A Q&A with Designer Kyra Bishop Sanford

Model Photo 11-26-17At NWCTC, we’re lucky to work with some of the best designers in our industry. Past productions have wowed actors and audiences alike in the bold choices our designers have made to overcome the creative constraints of producing full-scale classical works in an intimate setting. In preparation for tech week, we asked our incredible design staff a series of questions about their process and inspiration leading up to our new production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. 

Here’s what our set designer, Kyra Bishop Sanford had to say:

Q: What is the best thing about working in such an intimate venue as the Shoebox?
As with any challenging venue, I believe that it forces creative solutions and design choices, which otherwise mightn’t have been thought of. It encourages a precision of design, and a need to get to the heart of what is needed to tell the story.

Q: What is the most challenging thing about working in such an intimate venue as the Shoebox?
The biggest challenge of the venue for this production is the size (or lack thereof). There is not a lot of space to put people, and very limited backstage space. Low ceilings mean platforms can’t be as high.

Q: Why do you think Three Sisters has survived and is so often performed to this day?
I feel that the themes that the play deals with are still so relevant, a fact that is brought up in the script, that life will be the roughly the same in 300 years. The script does not come across as dated and inaccessible. The characters are varied and interesting; everyone can find people in their lives to compare them to.

Q: This is a new adaptation of a classic play. What has that process been like?
It has been an interesting process to sort out what to keep from the period, what to modernize, and what to make a combination of. We don’t want to abandon the play’s roots, but neither do we want to keep it mired in its original time and place, so that it may evolve to become more relevant to our time and place.

Q: Theatrical design can seem like such a mystifying art. What is one thing you wish people knew about your design discipline?
Theatrical design is, on one hand, a grand endeavor of creating a world in which a story can be told, drawing on symbolism, historical research, emotions, the needs of the play, personal experience, and the current world. On the other hand, though, it’s just a series of informed choices. What color are the walls? How tall? Does the door have four panels or six? Are the floorboards 4″ wide or 3″? Most of design work is simply making those choices. So it ends up being a wonderful balance between the esoteric and the practical.

Tech rehearsals are in full swing! Make your reservations now to see Patrick Walsh’s adaptation of Anton Checkhov’s timeless classic!


Why this? Why now? Director Patrick Walsh on THREE SISTERS

ThreeSisters_NWCTC_Rebby Foster, Jenn Lindell, Patrick Walsh, Kyra Bishop Sanford, Paul Susi, Jane Vogel_Rob Harrison, photographer

I’m not really sure why, but on November 9th, 2016 I picked up The Complete Works of Anton Chekhov and in a week I had finished the whole thing. After reading that book, I knew that I HAD to direct Three Sisters. Not only is it one of the best plays that has ever been written, but no other piece of dramatic literature makes me realize the difficulty in being a human being operating in the world. This plays intrinsically understands how hard it is just to wake up in the morning and make the decision to get out of bed and face whatever is outside the door. I’ve always known this about Chekhov and Three Sisters in particular, but it took on a whole new personal meaning when I woke up on November 9th, 2016 and made the conscious decision to not roll over and hide, but to swing my legs over the bed and see what the world was going to throw at me.

However, one problem remained. I wanted to do this show, but no translation I read was as vital or relevant as I wanted it to be. Chekhov certainly did not set out to write a dusty old classic and I didn’t want to present one to Portland audiences. I decided to take on the mantle of adapting it myself. To create something that was wholly the ideas and characters that Chekhov created, but with dialogue that felt current and immediate. Through this process, I was able to better articulate my own personal frustration at the world around me and also at myself for not being able to do more for the people in my life. I, much like Masha in the play, sometimes felt like I was stuck in a world that cared little for science, books, or empathetic feeling. What can any of us really do? Call a congressman? March? Does any of that really work?

By the time I finished the first draft I realized that yes, life is hard. It can be stupid and seem pointless. But we, just like Chekhov’s characters, have to keep moving forward and we need each other to do it. Only with one another’s support can we as individuals and as a society move forward. Love is the answer.

Chekhov fashioned a play that is timeless. This adaptation will speak to the frustration that so many people in the United States are feeling every time they turn on the news or check their social media accounts. What can any of us do?

“If only we knew. If only we knew.”

Behind the Design of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

The Designers of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) are working away to build our world. Take a look at their works in progress!

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) rehearsal photos!

