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Day 7: “To music stand or not to music stand”

Day #7: June 1, 2019

“To music stand or not to music stand”

Saturdays are the only day of the week that we aren’t adding another play to the rehearsal schedule. This is because there are no readings on Tuesday nights. The rehearsal period is three days with the reading on the fourth day.

It also seems to be the delivery of snacks from Insta-Cart. When discussing how we were going to keep the table filled, Hannah suggested that we sign up for a year-long membership which gives us a discount on the deliveries. Smart! And so in came some new snacks today. (I’m still not sure about the chocolate chip rice crispies.) A big package of chocolate arrived, and we have been strategic about when to put that out. Not until after lunch! (Otherwise, it gets gobbled up at the first break which is around 11:30.)

So far, I think each one of the six play readings has had a different “rule” for staging them. And tomorrow’s RICHARD III will continue that tradition. I walked into that room today as they were staging the scene in which all the ghosts visit Richard and Richmond. And they’ve come up with a very effective way to stage that.

It has certainly been a group effort in that room. Everyone has so many great ideas and Mariana has to assess in an instant as they come at her. Every once in awhile, she says, “I want it this way, guys, even if Migdalia doesn’t like it.” But invariably, Migdalia does. It’s a tough room. Only because they are so familiar with each other. It is a room filled mostly with good friends and their laughter can be heard in the hospitality suite.

They are also in the “cold” room. We have two rooms at 440 Lafayette that are exclusively ours during the Festival. One is the hospitality suite (duh!) and the other is a room next door. I know that I’m perpetually cold, but, seriously, it’s cold in there. And even though they are moving around a bit from music stand to music stand, you’re doing a lot of sitting in staged reading rehearsals.

It’s a funny thing about the cold and comedy. What I observed over the years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is that comedy plays really well in the cold. They have an outdoor theater and on those hot, humid nights, oh boy, you can’t land a joke to save your life. I don’t know why that happens. It’s like the heavy air slows down the molecules of speech which slows down the timing and timing in comedy is everything and so you’re left onstage with egg on your face, because the joke just didn’t land. Anywhere.

I’ve always found R3 to be a funny play. Actually, all of Shakespeare contains different emotional engagements. Genre is a way to organize material and also, more importantly for the theater, to identify what your emotional experience is going to be. Theater is an emotional experience, when you come down to it. While it was a great thing that Condell and Hemings did almost 400 years ago when they got the First Folio printed, putting the plays into certain genres seem to lock them into tight constraints. Life is not just tragic. For most of us, I must add.

Actually, most of life is very comic. Again, for most of us. The French have a very wide definition of comedy: anything that’s not a tragedy. If one is lucky in this lifetime, one doesn’t encounter too much true tragedy. And by that I mean the big things: like the death of a child before the death of a parent; the mutilation from war; starvation from lack of food and water; torture from expressing one’s beliefs. One of the reasons why I think comedy is not as respected as tragedy – the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborksa called comedy “tragedy’s younger brother” — is because it is a daily occurrence. Tragedy happens rarely, and therefore is dramatic and notable. Again, this is for some of us.

And so it is that R3 has funny moments, just as Comedy of Errors has a life or death situation at its core. Life is filled with contrasts. And if plays replicate the life experience, which I believe they do, then they must have contrasts. No one is better at contrasts than Shakespeare. This topic will be in more blogs to come. But today, let me just say: perhaps being in a cold room has been good to bring out the comedy in R3. We shall see tomorrow.

I arrived over at COMEDY OF ERRORS just in time to watch the officers nab Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse. They were wearing black masks, and when I asked about them, Martine Kei Green-Rogers, the dramaturg, whispered, “They were in our tub. And we thought they were funny.” And indeed they are.

We divided the Festival into eight teams. Seven of those teams will read five plays over the course of the five weeks; and the eighth team will read four. Each team has the same stage management team, but not the same acting company. Each team has their own tub of supplies, which include some random props. I went through all the plays one day and noted all the written sound cues and props (every play has letters!). COE is the first team to deploy the masks.

Dr. Pinch is described as having some crazy eyebrows, and so I asked if that actor could slap on some Groucho Marx-like eyebrows – what’s funnier than that? I think they came up with a very funny – and better! – solution, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that works on Monday night.

Their rehearsal room shares a wall with the hospitality suite. There isn’t laughter coming from that room, as I’ve already discussed, but lots of crashing and bashing. Shakespeare comedies are violent and loud. Part of what’s funny is how far people are willing to go to get what they want. Farce, after all, is tragedy at 78 rpms.

