Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Location, Location

Timur Kocak
ASC Set Designer and Technical Director

The world of a play only begins to take form in the words.  In order for an audience to be drawn in, to suspend disbelief and accept that what is on stage is worth being part of, the creative team must construct a context for the dialogue, a place where characters can come to life.  While the actors and the director will give life to the action, the action must be situated in a physical and atmospheric location that makes sense for that play and the director's vision of it, and it is the set designer who must create the first part of that locale.

For the ASC, the set design relies on Timur Kocak's sense of magic, which, he says, come from a kind of creative flying by the seat of his pants.  "The sets I'm happiest with depend as much on improvisation as any guiding principle," he says.  "I try to create sets that are flexible and, when necessary, invisible."  He aims to have the scenery show off the costumes and keep the audience's attention on the action as it unfolds rather than on his set. 

Many a designer will spend much time discussing with a director what the concept of the play will be, but Colette Rice, the Play Master at ASC, prefers to play to the text rather than to a concept, and the process is a bit different in her collaborations with Kocak, with whom she has been collaborating since 2000. 
Kocak''s last sketch of design and floor painting for Merchant of Venice (2008)

"For example, in the case of MACBETH (2012)," Kocak says; "Colette knew she wanted a stage in traverse, i.e., with the audience on opposing sides; she wanted a bowl of blood and a bowl of water at either end.  It was up to me to come up with set pieces that could create the desired settings: interior, exterior, castle or heath."  If we were outside, the minimal set had to clarify that, and when we were indoors, the set had to bring the audience into the castle.  According to Kocak, to create that effect, he required that floor be painted in colors and patterns that could let the audience imagine a muddy road or the great hall of a medieval castle, and then he worked with Lighting Designer Paul Hudson to get the most out of the effect.  

"All the paint colors and finishes that I use of course depend on lighting for their effect."  In true theatrical tradition, despite coordinated efforts begun well before the rehearsal process began, last-minute adjustments were necessary on Kocak's part.  When lights were fixed, it was clear that he would have to darken the floor and plinths a few degrees. . . "which I achieved with the application of a glaze."

Finding the appropriate set pieces was a challenge for Macbeth because of the director's specificity, but, with perseverance, the set designer triumphed. "It took much searching up and down the Bowery to find large bowls for the blood and water, glass in appearance, but sturdy and resilient.  For the plinths on which the huge bowls rested, I tried to create a faux finish to match photos of the Stone of Scone, which rests below the coronation thrown in Westminster Abbey but comes from the historical seat of Scottish kings, as mentioned in the play's last scene."
Michael Basile as Macbeth, with the Blood Bowl

One of the things Timur Kocak appreciates about working in the West Side Theater is that his sets cannot achieve their desired effect without the engagement of his audience's imagination and their complete submission to the conceit he presents.  He explains, "Settings must be suggested rather than presented in a small space like ours." And, given the vicissitudes of the pursuit of artistic excellence in the economic climate of today, budgets are necessarily small, so the set designer is forced to be more creative.  "I believe," he asserts,"that it is very important not to violate the world of a play.  That is to say that nothing must look, sound or even smell out of place.  If an actor steps onto a platform that is shaped as and painted to look like a tree stump, for instance, it must not sound hollow like a wooden box.  Nor should the smell of cleaner or fresh latex paint intrude on the notion that we are watching say, the French nobility carouse in their camp, the night before the battle of Agincourt."  

"In telling stories," he says, "details are important."   The minutia can make or break an audience's allegiance to the imagery of the scene.  "Small things like zippers and other often misplaced technology, the wrong car (I am from Detroit after all) and even casual contemporary phrases like "you guys" or "...I'm just sayin'... " in a period script can bounce me right out of an otherwise compelling story.  I especially appreciate the show Mad Men for its attention to detail.  I find myself searching every corner of the screen for something from my grandparents' house or wardrobe."  

