In For A Penny: The All-Seeing Eye

Charles Lewis III SEES YOU.

Samsung-Galaxy-S4-Drama-Shot copy

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
– William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I, Sc. 1

I was originally going to write this post about the similarities between professional sports and theatre – what with baseball season now in full swing, the Warriors kickin’ ass in the play-offs, and Wrestlemania a few weeks back (the latter would have included several nods to my ‘Pub colleague and fellow wrestling fan Anthony Miller). But as I took a peek back at my last entry, in which I pondered on-camera work vs. on-stage work, I found myself stuck on a lot of recent conversations about the two possibly converging in order to survive.

Let me start off by saying something we all know: theatre is neither dying nor dead. It’s been around longer than any of us and will still be around after we’re gone. The reason for that being the fact that in the end all one needs for theatre is at least one performer and an audience. That’s why you can’t look any changes to it the same way you look at recent changes to film (going digital), television (cord-cutting and Netflix binging), or radio (also transitioning to digital and competing with Pandora/Spotify/Rdio/etc.). All three of those of those formats are technologies first, performance art media second (if that). Theatre should never be wholly dependent on technology (despite the fact that tech people are super-amazing powerful wizards in whose hands we put our lives and whom I love dearly).

But what about when theatre does incorporate tech? Hell, going from soft blue to a spotlight to a blackout can mean the difference between a play being brilliant or just confusing. In recent years we’ve all seen a significant rise in theatre productions incorporating technology not traditionally associated with theatre, even here on the indie theatre scene. Some of them, when done right, can add a powerful new element to the story (video projection), whilst others are just a plain intrusion to the entire process (tweet seats). And of course, there’s technology that allows you to watch theatre when you’re nowhere near the theatre. And that, my friend, is what I’ll be focusing on today.

Recently, as I was scrolling Facebook, I came across this article posted on the wall of Melissa Hillman, Artistic Director of Impact Theatre in Berkeley. It’s an op-ed blog about two new apps – Periscope (owned by Twitter) and Meerkat – that allow you to live-stream events directly from your phone. Naturally this has led to heated discussion as to when using such an app would be appropriate, if ever. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to go to a play and sit behind someone holding up their phone or tablet like some concert-goer (something that actually has happened to me in recent years: once at a Thunderbird show and once at BOA). And that’s not even getting into the whole piracy question; the whole reason Google Glass is banned in American cinemas is for that very reason.

Still, I’m not opposed to the idea of live-streaming theatre. I mean, why not? The big guys are already doing it. I’ve been part of productions for the SF Opera that were either broadcast live or recorded to re-air on PBS. Fathom Events is a company specifically dedicated to transmitting live sporting events (like boxing and wrestling – I still mentioned wrestling this week) and performances into cinemas across the country; most notably those of New York’s Metropolitan Opera before they also re-air on PBS.

And we in the indie theatre scene have HowlRound TV. I’m sorry to say that I’ve never attended the One-Minute Play Festival (for which the ‘Pub’s own Marissa Skudlarek has written several plays), but I make it a point to watch HowlRound’s annual live-stream of the production. Now think of how many productions you’ve done that friends and family members wished they could attend, were they not halfway across the country. Before I inherited this piece of internet real estate from the esteemed Claire Rice, she made a Top 10 list of things she thinks theatre needs. After re-reading No.s 8 and 10 (and maybe even No. 5), I can see live-streaming of plays as something that could be a real boon to the indie theatre scene, if done right. In fact, in regards to No. 10, I’d love to see our friends at Theatre Bay Area take this under consideration, even if it meant teaming up with a company like HowlRound. Imagine the TBA Awards – which, incidentally, is now Claire’s jurisdiction – streamed across the country (nay, the world) for theatre-lovers all over?

