Monthly Archives: February 2015

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

Catholicism and Protestantism from Mortimer

I play ‘Mortimer’ in Mary Stuart. He is a man that has converted to Catholicism from Puritanism (an extreme form of Protestantism). During Elizabeth’s reign (she was educated as a Protestant) the country was in religious divide as it broke away from The Roman Catholic Church – which had educated Mary, Queen of Scots. So it may be useful to know some of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. It is easy to throw these things into one basket as they all stem from the same foundations just with the rules bent to fit people’s wants, needs and desires.

Here is a list of the 3 biggest differences:

  1. Scripture and its authority: Protestants hold the belief that The Bible holds full authority and is all you need when it comes to the word of God. In other words they believe “this is the word of God!” and The Bible is enough for teaching us how to gain salvation from sin and measure our behavior. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that their traditions are as sacred as the teachings of The Bible and that both have equal authority; basically, The Bible isn’t enough. Roman Catholic doctrines, such as the idea of purgatory, praying to the saints, and the veneration of Mary, have little or no basis in the Scripture, but are based on Roman Catholic traditions.
  2. The Pope! Although many people and Catholics may like the current chap with all the news headlines he is gathering, the Protestants do not! The current Pope’s unconventional (in fact any Pope’s) behaviour only goes to prove that no human is infallible. Protestants think that Christ alone is the head of the Church. They think that the spiritual authority of the church is based on the Word (Bible) rather than apostolic succession, and that all believers through the Holy Spirit can understand the Word. And of course to counter that, The Catholics will tell you that The Pope is ‘ The Vicar of Christ’ and stands in place of Jesus as a visible head of the church. His teachings are infallible and effective over all of us.
  3. Who will be saved and find eternal salvation? Not me, according to both parties! But that is beside the point. Protestants think all you need is your faith in Jesus Christ. No meritorious works are necessary, God has his plan of salvation and it is out of your hands – but they do like nice people. Catholics definitely think that ‘you gotta have faith’ but that you’ve also got to be a well behaved individual. Another way of putting this would be that Christ’s martyrdom wasn’t enough and that individuals must pay for their sins through penance (a problem shared is a problem halved) or by spending time in that place we all want to avoid, Purgatory.  Part of the Catholic salvation process is also the seven sacraments: baptism at birth, confirmation, the Eucharist, holy orders, anointing of the sick, matrimony and penance.

There are lots of other differences and also some similar core beliefs (the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, and the fact that he was sinless, that he died on the cross for man’s sin and rose from the dead and ascended to heaven).

Hopefully this helps you get a basic idea of what was happening at the time. See you after the show.

-Phillip Whiteman, playing Mortimer in Mary Stuart

NWCTC MS BLog

A bit of history on Mary, Queen of Scots

Dramaturgical notes on Mary Stuart

Six days before the death of her father, James V, (after battle with the English in southern Scotland) Mary Stuart was born on December 8th 1542, in the great royal palace of Linlithgow in Scotland. She was his sole legitimate heir. The infant was crowned Queen of Scots in 1543.

At that time there was a lot of unrest in Scotland, what with the English attacks and the strong support many of the Scottish lords were giving the new Protestantism. Her mother, the French Mary of Guise, decided to send her infant daughter to France for safety and the comfort of her own family in 1548, while she stayed in Scotland as the Regent. Mary passed her childhood in France; she was educated by French scholars and musicians, spoke a variety of languages with French being the language she preferred, wrote poetry, danced, played the lute, and was a master embroiderer. She was talented, accomplished, and beautiful. As planned, in 1558, she married the fifteen year old Dauphin, who became king the following year. Now she was queen of Scotland and France.

Sadly widowed less than two years later, she returned to Scotland as its queen after an absence in France of thirteen years. When she arrived in Edinburgh in 1561 to take the throne she was a naive, Roman Catholic nineteen-year-old with no prejudice against those who preferred the reformed faith. She was unaware of the power of the new Reformation that was to lead to civil war, an eventual  Protestant coup, a humiliating “trial” and her own abdication in 1567.

