Well-Tuned Shakespeare

 

A Little Conversation About Art
In this illuminating new series of lively conversations,
Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar exchanges ideas
with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s leading artists.

No. 2: “Well-Tuned Shakespeare” 

with Isabelle Anderson, Distinguished Artist-In-Residence

IAN: You are a U.S. citizen, but you were born in Australia and worked and trained as an artist in France, England and India. Do you find something unique about American artists?

ISABELLE: It’s the same thing that I find in the general culture in this country. Great energy. In my first visit to New York in 1990 I found the energy of possibility and striving was amazing. When I went back home to Australia, I missed it. So I came back! There is definitely a daring and a can-do energy here.

When I first encountered the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company many years ago, it was exactly their energy in performance that was so appealing and delightful. Still is! Sometimes though, as a teacher, I notice that the striving to get things right and do it the best (Reach for the moon, as it were) can get in the way of American student actors just having a deep experience, right now, or even of failing and learning. That’s where teaching clown work is helpful and a great technique for American actors. I taught a clown course for many years at Michael Howard Studios in New York, not to create  “clowns,”  but to give freedom and courage for creativity.

The actors here have great physicality. They seem to love improvisation and comedy. The comedy here is fantastic and powerful.  They are brave. I think actors were the original “start-up” kids. So many brave ventures into new theater groups reflect the innovative and individual style of American actors. I love and admire that. Then there’s the American actor’s love for Shakespeare. So much Shakespeare is done here. I was stunned, and delighted by that. 

IAN:  We’re so proud and grateful that you have lent your significant talent and outlook with us over the years. I remember meeting you that very first summer- when our work was accompanied by work lights and lots of folding tables. Now, we have this bright shiny theater and other toys, but, in many ways, we’ve held on to some values. What do you notice has changed with CSC? What has stayed the same? I mean, in terms of the art work?

Isabelle Anderson as Cleopatra, in Antony and Cleopatra (2013)

ISABELLE: The camaraderie of the CSC actors is still fantastic. Their willingness to do whatever is needed. Their humility and playfulness. Their genuine connection to and liking for their audience. They are a daring lot. They will pull a show through.  When I had to leave my production of rather intricate stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, two weeks before opening night, and fly to Australia for a family emergency, they all pulled it together and pulled it through. Amazing. And done very generously. They are what we in Australia call “Real Troupers.” 

In the gorgeous new theater, there is still the energy and celebration-spirit in performance, the welcoming openness. But I also see, hear and feel a deep desire to grow with the demands of a “home” theater, with its levels and acoustic requirements. It needs skills to fill beautifully and they are up for that. I am super-impressed by their desire to always grow and learn. They are simultaneously a laid-back, likeable, unpretentious bunch AND a driven, keen, growth-seeking group.

IAN: I’ve been thinking about painting and painters a lot lately. Painters seem to work so differently than actors and theatrical artists, but I’m curious about the similarities. I read recently that Jackson Pollock liked to work with a giant roll of canvas so that he wasn’t limited by “the rectangle.” He never wanted to see the edge of the canvas. Do we as theater artists have a rectangle?

ISABELLE: Yes and no! Ha. This is where my two voices, as teacher and director, answer!
Yes, there are the limits of discipline and technique. Actors have to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses and work hard on them, be it voice or body or nerves. Then, what those disciplined skills give possibility to… is infinite. The artistic soul of an actor needs skills to give pathways for it to flow outwards and create infinite possibilities. A solitary actor on a bare stage can evoke a space as far as the horizon, or a tiny airless cell, can summon up heaven or hell, all through what she or he does with body, breath, eyes and mind … and contagiously the audience feels it.

Only if we work our technique can we surpass our limits and fly. It’s the same with ballet, which is the other art I know well. So many hours at the barre doing rather unattractive things like plies and tendus… but then… you can let go and d-a-n-c-e, transporting an audience. It’s when people forget technique is just the vehicle, not the destination that things get boring or egotistical. Or, conversely when the desire for “freedom” dominates and a lack of technique means it’s just personal self-expression or therapy, not art.

