Failure and Folly – How costume design made it more ok to drink wine in the tub. by Casey Ballard

Failure and Folly

How costume design made it more ok to drink wine in the tub

I will be the very first person to admit that I fail on an almost constant basis. I fail at getting to the gym regularly; I fail at not eating popcorn for dinner three days a week; and I fail spectacularly at least once in every costume design project I work on.

It’s an interesting study in hubris and humility. I will be working steadily, thinking to myself, “Oh man, I am really nailing this- it’s gonna look so good” only to cut the final thread and see that instead of a perfectly tailored jacket, I have, in fact, created something that looks like the unfortunate offspring of a cape and a snuggie. Thus, I am left to seam rip approximately 9,000 yards of fabric while swearing out loud to myself, as my dog looks on, pityingly. That’s a lie- he’s seen me make so many obvious mistakes, he no longer offers sympathy. And yet, despite the fact that they are indeed very obvious mistakes, I make them. I sew one giant pant leg, instead of two. I cut the fabric out backwards, yielding two left sides. I buy the wrong size of EVERYTHING even though I wrote the sizes down.

So why on earth do I keep doing this? Why on earth do I subject myself to the constant humiliation of failing in little ways all the time? You mean, aside from the fact that I get to make people shirtless at the drop of a hat? Well, mainly, it’s because each failure has only been an opportunity for growth (WERE YOU EVEN READY FOR THAT NEW AGE TRUTH BOMB?!!). And I don’t mean growth in the sense of “Oh I’ll never make a mistake again”- this is quite obviously not the case with me. I mean the “Oh dang it, these shoes are the wrong size and I cut the tags off already and the store exchange policy clearly states that

the tags need to be attached so maybe I can hot glue the tag back on and they won’t The fear of failure is something that has a crippling, stunting effect, and yet is ingrained in our essence from the get go. Socially, academically, financially; all these arenas seem to demand success (of course, you are welcome to disagree. You’d be wrong and I will laugh at you, but still…juuuuust kidding, friend). When I was younger, I developed some pretty severe anxiety around making sure I was “succeeding”, which quickly turned into fear of trying, should I look like a failure to those around me. Then, out of the clear blue, I stopped caring and everything was perfect, the end.

Psyche. That did not happen. I still regularly drink wine in the bathtub while I stretch my mind around a seemingly unfixable issue. What did happen was costuming (in tandem with reading a loooooot of self-help quotes…). I fell into costume design by pure bravado, so instead of using my fear of failure as a detriment, I switched to using my natural tenacity as a catalyst. I stopped thinking about how embarrassing it would be to fail, and started focusing on how rad it was when I fixed something, and made it a thousand times better. Like when I made the sleeves of a cloak way too long, so I doubled them up, and magically created a unique, interesting layered look- AND NO ONE KNEW IT HAD HAPPENED BY MISTAKE! Bwahahahaha! Mistakes and failures are going to happen, it’s inevitable, but it’s not the end of the world. I hate to be “that girl” who includes a quote, but I am, so deal with it: “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” – Eloise Ristad

Working as a costume designer has been one of the best things for me, in terms of growth and acceptance. It has made me far less afraid of trying something, because it has helped instill in me a sense of trust and confidence in myself to solve any issue that may arise. Not to mention, worst case scenario, I just make everyone be shirtless.

-Casey Ballard, Costume Designer

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The First Feminist (Slut Shaming) Revenge Drama, or, Agency by Brenan Dwyer

The First Feminist (Slut Shaming) Revenge Drama, or, Agency

(this post contains some plot spoilers, but seeing as the play is over 400 years old, so if you don’t know yet that Bruce Willis is a ghost, you’re a little behind… oh sorry, wrong story?)

Barry Kyle, the director of The Maids’ Tragedy, since first offering me the part of Evadne, has pitched this role and this play to me as the First Feminist Revenge Drama. I know Barry has an interest in gender equity (heck, Barry has an interest in everything), and I also know he is catering to my particular interest in creating art that questions, embodies and creates identity. But this play presents some interesting challenges for being considered Feminist. Let us consider.

What does it mean for a play to be Feminist?*

(*Capital F means I’m talking about the Feminist movement. Lower case f means I’m talking about the general idea of gender equity.)

A quick Google search yields lots of academic papers about the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s and the (relative) surge of performances of plays written by women – from uncovering unsung Restoration writers such as Aphra Behn to new work from playwrights the like of Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane.

Interestingly, most definitions I could quickly find mentioned that the content of many of these plays depicted the oppression of women in a patriarchal world, not depicting a framework demonstrating the alternative to patriarchy by giving women agency. So, one might argue, isn’t a Feminist play really just like any other? A play written from a patriarchal paradigm (no matter the gender of the author) unconsciously places women in roles of oppression, and a Feminist one consciously does so to illustrate a point. Then again, one might argue that in art, intent is the most important ingredient, and furthermore that plays from women’s perspectives are inherently different in ways not called out by these online references.