Today was also the conclusion of Henry 6. Doug Langworthy, the translator, has done a surgical job on these three plays. They are smooth as silk, and he has worked tirelessly over the past six years to create this blend. You’d had to really know these plays well to catch some of these weavings. Doug feels like Parts 2 & 3 were written together, and there is speculation about when Part I might have been written. One of the reasons why I wanted to put these three plays in numerical order is because I wanted to hear parts 2 & 3 in one day.

Shakespeare is inventing the history play as he writes, it seems. When we say “history play”, we are referring to English history. While it may be that more people know about Julius Caesar from Shakespeare’s play than from the History channel, it isn’t delineated as a history play in the First Folio. Only those 10 plays that deal with English history.

And like with TWO GENTS, there are so many theatrical conventions and tropes that will show up in later plays. The conjuring scene in Part 2 reminded me of Macbeth. I think Henry 6 has a line about being a feather blowing in the wind as Leontes will say later in WINTER’S TALE. And Queen Margaret seems a prototype for Lady M.

The language in these plays isn’t so multilayered yet. It’s mostly delivering plot points. People say what they mean, without sophisticated strategies. One of the interesting aspects to this translation process that I have asked these writers to do is that it really pops the linguistic contrasts. Even in these plays, in which the language is pretty flat, when there are poetic images or when a character is working something out in a soliloquy, I can hear them better. And appreciate them. Because I haven’t been spending so much of my intellectual energy (and, look, people, I don’t have a lot of that to waste as it is) on trying to figure out the smaller moments of what’s happening.

Let alone to whom it is happening. I concluded at the end of the day that I don’t think the British knew their history all that well. If they did, why the hell did Shakespeare have to insert two times in each of these three plays who is related to whom to unravel the claims to the throne? I was suddenly feeling less stupid about it. Also, in our staged readings, the directors are doing a great job helping us identity who is who.

Michael Barakiva, the director for H6.2, opened up the CSC space for us. I wanted the house lights to remain on (at half) because I wanted us to be a part of the storytelling, which is how I think it was 400 years ago. And so Michael asked those actors to use the space, not just the music stands. And by the time they got to the battle scenes, they had managed to clear off all the music stands. I mean, you need room for some battles.

Tonight, Nelson Eusebio, the director for H63, went one step further: no music stands in sight. And the actors holding their notebooks had exits and entrances and engaged with each other which was emotionally quite satisfying.

It tested one of my theories about this work. It takes a lot of research and prep to figure out all the references and untangle the syntax in the original Shakespeare. If that work has been done for you, what does that free up for the actor to do then? Some actors have been resistant to having this taken away from them. “That’s my job, Lue, to figure it out.” And I reply, ”You don’t have to figure out the contemporary play, which allows you the freedom to create complex relationships with the other characters in your play.” We don’t often to get that level of complexity when performing a Shakespeare play, because we spend a lot of time in rehearsal reading the footnotes. And so I’m hoping that actors and directors can think of these translations as incorporating the footnotes already, which gives them the information they need to make specific choices and keep the stakes high. That, after all, is what I think we are attracted to in any play.

There’s a lot more to say about these three plays. We have a video of Doug’s presentation to the companies of 2 & 3 so check out his remarks about it. But I want to leave this with one last comment. He believes that Shakespeare is inventing his brand of soliloquy in these plays. The longest soliloquy in Shakespeare is about halfway through part 3, when Richard, Duke of Gloucester, steps out and talks to us about his ambition. It’s chilling, because we know what’s coming: Richard III. Which is tomorrow!!!

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Lue Morgan Douthit

CEO and Creative Director

During her 25 years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Douthit oversaw a...

During her 25 years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Douthit oversaw a full service literary department as Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy. Play on! began in 2012 as a pilot program under her supervision. She was the Production Dramaturg for more than 50 productions, including 15 world premieres and over two dozen Shakespeare productions. In 2009, she was the co-producer and co-founder of the Black Swan Lab for new play development at OSF which she ran until 2016. In 2019, she co-founded Play on Shakespeare, which carries forward the Shakespeare translation work began at OSF.Douthit is the recipient of the 1999 Literary Manager & Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) Prize in Dramaturgy: The Elliott Hayes Award. She received a PhD at the University of Washington, an MFA from Trinity University, and an MA from University of Arizona.

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