Unfortunately, her reign and life itself brought her tragedy: the murder of  her beloved friend Rizzio in front of her eyes, the subsequent murder of her second husband, Darnley, the exiling of Bothwell, her third husband, and suspect in the abusive Darnley’s murder, the birth of her son, James, who was taken from her to be brought up in the  Protestant faith, and a constitutional revolution ending in a deposed Mary.

She finally decided to throw herself upon the mercy of her cousin and rival, Elizabeth in England. The year was 1568. Unfortunately, Mary survived religious revolt and political opposition in her native land only to be denied her eventual freedom and was imprisoned as a threat to Elizabeth at age 25.  Mary requested many times to meet with Elizabeth face to face to explain her case. This never happened.

Finally,  after 19 years later in prison, at the age of forty four, Mary experienced her violent death, brought about  by her rival and “sister”,  Elizabeth, Queen of England.

Written by Dorothy Sermol (mother of Luisa, who plays the title role in Mary Stuart)

Luisa Sermol on crafting Mary Queen of Scots in Mary Stuart

In three sentences, describe the character you play in Mary Stuart.

I play Mary Stuart, otherwise known as Mary Queen of Scots. Underneath the voluminous amount of history that describes her, she is, at her core, a woman of faith, passion, intelligence, and lover of beauty. Born in Scotland, and whisked off to France at age 6 (later Queen of France for a short time), Mary was well educated, charismatic, artistic,and refined. A rightful heir also to the English crown (as her cousin, Elizabeth was the daughter of a marriage not recognized by the Catholic church–Anne Boleyn to Henry Viii), no wonder Elizabeth was threatened by her, thus imprisoning her for 19 years, before the final step…

What is your favorite line in the play (yours or someone else’s) and why?

“I am your Queen” (obviously, to Elizabeth)

What is the biggest challenge for you to overcome in this role/play? 

As a Scot myself, I was brought up to idolize Mary Stuart. I didn’t really know why–just that she was unfairly killed by the English Queen Elizabeth. (I also grew up with a good humored enmity for the English–it seemed to have been built into Scottish history.) In taking on the role of Mary, and really having to bring her to life, one of the more curious challenges was to figure out her dialect. My romantic image of her would be, of course,to have a Scottish accent. But in my research, I had to come to terms with the fact that she was more French than Scottish. Although born in Scotland to Mary Guise (a French woman) and James V (King of Scotland)–her father died and in one of the first acts of protection, her mother sent Mary to France. Here she was brought up in a highly sophisticated court. She spoke mainly in French and was known to have thought of French as her first language (It is said that it is the language in which she thought and wrote). But she was also a highly intelligent woman,great at languages and also a musician.Therefore, she is able to adapt her language with ease (she can “code-switch”). I did a lot of research to just find her voice. I, myself, used to have a Scottish dialect when I first came to this country at age 3. I don’t have one now, except for a couple of words. Mary was 6 when she went to France, so there would be certain Scottish sounds that would stay with her. (She would not, for example, be unable to make the “h” sound in English–as so many French dialects might exclude. She would keep the flat “a” of the Scots). Ultimately, in exploring different options, when I spoke her words in a French dialect with Scots sounds, I felt more of what she must have felt like. More of a woman, not really all Scottish, not really all French. It made me feel like an outsider in England, in Scotland, and in France. And so, I have found the voice for my Mary.

If you could choose one song that represents this show for you, what would it be?

“The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands” (Indigo Girls) (<- click the link to hear the song!)

What have been some of your favorite shows to work on in Portland?

This is a tough question! Each role has brought its own joy–whether working and getting to know fabulous creative people, taking on a huge challenge, telling a story that needs to be told.

What are your non-theater hobbies?

hmmm…my day job, being a mother to a 17 year old, and flying Southwest Airlines to visit my boyfriend in the Bay Area. When I have time, reading,making earrings, cooking, playing my viola.