But, for the purposes of my exploration, I’m interested in the idea that perhaps what makes a feminist* play is the production. And I think this because of the particularly challenging case of The Maids’ Tragedy. I play the character of Evadne, a socialite who has just been placed in a sham marriage to cover up her love affair as the King’s mistress. PLOT SPOILER: She ends up killing the King.

You could argue that this play is Feminist and/or feminist because you could argue that the protagonist is a woman, and that she breaks a cycle of abuse and/or oppression because she kills the King, presumably a symbol of her oppression.

However, the reasons this play, and Evadne’s story, are not any sort of F/feminist are many:

  • It is written by two men.
  • All female parts would have been played by boys at the time of its first production (1619)
  • You can argue the protagonist is a man (Melantius), not Evadne.
  • Evadne’s fault is having had (and enjoyed) premarital sex.
  • You could argue she kills the king:
    • because she is physically and verbally abused and coerced into doing so.
    • because he has deflowered her, which is, oh my god, SO TERRIBLE.
    • to maintain the honor of her brother (man).
    • to obtain the love/acceptance/forgiveness of her husband (man). Via his semen, poetically called “the beams of your forgiveness.” Seriously.
  • And once it is all said and done, she kills herself because she has no reason left to live once deflowered and rejected.

What power she does have, is all sexual. I would argue it takes a modern audience to even consider a woman’s sexuality as power, whereas in the good ol’ days, I don’t imagine she would have been a very sympathetic character. When she is called a “whore,” people probably agreed (will they still?).

One idea that has been floated to me is that she is powerful because she knows how to please (or withhold pleasure from) men. It is seen in this exchange:

King:                      Why, thou dissemblest, and it is in me to punish thee.

Evadne:                  Why, it is in me then, not to love you, which will more afflict your body than your punishment can mine.

This is not the same thing as sexual agency, which is the choice to give or receive sexual pleasure based on what I (the woman) want, which does not mean disregarding what a sexual partner wants – it means valuing both desires.

This scenario disregards the woman’s ability to take action with any other type of influence other than her Lysistrata sexual veto power. And it totally ignores the fact that women truly have power and agency in many ways: through talent, humor, money, rhetoric, expression, emotion, friendship, and violence, to name a few.

But what is especially interesting to me in the playing of this character is that the discussion of the play as F/feminist has become less and less important over time, and has even hindered the playing of the text as it is actually written. A purely F/feminist reading of the script leaves out the human element – the possibility of love. The truth of being broken through abuse. The reality that sexual desire is messy and certainly not political. The feeling of not knowing who you are; looking inside and seeing nothing, and hating even that. Heartbreak.

These are real things that real people, myself included, experience.

And to me, being a feminist means inhabiting a woman who is all colors of human – including the compliant, powerless, and un-Feminist traits. Whether those traits are inherent or socially created, they are still within modern women, and a modern production with a modern Evadne must embrace them. And it’s what the production of this play seeks to do.

Come see the show and let me know what you think.

-Brenan Dwyer, Evadne

Announcing THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY

MaidsTragedy Front-Final

NWCTC and renowned director Barry Kyle shift gears as they plan to stage a rarely seen Jacobean revenge play—THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY.

After considerable deliberation, the Northwest Classical Theatre Company and award-winning director Barry Kyle have opted to postpone their upcoming production of Henry VI, by William Shakespeare. Instead, the company will produce the rarely performed revenge story THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY written by Shakespeare contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.

About the play

A soldier (Melantius), who places honor above all other virtues, returns from battle to discover his sister (Evadne) is betrothed to his best friend (Amintor) at the behest of the King—despite the fact his friend has already sworn his love to another woman (Aspatia). On the night of their wedding it is revealed that the King has arranged the marriage to hide a dark secret, the revelation of which sets off a chain of events that touches every character in the play.

About the production

THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY is the second production in NWCTC’s 17th “Season of Ambition.” It is the first time the company has performed a work by one of Shakespeare’s dramatic contemporaries, but certainly not director Kyle’s first experience with the play. Kyle has directed the title both at the Royal Shakespeare Company (with Sinead Cusack and Tom Wilkinson in his original cast), and in Washington D.C. He has also staged work by John Fletcher, Ben Johnson, Thomas Dekker, and Thomas Middleton.

FAST FACTS

• John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont replaced William Shakespeare as house playwrights for the Globe Theatre. This play is believed to have been written in 1611—the year of Shakespeare’s retirement.

• The play is considered somewhat of an anomaly among Jacobean tragedies, as it has a completely original plot.

• THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY will mark Barry Kyle’s second collaboration with NWCTC. He directed last season’s smash hit Richard III.

• THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY features NWCTC members Tom Walton, Brenan Dwyer, Melissa Whitney, Jason Maniccia, and Grant Byington. It is the final production for outgoing Artistic Director Grant Turner.

