An Open Letter to New England

Dear New England,

We seriously need to talk.

Now, I know you have your quirks and I have mine.  And I will grant, I am not always the easiest person to live with.  But this passive-aggressive behavior has got to stop.

You run so hot and cold these days, I just don’t know what to do to please you.  One moment, I’m enjoying a run outside, the next moment I’m bundled in all manner of winter gear and trying to stay dry because you can’t decide whether you want to rain or snow.  I will admit that there is a certain beauty to you once you’ve had done with your tantrums; when the snow rests peacefully on the trees and icicles hang sparkling from the eaves.  I will also say that in your milder moments, there’s nowhere in the world I would rather be.

a pretty moment I caught on campus yesterday

a pretty moment I caught on campus yesterday

The colors you wear in your fall wardrobe are unmatched, and your beautiful springtime airs are really all that a girl can ask for.

But then it becomes winter.  And your mercurial side simply won’t allow for any reasonable moderate discourse.  I’m always walking on thin (or sometimes thick) ice with you.  I can’t make any firm plans because I don’t know how you’ll behave on a given day.  You make it impossible to go out sometimes because you throw these tantrums that I’ve never seen anything like before in my life.

You know how much I hate shoveling.  I’ve complained enough about it that I can’t imagine you would have missed this fact about me.  And I will admit that everyone needs to make compromises; if I didn’t agree to some small amount of shoveling, I wouldn’t be able to see you in your autumn splendor.  But this promise of something warmer and then yanking it away before my eyes has simply got to stop.

I thought I was done with winter.  I thought I was done with the hoisting, the hefting, the cold sweats.  I thought I was done with the aching back and the chapped face.

But you couldn’t even give me that.

And, as though to add insult to injury, you decide that on the day my brand new theatre company debuts its brand new production that you know I’ve been working hard on and losing sleep over, you’re going to upstage it by making your own scene.  So you huff and you puff and you blow parking regulations down, and we have no recourse but to cancel.  This night, this night I’ve been looking forward to, this night I’ve been working so hard for, is now taken away from me.  Lost into the swirling white of your raging temper.

I really don’t know what else to say to you.  I don’t think that there’s a way you can make this up to me.  It’s time for some serious re-evaluation of our relationship, New England.  Let me recommend that you start groveling.  Right now.  I’m sad and disappointed at the moment, but this will quickly dissolve into rage.  And really, trust me, you won’t like me when I’m angry.



In case you couldn’t gather from this: due to a weather-induced parking ban in Winthrop, we’ve had to cancel Twelfth Night for this evening.  We will be back tomorrow full-force and hungry, though, so don’t give up on us!  Come and support our efforts as we bring you our experiment in communal theatre for the very first time!

Welcome to Hell

Tech week seems to have one of two effects on me:

The desire to run aimlessly around the house waving my arms over my head in sheer terror because everything is wrong and nothing will ever be right again and good god why do I do this to myself?

Or the desire to drop everything and do nothing but be at the theatre all day because things are going so well and the show is going to be so awesome and I can’t wait for it to go up so I can show people how awesome it is.

Sometimes these things interchange and I bounce from one extreme to the other.

Either way, tech week is not good for my work habits, it’s not good for my diet, it’s not good for my gym habits, and on the whole it’s not really healthy for me as a human being.

Luckily, the process of making theatre is healthy for human beings.  And specifically the

Unrelated: found this at the library today.  Proof that even I can make it in academia.

Unrelated: found this at the library today. Proof that even I can make it in academia.

process of making Shakespeare really helps to feed what I do when I’m not physically in the theatre.  As I’ve mentioned, this process has been bumpy; but we’re making something new.  Forging a new model is always more complicated than falling into the ruts of an old one.  The growing pains of what we’re doing can be forgiven because I really do think that the end product is going to be worth it.

Twelfth Night is different from anything else I’ve worked on.  I’ve talked about the community-oriented formation of this project, but it’s also not an ends to itself.  It’s a process.  In building the only true repertory company in New England, we’re hoping to keep our shows in rep for many years to come.  This performance isn’t a once and done kind of thing; it’s a springboard.  It’s the start of something that we’re making together and, as such, it’s much less stressful than a typical show in some ways.  I don’t feel the pressure to get it right once and for all because I know I’m going to be living with the show for a while.  On the flip side, I don’t feel like the problems that this show has are things that we can just gloss over.  If there’s an issue, we really need to solve it because it’s just going to hang Damocles-style over our heads ad infinitum.

