It is hard to say goodbye to this beautiful play, and to the wonderful people who engaged in making it happen.
From our wonderful, talented choir, full of smart, passionate people who gave of their time and talents, to our choir director and pianist, to our exceptional cast and crew, I am grateful to you all and will miss you.
Doing a play on a religious subject was surprising in many ways. Our two talk-backs, with local clergy and Havurah members, were incredibly dynamic. I was amazed how many audience members stayed to talk.
People of all beliefs and opinions stayed and shared their thoughts in respectful ways, and everyone found something in this play to relate to.
Kudos to Lucas Hnath for writing so deeply on such a potentially loaded subject, in a way that respected everyone and made us all think and reflect.
I am really looking forward to directing The Christians, which is an irony, really, if you know me well. I am most definitely not a religious person, and yet this play, The Christians, resonates on many levels for any thinking human being.
First of all, it's important to note that this smart and subtle play by Lucas Hnath, is not at attack on religion at all. It is an exploration of how our beliefs shape us, and how despite our need to communicate and connect with others, what we believe is a powerful force in blocking that ability to communicate.
The story of The Christians centers around an Evangelical Pastor who comes to a realization that there is no literal Hell out there. Hell, he comes to believe, is a state of mind here on earth. He believes that God's love extends to all beings, and that through God's love, all are forgiven.
When he preaches this new doctrine to his congregation, a schism is set in motion that ends up destroying much of what he holds dear. This is actually a story that has happened in real life many times. Some famous Evangelical Pastors who have had this exact same experience are Rev. Rob Bell and Rev. Carlton Pierson. Both of them lost their churches and endured major losses in their lives as a result of their changing beliefs.
I think that the ability to change one's mind is the hallmark of a brave soul. I am curious as to how this happens and what the repercussions are.
Lucas Hnath, who grew up in the Evangelical Church, presents a very personal, very powerful exploration of a loaded subject where nobody is made to look foolish, and all have valid points of view.
The Christians is not an intellectual exercise. It is a deeply personal story of one man's journey, portrayed in a unique and intimate way.
I hope you will come see this play! Christian or not, it speaks to the challenges we all face in our attempts to belong, to communicate and to persuade.
And we are going to be treated to a gospel choir onstage, and who can argue with that!!
Ah, Casting. The time of year I both look forward to immensely and dread almost as much.
All the excitement of a new play, with new characters to embody and new actors to engage with.
And all the angst and heartbreak of having to make decisions that leave some out and others in.
When I was an actor, and not accustomed to seeing things from the director or producers side, I of course struggled with the disappointments of not being cast and often felt the pang in a personal way. I pictured myself as being able to play almost any role, and couldn't understand why a director might not see it the same way.
Only after being in the director's chair for a while, did I really learn what is at issue in making casting decisions. It is so much more than just about whether an actor is good or not.
Every actor, every person really, is a flavor. Forgive me for extending what might be a bad metaphor, but when you are baking a cake, you have to find the right flavors to make a particular kind of cake. You are looking for a particular combination of qualities that will contribute to the success of the whole.
Each actor's unique characteristics exist, in everything from body type to age to energy and a thousand other mysterious intangibles. Good actors can change and morph and play a wide variety of roles, but no-one can totally erase who they are and how they sound and feel.
We director's do our best to fulfill the vision we have of the character's we are seeking to have embodied.
It's the hardest part of my job to have to say no to all the wonderful, courageous and talented people who offer their talents up.
It's much nicer to be able to say....YES!
We finished our tour tonight at The Flynn Theater in Burlington. Two shows today. A student matinee with over 1000 students in attendance, and an evening show with 600 audience members.
What an exciting way to finish our work, reaching a larger audience than MAW has ever reached before. We stared the curse of the Scottish Play in the face and found that instead of trouble, we had a smoothness and a serendipity that was notable for a large, complicated show with a cast of 20.
This was an experience I will treasure for years to come. The beauty of theater is the way it brings people into collaboration. A whole bunch of people who don't know each other that well, come together, devoted to a common cause and every single element of that group strains to understand, explore, express and shape something that could only come out of that particular time, place and group. It's just an amazing experience.
Thanks, everyone. Now go get some sleep and let's defeat that tyrant in the making, Donald Trump.
We've been wrestling the sound and lights and costumes into place over these last three days, and what a massive effort that is! Sometimes I wish we could just present the simple, tight little show we've created in the Weybridge gym, without anything but our actors and Shakespeare's words. It really works that way!
When in the midst of tech, our beautiful show falls flat and looks like a ragged bunch of awkward elements fighting for a purpose. This is when we all feel our worst.
But last night these elements fell into place, with the hard work of so many people, our wonderful Stage Manager, Gwen Zwickel in the lead, learning to call the dozens and dozens of cues, so precisely timed to the words and actions onstage.
Matthew Stone's lights have grown and deepened and darkened and lightened until he finds just the right and most breathtaking combination of light and shadow.
