between Tranio and Lucentio once, but that’s the extent of it. The interpretation this time is a bit different.
Brian: This will be my first production of The Taming of The Shrew. I am familiar with it from reading it and from seeing the Elizabeth Taylor/ Richard Burton film and a DVD of a really entertaining comedia del arte performance ACT did in the late 70’s.
Shrew is considered controversial- why do you think that is?
Sam: I think the go-to answer is perceived misogyny. The gut reaction to this play is that it preaches subjugating women to the will of their husbands.
Brian: Well, I have to admit that’s how I use to think of the show, but working on it and understanding it better, I no longer believe that.
Shay: The only thing I could really think could be controversial about it is how open it is about women in the time it was written being seen as objects and property. But that is still true, in some ways, in modern times, and I think what is great about this play is how Kate is a strong woman, despite the times, and she doesnt loose that through the play. Through some say a ‘man’ changed her, I see it as someone who took the time and effort to see past her ‘shrewishness’ and to dig out the good while still respect her personality.
So tell us about your characters.
Brian: Lucentio is a wealth young man from Pisa, who is thrilled to begin his studies in Padua until he spots Bianca and can think of nothing else but how to win her and with the help of his best friend and servant Tranio, concocts a scheme to do just that. I love him for his passion and commitment; when he sets his sights on something he will work to overcome every obstacle to get it. I don’t hate anything about him, but this passion and commitment can make him inconsiderate and selfish at times. I think the biggest challenge is to make sure I create a well-rounded three dimensional character that fits into this particular production.
Brian Martin: rounding it out.
Shay: Bianca, the other shrew. I love that she, like Kate, has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants. She has a strong hold on so many men in this play. I like to love vicariously through her. She, like me, is the little sister, so I could connect with her and the younger sibling manipulation element to her character. I wish she was more out spoken! But I guess there cant be that much shrew in one show.
Sam: We’ve been talking a lot about the commedia stock characters that are the root of the characters in this play, and Tranio, my character, is definitely Arlecchino, who is a personal favorite of mine. I like that I get to be mischievous and play silly characters, but the biggest challenge is coming up with interesting stakes for the character. If he succeeds or fails, he just goes back to being a servant. So, why strive for success?
What makes Tranio different from the usual sidekick role?
Sam: For one thing, this sidekick has some brains on him. He’s quick on his feet and takes on some big risks but pulls it with aplomb (I hope!) One of the possibilities that also exists in a character like Tranio is having his own aspirations be interesting and important, outside of helping his master woo a dame. Even though he can never transcend his actual role in society, it’s interesting to see how he takes to manipulating folks for his (master’s?) own ends.
When you go about creating a role, what’s your process, in a nutshell? How do find a way into a character, particularly one written so long ago?
Shay: I like to look at what I say in regards to myself, and the others that I interact with. Then I like to go through everyone else’s lines to see what they say about me. I make decisions on whether those things are actually true or if its a facade. I then discuss my relationships with the other actors and create secrets about each one that they never know about. I think whether the character is written yesterday or 400 years ago, you can still find something in common with them that will ring true to who you are as an actor.
Brian: When I create a role I read the play over and over and then think about the themes and how my character fits into the play as a whole. Then I investigate my character line by line, his actions and what others say about him to find his objectives, obstacles, relationships and backstory and with Shakespeare I look for the directions he gives in the writing. Then I set about relating to and understanding him so that his choices are my choices and his backstory become mine. Even though they were written so long ago I really don’t think the process of getting into a Shakespearian character is any different from getting into a modern character, except for certain beliefs at the time that influence the way a character thinks and behaves. Lucentio wants the same things any modern character might want: love, success, sex etc.
Sam: I love physical theatre, and since there is some commedia influence here, I start from the outside, creating the character body and developing a caricature that way. That’s the first impression the audience gets. Then, from this center point, I think about what situations prompt the character to change–how does he react to different stimuli (specifically, the ones in the play)? That takes the character where he needs to go for a larger-than-life type of production like this. It’s also helpful to think about the character in relation to his double–Lucentio–and ruminate on what sets him apart and what makes them peas in a pod.
For Shay and Brian, Shakespeare is known for having several sets of lovers in his comedies- usually a serious couple and a not-so-serious couple. Which couple are you and what’s cool about being that couple? What kind of sucks about it?
Brian: It depends on what you mean by serious, we are the serious couple in behavior and story as our character’s behavior and arc is a little more traditional than that of Petruchio’s and Kate’s, but we are “not-so serious” couple in that I think Petruchio and Kate are the couple the audience becomes more invested in. I am enjoying being a one of the more traditional young lovers, because I get to work with the very passionate and sincere romantic dialogue and scenes. I don’t think anything sucks about it, Shakespeare’s characters are always interesting and challenging to play, and unlike some of the other secondary young lovers in Shakespeare’s play, Lucentio and Bianca are not goody-goodies, victims or dupes; we go after what we want despite the trouble we may cause. We’re kind of selfish.
Shay: Well, I think out of the two, we are actually the serious couple. But I think we have a lot of comedic moments between us which were not necessarily written into the script, but that we discovered through the process of our of character building. Yes, we get some good kissing moments but I admit I wouldn’t mind slapping someone around on stage a bit.
A lot of famous lines in Shrew- what’s your favorite one?
Brian: “Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio, / If I achieve not this young modest girl.”
Sam: “I am content to be Lucentio, because so well I love Lucentio.”
Shay: “The more fool you, for laying on my duty.” I enjoy this because I feel like its a moment where Bianca, a newly married woman, shows she can still stand up to the men around her. Stating that she is not just property you can order around and place bet on.
A large selection of beers at our bar- what’s your favorite beer?
Brian: I’m a wimpy beer drinker so Blue Moon, Shock Top or any beer you can put a fruit in!
Sam: Does it need to be one on tap? Cause mine is Oberon from Bell’s Brewery. But I’m sure I’ll find one I love at the bar.
Shay: I had a chance to take a look at the beer list during tech to better prepare myself for the after party. Though I usually go for a nice white, Belgium beer, one of my favorites is Chimay. But lets be real, Im not picky. Except No IPAs. Ever.
Don’t miss Taming of The Shrew, playing for four nights, starting tonight. Admission is FREE, no reservations necessary, but get there early to ensure a good seat!