And how, pray tell, do we do it “right”? I’m glad you asked. I happen to have a few suggestions that would appeal to both the folks at home and those with butts in seats:

1. Mic. The. Stage. I really should say “Use the best equipment” because this first suggestion comes from being told personally by a member of the 1MPF crew that they don’t have the capability to use HD camcorders, so the cameras they do use are archaic. I hope this is something they can solve soon, but I also hope they don’t resort to the mobile phone antics of Periscope or Meerkat. Still, I’ve always been able to see what’s happening on stage, even if it wasn’t always clear. But it can be a real pain in the ass to hear what’s going on. In a perfect set-up, there would be unseen mics either on or directly pointed at the stage, so as to not be drowned out by the ambient noise of the theatre. If live-streaming or recording for archives, tap into that audio. I’d like to actually hear a playwright’s words before I criticize them for using the word “irregardless”.

2. Good camera location. For the past few years now, me and Paul Anderson have been the officially unofficial chroniclers of the Olympians Festival. I take photos, he records video – not something we planned, just what happened. Both of us have to do these from rather static positions. When I saw the above article on Melissa’s wall, I immediately began thinking of exactly where I’d place cameras around Impact. Then I started thinking about The EXIT. PianoFight. Cutting Ball. Even the SF Playhouse. Each and every one of these venues could easily use some discreet, high-quality cameras that would transmit in crystal clarity whilst remaining invisible to the audience. Just be sure that your camera operator and sound person are part of the rehearsal process, so the folks at home don’t miss out on the moments that the live audience sees. Speaking of the live audience…

3. Audience quota. I’ve been in a couple different productions that had to cancel performances due small audiences. Let’s be real: with the average indie theatre ticket running somewhere between $15-$30, some folks would be tempted to never leave the house if they knew they could just watch it at home – that’s the “dying” aspect of theatre people fear. Now, I don’t know if services like HowlRound TV will always be free, but I certainly think live audiences should always take priority. Which is why I propose that live-streaming be done ONLY if a certain audience number is met each night. It doesn’t have to be a full house, but depending on the capacity of each theatre, there should be a minimum number of filled seats or no broadcast that night. This is less about the folks at home seeing the seats filled and more about the folks putting on the show being able to pay to keep the lights on. The actors can perform with a small live audience, but for the folks at home it should be a privilege.

And that, to me, is the point: this isn’t about taking away from live theatre, it’s about enhancing it for a wider audience. I’m not against the idea of apps for theatre. Hell, I get what apps like Periscope and Meerkat are trying to do, but they’re not solving a problem, they’re adding to it. But if a life of being a tech buff has taught me anything, it’s that’s folks will eventually choose low-quality convenience rather than having to wait for top-quality expense. That’s why VHS beat out Betamax and why people are losing their hearing with crappy digital music. Live-streaming represents a bold opportunity for indie theatre to get in on the ground floor of both a new technology and a new wider performance venue.

Technology in and of itself does not improve art; it’s just another tool of the artist. The most important thing to remember is that in the end, the folks at home and the folks in front of you are both hungry for the exact same thing: they want to see a good show.

Advertisements

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Get the Fuck off the Couch

Claire Rice channel surfs theatre listings so you don’t have to.

What does a typical night of theatre look like in the Bay Area? It’s hard to say. Different parts of the season will have different shows. So I’ve decided to start a new series where I pick a Friday night and really look at the show listings to see what’s playing. Maybe by the end of the season we’ll have a picture of the Bay Area Theatre scene.

To start with I picked September 19th, 2014 as my “any given Friday”. I picked this date because I figured the big houses would have just started their first shows of the season, the Burning Man crowd would be back and sober and still excited about art, and it would be the night most everyone would realize that summer is ending and the long slow slog to the holidays is about to begin. What better time to see theatre?

What did I find?

All in all there are over 50 shows to see and there is something out there for everyone. And, yes, it is a diverse field. No, it’s not nearly as diverse as you would like. All the usual minorities are still minorities this season so far. But, this isn’t a full picture of the Bay Area theatrical climate! And just like the weather there are micro climates where some theatrical forms thrive and others wither on the vine.