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Epiphanies in Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) – by Brenan Dwyer

One of the final lines of this play is also its title: “Goodnight Desdemona. Good morning, Juliet.”

We were sketching our way through this scene for the first time sometime last week, when I stopped the actors. They all slumped to the ground, relieved to be stopped partway through a complicated scene. Rebecca plays Constance, the Shakespearean academic sucked into the plays of Othello and Romeo and Juliet, who has the wonderful gift of being able to say this line (that’s sarcasm – it’s a hard line). She let out a sigh and scrunched up her nose as I approached and ask her, “what the heck does that mean? Why do you say the title of the play there?” And then we all threw down our scripts and stomped around and shook our fists at the sky because we were running up against one of those stupid, miniature roadblocks that are actually the majority of the rehearsal process.

Then the epiphanies started rolling.

“Well, Desdemona dies when Othello comes to bed at night…” says Deanna Wells, who plays several characters including Romeo and Iago. “And Juliet dies when she wakes up to see Romeo dead on top of her.”

*DING!* Epiphany 1: Constance, who after a couple nasty bangs on the head, a sudden heartbreak, and career suicide, falls through her trashcan into these plays, begins to change the plots. She acts out a sublimated version of her own academic thesis by playing the role of a Fool, therefore turning these classic tragedies into comedies. So, Desdemona isn’t smothered. Juliet doesn’t die. In short, they’re safe to go to sleep and wake up without harm.

Later, we’re rehearsing the dumb show that starts the play where the murders of Desdemona and Juliet are acted out silently as written in Shakespeare’s plays. I’ve blocked Melissa, who plays Desdemona, to do a pilates-worthy slow lie down as she’s smothered, while Bonnie, who plays Juliet, bolts straight up from her slumber to discover dead Romeo and the dagger. We commence rehearsing the action, when:

“Oooooh I get it!” Bonnie shouts, stopping us, charmingly. We all laugh, and encourage her to tell us what’s up. “She’s lying down while I’m getting up. Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet. Get it?”

*DING!* Epiphany 2. The physical action mirrors the words. Desdemona lying down is like going to sleep; Juliet sitting upright is like waking up. As simple and obvious as this sounds, it’s helpful to find a physical connection to these Themes with a capital T.

Oh yes, the Themes. The safety of Desdemona and Juliet is, of course, a metaphor for Constance’s self-actualization. By transforming their fates, she has transformed her own. By determining their continuation, she has asserted her own ability to move on from a low, humiliating moment in her life. But the actors don’t care about that more than peripherally. They care about how they can play that moment, which can feel like the author’s (Ann-Marie MacDonald’s) Jungian thesis blotting the drama with a rather bold stroke of Theme.

I sense that the trend in popular theater is toward hyper-naturalism. We see cross-sections of living rooms, people texting lines of dialogue, we expect blood and drunkenness to be as close to the real deal as possible. In truth, most theater is poetry, and Goodnight Desdemona is especially so. I mean, good lord, the woman falls down her trashcan, we’re not exactly looking at O’Neill here. The Themes, the Metaphorical Subtext are important, though hard as heck to play in a way that is engaging, active, and entertaining.

So, *DING!* Epiphany 3 is for me as a director is to embrace Thematic moments like this as poetry. The rich, deep metaphorical stuff that makes up Shakespeare’s best work, and leaves me working with my actors on a half page scene lifted from Romeo and Juliet  for an hour and a half and still have more to say. The poetry that keeps Tennessee Williams poignant and Sarah Ruhl captivating in its vagueness. This sort of stuff that has room for interpretation can be cheesy and alienating if done incorrectly, but rich and thought-provoking when done well.

But by watching the moment, like meditation, by thinking it and feeling it and encouraging all the small epiphanies, we drill down to make lines like this significant, specific, and exciting. It doesn’t have to make Sense with a capital S. It just has to feel right.

-Brenan Dwyer, director


Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

By Ann-Marie MacDonald

May 22-June 21

Tickets and information at nwctc.org

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)

Final Postcard - front

Northwest Classical Theatre Company concludes its seventeenth season withGoodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), an action-packed, hilarious homage to Shakespeare and the people who love his plays. This production will be the last for the company in its current format; moving forward NWCTC will no longer keep a resident acting company nor claim the Shoebox Theatre as its home.

In Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Constance Ledbelly, a Shakespearean scholar, postulates that two of the Bard’s best-known tragedies, Othello and Romeo and Juliet, are based on comedic source material. Constance researches firsthand when she takes a tumble into her trashcan and lands in the worlds of the plays where her presence rapidly causes the plots and characters to change: Iago and war-like Desdemona team up, death-obsessed Juliet and bi-curious Romeo tire quickly of marriage, and Constance is tasked with finding the author of it all.

Join us for this adventurous production before we say goodnight to Northwest Classical Theatre Company as we know it, and stay tuned for more details on the rebirth and continuation of the company as we near the season’s end.

For tickets or more information go to: www.nwctc.org

Directing Mary Stuart : A thrilling balancing act – by Elizabeth Huffman

Directing Mary Stuart: A thrilling balancing act

I owe nearly everyone favors after this one!

Bringing Mary Stuart to production has been over a two-year journey, starting with a desire to direct a project with Luisa Sermol whose work I adore. We found that we both shared a love for this play and, for Luisa in particular, a burning desire to bring this iconic queen and her powerful story to life. Mary Stuart has been a deep part of her Scottish upbringing and her lifelong dream to play her is finally at hand.

Then Louanne Moldovan, my dear friend & Artistic Director of Cygnet Productions and I teamed up and decided we can do this. With her at the producing helm we prepared our case for CoHo to be considered for their selection a few years ago.

Disappointingly we were not selected but damn, this project, somewhat like Mary Stuart, refused to give up!

Grant Turner stepped in and offered to make the project a part of his season and we were so grateful and delighted. At the time Val Stevens was on board to play Elizabeth but when she moved to Los Angeles, we cast about for the right actress to play Mary’s nemesis. We saw so many wonderful actresses for it but it was Lorraine Bahr who completely embodied that legendary queen, as if she was to the manor born. So with our queens in place, soon the rest of the cast came on board with every actor bringing their talent and serious A game to the table; in one case coming all the way from London to throw his lot in with us: my friend and former LA company member, British actor Philip Whiteman.

Knowing that it would cost more than NWCTC usually can afford, we threw a fundraising party and collected some extra bucks with the help of many friends, and so off we went to find the creative team.

No director works alone.

If you are lucky, you get to assemble a team of artists whose specific knowledge and skill opens doors to the most creative ways possible for you to tell your story, often straining themselves and their resources to do so within your budget. Because they are rock stars somehow finding ways of solving limitations by pretending that they do not exist, they have all created aspects of this show that I never dreamt we could have, just so that I could realize my vision of this play. They all are my heroes; each one adding their care and artistry so what you will see is a true collaborative effort of many talented people, all working to make me look much cleverer than I really am! So I want you to know who they are:

With a smart set design by Megan Wilkerson and the technical building skills of my friend and fellow actor Jeff Arrington, they helped me to turn the intimate Shoebox into a perfectly elegant jewel box that amply allows me to travel back and forth from Whitehall to Fotheringay prison. I am blown away, as always, by the truly stunning sound design by the brilliant Sharath Patel and the haunting score created by him and Gayle and Philip Neuman. I am honored again by the care and beauty of the sculpted lighting design created in such a tiny space by my gentle and talented friend Brian Guerrero. What the actors are wearing is the result of lots of research, considered choices and many hours of hard work by Rusty Twelerp and Chloe Golberg to create the “drop my jaw in awe” costumes created.

I am delighted to have met and worked with Janet Trygstadt who taught us beautiful period dance moves as well as my favorite fighting goddess, Kristen Mun who I also just like to have around because she is SO badass! . Then Andrés Alcalá, a brilliant actor in his own right, waltzes in with his magic computer & mind boggling editing skills to create beautifully lush images that I still can’t believe I have for this show.

Finally our intrepid Stage Manager, who I now believe I cannot live without, the sweet but determined Jenn Lindell who is somehow going to run the whole shebang all by herself.

So you see I am a lucky director. This has been and is about to be an epic journey for all of us. We are primed and excited to share it with you.

As for my favorite lines here are a few that sum up this powerful play for me:

Men love to see the sword of justice grasped by a man, but they can’t stand it being wielded by a woman- Lord Burleigh

Odd that a queen has no more advantages than an ordinary kind of woman- Queen Elizabeth

Do not forget that nothing stands forever. That there are gods who punish pride- the proof is at your feet- Mary Stuart

Song that best sums it up for me: “What’s love got to do with it?”

Thanks for letting me ramble and hope to see you there or around town afterwards!

-Elizabeth Huffman, Director of Mary Stuart

E Huff