Northwest Classical Theatre Company presents:

THE MAIDS’ TRAGEDY

By Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher

Directed by Barry Kyle

December 5, 2014 to January 4, 2015

At the Shoebox Theatre

2110 SE 10th Avenue

Portland, OR 97214

Tickets are $22 General/$20 Student/Senior at www.nwctc.org

Wait Until Dark Photos

Wait Until Dark
Directed by Bobby Bermea
September 5-October5 , 2014
All Susan wants is a little protection from things that go bump in the night. Too bad her whole world is night. Now a murderous psychopath wants something she’s got. She’s trapped, she’s alone… and she’s blind. Wait Until Dark features Northwest Classical company member Clara Hillier as Susan joined by a collection of familiar faces like Heath Koerschgen, Tom Mounsey, and Steve Vanderzee, and welcomes new guest artists Sam Dinkowitz and Kate Thresher. Director Bobby Bermea is at the helm of this thriller in his NWCTC debut.
All Photos by Jason Maniccia, (c) 2014

Twelfth Night photos!

Didn’t make it out to our summer tour of Twelfth Night with Willamette Shakespeare in Oregon Wine Country and with Lay it Out events in Central Oregon? Never fear! We’ve got some lovely pictures to share with you, courtesy of Jim Folts for the Willamette shots and Lay it Out Events for those in Bend.

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Heath Koerschgen on changing tactics

As an actor you never want to reveal too much, too soon. A thriller like Wait Until Dark only enforces that lesson. A play such as this requires the careful layering of clues and character background by the actors to create audience intrigue, which invites them to piece together clues to solve a mystery. Excellent fun for an attentive and engaged audience.

For the actors playing the con men, this play is about tactics. The opening scene, for both the characters and audience, is basically receiving the base information with which the con men have to operate, who’s who, what’s needed to pull this con off, orders of operation…etc. Everything that happens after that is wide open. Susan is no spring chicken, which the con men find out fairly quick.

So for the actors, this creates a great lesson in tactic shifts. Every time the con men believe they have Susan on the ropes, she turns the tables on them. These shifts have to be in the moment and they are constant. It’s a battle of wills. At what end will these men go to recover this doll, and how far will Susan go to discover the truth? Switching tactics becomes the only weapon for both parties as truth and lies begin to layer. So finding a sweet balance between truth and deception is vital to the end reveal…the prestige of the story.

Our director Bobby Bermea worked our cast hard on this. We needed the ability to think and decide on the fly as not to reveal to Susan or the audience the ill intent of the people in her home. There were many frustrating rehearsals for all of us trying to accomplish this while moving the story forward at an alerted pace, but I think we’ve done an excellent job at finding that balance needed to keep the audience guessing. This has been a most rewarding project to work on and be a part of. We have an excellent design team, a superb SM, challenging director, fun script and a talented beyond words cast. I’m very proud to be a part of this team.

-Heath Koerschgen, Lt. Mike Talman

Clara Hillier on navigating Susan’s blindness

When we began rehearsals for Wait Until Dark, I was completely terrified. Now as we head into tech, I’m still scared to have an audience share the Shoebox with us, but I also can’t wait to share Susan’s story.

In addition to the typical challenges of rehearsals,the play presents me with the massive challenge of portraying a newly blind woman. In the months that led up to rehearsal, I’ve been researching, reading, watching videos and meeting people that live in this world. With each book or person, I’m fascinated by the struggles and joy of a blind woman. One book in particular, Laurie Rubin’s “Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight”, speaks to who Susan Hendrix is at the heart of all the chaos and fear she encounters over the course of the play. Laurie let nothing stand in her way, be that learning how to ski to join her family on winter holidays, attending Oberlin to study voice, and facing rejection in the performing arts.

From an interview with www.out.com:
Out
: Growing up blind, how did you tap into your determination and find the power from within to keep going and continue to your goals?

Laurie Rubin: A lot of it came from just being ingrained in me, because when I was younger my family always supported everything I wanted to do, and they never told me that I shouldn’t be able to do something. They encouraged me to do everything from snow skiing to water skiing and river rafting to just going full force into singing. That and my natural feisty personality, I just don’t like to be told I can’t do something no matter what it is. And I certainly also had enough support beyond family too with teachers, mentors, and friends.”

Although Laurie has been blind from birth and the character of Susan Hendrix has only been blind for a year and half, I think the joy and fire that make up both of these woman are the really weapons they have to tackle obstacle and insecurities presented daily. Susan has her husband Sam, a fellow survivor and true partner to keep her strong and safe at the beginning of the play, but what I personally admire about the character of Susan, is that she must learn how to survive and stand on her own, without him by her side.

As we head into tech, and eventually add audience members, I stand backstage reminding myself of all that Susan has lost but also gained in the loss of her sight. She has been given the gift of truly discovering her inner strength and  purpose, and the power of trusting yourself. I do hope you’ll join us at the theater this fall!

-Clara Hillier, Susan Hendrix, NWCTC company member

Wait Until Dark presented by Northwest Classical Theater Company opens at the Shoebox Theater September 5 and runs through October 5th Thursdays-Sundays. Tickets are at www.nwctc.org.