Mad Men notwithstanding, Kocak believes that large set and costume budgets do not necessarily protect a production from huge mistakes.  The annals of theater and film are rife with those, and Timur Kocak is keeping track.

"My wife has forbidden me from starting my own 'Stage and Screen Historic Anomaly Blog' lest I ruffle the wrong feathers - or just appear silly." 

No theater (or film) director would think him silly. . . continuity matters!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Company Woman

Cindy Boyle
Cindy Boyle is the consummate company player.  Erudite, well-trained, astute and deeply talented, she is in every way a company woman.  Moved by their devotion to the theater in general and to Shakespeare in particular, she and Colette Rice -- along with nine other like-minded artists -- founded the Actors Shakespeare Company in 2000, in Hoboken, NJ.  Twelve years later, despite the never-ending financial woes that come with the territory, Cindy remains the Bard's willing acolyte, committed to the mission she and her founding brothers and sisters created for themselves, determined to see the work nurtured so that the Company may prosper and grow.

Cindy Boyle as Eleanor of Aquitaine
At the start, Cindy was an actor, and her primary focus was her own growth as an actor.  She was very impressed with Producing Artistic Director Colette Rice's fidelity to Patrick Tucker's First Folio approach to the text.  Tucker, who introduced a production of As You Like It at the RSC with the claim that the play was "written and directed by William Shakespeare," developed a method for finding the direction from the playwright in the text itself.  "You might find it in the punctuation," Cindy says smiling with the delight of swishing the words around in her head.  She stands and demonstrates as she goes on,  "Or you might find it in the phrasing or in the juxtaposition of words or even in the spelling or in Shakespeare's choice of words.  For example, if my line has me addressing you as 'thou,' I am directed to move closer, but if I call you 'you,' that's more formal, and I am told to move away. It's a vitally illuminating way to dive into the text!"
Cindy Boyle, as the Duchess of Gloucester,  and
Terrence MacSweeney,
as Edward, in The Lear Project 2011

"The other thing I love most about this company is that we use scrolls.  Scrolls!"  Scrolls, of course, are the scripts of Shakespeare's time, on which actors find only their own "sides," the individual actor's part with no more than a cue from another actor.  At times they even performed from the scrolls without rehearsal, just as they might have in Shakespeare's Rose Theater.  "It's thrilling!"  Boyle enthuses.  "Except for the entrances, exits, dances and fights, nothing is really predetermined.  Anything can happen.  And that can be terrifying . . . but what a rush!"

In the acting resume compiled at the ASC, Cindy has played Twelfth Night's Feste, King John's Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hamlet's Gertrude, Romeo and Juliet's Lady Capulet and others, all roles appropriate, as Boyle points out, to "a woman of a certain age."  But, in the manner of one who is certainly far more youthful than that remark would imply, Boyle has developed a number of other skills and has made herself a vital part of her organization.

In a previous life, Cindy Boyle worked as the Assistant Office Manager and Receptionist at the Rogers and Hammerstein Organization.  "It was a dream job," says Cindy; "Especially for one so deeply steeped in theater." At the Rodgers and Hammerstein office, Boyle was responsible for greeting and situating luminaries from Julie Andrews to John Bon Jovi, for creating and overseeing much of the day-to-day bookkeeping and theatrical contract development, for maintaining the office and for seeing that fire department regulations were met.  "It was great training for working at the ASC.  When they eliminated my position in 2009, I was only too happy to take my skills to the Actors Shakespeare Company."

At ASC, since 2009, Cindy has been the Operations Manager at ASC, responsible to assist Colette Rice in all aspects of running the theater company.  She is also the Secretary of the Board of Directors, and it is her job to schedule meetings, distribute materials, take and distribute minutes from meetings, and do all the event planning.  She is also the Company's Wardrobe Mistress, responsible for the remarkable inventory of costumes the ASC has, thanks to their Costume Designer Eva Lachur Omeljaniuk.  "The woman is incredible," raves Boyle.  "We are so lucky to have her.  And we have the most amazing costume inventory I know of.  Truly a gift!"

