Monthly Archives: September 2013

Kenichi Hillis on Props Design

On the Objects of RICHARD III

During the opening night celebratory toast between the cast, crew, and audiences for RICHARD III, NWCTC Artistic Director (and the man performing in the title role) Grant Turner mentioned—while describing the rather hectic production process—that I had designed “five times as many props as were actually seen on the stage.” He was exaggerating, of course,but really not by much.

Between director Barry Kyle’s creative methods and an unfortunately short rehearsal schedule, much of my “normal” preferred method of pre-planning, research, and execution of a design had to be ditched in favor of creating a design in tandem with the rehearsal, all on short notice and as fast as logistics could possibly allow. And it is not at all a stretch to say that the prop list changed nearly every day, with the new things being added and cut right up until two days before that opening night.

Again: two days before opening night.

It was maddening and frustrating and stressful beyond belief. And yet, looking back on what type of show we have here and how we had to work, I’m not entirely certain that we could have done it any other way. After adding and then stripping away all of the excess object elements, we’re left with a brutally simple prop design which supports a vision of RICHARD III which is distinctly American and set in the cold, stark world of today.

Some of those objects are intentionally literal and with a specific label designed to represent our setting: a shopping bag from Target, an issue of the Wall Street Journal, a Radio Flyer tricycle, and a Farmer’s Almanac tell you exactly where you are and what you are looking at. Others, however, are more symbolic in nature and evoke a different sort of feeling all together; the crowned teddy bear, the battle fought with chains and machetes, a battle flag made of bloodied children’s clothing, and the river of white and red rose petals all refer to something a little bit more than their actual selves. While the contrasting ideas between the two do seem at odds, in this world they actually blend rather beautifully (or so I believe) and perform the primary task of any prop design—to support the actors and to help propel the story

While no one loves to see a prop they worked hard on cut from the final production, I actually prefer this version of the play’s prop design. What you end up seeing here is exactly what you need to see in order to live in this world that I and my fellow designers, the director, and the cast and crew have created to tell this story. Anything else would honestly only get in the way and create a distraction where it really isn’t needed or wanted. And since we’re here to tell a story, more than anything else, that’s the sort of design that I’m striving to create.

–Kenichi Hillis, NWCTC Prop Master

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Casey Ballard on Costuming Richard III

Lingerie, Shirtless Dudes, and Why Footwear is the Bane of My Existence

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It was recently posited that perhaps a blog written by me, the costume designer, might be interesting.

Duh.

My job is fascinating on so many levels. It is ridiculous the amount of awesomeness I get to do. I buy some of the most bizarre things at some of the most bizarre places without batting an eye.

Oh, I need a super padded, trashy/classy bra and a red thong? No big. I bought a couple, to compare. The sales lady very graciously did not look me in the eye.

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I need to figure out what kind of gun holster is most appropriate and what kind of gun goes in it? Let me just scroll through all these images of dudes holding weapons while I wait for my pad kee mao (The waiter did look me in the eye with what I can only assume was a mixture of respect and fear).

Another reason I really enjoy costume design is that it is such a living design element. I like that I get to work so closely with all these amazing actors. I like that I can tell the story of a character and their background based solely on what kind of shirt I put them in. I like that I have the power to make as many men shirtless as possible. I like that I abuse this power sometimes- it’s fun to objectify people. But seriously, costumes tell such a human story. What we wear is a choice. Figuring out what certain characters would wear, and why they wear it, and how they choose to manifest their own emotions and ideas into their outfit, is such a fun challenge. It’s a wonderful mix of anthropology, sociology, and history. It makes me feel really smart, and not bad at all about the whole shirtless dudes thing.

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With “RIII” I found myself once more working with what I like to call “base costumes”- the notion that everyone has one basic outfit, and will add or subtract to signify a character change. I was worried at first that all black in an all black space would be….dark (budum-bum). Then I told myself to stop worrying because I intrinsically trust my fellow designers- they trust me to not do something dumb, so I trust them. And it worked out beautifully. Collaboration was such a huge factor in this play. It was so important, that I am going to reiterate, in all caps: COLLABORATION WAS SO IMPORTANT. I came in to this show knowing I would be dealing with a large cast and a larger character list. I was also brand new to working with this company, therefore, I knew absolutely no one. And yet, when I requested that the actors all bring in black items, especially shoes (shoes are the WORST thing- they cost the most out of anything ever in the world, and are so annoying when they are brand new and half the time feet aren’t really the size you think they are. I thought I was a solid 10 ½- nope. They are now, for no apparent reason, a size 11), every single person willingly brought in something and then some. And they very graciously allowed me to use a bulk of their personal items for the run of this production. The outpouring of collaboration and support and willingness to share and help was overwhelming and calmed my anxious state of mind. I have had an absolute blast working with these guys and I am ever thankful for the opportunity and trust the bestowed on me.

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Now I just have to figure out how to get all actors to be half naked all the time…..

-Casey Ballard, Costumer for Richard III

Brenan Dwyer on Opening Night

I’ve been thinking it’s time to take ownership.