We don’t have much to “tech” in the show because we have no scenery, no lighting cues, and no sound cues.  The things we do need to run are the insane number of quick-changes (I pretty much spend the entire play getting into or out of some outfit or another), the shuttling of props/costumes from an exit to an entrance on time, the manipulation of bodies in the space backstage, and general timing/human things.  Again, in one sense it’s a lot easier.  It’s all us.  If there’s a problem, it’s on us to solve and not a light board or a switch.  In another sense, it’s harder to solve these kinds of issues.  There’s only so fast anyone can move; quick-changes have an upper limit of time compression.

I suppose the ultimate conclusion is that nothing is perfect, the grass is always always greener, and hell week is hell (despite being fun when things are going well).

…it should be noted that the bizarre array of props that I need to pile and bring to rehearsal for this show is interesting enough to list: 1 ukulele, 2 fencing foils, 2 long red ribbons, double stick tape, 1 pair yellow stockings, 1 hair clip (easily put on/taken off), pouches and pouches of fake money, 1 black beret (I play one character that kind of looks like Che Guevara), 1 pair mary-jane chunky heels, nylons, a ring, several jewels given as gifts, maracas, a tambourine, spoons, 1 black Spanish fan, sewing kit, breathe mints (just general good courtesy when you’re up in each others’ faces), letters, sealing wax… there are a lot of hand props in this show.  Lots of gifts.  May be the subject for a paper at some point when it’s not hell week.

Welcome to hell.  Come see my show on Friday.


For reasons that may or may not have anything to do with a certain production of Twelfth Night which I’m currently working on (you should come see it, by the way), I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the re-ordering of scenes in contemporary performance of Shakespeare’s work.

Specifically in the performance of Twelfth Night, the first and second scenes of the first act are often inverted in performance.  For whatever reason (and these reasons differ with theatre companies/directors), theatre-makers feel that it’s sometimes appropriate to re-organize these two scenes.

The opening scene of Twelfth Night as it appears in modern editions depicts the Count

Rehearsal: a still life

Rehearsal: a still life

Orsino at his court in Illyria lounging melancholic across the stage as he orders music played for him and pines for the love of the Countess Olivia (the first lines of this scene is the resounding “If music be the food of love, play on…”).  The second scene shows us Viola crawling onto shore after her shipwreck and asking “What country, friends, is this?”.

The opening lines of Shakespeare plays always tell you something about the play.  In the case of Twelfth Night, the show is steeped in music.  Twelfth Night is a show which examines the effects of music on human beings and Orsino’s court is a place where music is constantly straining in and out in the background, filling the edges of the senses.  Orsino calls music “the food of love” and does, in fact, seem to feed off of it for the entirety of the show.  When the music stops, Orsino is awakened to the harsh realities of life outside his court.  His veil of melancholy and self-delusion is lifted, and he finally sees things for what they are.

Orsino speaks the opening and closing lines of the show (…with the exception of Feste’s song which I would argue does not fall into the category of “speech” so we cannot classify it as the “last lines”).  It’s not often that Shakespeare bookends his shows this way and thus we should take special note of the move in Twelfth Night.  Orsino at the beginning is very different from Orsino at the end; everything and nothing has changed.  This is highlighted by his words and the impetus to speak them and through this the audience is forcibly confronted by the journey which Orsino has taken through the course of the show.

By having the first scene occur in a world and a story already in progress, Shakespeare establishes and highlights that world.  We are shown Illyria and how wacky it can be before the play’s outsider (Viola) enters that world.  It establishes something before fully explaining it; allows the audience to encounter an oddity before the oddity is laid before them in its full detail and glory.  In a way, it shocks an audience into paying attention.  It’s a lot easier for a modern audience to glaze over the lengthy descriptions which populate I.ii than it is for them to ignore the pining Count in I.i.

