The Rosalind Diaries: Entry 1

So I had my first rehearsal yesterday.

Boy oh boy am I rusty on being an actor.

First things first: It’s been approximately four years since I have taken the stage, and much longer than that since I’ve played a role of any particular note (my last role was Antonio/the Captain in Twelfth Night).  I’ve only played a leading role once or twice and at least one of those times was when I was young enough that my age registered in the single digits.

My current directors had requested that we make an attempt to be off book by the first rehearsal.  An attempt was made, but I only accomplished two fifths of the goal.

The process of line learning is an arduous business made even more arduous when you are learning Shakespeare for a few reasons.  Reason one: you need to be word perfect.  Reason two: the strange sentence structure will mess with your head and cause you to add/subtract random words that you think should go in there but in actuality have no business with the bard.  Reason three: because of aforementioned bizarro sentence structure, there exists no parallel structure in what you are saying and, since the human brain likes patterns, you can easily find yourself falling into the trap of creating parallel structure (see reason one).  Reason four applicable to Rosalind: so much of what she says is in Prose.  Prose is approximately ten times more difficult to learn than Verse.

Today’s brief lesson in Shakespeare: knowing the difference between Prose and Verse.

Verse is the more familiar poetic form that we often affiliate with

my script all marked up. It will be more marked up before this is all over.

Shakespeare.  It’s written in meter, sometimes written in rhyme.  Identifying Verse is extremely easy as each line will begin with a capital letter, and the lines themselves will be shorter since they have to conform to the structure of poetic meter. Here’s what verse looks like:


 My father loved Sir Rowland as his soul,
And all the world was of my father’s mind:
Had I before known this young man his son,
I should have given him tears unto entreaties,
Ere he should thus have ventured.

(As You Like It, 1.2)

In the case of Shakespeare, the poetic meter used more often than note is Iambic Pentameter.  Iambic Pentameter refers to a line which contains five (Pent) Iambs.  An iamb is a series of two syllables – the first unstressed, the second stressed.  Like this:


I pray / you, do / not fall / in love / with me,
For I / am fal / ser than / vows made / in wine

(As You Like It, 3.5)

What this means is that the line has a heartbeat.  Da-DUM.  When you are speaking a line written in Verse, you can feel when you’re adding or subtracting words because the line has a natural cadence and rhythm to it.

Prose, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  Prose is written like modern sentences; flowing together one after the other.  Like this:


 No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is
almost six thousand years old, and in all this time
there was not any man died in his own person,
videlicit, in a love-cause.

(As You Like It, 4.1)

“Rosalind” by Robert Walker Macbeth, 1888

Prose has no set rhythm (though, it is Shakespeare, he often plays word tricks with his lines).  Since Prose isn’t spoken under the pressure of iambic pentameter, it doesn’t conform to anything by way of regularity.

Guess which form most of Rosalind’s lines are in?

Now, Verse is a form of speech most often used by courtly characters, learned characters, characters who are in love, characters who speak directly from the soul, or characters who need to express something complicated.  Because Rosalind spends the majority of the play in disguise, she also dumbs down her speech to Prose – the form used by clowns (not fools, fools generally speak in Verse), commoners, and normal people.  Rosalind is capable of speaking in Verse, and does so when she is in the court and when she is dealing with Phebe (a mark of her inextricable snobbery), but 85% of her lines are Prose.

This has made her a ridiculously difficult part to learn.  Compound this trouble with the fact that I learn best on my feet and tend to prefer learning my lines while doing scenes rather than in a vacuum at home, and this endeavor has been immensely challenging for me.

But I’m getting there.

Rehearsals go into full swing next week and I can’t be more excited.  It’s a talented lot we have, and I’m extremely happy to be able to have the chance to work with them.

Stay tuned!

Happy Tuesday!

It’s been a while, so as is my wont now and again… it’s random list time!

1)    For those who have not heard, I have been cajoled out of retirement to play the part of Rosalind for the Winthrop Playmakers’ production of As you Like It!  This is a dream part for me and one, due to the small-mindedness of most professional casting folks, that I wouldn’t normally be given the chance to play.  I’m extremely excited (especially because my script came yesterday) and can’t wait to get down and dirty with the Bard.  The show performs October 5-14 Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so mark your calendars.  Should be lots of fun, and if nothing else you can come laugh at how rusty my acting skills are.