Barry’s sort of a big deal. We’ve all been in a little bit of awe.

He throws out hundreds of bold, spectacular ideas a day. Many of them have found their way into our this large production in a small space.

The rehearsal process has been short, packed with ideas, discussions, music, movement, mask, videos, images, paint, chalk, swordplay, and a sort of scramble through text and scenes that has left us feeling both raw and itching to go on stage with this play.

As a part of scheduled rehearsal, we have not spent lots of time investigating our character’s inner thoughts. We have not broken down each line and chewed on each word. We have not done beat work. We have not dwelled on telling everyone our deepest character intentions. We have not done any character journaling, or free associations, or archetypal character exploration. This has been atypical for a Shakespeare show in the tradition of NWCTC.

It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s nothing like a show that’s ever been done in the Shoebox before.

This play has a definite stamp of Barry Kyle.

I’m terrified.

Not because I don’t trust Barry. I do. (See my previous blog post).

I haven’t yet trusted myself.

This play is like a roller coaster running through a haunted house without safety harnesses.

I go through this play both horrified and turned on.

I feel like I’m about to fall down or faint at any moment.

I feel like someone might actually die.

I stand in awe of the work of my fellow actors (especially Grant Turner… holy s*** he’s good in this) …but I have no idea how I stack up.

I feel like my acting training both holds me up and totally fails me.

I feel like I’m throwing everything I know about myself onto the stage and trying to mold it into some beautifully deformed lump of a woman, and giving her life.

In the last week, I’ve been very anxious about the lack of stability that I gain from a more traditional process. After a particularly tumultuous day thinking about Anne, I decided that I can’t do anything about it. That instability is part of the ground that has grown this play. I’ve got to embrace instability because it’s going to be there no matter what, and if I don’t embrace it, that is the one thing that will truly make my performance fall short.

So, I’ve decided to take ownership of the work I’ve done, and who I am, and what I bring onstage.

It doesn’t mean the performance is perfect, and it doesn’t mean that my terror is erased.

It strikes me how much courage one has to have, not only to go on stage, but to continually choose to rehearse and perform these plays that force us to press on our bruises again and again. We must be brave to go show someone how we react, and also brave to show the audience that we as actors sometimes fail to share our depths because we, too, are flawed. We’re working on it. Failure is inherent in the risk.

I wrote a blog years ago as in intern at Shakespeare Santa Cruz (RIP) and came to a revelation that I will revisit now: Acting is not about being fearless. It is about doing what you must do, with fear as your companion.

Break a leg.

-Brenan Dwyer, Lady Anne

John San Nicolas on Buckingham

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It’s my first time ever interviewing the real-live version of a character I’m playing and I am going over my questions just taking the first sip from my hot chocolate (whipped cream, of course) when Henry Stafford-Duke of Buckingham-walks into the Camellia Lounge in the back room of the Tea Zone in the Pearl. He is as advertised-dressed in a black suit with a black shirt and black tie (which-upon closer inspection-all look like they were purchased at Burlington Coat Factory), the young conservative Duke appears sleek and slick and sly.

He smiles at me (I’m the only one back there) like he knows me well (we’ve never met) and it is at once a turn-off and a turn-on. Don’t get me wrong-I don’t go for guys, and also don’t find anything particularly attractive about this one-except for the way he’s looking at me, the way his green-and-brown eyes seem to see into me and tell me that it’s okay to tell him anything. I distrust him immediately. “Good time of day unto your patient grace.”, he says. I say something like, “Hello, Mr. Buckingham, or what should I call you?” His answer is long, and I have a hard time following it (especially since I’m mesmerized by those eyes, which dance around the room like some organic robot, gathering data), and I can’t tell you any of what he says, but by the end of it I determine that I can either call him whatever I like because he doesn’t care, or that he definitely wants me to call him “Buckingham”. It doesn’t really matter what I intend to call him, though, because I don’t think I speak at all the rest of the interview. He calls for the barista, orders a coffee with rum (it’s 9am), and takes over.

Speaking with just a hint of an (New York?) accent, the Duke speaks without pause for the next fifteen minutes-which is the duration of the interview. He goes on at length about the weather for the first minute, and then… He spends the rest of the time talking about me. Or rather, Portland theatre, and then how much he’s heard about me and my work. He tells me how much he enjoyed my work on Portlandia and Leverage, and tells me how he has plans to get some of his “Friends with means-and, trust me, I have many..” to contribute to some of the smaller theatres in town like Theatre Vertigo and Northwest Classical Theatre company. He somehow knows that I’m a San Diego Chargers fan and he tells me that, “Philip Rivers seems back to his old self. He’s quarterbacking my fantasy team.” He consoles me about the recent passing of my father, complements my outfit and congratulates me on, “…Your Tiffany! I hope you treat her well!”

Then his cell phone rings. He politely excuses himself and exits with a flourish. I sit and wait and feel ridiculously flattered and totally creeped out. I go over my questions again. After 15 minutes, I go out to the street and the Duke is nowhere to be found. I ask the barista about him and she tells me that he came out on his cell phone and met a very pretty, very young girl in front of the Tea Zone, then a car pulled up and they got in and drove away.