I teach actors at the ACA, Academy for Classical Acting in Washington, D.C. and I always say on the first day. “You must become masters of time and space!” That’s beyond all rectangles! I’m in love with Matisse and Diebenkorn as artists. I read how many, many months and versions they would go through for what seems like a marvelously spontaneous slap and a dash of paint. Same thing.

IAN:  I think the rectangle is something to deal with/wrestle with so that someday you can, maybe, find small ways to expand beyond it. But I like producing Shakespeare because you wrestle with the rectangle every day. What is it that has led you to Shakespeare?

ISABELLE: Well. Yes. To continue the metaphor or image… Shakespeare’s plays give us the “rectangle” of form – so many components of form. There is the text. The specific words. The rhythm of the lines. Scansion. Juxtaposition of scenes. Rhetorical devices galore… and on and on. The first response is to find all that rather an obstacle course, a difficulty to be overcome or simplified, so we can “get it.” But my experience, thanks to masterful teachers like Cicely Berry and Bill Alexander, is to bow to the form and enter into every detail, like a treasure hunter looking for clues. Clues abound. One asks. “Hmm, why this word? Why that extra beat? Why a broken, shared line? ” It’s really very Sherlock Holmes stuff and totally, utterly riveting. Shakespeare tells you everything. I remember when Cicely Berry told me… if you find all the clues, you don’t really have to “act,” because the form holds the truth. Just bring it to life and the audience feels it.

I wonder sometimes if I love Shakespeare so much because of its complexity, the search for his intention, the search for the clues. It’s like the intricate choreography to a ballet. Every move is in there. Just find it and repeat it every night …and twice of Saturday’s. It stays alive and fresh. The form gives life to vast and varied experience.

And I am deeply drawn to the insights Shakespeare has into us humans. Comparing him to his contemporary playwrights I wonder at Shakespeare’s depth of humanity, understanding and poetry. How did he get to be so wise and insightful?

IAN: You have worked and studied with some of the great theatrical figures in the world, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, Jacques Lecoq, Cicely Berry and Bill Alexander. What, if anything, do they have in common?

ISABELLE: Interesting question. I suppose if you put them into a room together (What a great thought!) they would agree that theater is all about creating profound experience for the audience. Not just any experience, they all believe in the depth of experience possible. They would also agree that it is the actors who generate that experience. A painter can give a painting to a gallery and go on vacation while we all look at it and experience the painting’s art and profound beauty or impact. Actors have to do it all in real time, and twice on Saturdays. Move well, speak, be musical, sing occasionally, dance, be coordinated, convey emotions. Their instrument has to be incredibly tuned and above all… brave and open. Because it all happens NOW. In real time and space. Magic. The audience must feel something NOW.

All those teachers you mentioned, that I was so fortunate to have known and learned from, all believed there was massive experience possible for the audience. Not simply diverting, or novel, or spectacular experience, but transformative, life-changing experience. The creative force itself could be harnessed through the actor in the theater space. Whether through laughter, tears, thrill, awe or whatever the style of play, electricity between audience and actors could create a third, shared field where both would feel something powerful.

I think that gathering humans together and going on an agreed plunge into some pool of story is one of the few truly healthy, fabulous things we do in our society. I believe in theater as a muscle for strong societies. And it is beautiful, fun and engaging. I love it.

IAN: Thank you Isabelle!

 

PHOTOS:  Isabelle Anderson by Teresa Castracane. Isabelle Anderson as Cleopatra by Mindy Braden.

The First of Fifteen Summers

The First of Fifteen Summers

 

Fourteen summers ago, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company was a tiny group of about 15 people who wanted to do Shakespeare in a different way. We’d performed one show in the Howard County Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre and maybe a hundred people saw the production. We had no money and no plan for a second show.

Then, out of the blue, the Friends of the Patapsco Female Institute invited us to look at the beautiful Howard County park that is home to the ruins of the former girls’ school. They loved the park. They took care of the park. They had no idea what to do with the park until someone suggested Shakespeare. Could we produce a play outside at PFI? You bet we could! We could do anything! We absolutely, positively could produce Romeo and Juliet with almost no budget!



Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar could get terrific young actors to perform beautifully for next to nothing. Four people, led by Dan O’Brien (our wonderful Technical Director today) could build a set out of scavenged materials and pallets. We could find a talented young costume designer named Kristina Lambdin (our Resident Costumer today) to create and beg gorgeous Renaissance costumes for a song. A friend of mine who’d never had anything to do with theatre before could run the box office. We could set up worklights instead of renting expensive lights. We could send out press photos and get a little newspaper coverage (pre-Facebook!). We could convince people to trudge up a hill to see a theatre company they’d never heard of. We could make Verona come to life on top of Mount Ida!

And it worked. Thanks to you, our fledgling organization spread its wings. You liked us and came back for more the next year and then the next and now you all have been coming for 15 summers. We may have a theater with a roof in Baltimore City, but the PFI Historic Park will always be our outdoor home.

MEMORIES: What plays have we performed in the park? Click here to see the list.

THE TEMPEST:  Continues in the park through July 23. Click here for tickets.

Happy Fifteenth Summer to all of you who make coming home again so sweet.

Lesley Malin
Managing Director

A Space to Tell the Story

A Little Conversation About Art
In this illuminating new series of lively conversations,
Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar exchanges ideas
with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s leading artists.

No. 1: “A Space to Tell the Story”
with Technical Director Dan O’Brien, resident scene and lighting designer

Dan O’Brien

IAN: You have multiple roles with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, but for the sake of this conversation, I’m mostly interested in your roles as scenic and lighting designer. In your view, what does a scenic designer do?

DAN: Designs the scenery. Just kidding. A scenic designer comes up with the visual and physical pieces that the actors will be interacting with onstage. In my view, the initial ideas or direction need to come from the director, but then the scenic designer’s job is to take that direction and give it a shape, a form, and a look, and to give the actors spaces in which to tell the story. Sometimes this means you’re trying to create a very realistic, historically accurate setting, and sometimes it can mean you’re just trying to come up with a more abstract design whose main function is to give the audience something cool to look at while the story unfolds in and around it.

IAN: As an artist, how do your ideas about scenic and lighting design intersect with CSC’s aesthetic?

Macbeth (2016)

DAN: I think CSC’s aesthetic is about not hiding things. It’s a very honest aesthetic that usually lets the audience see a lot of the process in the final product (although I hate the term “product” when discussing what we do). So, I think in terms of the scenic design, it means that we let the audience see a lot more of what’s happening behind the scenes, and that we treat everything that’s happening in the room as something worth looking at and paying attention to. We tend to be interested in playing with the idea that the audience is aware that they’re in a theater watching a play, rather than trying to transport them to some other place for two hours (although I think that both things can be happening simultaneously).

IAN: I think our aesthetic doesn’t exist by itself. The aesthetic is from the people who created it and their collaboration. You’re one of those people. Since you’ve been here since the very beginning of CSC, how do you see your work changing over the past 15 or so years?

The Taming of the Shrew (2017)

DAN: The biggest moment of change has been, of course, when we moved into the theater downtown.

IAN: Yeah, but I’ve seen a change in your visual style. Maybe that has to do with the new theater. But even since we opened the theater, I’ve seen the visuals become more complex. Do you see that?

DAN: Part of it is due to the fact that we get to play over and over again in the same space, so we’re trying to stretch and grow rather than just put up the same thing over and over again. I’m a minimalist at heart, but seeing a minimalist set for every show would get pretty boring very quickly. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve been bringing in outside designers as well as just relying on the things that I do well. They can really shake up how we look at the space and the things that are possible in it.

IAN: Some of my favorite designs for CSC happen when it seems like the designers are building off each other’s ideas and one cohesive design evolves along the way. I think of our productions of Much Ado About Nothing from last season and The Taming of the Shrew from this season, in which the overall design had that quality. Can you speak to that process of collaboration with other designers?

DAN: It’s the best. It’s something that I think we can take for granted sometimes until the feeling isn’t there. A lot of the designers and actors at CSC have worked together frequently in the past, and after doing a few shows together, designers can develop a sense of what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. When everyone’s ideas gel, it is a very exciting thing to watch and be a part of.

Stuff Their Stockings…

csc-shakespeare-snow-globe

 

The play’s the thing…to give.

Shakespeare-Santa makes it easy for you: Give a romance, a musical, a drama, a comedy — or all four!

