Day #33: June 27, 2019
“No one’s ever called me methodical.” Playwright Andrea Thome, CYMBELINE
The tightly scheduled routine has gotten to me. Not only am I sleep deprived but this introvert is not getting enough downtime in between events to renew. Every morning, except for Saturdays, has been the same in terms of starting a new process. I remember saying to the producer team that I would never show up for those 9:30 production meetings. And perhaps they wish I hadn’t because I’m always interrupting their protocol. But I was determined to drop by on the first day of each rehearsal process.
The tight schedule does not accommodate the accumulation of events that the body absorbs along the way, so no matter what we had to deal with the day before, each day is a new day. And some days, I just can’t get out of bed early enough.
And that has increasingly become the cast as the Festival wears down. What motivated me this morning is that today is the last of the firsts. And by that I mean, Two Noble Kinsmen is the last play in the festival, and their first day is today.
Truth be told, I have no idea what that play is. I’ve read Tim’s drafts, and I saw the production at the University of Utah several years ago, but I’m not alone in not knowing this play. So this really will be “like the first time.”
There was a famous actor named William Gillette who very popular at the turn of the 20c for playing Sherlock Holmes. It’s estimated that he played the role some 1,300 times. When asked how he could keep doing it, he said that the actor’s job is to make the audience feel like they are witnessing the events for the first time. I try to remember that every morning, but, some days….
The heat and humidity have finally settled in, and the contrast between being outside in it, and sitting in the frigid space known as the hospitality suite is stark. We don’t want to complain about the cold in the rooms now that the building has fixed the a/c. But subjecting one to this kind of extreme can’t be good.
Being that it’s a Thursday, which means a double day at CSC, I do my usual mad dash through the other three plays in rehearsal. I seem to never hit the Winter’s Tale room when they aren’t about to take a break. They are rehearsing next to the hospitality suite, and there is a lot of laughter going on over there, so I think that’s a good sign?
I slip into the Tempest as they are trying to figure out how to stage the moment when Trinculo climbs into the blanket with Caliban. I have told them that I do not want these two actors to be on top of one other. I’d like to see that bit done differently, for one thing, and Im ok with more descriptions being read than enacted. But they have come up with a clever solution, I think.
This is also the scene in which Caliban brags to Stephano and Trinculo how he will show them all the wonders of the island.
If it please you, let me take you where apples grow;
I’ll dig up truffles with my long nails, and show you
A blue-jay’s nest, and teach you how to snare
A marmoset – they’re hard to catch. I’ll bring you
To bunches of hazelnuts, and sometimes I’ll get you
Fresh scallops in the rocks. Will you go with me?
I started to laugh when I heard the word “marmoset” because the translator Kenneth and I went back and forth about this. I said, “Nobody knows what a marmoset is, Kenneth” but he fought really hard to keep it. It’s also in the Shakespeare. But I don’t think that was his argument. I still don’t know why catching a monkey is useful for surviving on the island, but the sound of the word is intriguing, and so it stays put. I am now an honorary member of the “Save the Marmoset” society.
Upstairs on the 4th floor, director Adrian Alea is methodically working through H8. Playwright Caridad is there and they are drilling down to those moments in which things irrevocably change. Which is how to keep these political plays active. I entered just as Cardinal Wolsey is publicly declaring his allegiance, except there is a subtle twist to how loyal he is willing to admit. And Henry catches the subtlety. “He’s not going to last long,” I think to myself about poor Wolsey. If there is a general consensus about these Kings of Shakespeare’s, I think it’s to demonstrate that most of them are thin-skinned. Curious to have that kind of psychology when you have a lifetime appointment. Then again, I guess no one was guaranteed a quiet reign.
This afternoon’s play is Pericles, translated by Ellen McLaughlin. I have seen a production of this translation and am excited to be caught up in the sequence of events that will lead to this amazing reunion between father and daughter.
It’s such a formally structured play. Almost medieval in its episodic nature. I don’t think one episode is dependent on another. The only thing that keeps Pericles moving is that in every country/kingdom/island he visits, something invariably happens and he has to get out Dodge. There is a narrator character, named Gower in the text, but I don’t think we are ever given the name. And perhaps Shakespeare’s audience would have known that character who steps out of the 14c. And so to show that difference in time period, Shakespeare employs a tetrameter, rather than a pentameter. And I think it’s mostly rhymed couplets. Oh those quaint people in the past who spoke so formally!