What’s your favorite bar/restaurant/venue for post-show theater debrief?

What’s around the corner, or my parent’s dining room.

If you could dedicate your performance to someone, who would it be and why?

It would be to my mother, Dorothy, who has filled my life with love of Scotland. Among the many songs she sang to my sister and me, one always haunted me. It was “The Queen’s Maries”-a song about a lady in waiting to Mary (Mary had four ladies in waiting, all named Mary). Years later, when my daughter Isabella heard the song, she too was haunted and ended up writing an historical fiction novel inspired by it.  My mother’s voice is filled with the beauty and the passion and the love of the Scots and is someone Mary Queen of Scots would have loved.

Cate Garrison on Hannah Kennedy, Mary’s Handmaiden in Mary Stuart

In three sentences, describe the character you play in Mary Stuart.

Hannah Kennedy is Mary’s lady-in-waiting, nurse, servant, mother-figure, and friend. She is fiercely loyal and protective, almost to the point of denial of any kind of guilt on Mary’s part. She is also pragmatic and realistic, and tries to keep Mary’s feet firmly on the ground in her moments of romantic rapture. By the end, however, it is Mary’s strength that keeps Hannah from crumbling in the face of grief and injustice.

What is your favorite line in the play (yours or someone else’s) and why?

So many to choose from! I am going to pick a line/image from one of Mary’s speeches to Elizabeth, where she describes herself and her erstwhile hopes:

“…………Broken-winged,

All my ambitions creep along the ground.”

I love the image of Mary as a lapwing…a bird so often to be seen on the Scottish moors. And what is so compelling about this is, of course, that the lapwing only appears broken. It “acts” broken, to lead predators away from its nest, and is therefore astonishingly strong. Is Mary truly broken? Or is she still hiding something? We know by the end that she is strong. Is she so strong that she can even go to her grave without giving everything away? This question is very much the crux of the encounter from which this quote is taken, and not resolved until the very end of the play, if at all.

So it is a beautiful, but also a clever image.

What is the biggest challenge for you to overcome in this role/play?

As with the previous question…so many, so many! But for the purposes of this blog, I think I would isolate the notion that Hannah is both very like me and very UNLIKE me. I have to focus on her forthrightness, her down-to- earthness, her absolute will to appear…and be…strong, where Cate would probably give in and let go much sooner and more often. Of course Hannah does let go also, but she and I have a very different tipping point.

If you could choose one song that represents this show for you, what would it be?

Well, speaking from my character’s point of view, Hannah’s love for and loyalty to Mary is so powerful that, although it is NOT by any means a romantic or sexual love, the song/poem that comes to mind is of course Robbie Burns’ “ A Red, Red Rose.” I think many people felt this way about Mary, both before and after her death, and of course that is what Elizabeth could not tolerate.

Here is my favorite version, by Kenneth McKellar (I defy you not to weep!):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Z8f42fF8M

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melodie

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I:

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:

I will luve thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve

And fare thee well, a while!

And I will come again, my Luve,

Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

If you could dedicate your performance to someone, who would it be and why?

My father, Allan Nicol, was a Scotsman. Hannah’s idiolect is based on his. He died, unjustly and innocently, in a senseless road accident when I was a little girl. His absence in my life has been as real as any presence. I would dedicate all Hannah’s words, and love, to him.

Recording Original Music for Mary Stuart

Balancing the world of Elizabeth l with a contemporary sensibility, this production of Mary Stuart will feature an original score, composed by world renowned musicians Gayle and Philip Neuman. Recorded on Renaissance instruments, many of them built by the couple, then remixed electronically by sound designer Sharath Patel, the score is an uniquely provocative musical landscape that spans over the centuries supporting the story’s examination of women in power, then and now. Here’s a photo of the master musicians at work recording their original score!

MS Music session

Check out the preview for Mary Stuart

Click on the link below to see a 2-minute preview of the forthcoming Mary Stuart, presented by Northwest Classical and Cygnet Productions.

Mary Stuart Promo

maryposterbrellas