Catching Up

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

Blerg…so I’ve gotten waaay behind on this blog. In my defense, I’ve been hard at work on Macbeth and all things Midsommer Flight. But even so, it has been a while, and I’m overdue to catch up.

Since my last post, I’ve seen quite a few shows around town. BALM IN GILEAD at Griffin, TIGER AT THE GATES at Promethean, TRAVESTIES at Remy Bumppo, ANNA IN THE AFTERLIFE at Polarity, BEAST ON THE MOON at Raven, and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Two Pence. Of course, there are also quite a few others that I wanted to see but just didn’t make it before they closed. Anyway, I couldn’t begin to discuss all of these shows without spending the rest of the afternoon on this blog post, so suffice it to say I enjoyed all of them for different reasons. Some were truly inspiring; many included excellent work by friends and colleagues; all were thought-provoking in their own ways.

I’ve also been deeply entrenched in rehearsals for Macbeth in the parks. I am getting really excited for this one. It just feels like a dream team this year: the cast is strong from top to bottom; the fight director, vocal coach and assistant director are bringing so much to our rehearsal process; I can’t wait to see the costumes from our designer next week. Yes, next week! We go into tech (a bit of a misnomer since this show doesn’t have much tech) next week and open in less than two weeks.

It’s been an interesting challenge working on such a dark play when we are performing in a park setting. There are definitely some choices I’ve made that are specific to this setting, that I would be doing differently if we were presenting the show in a black box. There’s just not as much room for subtlety when we’re working outside and need to be heard across the length of a football field. But we are still making choices that are rooted in the text, and these actors are just killing it. I can’t wait to open this one and share their work with the world.

Also, it finally feels like summer outside, so I’m excited to relax and enjoy it a little after the show opens. Then again, who am I kidding? Every time I think I’ll have a break, something else comes up to keep me busy. Not that I’d have it any other way, I suppose, when it’s all good stuff!

Interview with Howlround

News & Other Fun Stuff, Show Information

I was recently interviewed for a piece on HowlRound about Shakespeare in the park. The article includes a fantastic review of Midsommer Flight’s Much Ado About Nothing this summer, and also offers an in-depth look at the experience of presenting Shakespeare in the park.

Take a look at Neighborhood Shakespeare in Chicago’s North Side Parks, by Dani Snyder-Young. Happy reading!



Stratford 2014

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

I’ve gotten a little behind in posting, so I have a bit of catching up to do!

A little over a week ago, my friend Anne and I made our annual trip up to the Stratford Theatre Festival in Canada. This marked our twelfth year making the pilgrimage for great food, shopping, and of course, theatre. We look forward to this trip every year as a wonderful escape from the “real world” and a chance to re-focus our minds on ourselves, our careers, or whatever else in our life needs attention. Fall is the perfect time for it; to me, autumn always feels like a new beginning.

So, we ate amazing meals, shopped more than we should have, talked for hours in the car, and saw some thought-provoking and exciting theatre.

The first night, we saw Antony & Cleopatra, and disappointingly, we saw an understudy for Enobarbus. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem; we’ve seen understudies perform at Stratford before, and usually they turn in wonderful performances. Typically, they know the role and have had put-in rehearsals, and are prepared for the task. Unfortunately, the poor Enobarbus understudy that we saw didn’t seem to know his lines, which was both surprising and disorienting — for us in the audience as well as the other actors. I felt that the whole show missed the mark in its level of urgency and passion, but it’s hard to know whether that was the production itself, or whether it was just an “off” night due poor Enobarbus’ significant line problems. The performance did, however, give me a lot to think about, and made me want to re-visit the Antony & Cleopatra script.

The second night was significantly better. We saw Colm Feore’s King Lear, and it was, in a word, astonishing. Feore’s performance was both strong and frail; infuriating and heartbreaking. While the night definitely belonged to him, the storytelling was clearer in this production than any other I’ve seen largely thanks to the treatment of the two older sisters. Most productions that I’ve seen paint Goneril and Regan as evil from the start, insincere and conniving in their pronouncement of love for their father, and scheming to their last breaths. However, in this production, I believed their words of love in the first scene; if they were over-exaggerated, it was because they were simply humoring their father, but not with insincerity. Later, I believed Goneril’s genuine astonishment at her father’s behavior, and the behavior of his men, in her home. Later still, in that terribly sad scene in which Regan and Goneril go back and forth, reducing the number of Lear’s train they will welcome into their homes, I actually heard their argument: “What need you five and twenty, or ten or five, / to follow in a house where twice so many / Have a command to tend you?” They can’t understand why he needs his men (who are prone to “epicurism and lust”), when their servants can provide everything he could possibly need.