Here’s the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Gift Guide with easy-to-order presents — always classic, affordable, fun, and memorable. Tickets are delivered fast by email, or mailed by USPS (first-class reindeer) at your request. New this year — we have electronic gift cards, too. Share a compelling theatre experience.

SHAKESPEARE-SANTA GIFT GUIDE

GIFTS $150 and under

 

  • For the family who loves Shakespeare outdoors in the summer:  Picnic table plus tickets for 2 adults + 4 children for The Tempest in-the-Ruins in Ellicott City: $150

6c_Tempest

  • For the musical-lover:  The Fantasticks, book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt,  New York’s longest-running musical. It’s an endearing story about a boy and girl next door and their meddling dads. You won’t have to Try to Remember these classic songs. For romantics of all ages!  A pair of PRIME seats is $130.

5c_Fantasticks

GIFTS UNDER $100
  • For the history-lover:   Now is the winter of our discontent… Two PRIME seat tickets to Richard III:  $84 – $98

https://www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com/season/richard-iii

  • For the comedy-lover:   This is the way to kill a wife with kindness… Two PRIME seat tickets to The Taming of the Shrew:  $84 – $98

http:www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com/season/taming-of-the-shrew

FOR STUDENTS

 

  • For everyone age 25 and under:   Student subscription to Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, The Fantasticks, and The Tempest:  $76

 

CSC GIFT CARDS FOR EVERYONE:   $10 – $500

CSC Gift Cards are redeemable for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company play tickets, subscriptions, workshops, and camps.  You choose the gift level on this reloadable, electronic gift card.  Fits all sizes, good for all plays, always in fashion. It is delivered by email:  Perfect for everyone on your gift list! 

 

Questions?

Call the Box Office at 410-244-8570, Tues – Fri, 11am – 3pm or send an email to BoxOffice@chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

 

 

Photos and photo illustrations by Teresa Castracane, Alan Gilbert, Sandra Maddox Barton, and Jean Thompson.

A Christmas Carol – with a Baltimore Twist

A Christmas Carol – on stage now through December 23, 2016

scrooge-at-360-x-300

BALTIMORE (November 27, 2016) – Catch the holiday spirit:  Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s original adaptation of A Christmas Carol delights kids of all ages as it celebrates Baltimore’s heritage.

Spiced with local history, joyous carols, and dazzling special effects, A Christmas Carol is a best-seller and crowd-pleaser. Reservations are strongly recommended: Performances close to Christmas tend to sell out.

This isn’t a “hon” Christmas Carol. Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar brings the play’s timeless message home by setting it in Victorian Baltimore. The script closely follows the plot of Charles Dickens’ novella: Scrooge awakens to visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  They spirit the lonely miser away from his bedroom  to help thaw his frozen heart and teach him a lesson about the  importance of giving.

Scrooge & Marley’s counting house has the address of the 1885 Mercantile Safe Deposit & Trust Company building in Baltimore’s old financial district. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company converted this bank building into a gorgeous theatre for the classics in 2014.

“We placed the story in the Baltimore business district of the 19th Century in honor of this magnificent building housing our theater, and this amazing city in which we perform,” says Gallanar.  The script includes references to familiar streets, watermen, and the diverse cultures of the early port city.

Gregory Burgess, a Chesapeake Shakespeare Company resident company member known for his great warmth, returns for his third season portraying the irascible and ultimately redeemable Scrooge. Associate Artistic Director Scott Alan Small directs a professional cast of local artists, including company members and 11 child actors from area schools.

TICKET DETAILS

A Christmas Carol runs December 2 through December 23, 2016, at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street (at Redwood Street), Baltimore, MD 21202. 

There will be two public preview performances, on November 30 and December 1.   

Ticket prices range from $25 – $65 for adults, $25 – $59 for seniors, and $19 – $33 for children and students.

Group discounts are available for parties of 10 or more.

For a complete schedule and tickets, visit ChesapeakeShakespeare.com or call the Box Office at 410.244.8570. 

Box office hours: Tuesdays-Fridays, 11am-3pm, and 45 minutes before every performance.

 

MEDIA CONTACT: Jean Thompson, Communications Manager, 410.244.8571, ext. 116, or 443-845-6130 or Thompson@chesapeakeshakespeare.com