More rehearsing

More rehearsing

Perhaps most importantly, bending a script to one’s will is the cheater’s way out of solving an acting problem.  If you, as a director/company don’t think that you can deal with the script Shakespeare wrote, then don’t perform Shakespeare.  When an actor encounters a problem, he doesn’t simply change the line to fix that problem; he gets creative.  Shakespeare’s text should be treated with the same integrity.  Now granted, I do think that there is a certain amount of cutting that goes into any healthy modern production of Shakespeare’s text.  I’m also not completely averse to changing small words for the sake of clarity (just make sure you check it with your dramaturg first).  I have even enjoyed productions that played fast a loose with the text; but this sort of thing takes a great deal of care and experience.  As a general rule, don’t re-arrange Shakespeare.  Just don’t do it.  It’s sloppy, tasteless, and gives purists like me a headache.

In the interest of full disclosure, the group decided to swap I.i and I.ii in our production (on a day when I wasn’t there to dissent).  I have made the full extent of my discontent with the decision known and have no plans to censor my opinion about this issue.  Despite this lapse in judgment, the production is a solid one with a lot of fun and energy and I highly recommend you come see it (if for no other reason than now you can snob out the egregious violation of textual integrity innate in the aesthetic choice of scene-swapping).

Super-Secret Mystery Project: Revealed!

It was officially made official last week so I can now officially tell you what all this hulla-ba-loo about my super secret project is about:

I’m working on Twelfth Night.

And it’s not just any Twelfth Night.

 When we finished As You Like It, a few of the cast members and I felt like-mindedly that A) we didn’t want to stop working on Shakespeare, B) we had learned a lot from this process and we wanted to continue learning from each other, and C) we had some ideas about how to create theatre that existing companies may not be comfortable with.

One idea that I have been kicking around for many years is this: can you create theatre without a director?  Do you need a single guiding vision in the room, or is a roomful of smart, talented people a viable alternative?  Can you collaborate one what should be a truly collaborative process?

Apparently, I’m not the only one.  My cohorts felt similarly; too long oppressed by the

Myself and my best gay will be playing old friends once more; he's taking on Feste amongst other roles

Myself and my best gay will be playing old friends once more; he’s taking on Feste amongst other roles

tyranny of ego-driven directors, we struck out on our own to try an experiment.  We wanted to create a dynamic company driven by a mutual passion for Shakespeare and a burning desire to produce his work.  We wanted to create an environment where we could learn from each other equally and where one voice wasn’t necessarily the presiding one.

A few networking connections later and we had begun rehearsal.  Due to the brilliance of one of my compatriots, the show’s been cut to two hours and is being performed with (get this) eight actors.  We’re all doubling roles in one way or another and this has led to a rollicking good time at rehearsal.  Twelfth Night is already a fun show, but pile on top of the innate humor some great ensemble work and meta-theatrics and you’ve got yourself a real winner.  I always leave rehearsal more excited than I was when I walked in, more energized than I was when I walked in, and more impatient to see the end produce than I was when I walked in.

In short: you should come see our little experiment in action!  We’re calling ourselves (at least for now) the “What you Will Players” and we hope to be taking the Boston theatre scene by storm.  Our guiding values are community, engagement (with the audience and the text), enlightenment (of ourselves, each other, and our audiences), and simple performance done simply.  We’re not into bells and whistles and Twelfth Night will be performed largely using costumes and props that we found in our basements and closets.  We’re hoping to show that good Shakespeare doesn’t need the trappings of theatrics

the last time I was in Twelfth Night I played Antonio/the Sea Captain... you know... coz I'm a big scary pirate.

the last time I was in Twelfth Night I played Antonio/the Sea Captain… you know… coz I’m a big scary pirate.

layered on top if it, but rather (simply) a genuine emotional connection.

I’ve worked on Twelfth Night before.  I’ve done monologues, scenes, and even the entire show.  This is the first time that I’ve really felt connected to it, however, rather than distanced from it.  In fact, the last production of Twelfth Night that I was in was the one that made me run screaming from the theatre due to an awful director, his ego-driven antics, and his inability to communicate with me as an actor.  My current rehearsal process is slowly curing me of my Twelfth Night phobia and I can honestly say that this show is going to be a real treat to see.

…so who am I playing, you ask?  Through some exceedingly clever script cutting and some crazy quick changing, I’ll be appearing as both Maria and Olivia.  Can you already tell how much fun this is?

Updates to follow in the coming months!  We will be performing March 8th and 9th at 8PM and 10th at 3PM at the Winthrop Under-Playhouse Blackbox (60 Hermon St., Winthrop MA) so mark your calendars.  Ticket info will be available very soon!