photo by Jason Maniccia 2013
photo by Jason Maniccia 2013
For those who know me well, they know that acting at NW Classical has been a long time dream of mine. And now it is a reality! Crazy times. Last week as we started Richard III rehearsals with Barry Kyle, it was so much fun and simultaneously terrifying to just take a quick glance around the room and see the amount of talent and experience Barry and Grant had assembled for this production. Then we got on our feet and started a moving read through.
Personally, this production is full of challenges for me to conquer one by one. I’ve been cast as young Price Edward, Dorset, and Jane Shore (a typically omitted role…but essentially the mistress to Hastings and King Edward IV). As a dancer I appreciate the movement challenge of creating three physical personalities, but I have yet to explore such a variety of ages and both genders in a single production: I play a 9 year old boy, an 18 year old male soldier/politician and now a late twenties highly sexualized mistress. I now find myself observing children and male professionals in coffee shops, out walking, at bus stops, all over just to help solidify the physicality of the two male characters. Both Dorset and Prince Edward are coming to life now physically and vocally and I love finding new details about their vastly different personalities and journeys despite the fact that they share the same mother: Queen Elizabeth.
Jane Shore, albeit a small role, has provided the most difficult to work. I need to find that place of comfort onstage where I can use her sexuality as a tool for power and not have “Clara brain” on, preventing me from losing myself in the character and giving an honest performance. Last week’s rehearsal was definitely a turning point, with the costume designer and Barry creating a supportive and safe environment for me to just tackle the sexy Jane Shore scene and get over it! Only a few cast members were present, and they were all respectful and quietly supportive while I wrestled with this vast fear of mine. Although the scene itself will pass by in a flash and may not seem like anything to an audience or another actor, I can recognize how I’m changing as a performer and learning to appreciate what I bring to Jane Shore and finding the beauty in all of that.
This production is thrilling to be part of as Barry has made it clear that he expects a true ensemble approach and he is holding true to that by checking in with all characters in every scene, regardless of your line load in any given scene. So if you’re ready for some savvy tech moments, political commentary, simply fantastic acting, movement work, some mask work, and perhaps some red knickers join us at Richard III!
-Clara Hillier (Dorset, Jane Shore, Prince Edward)
Contemplating the complexities of playing Richard.
A photographic memory, a photographic memory! My kingdom for a photographic memory!
One of the most surprisingly satisfying personal tools I’ve found during these rehearsals has been in the absence of traditional table work. Typically, the first few days of rehearsal for any production (especially Shakespeare) are spent sitting with the cast, reading and talking through the play, discussing language, motives, context, tactics, blocking, technical cues, etc. This is intended to give the cast an overall vision of the production, as well as to develop a complete arc for the narrative as a whole. Because of the accelerated rehearsal schedule for this production, traditional table work has been put aside in favor of a more visceral approach. We’ve done “walking read-throughs” of the vast majority of the script (minus a few major and complicated scenes), intended to get us on our feet, exploring impulses which thus far have lead to some very bold blocking choices, grounded in our physical bodies and instincts rather than born out of intellectual analysis.
As an actor who occasionally over-intellectualizes her roles and choices, I’ve found this to be extremely useful and refreshing. I’ve had to engage with the body first, the mind second. Often, ideas that sound great during table work don’t “feel right” in the body once you’ve begun blocking. An intellectual decision which doesn’t provide a strong enough impulse to support the blocking can be difficult to revise, for myself. This process has forced me to orient my characters in terms of relationships with others, rather than my relationship with the character I’m playing. During these rehearsals, if I don’t feel the impulse to cross stage left, I don’t. If I want to be closer to Gloucester (as is often the case), though, then I cross left with clear intent. It’s challenging, but extremely liberating.