Community Leaders are Leading the Way – To HAPPY TOWN!

American Conservatory Theatre is bringing back perennial favorite Bill Irwin in “Old Hats”, a show that has old fashioned clowning befuddled by new fangled technology. On the other side of the bay it is all about legs and singing at Berkeley Rep who is bringing in Knee High founder Emma Rice and a delightful woman named Meow Meow. Both companies seem to be saying with their season openers that they want you to be happy damn it! Whimsically, giddily, cavity educing happy!

Fuck “with music” I want MUSICAL!

You got it! Well, not in San Francisco…but totally! SHN has “Motown: The Musical!” and while I feel that the story of Motown is musical worthy…really I think you can just go home and just get the original songs and rock out. What you can’t get off iTunes is “Beach Blanket Babylon” which is that show you saw that one time your Aunt came to visit. You could also take your chances with “Foodies: The Musical!” brought to you buy the same guy who wrote “Shopping: The Musical!”. (Honestly, I don’t even need to be sarcastic.) But if you find yourself on September 19 really really needing a musical then get yourself a Zip Car and take your pick between “Company”, “Gypsy”, “Big Fish”, “The Addams Family”, “Funny Girl”, “Life Could Be a Dream” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”. They are all out there if you are brave, true of heart, and have access to a car. Well, Town Hall Theatre (playing “Company”) and Center Repertory Theatre (playing “Life Could Be a Dream”) are all about ten minutes from a BART station. Wait. What am I talking about? Everyone reading this is probably an artist of some kind so you probably already live away from or are considering moving out of San Francisco, Berkeley or Oakland. In which case, can I have a ride? “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” looks great!

I Want a Return to the Way Theatre Should Be

Then let’s go with traditional, Theatre Appreciation 101 plays. You need an experience where you already know the play, you probably saw the movie, and you would like to sink in for an entertaining evening of the familiar. Great. The Shelton Theatre is putting on “Noises Off” (Though, I literally don’t know HOW. The Shelton stage is TINY!) Marin Shakespeare outlasts all the other summer Shakespeare with “Romeo and Juliet”. Around the Bay you can see performances of “The Glass Menagerie”, “All My Sons”, “Wait until Dark”, “Iceman Commeth” “Fox on the Fairway” and “Bell, Book and Candle”. If there were a channel like Turner Movie Classics for plays, these plays would be on it ALL THE TIME. These plays will never be irrelevant, and they will stick around to remind you of that fact forever.

How about what’s HOT right now?

Excellent. Well chosen. Because COCK is hot right now. There’s “Cock” (about two men fighting like cocks) at NCTC and Impact Theatre has “The Year of the Rooster” (about actual cock fighting). I would also like to point out that there is a film screening tribute to The Cockettes at the de Young Museum on the 19th. If you are tired of cock move out beyond The City for your fill of lady playwrights including “Art” at City Lights, “Wonder of the World” at Douglas Morrison, “The New Electric Ballroom” at Shotgun Players, and “Rapture Blister Burn” at Aurora.” These three plays don’t fit in with my cock humor, but you should also check out SF Playhouse who is putting on a full production of their award winning “Ideation”, “Slaughter House Five” at Custom Made which was first seen at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and has brought audiences to tears all over the country and “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” will be at the newly built Flight Deck in Oakland.

