The Rosalind Diaries: Entry Eight; The Show Must Go On

So, we opened this weekend.  The following is an account of my weekend as I progressed through it; my inner monologue is conveniently denoted by text in italics.

Friday Night: Opening Night

I was worried going into this because I wasn’t feeling well, which meant low energy, which did not bode well for performing Shakespeare (much less a show that relies a great deal upon my ability to carry it on my shoulders).  Knowing this, I tried to apply as much comfort as possible to my state and let the rest of life roll off my back.  Upside: I did not have the spare energy for my normally-crippling stage fright to sink in.

 God, I forgot what it was like to be at rehearsal all week and not really have a life outside of it.  Also, right, I need to remember to pack the correct makeup… not that the lighting is horribly intense.

 The house was small, but I knew that I had some personal friends coming to see the show (one of whom being my aforementioned partner in crime who, due to cruel twists of fate and the fact that I considered myself fondly retired before this production, had never before seen me onstage).

Are all my costume changes going to work?  They worked last night… maybe that was a fluke…

Me and Orlando… hanging out in the woods… dressed as a boy… you know, like you do.

 There’s a horrifying moment, as you sit getting ready and you thank the stage manager for the fifteen call (“Fifteen!” “Thank you, fifteen!”) wherein your mind goes blank.  You forget everything.  You are awash in a sea of white and the only thing you can do is stare dumbfounded at yourself in the mirror, lipstick in hand, and wonder what the hell your first line is.

What is my first line?  No, really, what is my first line?

 The performance gets rolling and you find the ways of it.  The groves, the curves, the things you need to do to give yourself the energy to spring-board into the next scene.  I know when I need to rendezvous backstage with my partner to squeeze her hand, or take a moment to smile at him, or check in with her, or pre-set costume change C.  And finding that rhythm is comforting, but you can’t get too comfortable because then the entire thing becomes stale.

Okay, intermission, let’s just keep pushing through…

 This show, for me, is mostly about hitting the midpoint.  Act one in the court is rough; it’s hard to inject those scenes with energy and they contain a great deal of exposition which the already-reeling audience is struggling to keep up with.  Things don’t get fun until we hit the forest, and I don’t really get to play in the forest until act two.  But once I hit that stage at the top of the act, I almost don’t leave it until the end of the show.  So; you push the snowball up hill in act one, and spend act two pumping more energy into it, bouncing off your scene partners, and just letting it roll on home.

Oh good god they skipped ahead in the scene that covers my quick change.  I may die.  Or come onstage half dressed.  Or do one then the other.

 Luckily, neither happened.

Saturday; Night Two

Again, we played to an intimate but receptive house, and having those voices ring back at us in laughter, exclamations, etc. really helped to keep us going.  Unfortunately, my illness got worse rather than better and even a day of rest couldn’t curtail the disgustingness that was the way I felt.

You know what I would like?  I would like to do a performance in which I’m on top of my game… I wonder how quickly I can bust this whatever-it-is.

 Hit act one like an inferno and we finally found the energy we needed for those first few scenes.  Tapping into my darker emotions is generally easier for me to do when I’m not feeling well, tired, or a combination of both.  As such, I didn’t have to work too hard to get the melancholy rolling at the plays’ start.

I would really like to die now please…

I do not recommend binding down to anyone who has any semblance of a curvy figure.  I especially do not recommend it when your chest is congested and you are already at a less-than-optimal lung capacity.  I spent the majority of this performance feeling like I was going to pass out.

I wonder if it would be better to faint onstage or offstage… at least if I did it onstage I’m reasonably certain that I would be able to recite the lines as I went along and may even be able to pick up where I left off when I came to.

 Despite my terminal lack of energy, my scene partners advised me that I put on a solid performance and they didn’t notice a difference.  Phew.

Please don’t let me drip gross things from my nose on Orlando’s shoulder during the wedding scene.

 I didn’t.

Sunday: Matinee

Despite the fear that we would be playing to an empty house given our previously poorly attended performances and the fact that it was Sunday of a holiday weekend, we had a

my dressing room station at the top of the show tonight.

fair sized audience! And a few dear friends of ours even surprised us by appearing without telling us they were coming (…leading to an incident which can only be described as “frantic fact-checking while simultaneously making a quick-change”).

Unfortunately, my cold has escalated to something much more closely resembling bronchitis so my energy wasn’t anywhere near where I want it to be.  I have again been assured that neither the audience nor my scene partners could tell, but I certainly knew as I tried to keep my coughing fits contained backstage and took a near-nap on the dressing room floor at intermission.

Well, at least I won’t have to push to find tears.

And I didn’t.  Or to find new moments, of which there were a surprising amount during this performance.  As much as I would like to think that it is because I am feeling cruddy and, thereby, I should always be feeling cruddy when playing Rosalind, I’m really looking forward to getting well over the week and hitting it hard next weekend.