Heidi Hunter (Ratcliffe, 2nd Murderer, Duke of York)
One of the elements of rehearsal that has struck me so far is the feeling of trust and respect that is inherent in our process. Richard III is different from the sort of general “trust” that many casts have – which resembles something more like charging ahead blindly despite fear of judgment than it does true support. Much of group came into rehearsals straight from working together on our Bend Shakespeare in the Park show, Much Ado About Nothing. While a rather loosey-goosey rehearsal process, Much Ado was a great bonding experience for the company because we have a lot of fun, and because we are very much left to our own devices to ensure that our text, voice and movement work was where it needed to be (due to time constraints in rehearsals). We had to trust and embrace that what others were bringing to the table was their best work. While others in the cast of Richard III did not participate in Much Ado, many of them have worked previously with Northwest Classical, and have good friendships and working relationships established. For the few newcomers, we hope they’re feeling welcomed too.
The other major component that makes Richard III such a trust-filled environment is our director, Barry Kyle. He treats the acting company with more respect than any other director I have ever worked with. After a scene is over, Barry says, “Thank you,” with such sincere gratitude for the work and risks that have just been performed, that it makes you immediately want to do it again, and better. Barry was with us in Bend, and witnessed how strong a company bond we have. He has commented on this frequently, and has used our work as an ensemble to drive our way of approaching the play, developing work with masks and choral movement that will help us portray battles and large crowds in the limited space of the Shoebox. Essentially, our ensemble work enables us to strongly delve into the use of metaphor because our personal relationships are strong enough to touch something deeper than a working relationship.
Barry asks our opinions and welcomes our frank answers. I was recently describing to someone outside the theater how our production is taking shape, and describing the mix of modern and classical costumes, props, and styles. We were specifically talking about if we should use crowns in a modern production, set in contemporary America. My conversation partner seemed appalled that these things hadn’t been sorted out by the director ahead of time. But I wasn’t scared at all. I was honored that Barry had waited to work with us to draw conclusions about what elements were appropriate to our production. In other words, because he trusted us to bring something to the table, we in turn, trust his thoughtfulness, and must honor his final decisions after considering all the options.
This amount of mutual respect has built space for the performers to take risks on stage; to become emotional, to turn their bodies into ferocious animals; to learn to become killers or to face death. I hope the results will be a play filled with true reactions and experiences, since the performers feel safe to “go there.” Barry is certainly challenging me to let loose, to let my emotional and mental state derail to a point that I am scared to go. I have faith that with his support and that of my ensemble, that I’ll be there by opening night.
-Brenan Dwyer (Lady Anne)
Tonight’s rehearsal (9/4)
Tonight we worked on the political heart of the first half of our play (Shakespeare’s act 2). The scenes involving the rivalry of the house of York and the Woodville’s. These scenes are interesting to me. I always see them played as a continuation of Richard’s Machiavellian design. That by planting these seeds of discontent, fanning the flames of the rivalry for his own ends, he is actually setting everyone up to mow them down. But in practice, that’s very hard to play. Or rather not very interesting to play. Upon re-examination it seems a fascinating divergence from the main story rather than a continuation of Richard ‘s game.
And it seems Barry agrees. Rather than playing the scenes with a touch of feigned civility, and veiled suggestion of mistrust, he really encouraged me (and all of us for that matter) to wear our hatred for each other on our sleeves. In one scene he has us all together and we can barely look at each other we hate one another so much. It made for a much more palpable reading, and, surprisingly, a much funnier reading.
Barry is mining all of the black comedy from this play that he can, and this sequence of scenes produced many laughs.
From Melissa’s crying, hysterical Elizabeth, Jason’s spiritually awakened King Edward, Paige’s crazy bag lady Margaret, or my own snorting hog of a Richard. There’s a lot to laugh at. But it’s nervous laughter, and we can and do go back and forth between comedy and horror at the drop of a hat.
So expect to laugh when you see the show. Just don’t get too comfortable…
A quick note on playing Richard. I don’t seem him as a psychopath really. I think he’s totally aware of what he’s doing and that he’s absolutely emotionally affected by his decisions. In fact, I think that makes him scarier in a way. He knows the emotional ramifications of his actions and he’s willing to go through with it all the same. Certainly more interesting for me to play anyway…