I want Brand New! I want to say “I Saw It First”

Sure. Ok. Good news. San Francisco prides itself on generating new works. Theatre First has rising star Lauren Gunderson’s play “Fire Work” and Chris Chen continues his creative relationship with Crowded Fire for “Late Wedding”. The Marsh has new solo performances of Marga Gomez’s “Love Birds” and Dan Hoyle’s “Each and Every Thing”. The Magic Theatre bring us “Bad Jews.” (This company is always good for brand new plays with titles you aren’t sure you want to put in emails.) Renegade Theatre Experiment will bring us “Perishable: Keep Refrigerated”. September also has an Improv Festival for you! At BATS, the Eureka, Stage Werx and other venues are improv acts that will make you say “I can’t believe that wasn’t scripted!” Well, it wasn’t and that’s why you went. But if you DO want scripted theatre you should go to the EXIT for Fringe Festival. If you haven’t binged on fringe you haven’t lived. If you are into binging on theatre, check out “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” where they try to perform thirty plays in sixty minutes.

Actually, I want an EVENT

Sure. I hear that audiences all over don’t want just “theatre” they want attending to be an “event”. For companies that take the process if creation very seriously check out Mugwumpin who will present “Blockbuster Season” and We Players who will take on an adaptation of King Leer with “King Fool.” For a traditionally untraditional experience Pear Avenue is playing “House” and “Garden” by Alan Ayckbourn, in which both plays are performed simultaneously using the same actors. You’ll have to go back a different evening to see how the other half of the play went. The Costume Shop is showing “The Haze”, which is a solo show that has come and gone before under different names, but the event that is built around the show is really about raising awareness of how crime labs deal with rape kits. Dragon Productions presents “Arc:hive Presents A Moment (Un)bound”. I don’t know what it’s about, but it has to be eventful if there is so much crazy punctuation in the title.

How are Ticket Prices?

If you plan ahead (now) you can see any of these shows for under $50 a ticket. The average is $30, but most can be seen for much less if you work at it.

Promo Lines

I’ve always felt the first sentence you use to promote your show is the most important sentence. Here are some of my favorite first sentences:

“What would you do if a time portal opened up inside your refrigerator?”

“In this revival of the great Tennessee Williams classic… Tom Wingfield is a homeless man living under a fire escape in modern-day St. Louis.”

“The following is from WikiPedia referencing the film of the same name.”

“What would you pay for a white painting?”

“Don’t miss the latest installment in this playwright’s meteoric rise to national prominence.”

“Star-crossed lovers and hot, sweaty street fighting make for an evening of romance, poetry, passion and excitement.”

get-attachment.aspx

Did I Miss Something?

I’m sure I did. Tell me about your show in the comments section.

The Point?

You have something to do on September 19. Get the fuck off the couch and go see theatre. (Of course, you might also be in one of these shows or rehearsing for one coming up. More on that next week.)

Theater Around The Bay: From Theater Pub to the Castro Theater

Another Theater Pub success story, Christian Simonsen describes the journey of his short script “Multi-Tasking” as it went from stage to screen.

In July of this year, my short comedy play “Multitasking” was produced as part of Theatre Pub’s Pint Sized Plays IV at the Café Royale. My play (indeed, the whole festival under producer Neil Higgins’ guidance) was a huge success… although oddly enough, the compliment I heard most often from audience members was: “your play was my father’s favorite!” which is an interesting niche audience to explore.

Pint Sized Plays is a site-specific festival; all of the stories have to take place in a pub. My script was a farce about two strangers, Eric and Kathy, waiting for a blind date and job interviewer, respectively. Just as they start a mild flirtation, a yuppie woman, Tess, bursts in on them, and hilarity ensues.

A coworker from my day job, Michael Laird, had come to see my play. He said he liked it a lot… but then, I thought, that’s what coworkers are supposed to say. Near the end of September, Michael reminded me that he was a part of the local film collective called Scary Cow. He had already paid his dues working on the crews of several films in different capacities, and he now felt ready to make his own. “Would you be interested in letting me produce ‘Multitasking’ as my first film?” I thought about it for a while— who am I trying to kid, I immediately said Yes!

Pre-production begins.