I don’t get to ask him about anything-his relationship with Richard of Gloucester, the princes in the tower, or his role in the deaths of many members of the royal family. But he made a quick and strong impression on me, and I get enough, just from watching him move and listening to him talk, to base my character on, I think. And Shakespeare wrote words for the rest, didn’t he?

I’m very different from Buckingham, and I don’t think I’d ever be close friends with someone like him. I’m goofier, looser, more of a free spirit. I see through his casually classy demeanor and flattering words to the crazed, cunning ambition that lies beneath. Because of his eyes. Those wild, penetrating, calculating eyes tell the true story of the tumult within his soul. Henry Stafford is a man to steer clear of, in my opinion, at all costs. Lest ye be fooled, with perilous consequence.

-John San Nicolas, the Duke of Buckingham

Grant Byington on Watching

I like to watch, but there’s more to it than that.

I never went to acting school. There are times when I am envious of those who did. They use a vocabulary that is at times both perplexing and enlightening to an untrained actor. I started pretty young. And I’m willing to admit: Everything I learn about acting I learn by watching.

I’m the guy in the dark corner of the theatre, sneaking into the technical rehearsal. I stand next to the booth and peer down at scenes I’m not in. I frequently get caught-out watching the scenes I actually play in. (I love playing Stanley in this production for this very reason. Although I find myself biting my tongue … a lot … probably something I share with every Stanley out there.) Once, backstage at a performance of Damn Yankees, I was watching a scene from the wings and commented to the person standing next to me that the fellas in that scene were doing a swell job. That same person reminded me that I had the next line.

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But there’s more to it than that. Watching isn’t the right word for what I’ve been doing at Richard III. I think witnessing might be more apt. Here’s this remarkable, masterful director — Barry Kyle — crammed in this tiny, sweaty space using every possible tool he can muster to create what I believe will be something remarkable.

But there’s more to it than that. His process is as evocative as his production will be. There isn’t a moment in this play that isn’t fully realized without a true collaboration of text, performance, color, tone, volume, timbre, emotion, intellect … it’s a consummation. The scenes float off the stage like moments in a tortured symphony.

But there’s more to it than that. There are these actors who are marshaling every bit of their collective knowledge of what Shakespeare probably meant, what they feel, and how they can manipulate themselves to channel all that … stuff … into a performance. It’s quite extraordinary. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s this company of generous actors, among whom I count myself lucky to be a part. We play unofficial hosts to our scene-mates. We clean the dressing rooms. We carve out a space in the clutter. We promote. We manage. We strive to be good to each other and our fellow actors. We breathe into the conflicts that arise from lightning-fast costume changes. We work out on our own how to get a prop off stage out of sight. We support our fearless leader Grant Turner as he wrestles with what I believe to be one of the most challenging roles in the canon.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s this time we’re in right now. I have to stop watching. My job is to give myself over now. I have to start seeing what’s in front of my face. There’s this freaky time in every rehearsal process where you simply have to relinquish control. It’s ultimately liberating, but it can be excruciating for everyone involved. Because we all let go at a different rates. At a different times.

Some of us are more likely to let go a little easier than others. There isn’t a single person involved in this production who won’t go from “I know what to do” to “It is what it is going to be.” And that … release is a beautiful, creative thing.

But there’s more to it than that. So much more to it than that.

-Grant Byington (Stanley)

Photo by Jason Maniccia 2013.

 

Bob Hicks on Richard III

Bob Hicks on Richard III

Bob Hicks of Oregon Arts Watch beautifully summarizes our upcoming production of Richard III and the themes that Barry Kyle has stretched through this complex, layered play in our contemporary production.

Jason Maniccia on director Barry Kyle

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Barry Kyle is a freak.

Where other directors take time off, Barry Kyle works through.

Where other directors let things slide, Barry Kyle persists.

Where other directors let things sort themselves out, Barry Kyle creates a solution.

The words they don’t understand, Barry understands. The history they haven’t researched, Barry knows.

He fills his stillness with as much purpose as his movement. He gives his silence as much meaning as his dialogue.

He is attentive, warm, gracious – and just fearsome enough to get your attention when crossed.

He’s never better than the play. He’s never smarter than Shakespeare. He is at once respectful and irreverent. He knows every word, every character, every relationship, every moment. He is as serious as he is playful, as flexible as he is strict. His every direction is in service of engaging the audience and telling the story. He works with passion and without prejudice. He is an endless font of information and ideas. He bars no holds; he will try anything and everything, and then set about sorting the wheat from the chaff.

I’m telling you, the guy’s a freak.

This production is high risk, and one of the tricky things for an actor in a high-risk production is: you just don’t know. Is it working or is it disaster? Is it genius or is it crap?

Well, I know the answer this time. Y’know how I know? ‘Cause Barry Kyle is a freak.

See you there.

-Jason Maniccia, Kind Edward and Bishop of Ely