2)    My partner in crime and I took a trip down to New York this weekend past so that I could take him to see Sleep no More.  This show has been making a big splash in the

Gallow Green, the awesome rooftop bar they just added to SNM

theatre communities due to its fairly revolutionary approach to Shakespeare and its rampantly successful run in New York.  Half theatre, half art installation (I described it pretty well in my post post-first-visit); Sleep no More combines Macbeth andHitchcock’s Rebecca to weave a non-linear story of murder, terror, and uncanny humanity.  Due to the free-form interaction audiences have with the experience, I saw a lot this time that I missed the first time.  I also had the privilege of two one-on-ones (for those not in the know: during this show, actors will grab random unsuspecting audience members, lock them in rooms, and perform private vignettes for only those audience members to see), and a “fetch quest” (was given something to give to someone else which then made things happen).  If you’re at all curious, GO SEE IT.  I’m being purposefully vague because I truly think that everyone should experience this show at least once (and you’re going to want to go more than that, trust me, my partner in crime and I are already looking to schedule another trip).

3)    Life without the internet is hard!  Last week, a giant thunderstorm brought in its wake the demise of our interwebs for the period of four laborious days.  I will admit, I got a great deal done during that time which otherwise would have remained a wish and a dream (like cleaning out my closet and re-organizing my shoes), and the local coffee house did lend itself well to practicing my German since I actually couldn’t leave until I had finished my goal for the day, but I am more than glad to be able to google random bits from my own chair again.

4)    Thirty hours in New York is nowhere near long enough.  While I did get to spend most of my waking time wandering Central Park and/or eating wonderful food, this time was just long enough to make me remember how much I sorely miss home.  Boston’s great but it ain’t New York.  Sigh.

5)    Changing up one’s exercise routine is a great way to keep oneself motivated to go to the gym, a great way to kick one’s own buttocks, and a great way to sleep better at night.  In an effort to push my cardio to the next level, I started C25K as part of my cardio regime.  There are all kinds of resources available for folks who are interested in the program (including a free app for your iPhone that remembers where you are in the program, checks off workouts you’ve already done, keeps track of time for you, lets you pipe in your music during your jog, and congratulates you when you finish a workout).  This summer, I’ve been really hitting the gym hard in an effort to boost my endorphin dependence before the semester starts and, as a byproduct, boost my required gym time by about two hours a week.  Working out has a plethora of health benefits, which I’m certain you’re aware of, but I’m mostly concerned with how it helps me manage stress.  Also with how morally superior it makes me feel.  Yea, I work out, I’m automatically better than a couch-sitter.

6)    Paper writing is a long-term aspiration, not a short-term project.  They’re called “projects” for a reason, so I should think of them more as something that I live with than something that I can do in a reasonable amount of time.  Also, I shouldn’t over-commit to the number I can handle on my desk at any given moment.  Also, I should remember that a good paper is like a fine wine: letting it sit on a shelf and age for a bit will improve its overall quality, but let it sit too long and it turns to vinegar.

7)    I will be seeing some exciting theatre this week (including Coriolanus on Boston Common, and the Boston Opera Collective’s production of Orpheus in the Underworld … god do I love Offenbach).  Stay tuned!

A little house-keeping: if you’re reading this, why not make it official that you like me?  Head on over and tell me so on facebook.

Ready for my Close-up

Here’s a set of questions that I get asked on a fairly regular basis (…come to think of it, almost as frequently as people ask me if Shakespeare actually wrote the canon…); “Are you ever going to act again?  What made you leave acting?”

First things first, I don’t think you ever really leave acting.  Theatre people are theatre people, and whether in a theatre or without it it’s still in your blood.  Just because I haven’t performed on a stage since before my Master’s doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped being an actor (though, granted, I do fondly refer to this period of my life as “my retirement”).  Acting is a skill that affects everything else you do; public speaking, relating to other people, understanding yourself (both physically and emotionally), understanding others, and generally relating to the universe.  Because I’m an actor, I know how to deliver a talk and keep an audience engaged.  Because I’m an actor, I know how to stretch just about every muscle in my body and also know a few exercises to do if anything is particularly tense.  Because I’m an actor, I know how to speak clearly and precisely.

Acting is rough.  An actor is the lowest rung on the theatrical totem pole; at the whim of all

Complete Works of Shakespeare [abrdgd]; Me (left) playing Titus Andronicus a la Martha Stewart and Best Gay Friend (right) playing my lovely assistnat Lavinia

other creative minds which hold any sway to a project.  In a healthy creative environment, an actor is an integral piece to a beautiful theatrical tapestry.  More often than not, however, the actor winds up being no more than a pawn in the great chess set of the theatre.  The actor can often turn into a walking, talking statue of the director’s vision with no input on the project, no agency, and no outlet.