Michael’s plan was to knock the film out real quick: find the easiest location, use the same actors, shoot it in one afternoon “sometime this weekend or the next” while the actors still had their characters (and lines) in their heads, download it to a yet-to-be –determined editor, give the editor three or four days, bing-bang-boom, we have a film we can enter into the Scary Cow Film Festival at the Castro Theater. The deadline to submit was October 19th.

I was hesitant. I told Michael it seemed unlikely we could pull it off that quickly. He shrugged. “Why not try?” If everything doesn’t all come together, he added, we can just regroup, and try again later. “If we miss the Festival, it can still be on YouTube!” He had a point, and I realized, not for the first time, that “hesitant” is too often my natural state. I asked Michael if he planned on directing it, but he said no, he wanted to focus on producing. In other words, he wanted to take on all the unglamorous dirty work, including picking up the tab… really, how could I say no?

I then suggested myself as the director. “Do you have any film directing experience?” my new producer asked. “Sure, I studied filmmaking in college!” I did not bother to mention that back when I made student films, Jimmy Carter was still President, and I had no clue how to access the camera on my cell phone.

So I got the gig (that’s what we used to say back in the ancient ‘70s). But then I thought about what an impressive job the stage director Jonathan Carpenter did with my script in the Pint Sized Plays production. (I was even more impressed when I later found out that Jonathan and his cast only had one rehearsal together before Opening Night!) Did I really want to submit the actors to a brand new director with such a rushed schedule? And where in tarnation would I find the [REC] button on these modern computer chip camera gizmos?

Michael agreed that it would be awesome if we could get Jonathan to direct. So I set about contacting him and the three actors: Andrew Chung (Eric), Lara Gold (Kathy) and Jessica Chisum (Tess). Everyone was excited to do it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one in the Bay Area interested in them; their dance cards were all filling up fast. So we had to find one full day in the next two weeks where the key participants, producer Michael, director Jonathan and the three actors, were all free. (I did not count myself in that lofty group because they already had my script, so really, if I got run over by a bus at that point, the show would still go on).

Via Facebook / email / texting / carrier pigeon, we found the one window where we were all free: Sunday October 13th.

Perfect. Now, where would we shoot? The script’s original setting was a pub, per the Pint Sized Plays script submission rules. But for the film, I rewrote the location as a coffeehouse (it’s the only change in the script I made). Using a real coffeehouse on such short notice was problematic. You never know if business owners are going to get cold feet at the last minute, and renege on their promise to allow you to shoot on their property. Michael, ever the cheerful optimist, said that the living room in his new apartment was fairly large… if he got the right tables and chairs, it could probably pass as a small corner of a coffeehouse.

He had a good point. Michael’s view was always that this film would be more like a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch, as opposed to a full blown film with realistic locations, etc. Although it would still be “cinematic” (using camera angles and editing to help convey the story), the main focus would be on the script and the acting, with just enough “production values” to sell the idea of the setting. In other words, we were okay with a living room that sorta kinda looking like a coffeehouse.

So, we had a time, and a location! With those variables locked down, and my script in his hand, our big shot producer Michael could go to the next Scary Cow meeting and pitch our project, and collect a crew. As soon as he recruited Alisha McMutcheon as our Director of Photography and Camera Operator, Michael set up a meeting so Jonathan and I could meet her once before the shoot.

Before the meeting, I asked Jonathan if it would be okay if I story boarded potential shots for the film. Story boards are drawings of the different camera compositions that will be shot; they basically look like a comic book version of the film. My compositions would be suggestions only. But if Jonathan liked them, it would free up his time to coach the actors. He agreed, so I created three sets of shots, four shots each. The first set was the Must Haves: the shots we definitely needed for the film to make any kind of narrative sense. The second set was the Nice to Haves: these shots would add enough variety to keep the film from looking too “stagey”. The third set was the Luxuries: in the unlikely event we were ahead of schedule, we could shoot those to make the film, as Stanley Kubrick would say, all fancy schmancy (okay, only I would say that).

One page of my storyboard artwork. Hey, I never said I was a Renaissance Man.