Peter Hamlin has created an eerie and beautiful sound score. Tweaking and retweaking until it fits each moment. Peter wanted to attribute the following sounds as follows:
Peter Hamlin acknowledgments for sounds used in Macbeth.
The following sounds were used from the collaborative sound database Freesound…
Kitten meow (used as one of the witch’s familiars)
Clock wind-up – attribution license (I used a portion of this and mixed it with some of my own sounds)
Beating wings – attribution license (added after owl sound)
Raven caw – (used as one of the witch’s familiars)
Sam Hurlburt painstakingly takes these sound cues and trims/fades/raises and lowers volume until they are just right! His skill is wonderful to see.
Angela Brande and Marykay Dempewoolf are frantically stitching and fitting and outfitting our huge cast in a world of Scottish kilts, cargo pants, and plaids and flack jackets. It comes together to create just the world we want. An indeterminate time, and a time that is close to all.
And then we have the always dependable Sky on the sound board, and we are a team!
Goodbye Weybridge Elementary School and hello Town Hall Theater!
The last run though is done; and we are very excited about where this show is. The action flows swiftly and there is not a dull moment. I am so impressed by this cast and the total and absolute commitment this play inspires.
Matthew Stone is hanging lights, Peter Hamlin is putting the finishing touches on the sound design. We begin putting all these elements together tonight.
In honor of the theater gods, we will begin to refer to the play as 'the Scottish Play, and we will begin to refer to Macbeth as 'the Scottish King', once we are in the theater. As Gwen Zwickel, my illustrious stage manager says, "why tempt fate?"
For some reason, the cosmic energies of the world have led to multiple theater companies producing Macbeth this Fall.
Because of our rehearsal schedule, I am unlikely to get down to Northern Stage in White River Junction, but they are in the middle of their run of the Scottish Play right now.
From what I gather, by reading Jim Lowe's review, and looking at their poster art, their production is set in modern times and has a strong political point of view. The image of Macbeth's head, his back to us, with his crown in flames and images of destruction within the flames, makes a strong statement about the focus of their production.
This is what is so grand about Shakespeare! There are so many different ways to approach each work.
Our poster is an image of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in an intense moment which brings to mind their relationship and their different feelings and thoughts about the crime they are to commit.
This reflects the main focus of our production, which I would say is the inner battle being waged within Macbeth, and in his relationships.
I urge people to go to both shows, if possible! It is really fascinating to see the different choices that directors and actors make. There is an infinity of room for interpretation, and I guarantee that you will come away stimulated by the differences, and perhaps also, the similarities in our work.
If you haven't seen Northern Stage's beautiful new theater building, this would be an excellent time to go!
Two weeks of rehearsal have flown by! Thank god we have such an incredibly responsible and professional group of actors. Everyone has come in prepared, off book, raring to go. It's amazing to see such a complex operation with so many moving parts going along so smoothly. This is, in large part, because of our excellent Stage Manager, Gwen Zwickel, whose organizational skills are unbelievable.
After zipping off to a wedding this weekend, bookended by rehearsals, I am happy to report that Chris, as Lady M. and Craig, as Macbeth, have really started to find their relationship. What is so fun to see developing is a real, complex, intense couple who are not stock villains, but human beings who care deeply about each other. I've probably said it before, but if we cannot care about these people, why watch this show?
There are almost no easy scenes in this play. It may be only 90 minutes long, but the stakes are so high, and the action so intense that teasing it all apart, figuring out what we can mine in each moment, and then putting it back together is a big deal!! Phew. It leaves you ready for a good night's sleep.
We are very lucky to have two Shakespeare theater experts to work with our large cast. I don't have the time in our tight rehearsal schedule to give everyone the time and attention they deserve. But with Gaen and Lindsay on the team, we are able to take people aside and really dive deeply into the text. It's amazing what discoveries and connections these two women are able to bring to the work.
Gaen Murphree (verse coach) got her start in Shakespeare touring Oregon and Washington as part of Portland’s Shakespeare in the Parks. She holds an MFA in Theatre Directing from the University of Washington School of Drama. Murphree taught text analysis and directed productions in the MFA acting program at the American Conservatory Theatre and first came to Vermont to each theatre at Marlboro College. She has worked at such theaters as the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Intiman Theatre, the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe.
Lindsay Pontius (verse coach) As THT’s Education Director and creator of Shakespeare It’s Elementary, Lindsay brings Shakespeare to over 400 students in 10 different schools from Rutland to Winooski. Lindsay is a member of Shakespeare & Company where over the years she has been an actor, director and teacher. She also teaches acting in THT studio programs and directs the THT Young Company. She will be acting in MAW’s upcoming production of It’s A Wonderful Life in December.
Fight Director Paul Ugalde spent the afternoon prepping our cast on the basics of stage combat. His expertise and professionalism are a joy to behold. He sketched out some of the moments of violence in the play, and our youngest cast member, Chance Koenig, learned to throw a stage punch as well as how to be the victim that is always in control of the action. It's not going to be easy to see the unbelievably adorable Chance get rubbed out onstage.
Craig and Jeff looked pretty darn good wielding those heavy steel swords!