I’ve always been terrible at taking time off. Ask anyone who’s known me for more than a couple of minutes and they’ll tell you that the only time I’m not on the move doing something is when I’m asleep. What can I say? I get bored very easily, and I don’t like being bored, so I find things to do.
Not quite this bored, but then again, I don’t own any firearms
I’ve been back in theatre for a while now. As the son of a performer, going to see shows was part of my formative education, and even after a long hiatus (of roughly seven years), my move down South led me back into theatrical extracurriculars.
I love my day job – I’m doing what I love, teaching, for a living, I’m writing, and I have high hopes for the future.
My other job, however, is a little more entertaining.
My close friend and colleague, Mandy Hughes, founded Rocket City Shakespeare shortly after she graduated with her Masters Degree in English Literature. She already had degrees in theatre, had already worked in business, had been acting and directing for years, and she wanted to put her skills to good use.
So she started a local theatre company.
Mandy and I are a lot alike. We’re both only happy if we’re doing as many things as possible all the time.
I met Mandy my first semester of grad school, when we were both in Linguistics together. We also met in passing at the theatre club, and we found out we had friends in common, and so six or so months later when she posted on facebook looking for help with her theatre company’s first production, The Taming of the Shrew, I said ‘hey, I can help out!’
And that’s the very brief story of how I became Front of House Manager for Rocket City Shakespeare.
Later that same summer, RCS put on its second production, As You Like It, where I worked as a Production Assistant as well as Front of House. The company rehearsed four times a week, and I was there for every rehearsal, taking notes and helping keep everything organized. My role in the company evolved once we hit the fall, and I took on work as both Assistant Director and Actor for the company’s third production, Coriolanus.
The Second Season of RCS’s run began this past Friday with our production of Richard III (we had a brief break so Mandy and I could both work on the University’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream under the direction of our colleague Dr. Chad Thomas, with Mandy as Titania and me as Assistant Director). I say began, of course, because that is when the production opened, but in truth the process for this play began months ago, shortly after I graduated with my Masters in May.
Mandy contacted me and we held auditions in a classroom at the university, casting about fifteen actors for a deeply complex and fascinating play. The players were an interesting crowd, a mix of theatre veterans and newcomers, young and old, from varied backgrounds and walks of life. We met in that same classroom for two months, with three rehearsals a week, going over what RCS holds most important: the text.
There’s no subtext in Shakespeare. I mean, you can argue it every which way you like, but that’s one of the tenets we hold at RCS. Everything you need to know about what Shakespeare was trying to say in his text is there in the text. Is that text open to interpretation? Of course. All text is. Shakespeare had his own motives for writing his plays, motives that go beyond needing to eat of course, and Richard III is hardly an historical accounting of the life and times of an English monarch. Rather it’s mostly Elizabethan propaganda that talks up the awesomeness of the Tudor line, but all the same, for our purposes as performers, everything we need to perform Shakespeare is in the words.
So we spend a lot of time working with the words. I mean a LOT of time. Nearly our first month of rehearsals was book work. We met in the classroom, desks in a circle, and read the words aloud while making notes. This is wise for any theatrical production of course, but with Shakespeare it is SO IMPORTANT that actors know what they are saying and how they are saying it.
Because, if the actors know what it means, they can relay that to the audience through expression, mannerism, and gesture as well as speech. Suddenly, Shakespeare is less esoteric language and more dick jokes.
Sometimes, in order for the message to really sink in, we have to connect those words to actions, so we spend a lot of time blocking everything too. As a fledgling theatre company in residence, RCS didn’t always have access to the performance space, but we shared the theatre with a couple of summer classes, so we made use of the space when we could.
The greatest strides in any rehearsal process seems to happen (at least in my experience) once the actors no longer have their books in their hands. This process is difficult — believe me I know, learning my lines for Coriolanus was exhausting — but it changes the entire game. Suddenly lines that made no sense are totally clear. Actions connect to words, characters to each other, and we have the beginnings of a play.
Rehearsals took up the vast majority of my evenings. Every Tuesday and Thursday night and every Sunday afternoon, we came to the theatre and Mandy and I worked as the Director-Assistant Director Brain Trust, giving notes and explaining the textual intricacies when they weren’t as clear as they could be. As we got closer to the time, we interspersed friends as audience members, because so much of our method includes blurring the line between audience and actor. Actors will sit by audience members, share food with them, talk to them, and do everything possible to bring them into the scene. We don’t pretend that what’s happening isn’t a play, but I mean, if somebody got up on our stage and used an outlet to charge their phone? We’d probably be chill with it, as long as it didn’t interfere with the scene.
That said, there’s a time and a place for that, people. Give it a try if you like, but we’ll mock you. In perfect verse.
So, we worked all summer. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, with all of us arriving at the theatre between five thirty and six o’clock in the evening and remaining to run the play until often as late as eleven. We ran scenes over and over again. Cast members went through various issues, including restrictive work schedules and health problems.
Now, however, we are here, and as of the posting of this blog, halfway through the show’s six show run.
I’m not here to write a review of Rocket City Shakespeare’s Richard III. Even if I tried, my bias would come through, because I loved working on this production. I loved working with the actors, both the new faces and the old veterans. I loved revisiting a play that I first read in college, first saw performed in college, and participating in the construction of a theatrical run I’m proud to have been involved in.
So I write this post primarily to share my experience working with a fantastic theatre company this summer. When this run ends, Mandy and I will start gearing up for our next production, Macbeth, which will be holding auditions in September for Performance in January. After that, I get to take the reins and direct my first play ever, Much Ado About Nothing, before I leave Alabama for my PHD.
As I said, I’m never bored. And I do think all of this relates to the rest of my academic life and vocation, but that’s another post entirely.
It’s been a successful run so far. We still have three shows left. If you’re in the Huntsville, Alabama area next week, consider coming down and seeing our production. You can buy tickets in advance here, or send me an email with your name and we’ll have tickets for you at the door.
I’ll be the one at the front of the house, feeling proud of the hard work everyone involved with this production has done.
Got suggestions for a topic I can ramble about here on New Media Mayhem? email me at hex[dot]meridian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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