One page of my storyboard artwork. Hey, I never said I was a Renaissance Man.

We had a great meeting! Alisha obviously knows her stuff, and came across as a real team player. Everyone liked my story boards. I promised to avoid the stereotype of the neurotic scriptwriter by staying in the shadows and letting Jonathon run the shoot. And Michael promised to feed us breakfast and lunch! (Now that’s a producer!)

Michael started bringing more people on board that he had worked with on other films. Before we knew it, we had a film crew.

Then the bad news came from actor Jessica Chisum. In order to secure a major part in a stage production of Macbeth, she had to drop out of our shoot (this is not the first time William Shakespeare has stolen good actors from me. That guy’s a Prima donna!).

We had to find a new actor quick. It was decided that Jonathan alone should recast the part. Since he had the most experience with local actors, he would know which ones would most likely have the best chemistry with Andrew and Lara. Not to mention which candidates could learn their lines the fastest (my script was very dialogue heavy).

There is an invisible point with any theater or film production, where the momentum of everyone involved has taken it past the “what if?” stage, and it becomes its own animal; a living, breathing entity that seems to tangibly exist. At that point, any problem that comes up (such as losing an actor) seems to be one that was made to be solved. This project had reached that stage. That didn’t mean that this film was guaranteed to be made (living creatures can still die at any time). What it meant was that our director could confidently entice top notch actors on short notice with a “real project”.

In just a few days, Jonathan was able to snag Helen LaRoche. I knew the name rang a bell, so I googled her. Sure enough, back in 2012 I saw Helen give a moving performance in Stuart Bousel’s emotionally complex play “Artemis and Apollo or Twins”. I had made a mental note at the time that I wanted to someday work with her. Score!

Three days before the shoot, I meet Jonathan for coffee so we can discuss any issues about the script before his one and only rehearsal with the actors. I would not be at that rehearsal. With such a tight schedule, the actors cannot be subjected to a two-headed dragon; they need just one leader guiding them. The shoot was now Jonathan’s baby.

On the morning before the shoot, Jonathan had his two hour rehearsal with all three actors. He phoned me afterwards. He was very happy.

Production begins.

At 9:00am on the morning of the shoot, Jonathan, Alisha, myself, and the rest of the crew arrived: Tom Morrow the Gaffer, Ben Gallion the Production Assistant and Stuart Goldstein the Still Photographer (we lost our sound guy, so Alisha did triple duty). We did most of the set up before the actors arrive at 9:45am. Michael was the only person who had met everyone before today.

 I believe Michael told his roommates he was "having a few friends over."

I believe Michael told his roommates he was “having a few friends over.”

In the world of live theater, cast and crew work together for a long enough period of time to become a family. Granted, that “family” more often resembles the House of Atreus than the Little House on the Prairie… but whether they are stabbing each other or laughing together, they still know each other. In film production, you are usually thrown together with a group of mostly strangers, with a very narrow period of time to complete the production. Lucky for all of us, Michael chose everyone well. We worked together beautifully.

Director Jonothan Carpenter checks the monitor to frame a shot.

Director Jonothan Carpenter checks the monitor to frame a shot.

I was given the task of maintaining the script log, meaning I took down any notes Jonathan had on all of the shots recorded. What I noticed doing this task was the unique challenges film actors have. I know the common sentiment is that live theater separates the men/women from the boys/girls; while I would generally agree with that, film acting has its own challenges. Films are almost always shot out of order; so every time there is a new camera shot, the actors must realign themselves to a totally new place on their character arch. For instance, the final camera angle covered the characters Eric and Kathy at the first two pages of the script, and then at the very last two pages. After the beginning was shot and the director yelled “cut”, actors Andrew and Lara had to make a drastic change from being cuter than a box of kittens to looking like refugees from a Kafka story. You could see the immediate transition of time in their body language alone.