To expound upon the actor’s woes, actually finding work again puts the actor at the mercy of the great machine.  Theatre is creative, right?  A process put together on dreams, inspiration, and ideas?  According to the bulk of the commercial industry, this is far from the case.  Auditioning is an endless loop of shoving oneself into industry-created boxes for the sake of easy maneuverability.  The actor asks himself “What’s my type?” more often than “Can I play this part?” and far too often the individual who best fits an aesthetic will be cast over the individual who has more training or talent.  Think I’m wrong?  Take a long hard look at the film industry (different in many many ways from theatre, but a good archetype for the sake of this discussion).

Top this off with the fact that an actor’s job is to explore the deepest, darkest, scariest aspects of himself eight times a week in front of a large audience of strangers and I’m certain you will find that acting is no longer as glamorous as perhaps you had first suspected.

So why did I leave acting?

In the later part of my acting career, I became extremely focused.  I wanted to do Shakespeare, and I wanted to do Shakespeare specifically… but I wanted to do it right.  Having had little previous experience acting the Bard (a thing, I had been told, extremely difficult to do), I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t just going to get up and “thee” and “thou” an audience to death.  So I found myself some training.


And that training left me knowing more, but not knowing enough yet.

So I found some more training.

You can see where this is heading.

By the time I felt like I had any expertise with the verse, I was over-trained for the industry.  I knew a lot of things, and I had even dabbled in the academic side of Shakespeare a bit in my undergrad.  On the whole, I found I tended to know more about the shows and specific acting techniques than the directors and theatre professionals whom I was working with.

Most directors are not good directors.  If I had known and worked with more good directors, maybe I wouldn’t have turned out the way I did.  As it was, I wound up working with a lot of self-involved artistes who didn’t foster creativity, but rather were working towards some grand vision of their own.  These directors didn’t want to be told that they were wrong.  Nor did they want to be told that someone knew more than they did.  Even if an individual has the tact to tackle these issues in a sensitive way (which, by the way, I didn’t), they’re still not things that a director wants to face down in the rehearsal room.

Most directors don’t like smart actors.  Smart actors ask more questions than are useful.  Educated actors are even worse because there’s the off chance that they could ask questions to which one has no answers.  I was both.

You can imagine the frustration that circulates around a situation like this.  I got tired of the tension that it caused and, when I sat down to truly consider my options, I had to find the real bottom of the problem.  I knew that these directors, while perhaps not indicative of the species as a whole, were at least enough of a sample-set to tell me that this was the kind of individual I would generally find myself working with.  I also knew that, while I had some talent, I lacked the experience to be the best of the best.  In order to get that experience, I was in for many many more years of biting my tongue at rehearsal, working three jobs without health insurance, and living paycheck to paycheck.


This was a mortal kombat style fight show; we all had characters and specific weapons. I was playing a smallsword-wielding vampire; in this shot fighting the Irish two-daggers guy.

Being an actor is rough, and it was too rough for me.  I packed my bags and bid a fond farewell to the stage (even though I loved it) because I simply couldn’t do it anymore.

It’s been many years since and theatre (as you can tell) is still a huge part of my life.  Last week, while going about my daily Shakespeare rounds, an opportunity crossed my desk that I had trouble ignoring.

A local community theatre is doing a production of As you Like it and they were holding auditions.  Rosalind is a dream role for me, and one that the professional theatre would tell me is beyond my physical type (the androgynous roles usually get cast androgynously… tall; slender; could pass for a boy; you know, everything I’m not).  I decided that perhaps it would be worth breaking my retirement to live the dream and, since it was community theatre, I had a fair shot at it.  So I grabbed my best gay friend (who, by the by, is a Shakespearean actor/scholar in his own right) and we went and knocked ‘em dead.

….or at least we think we did.  Casting calls happen today and tomorrow, so this fact has yet to be determined.  For my part, I’m just happy to have had a chance to shake off a bit of the dust, really think about the production process again, and reminisce about all the things I hated about being an actor.

Definitely As you Like it

Sunday night, I caught the closing performance of Rhode Island Shakespeare Theatre’s As You Like It in Roger William’s Memorial Park out in Providence.  I think I’ve waxed poetic enough about Artistic Director/head honcho Bob Colonna’s Shakespeare chaps, so I don’t really need to drive the point home.  Suffice to say that the production was definitely another feather in Colonna’s cap and I was particularly tickled to see it, as As You is one of my personal favorites.