Further, I also understood strongly that Goneril and Regan were not only acting for themselves, but were beholden to their husbands in an age where women did not hold significant power of their own. Their fealty to their husbands echoed Cordelia’s initial argument: “Why have my sisters husbands if they say / they love you all? Haply, when I shall wed / That lord whose hand my plight shall carry / Half my love with him, half my care and duty.”

Now, none of this is to say that Goneril and Regan were blameless — not in the least. Even as I recognized their point of view, I still felt for Lear, and the women were absolutely complicit in the atrocities that transpired. But allowing them a true character arc, instead of treating them as villainesses from the start, made the story a much more powerful family drama, and ultimately a much sadder tragedy. This production changed how I view the play, which is a rare thing to happen to me with Shakespeare plays.

This trip is one of my favorite traditions, and this was another great year. ‘Til next year, Stratford.

Much Ado About Photos

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Well, another show for the books.  Much Ado About Nothing closed yesterday to a fantastically warm and enthusiastic audience. I am so thankful for another great summer!

Click the photo below to check out a gallery of great production photos taken by Tom McGrath.

"I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest."

“I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”

The fool doth think he is wise

News & Other Fun Stuff

First Ira Glass, now Julian Fellowes.

There’s a new movie version of Romeo and Juliet out this week, adapted for the screen by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame*. I say “adapted” because Mr. Fellowes has “taken liberties with the original text,” according to the New York Times review of the movie. The way I hear it, he uses less than half the original text and even adds some new scenes. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so perhaps it’s unfair of me to judge. But then again…

Regarding why he changed the text, Fellowes told the BBC,

When people say we should have filmed the original, I don’t attack them for that point of view, but to see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearean scholarship, and you need to understand the language and analyse it and so on.

I can do that because I had a very expensive education; I went to Cambridge. Not everyone did that, and there are plenty of perfectly intelligent people out there who have not been trained in Shakespeare’s language choices.

Well la-dee-dah, Mr. Fellowes.  It strikes me as unbelievably condescending to suggest that people who do not share your fancy educational background are therefore too stupid to understand Shakespeare, no matter how “perfectly intelligent” they may be.

Last summer I directed Romeo and Juliet for Midsommer Flight, a free Shakespeare in the park production in two Chicago neighborhood parks. I cut the script down for time to run about 100 minutes, but our version was still 100% Shakespeare’s words. Plenty of small children came to the see the show, and totally loved it. Plenty of neighborhood residents (most of whom probably didn’t attend Cambridge) came to the show and told us it was one of the best things they had ever seen. We made our audiences laugh, cry, and cheer. The phenomenal cast did their job as actors, to communicate the story with clarity and passion. And audiences had no trouble understanding it.

Maybe Mr. Fellowes himself doesn’t understand how universal Shakespeare’s plays can be when good actors communicate the story. Maybe he doesn’t know how to pull those kinds of performances from his actors, or doesn’t trust that his actors are capable of doing so. Whatever the case, he’s just plain wrong.

This piece in The Guardian quotes several folks who pretty much nail my point of view on the subject. I’ll give one of them the last word:

Fiona Banks, head of learning at Globe Education, said his comments risked alienating potential audiences. She told the BBC: “To see Shakespeare in the original, in its absolutely unchanged form, we need nothing more than a performance space and a company of actors who are able to share his stories in a way that engages their audience.” She added: “It would be very worrying if anyone read [Fellowes’s comments] and felt excluded from Shakespeare’s original language because of their level of education.”

*Disclosure: I confess I do love Downton Abbey, this post notwithstanding.

Currently Running: Much Ado About Nothing

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My Shakespeare in the park production of Much Ado About Nothing runs through August 24, on Saturdays at 6pm and Sundays at 2pm. You can visit the Midsommer Flight website for details about park locations, pre-show musical guests, and more.

I’m delighted that we have received great critical response to the show.

A rollicking, high-energy Much Ado About Nothing! Ashlee Edgemon [as Beatrice] and Martel Manning [as Benedick] offer us convincingly zesty, bawdy versions of the two lovers….Midsommer Flight gives us the meat of a marvelous play in a form that all can enjoy, for one evening turning a nothing scrap of city park into an imaginative something to behold. -Hugh Iglarsh, Newcity Stage. Read the whole review.

Beth Wolf and Midsommer Flight’s Much Ado About Nothing is highly entertaining… people should flock to it to see the magic that is created by this talented group through poetic language, superb story-telling, and strong direction and acting. -James Murray, Showbiz Chicago. Read the whole review.

hysterical! …a tightly packed comedy… the action clips. The barbs fly. The love grows. It’s time to fall in love with Shakespeare’s unlikely couple. -Katy Walsh of The Fourth Walsh. Read the whole review.

Amazing production….a delightful performance, accessible and involving. -Barbara Keer of Splash Chicago. Read the whole review.

The show is presented free to the public. Come early with a picnic to enjoy free Shakespeare in the park!