Our cast!  Andrew Chung, Helen LaRoche, Lara Gold

Our cast! Andrew Chung, Helen LaRoche, Lara Gold

Thanks to everyone’s’ professionalism, we got all twelve shots we wanted, plus one extra, an epilogue we all thought up during our lunch break.

Post-production begins.

Evan Rogers was recruited by Michael to edit our film. Editing is an art form all its own. In fact, it is the creative aspect of filmmaking that most separates cinema from live theater. An editor can make or break a film, so I was a little concerned that the whole post production of “Multitasking” would be in the hands of someone in another city that I never met (to this day I haven’t met him). But Michael vouched for him, and I read an email where Evan said he loved my script (I can be a tad vain).

And besides, Evan had almost four whole days to edit our six minute film before the October 19th deadline. No problem. Until there was a computer glitch, that caused the downloading of the files to take an entire three days. Which meant Evan had one day to edit. With Stuart Goldstein designing the Titles and credits, somehow Evan finished the entire edit in time to burn the DVD and summit it to Scary Cow on October 19th, before the 5:00pm deadline!

“Multitasking” was part of the Scary Cow Film Festival in November. It was a dream come true to hear a full crowd at the Castro Theater laughing at a comedy film I helped create.

So, here is the staged version (starting at the 12:25 mark).

And here is the filmed version.

Thanks to the creative input of all the artists involved, both versions manage to be totally faithful to my script (not a line of dialogue was ever changed).

Yet at the same time, they are distinctly different from each other.

Although I would like to think they are both, you know, funny.

Where are they now?

I feel very lucky that my script was produced in two different mediums, both times with such loving care. Here’s what all of the talented cast and crew members are up to now:

Andrew Chung is currently performing in Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” at the Impact Theatre through December 15th. Lara Gold is developing her own company, Exposure Theater, which will specialize in documentary and autobiographical theater. Helen LaRoche is work shopping Miranda Jones’ new musical, “The Precipice”. Jessica Chisum has joined the cast of Boxcar Theatre’s immersive drama “The Speakeasy” which opens January 10th.

Michael Laird, Alisha McCutcheon, Ben Gallion, Stuart Goldstein and Tom Morrow are donning multiple hats on upcoming Scary Cow films. Evan Rogers is now a VFX artist at Guerrilla Wanderer Films.

Jonathan Carpenter is returning to his hometown of Boston to develop several new projects with old thespian colleagues, but he did promise he would someday return to us.

Both Neil Higgins and yours truly have been commissioned to write new plays, “Echidna” and “Scylla” respectively, for The San Francisco Olympians Festival V: Monster Ball in 2014.

And of course all of us are available for future projects!

It takes a village to make a six minute comedy.

It takes a village to make a six minute comedy.



All photos by Stuart Goldstein.

Working Title: The Interpretation of the Time or So Our Virtues Lie

Will Leschber discusses the merits of Shakespeare set in modern times.

It’s been near 400 years since William Shakespeare passed from this world and his works are in more supply than ever before. His reach is positively exhaustive: from home book shelves to the auditorium halls of high school onward to local community and professional theatre to the big screens of plentiful major motion picture adaptations and even globally to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 two-year tour that aims to take Hamlet to every country in the world. The influence spans to the far ends. Why does the Bard timelessly ring true after all the years come and gone? Any ordinary English teacher will tell you that the unearthed truths of the human experience are mined nowhere more deep than in Shakespeare. Hence, we still relate. We still need to see our tragic heroes die, for in their deaths we see the folly in ourselves. My question then is this: How much relevance does a contemporary setting lend to a Shakespeare adaptation?

Impact Theatre’s current production ofTroilus and Cressida sets their scene in modern war. Traditionally, the play takes place at the end of the Trojan war, but this production clads the heroes of history in American war garb reminiscent of Desert Storm and Vietnam.