Colonna plays fast and loose with the text, but his panache in doing so leaves even a text

Ryan Hanley as a weasely Oliver and Patrick Cullen as a fiery Orlando

purist like me satisfied.  The benefit to this method of engagement is that Colonna’s shows always offer up something new.  I know that when I see TRIST perform, I’m always going to be challenged in my understanding of the text and delivered a show that adds something real, tangible, and different to the performance history of any given play.

In this case, Colonna eliminated Adam entirely (a move which, admittedly, when he first told me about it gave me some serious doubts).  Substantiating the exposition that Adam adds with some cameos by other court characters, it actually wound up working pretty well.

The thing about As You is that it’s a play about the woods.  As such, the sooner we can be dispensed with the unavoidable business in the court, the sooner the real play can start.  My favorite companion attended with me and mentioned that he felt Rosalind was much stronger in the second act than the first (Colonna stuck his intermission between III iii and III iv just after Rosalind trots off with Orlando and Celia having promised to cure Orlando of his love by pretending to be Rosalind).  Well, that’s because Rosalind doesn’t really get to do anything in the court.

Rosalind’s most salient attribute is her ability as a puppetmaster.  She gets what she wants by adeptly manipulating those around her.  She is, however, confined in this ability until the forest frees her from her petticoats and she is able to take on man’s attire.

Unfortunately, Shakespeare’s first act, filled to the brim with pageantry and courtly

extravagance, tends to just drag in modern performance.  It’s full of important exposition and a great fight scene, but it doesn’t have much by way of entertainment value for the real crux of the show.  Two thirds of the characters we see at court are never seen again, and two thirds of the characters whom we spend the rest of the play with are nowhere to be found at court.  For that, this first act has to be there; without it we have no idea where we are coming from (and, for that matter, going back to at the play’s end), but really the best policy for dealing with it is to cut where you can and run through it at a break-neck pace.

Well, that’s what Colonna did.  By dispatching Adam, he managed to shave some good time off of the top load of the show and get us quicker to where we really needed to be.

Another portion of this play that doesn’t read in contemporary performance without a WHOLE LOT of careful finagling is IV ii; the deer scene.  Yes, yes, important in scholarship.  Yes, yes, forest of Arden Shakespeare’s childhood maybe he poached deer as a kid and this is some Freudian jaunt into biographical studies.  Yes, yes, Jaques’ connection to the forest blah blah.  For that, I’ve never seen a production that really pulled this scene off and made it seem anything other than an odd sidebar to what’s already a long, broad, rambling show.  Colonna side-stepped the issue entirely by cutting the scene and replacing it with a clever bit for Amiens/Jaques involving Amiens’ song and Jaques being a pompous jerk.  Colonna’s bit, while not something that I would have thought permissible with any show that I was specifically working on, read beautifully and elegantly covered the hole left by the missing scene.  Bravo, revisionism! (…don’t tell my M4M director that I said that….)

Lydea Irwin as a tired Celia carried by the rambunctious Mark Carter as Touchstone and Kristina Drager as Rosalind

The other thing that I truly have to applaud Colonna for is maintaining a sense of connection with the audience.  TRIST has a history with the fourth wall; a very sordid past in which the relationship has been broken enough times to warrant its own daytime drama.  The bottom line is this: I love outdoor Shakespeare.  I truly do.  I love theatre in urban spaces.  But if you’re going to perform outside, you need to be prepared for all sorts of interruptions; from pedestrians, to the sounds of passing trains.  And these interruptions are universal; the actors will hear them, the audience will hear them, and there’s little to nothing that can be done about them.

So instead of pretending that that motorcycle isn’t drowning out your text and just trying to schlog through anyway, why not acknowledge the motorcycle, pause for a moment, then move on?  You’re going to lose your audience’s attention anyway (that can be assured by the astoundingly loud vrooms that that little engine puts off as it stops at the stop-light that’s two hundred yards away from your playing space).  Why struggle to preserve the integrity of a fourth wall whose integrity is already compromised?

Colonna gets that and the small moments of improvisations spurred by outside forces (a harried Jaques had a brief moment of mimed drag racing, and Orlando and Ganymede a half-muttered conversation about trains) brought the audience closer to the text rather than alienating us from it.  Rather than rejecting the world around it, this show embraced the outside forces at play, welcoming them into its world and utilizing them to become closer to the audience who was also experiencing them.

I wish I could give you ticket info, but as the show closed Sunday that’s all she wrote.  Colonna and the gang will be back in the fall with a production of Richard III that is sure to please (at least, that’s what he promises me, and he has so-far never let me down).