During 3.2 (a scene which took some very tedious tolls during rehearsal), I was rewarded when, after a bit I do with my hands to demonstrate monsters eating each other, an older lady cooed from the audience “she’s so cute!”.  Glowy actor time.

On the whole, we had a very satisfying set of performances this weekend, and I’m very much looking forward to the second half of the run.  The only thing missing right now is you and I encourage you, advise you, well near implore you to make an attempt to come see what I think is one of the better shows to hit Boston this year (though I well may be just a touch biased). Tickets and show info can be found here!


Alright, now that I’ve been distracted by zombie Hamlet, I suppose I should actually check in about this giant project I keep alluding to.

Tufts Drama does three department shows a year; one in the Fall, one in the Spring, and one bridging the gap between the two semesters.  This year for show number two (the gap-bridging show), we are doing Measure for Measure and I have been appointed the project’s dramaturge.

Besides being one of the best words in the English language, “dramaturge” is actually a really fun and exciting position to hold.  The dramaturge is the person on the creative team who does all the research for a given show.  That research can be pretty expansive and weird at times; how do you pronounce this word?  Is this prop period?  What did they mean when they said this?  Where would this character have gone to school?  Would that character have read this book?  In addition, as resident scholar, the dramaturge is often asked to help edit a playscript of a show to create a performance edition.

As resident Shakespearean, I was called upon to lend my brainpower to the project and, as you can imagine, I’m having a blast.  Over the summer, we’re creating our actor’s edition which, while this may sound like a tedious and boring task, is one of the funnest incarnations of work I’ve ever had the pleasure to deal with.

My director has requested that the final show run no longer than two hours.  As Measure for Measure is a show of 2,938 lines which runs approximately three and a half hours in performance when uncut, this is no small task (especially to a text purist like me).

To make these trims (and to make the show read to a contemporary audience when the actors are going to be undergraduates with no specialized training or expansive experience), our process so far has been as such: we meet for three hours once or twice a week and read the entire script aloud to each other.  As we go through, we have found ways to either cut, trim, or keep lines.

 So, basically, for three to six hours a week plus the time I spend adjusting the actual text afterwards, I go into work, read Shakespeare aloud to my director, explicate the passages with her, bat around ideas about how to make this work onstage, find ways to explain what some of the more archaic words and concepts are, and try to figure out if these words/concepts will read to a modern audience and, if not, how can we alter or cut them to do so?

Yea, it’s pretty much my dream job.

The cutting battle is slightly blood because I, as I mentioned, am a text purist.  My director is not.  She is very open to hearing my ideas and defenses about why something should remain, but it does mean that I have to go into a session prepared with sword and shield to defend the text.  This, honestly, is my favorite part and really why I got into the field I am in.  In order to make something stay, my director must understand why it’s important.

My director is a very experienced very talented woman, but not someone who has had extensive experience directing Shakespeare and not someone who has had my experience training with and utilizing the text.  We come at things from very different angles and this makes for a more-than-interesting battleground over the text itself.  She works in the extremely practical (or, as she puts it, “popular”) mindset.  I work in the more traditional (but not stodgy!) mindset.  Together, we represent two sides of a divide which has plagued my field for generations.

Shakespeare Studies as a field is divided into two battlegrounds: the English department and the Theatre department.  As a subset of the theatre department, you also have the scholarly thespians, and the practical thespians.  All of these factions bring different mindsets to bear upon the text.  The English people are all about the book and text analysis, sometimes edging over into history (not of performance techniques or even performance in general, but rather of the events surrounding both the writing of the play and the play’s events).  The scholarly thespians deal with history of performance as well as contemporary performance, edging into how this is of use to actors.  The practical thespians are all about performance.

So we’re not of COMPLETELY different camps (at least I’m not in the English department), but we are definitely on two sides of the scholarly/practical divide.  Coming together to create this project is really what I wanted when I decided to get my PhD.  I love Shakespeare.  Period.  I love everything about his plays, how they’re performed, and how audiences react to them.  Having the opportunity to craft both a set of amateur actors’ experience with Shakespeare as well as an audience’s experience with Shakespeare is the ultimate gratification for me.


This process is also teaching me a lot about theatricality and the meeting of the great divide within my field (something which, honestly, I thought I had a better handle on having been an actor in a past life).  Where does literary studies meet performance studies and how far can one straddle the boundary without falling into it?  Also; how can we communicate meaningfully across this boundary without smothering the other side’s instincts and without disrespecting the other side’s experience?

As a field, I think these are giant questions which we are going to be working on for many years to come.  I certainly don’t have readily available answers.  It is all too easy for both sides of this divide to go into expert mode and disregard the other side entirely and, because of the odd power structure of a theatrical production, this can result in a lot of hurt feelings and bruised egos.  Any of us can choose to cover our ears and sing loudly “I’M RIGHT!”.  But what do we learn from that?  And, more importantly, what do our students learn from that?