I have to admit that I grew annoyed with Gower always telling us what was about to happen. There are bits in which he tells about what happened in between episodes, but I began to wonder if by the 1610’s, Shakespeare’s audience just wasn’t following things so well anymore and they needed a narrator. I just wasn’t having a hard time figuring out the motives and actions of the episode, so I don’t know why I needed the repetition.
I wish that I hadn’t slammed myself on the post-reading panel because I would have loved to have taken notes about what Ellen had to say about working on this play. And even more moving was when she talked about the great gift that this translation assignment gave her: to dive into the structure of Shakespeare to figure out how it works. She talked about how actors, directors, designers, and dramaturgs engage with the plays, but we haven’t asked playwrights to do so. (I didn’t pay her to say that, I swear I didn’t!)
In between readings, the producing staff took the production assistant staff out to dinner at Five Napkins. The PAs have been a wonderfully game group, and they’ve each taken turns going to the Halloween store down the street for props. I asked them all what their takeaway has been. Peter joked that they learned how to make coffee. They all talked about their surprise at the breadth and depth of Shakespeare’s writings.
That was a great tee-up for Cymbeline, the play that the great Shakespearean actor/director/teacher Tina Packer seems to shake her head at.
“Throughout the play, the wily old playwright wove yet another theme from yet another extant play, until all the audience can say is: We give up, you can’t put any more plots in it. Yes, you’re the master. Give us a break. Let us go home. The daughter is a phoenix. She has redeemed her father. She has redeemed her husband. The wicked Queen is dead. England has acknowledged its debt to Rome. We’re tired. You’ve worn out brains out!”
She has a point. In that last scene, there are something like 23 reveals in which all the threads get tied up. Think about trying to do that in the pre-word processing era! I mean, Shakespeare didn’t even had post-its!
In the talkback afterwards, director John Dias make the bold claim that Frank Baum must have read Cymbeline before he wrote The Wizard of Oz. And he proceeded to list the parallels. The poison like the poppies; the Queen like the wicked witch; the two brothers and their supposed father like the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man (there’s even a speech that says you are my liver, heart and brain. Come on now!) The ineffectual king/wizard who eventually gets it right. It was hilarious. I think he should write an essay about this.
And apparently, all of Andrea Thome’s plays are connected somehow to the Wizard of Oz. I didn’t know that at the time when I called her to offer her the commission. I had never met her before I phoned her, but I had read several of her plays, and had long admired her translation work.
As has been the case in almost every talkback, someone in the audience comments about the humor in the piece. And every playwright talks about wrestling with the jokes. “You can’t translate jokes,” Andrea told us. But you have to figure out what the joke is doing. Life is crazy like that, she said. The absurdity co-exists with the tragedy.
It’s not just the language of Shakespeare that moves us. The reason why we have these wide-swinging emotional responses, from laughter in one beat to tears in the next, is because of how he structured the plays. Someday I will write that book so I can show what I mean by that. But the first step to understanding structure was to go at the language, which is the main component of the structure of his plays.
Cymbeline is not only filled with adventures but it’s one of the longer plays, and it took Andrea a long time to work through it. Like many of the writers, she has many projects going on at the same time, including a full-time teaching career. But I found her process quite instructive actually. It was methodical. She began at the beginning and slowly worked her way through. And circled back periodically to shore up a moment early in the play that would pay off later. It was crafty, mindful, and methodical.
And I suddenly wondered – perhaps for the first time — if Shakespeare worked methodically. Starting at the beginning and working his way until the end. Half of my life has been analog, in the sense of the good IBM Selectric typewriter and some liquid paper; and the other half has been digital, where the word of word processing has taken over. I’m not methodical anymore. I just gush – uh, have you been reading these blogs? – and maybe I go back and edit. I have this whole theory about plays being written in the word processing era. I’m not convinced that automatic writing, meaning the gush, makes a great base on which to build a play.
She talked about how knotty the language is in this play. And that she entered into the play as if she were a dancer learning new choreography. The process of getting from one place to another is now in her body. And she joked that there is probably some weird Cymbeline play that going to come out of her now. Which we know will be based on the Wizard of Oz.