Troilus_image_1

The setting is familiar and our characters look like young friends or acquaintances we’ve known who have gone to fight for their country. Is this enough reason for the setting change? For some, yes. More importantly though, does the change of setting bring us closer to the plight of our ever-true Troilus and kind-eyed Cressida ? Does the play resonate more because of the setting switch? In this case, the production would have played just as well in a classic setting. The Middle Eastern conflict connection didn’t detract from the themes built into the play but didn’t necessarily enhance either. One thing this conveys is that wars throughout time are alike. Our emotional maneuverings can play against any wartime backdrop. We must then ask, when it comes to stage adaptations does it matter since the human drama at the heart of the play is the same? Of course it does. Resetting a play is a tool for creation and that tool can be used adequately or excellently just like any other aspect of theatre creation.

Adapting Shakespeare can be a feat regardless of the medium. Academy Award nominated actor Ralph Fiennes made his film directorial debut with 2011’s modern retelling of Coriolanus. Coriolanus shares a number of themes with Troilus and Cressida (pride, hubris, vanity, arrogance, strength, submission) and both are set in times of war. But again I ask, is a modern adaptation about more than a setting shift? With this film at least, the answer is yes.

Coriolanus_image_#1-1

That being said Shakespearean film adaptation can be tricky. When modernizing a play 400 year old play, does one simply trim the length and let the scenes play long relying on the actors to carry the pace and weight of the scenes? Or does one trim and split the scenes to lay on top one another, supporting each other thematically and then allowing editing or camera work to create flow and pace. The answer is a creative choice and can go either way. In this case, Fiennes adapts Coriolanus as if it were conceived as a film to begin with. This is the way to go with any film adaptation. Film had its own rules and expectations. Often when audiences are watching a film adaptation of a play they want exactly that: a film. Not a filmed stage play… which has it’s own place and purpose. However, the best adaptations use the tools unique to the medium to enhance the story in a way that the stage cannot. Realistic locations, wartime scenarios played out in full desolation, a close-up that allows an intimate soliloquy to be whispered: Fiennes utilizes these tools while relying on the language to carry the narrative.

Where this adaptation shines the most is how Fiennes draws a parallel between modern news agencies/social media and their connection to the tenants of public rule within Ancient Rome. Coriolanus, who serves as such a perfect wartime weapon, is of little value in times of peace. His pride and arrogance call for scorn.

Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders; till at length
Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,
Making not reservation of yourselves,
Still your own foes, deliver you as most
Abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows!

Coriolanus, Act III, scene iii

His cursing lines here remind me of contemporary feeble rumors of facebook and overbearing media that fans our emotions. The times are similar and people will not put up with being called out on their ignorance! The voice of the people calls for banishment! Have we not seen public out cry fueled by media and social networking call for the downfall of a public figure? Do we not see soldiers return to an unwelcoming home country after their service? We see these things today as we saw them in the 60’s and as Shakespeare saw them four centuries ago.

When banished, Coriolanus is shown wandering through ravaged neighborhoods reminiscent of war torn Eastern Europe. On a small, trash-littered peninsula he sits. The upward reaching bare trees reflect in the still waters below him as if he were the middle of a world upturned. In the separate war worlds of Troilus and Coriolanus, tides turn in spite of what is right. Love and honor shift on the voiceless winds and settle uncertainly down in the ashes of war. Any generation who has known war knows the uncertain world that these Shakespearean characters inhabit. Both are relevant because of the human truth built within. However, the superior adaptation is one that ties modern aspects not present when the play was written to the human truths that were always there.

Troilus and Cressida plays at Impact Theatre until Dec. 15th. Coriolanus is available on Netflix and many other digital rental sites.

Photo Credits:

Isaacs, Cheshire. Consoled by his brother Paris. 2013. http://www.impacttheatre.com/press/Web. 3 Dec 2013.

Coriolanus. 2013. http://www.imdb.comWeb. 3 Dec 2013.