Then I Saw This Play… Now I’m A Believer

So here’s the thing:

Yes, I’m a Shakespeare scholar.  Yes, I’m hardcore about my work.  Yes, I take my job very very seriously.

But I still love going to the theatre.  I still love to belt “Defying Gravity” in the shower (and at karaoke night, if I’ve had enough to drink).  I still love to have fun.

Theatre is not only a part of my life, but it has actually become my life.  I can’t say that it was always this way (I went through a brief stint working in IT… ask me how long that lasted and I’ll have to check and see how much of my soul is missing), but I can say that it has been this way for most of my earthly existence.

If I were to weigh every single production that I ever saw, or wanted to see, against the years of actor’s training, practical theatre experience, reading of books, writing of papers, and general engagement with the side of my job that falls most directly into the category “wibbly wobbly timey wimey ideas”, I would never relax.  I would never enjoy myself.  I would never be able to have an evening’s worth of true entertainment.

So yes, my standards for a production are high.  But no, I don’t walk into a theatre expecting every time to see the Trevor Nunn Lear starring Ian McKellon (which, by the way, was absolutely jaw-droppingly spectacular, and not just because good Sir Ian bared it all to play the part… and I do mean all).

That said, I saw something truly wonderful this weekend.

Some dear friends came to visit me from the far-off land of Utah.  One of their ulterior

aforementioned Utah friends. Yes, we dressed for the premier. Yes, Liz is wearing a Sergeant Pepper-esque tailcoat. My life is amazing.

motives was to support their favorite band (Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys) as the band made its theatrical debut with an apocalyptic sci-fi steampunk musical.  Yes.  You read that correctly.  The show is called “28 Seeds” and is performing at my favorite space in Boston, the cyclorama at Boston Center for the Arts.  My friends brought me along as resident theatre expert, though admitted to me after the show that they weren’t certain what my thoughts would be on the matter.

The project itself has undergone some evolution.  It began as a radio play before being picked up by local experimental theatre company Liars & Believers.  After a deep collaboration, Sickert and the gang present this multimedia, interdisciplinary masterpiece which seamlessly blends rock music, technology, and live performance.

The set -- check out all those monitors!

The story appears a little scattered at first with bits and pieces strewn here and there like the set of the show itself.  However, have faith good people.  It all comes together, I promise.  Like any quality piece of gritty science fiction, every ounce of this seemingly disparate information is used to draw the whole she-bang to a campy finale and really, who would have it any other way?

The play’s strategy utilizes my favorite part of a theatrical production: the audience’s brain.  The collaborators of this piece obviously trust their audience to put it all together.  Nobody is spoon-fed, everybody is expected to have a certain degree of intelligence.  You must be at least this smart to ride.  And this strategy, time and again, truly pays off.  There’s a fine balance between over-protective handholding mommy and lackadaisical freewheeling hippie anarchist, but 28 Seeds strikes that balance nicely.  When you hit this note correctly, it ensures that your audience walks away thinking about the production.  If you tell me everything I need to know, there’s nothing left for me to wonder.  If you leave me with something to gnaw on, I’ll want to see it again to figure out how everything was laid down in order to, at the precise moment, tumble upon itself like a complicated dominos configuration fueled by diet coke and mentos.

The amount of sheer talent which went into this collaboration is evident in every detail; from the wonderfully outrageous musicians, to the surprisingly stunning dancers (no, really, you’ll be surprised when they bust it out), to the seamlessness of the story-telling.  It’s almost like watching Cirque de Soleil; there’s so much going on onstage that you’re sometimes unsure where precisely to look.

I suppose calling this piece a “musical” isn’t entirely accurate because “musical” implies the random outbreak of the show’s internal characters into emotion-imbued song.  Rather, Sickert and the band are onstage the entire time, sometimes interacting with the action but more often utilizing frequent musical interludes to comment upon it.  Much like the computer monitors that take up a portion of the stage itself, the band serves as a method through which more and different information is conveyed.  Though I will be the first to admit, it was sometimes difficult to watch the actors when the truly intoxicating Rachel Jayson (violist) was sitting two feet away from me, sporting a corset like nobody else this side of the apocalypse ever could.

In addition to being just a wonderfully fun experience, the show also incorporates elements that make my inner feminist smile.  Two out of three of the major scientist characters are women, the president is a woman, and the only man who seems to have any power at all is an obviously idiotic general who utilizes his power to make the worst mistake humanity has seen.  Curious what it is?  Go see the show!

As you can imagine, this show has its quirks.  If you are offended by nudity, brains in jars, or poking fun at performance art, you should probably give this a miss.  Otherwise, find a way to go see it.  28 Seeds performs Wednesday-Sunday until May 12th.  As an extra special bonus, I will be re-attending the show on May 11th, so if you happen to be there that evening, make sure you say hi!