In addition, Cindy is the Company Photographer, and her photos are the mainstay of publicity efforts, marketing outreach, etc.
Striking Macbeth
Photo by Cindy Boyle

When the ASC experienced financial difficulties, Cindy took it in her stride and stepped down from her paid position, but she has not flagged in her allegiance to the Work.  "I grew up on a farm in upstate, central New York," says Boyle.  "We raised horses.  I can handle just about anything that comes my way.  I know that there's work to be done, and I'm there to get it done."

A large part of the work that must be done is fundraising.  "It's the only thing I hate about this theater company -- that we have to constantly beg for money.  We have a topnotch product, and we should be at least securely ensconced at NJCU, but we are not.  Is anyone in today's economy?  Certainly the economy's been unkind to all nonprofits, so we're not unique in that way."

As part of the effort to take the Company's message to the public, the ASC will be returning to various venues in New Jersey to present All the World's a Stage, where actors from the ASC present a potpourri of Shakespearean roles and excerpts for audiences in the Hudson County area.  The next presentation will be at Congregation B'Nai Jacob, 176 West Side Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07305.

Cindy Boyle will be there, reprising roles she's played before -- Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), Adam (As You Like It) and Mistress Ford (Merry Wives of Windsor) -- and hoping that the audience catches the enthusiasm of the Company.

"I love the Company factor of our company,"  Boyle says with a deep sigh.  "Aside from my addict's need to be onstage, I have a deep and abiding need to be part of a real company.  It's where I got my theatrical start with George Morrison at the State University of New York at Purchase.  And the ASC is a truly safe place to be because of the Company itself.  We are free there.  Free to be ourselves, free to make idiots of ourselves if need be in the pursuit of something truly fantastic.  We get to let go of Self and just be entirely in our moment on stage."

Boyle laughs a bit mischievously.  Then she adds, thoughtfully, "Isn't that the key to creative freedom?"

Saturday, March 31, 2012


It's Saturday, March 31, and you've got just two more chances to see MACBETH at the ASC.

                                       Today (3/31)               3:00 PM
                                        Tomorrow(4/1)          3:00 PM
                                            At the West Side Theatre
Tickets and information at http://www.ascnj.org/box-office/ or by calling 201-200-2390

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dressing the Show

ASC actors Colin Ryan, Patrick Harvey and Elizabeth Belzoni in Costumes by Eva Lachur-Omeljaniuk
Photo by Cindy Boyle, Boyle Images
In her review of ASC's Macbeth, Ruth Ross cited the costume design by Eva Lachur-Omeljaniuk, complimenting the designer's choice of "appropriately medieval" garments worn by the authentically 11th C characters and citing how the "addition of a tabard, a cloak, a hat or a robe" creates the illusion of an actor changing roles entirely.  Ms. Ross has astutely brought attention to one of the more salient backstage roles in any theater production, that of the Costume Designer/Mistress.

Eva Lachur-Omeljaniuk Adjusts a Costume for A Midsummer Night's Dream
Photo by Cindy Boyle, Boyle Images
 Often a director will choose to set a Shakespeare play in another time or place than that which was designated by the playwright, and it is important for the costumes to reflect the director's vision of the play as well as the underpinnings of the characters .  Having conferred with the director, it is the costume designer's responsibility to know each of the roles in the play well and to research setting, then to find a way, within the strictures of the budget allotted for costumes, to create a costume plot, a series of costumes that are "in character" for this particular production.  The costumes must fit the both the text itself and the direction of the play as well; that is, the costumes must enable the actors to play their scenes authentically while they are maneuverable within the confines of the director's blocking so that they never get in the way or draw attention away from the action of the play.

Costumes do more than simply create resonance of time and place.  They serve to enhance characters' personalities, pointing out taste, mood, social class, maturity, mores, etc., in such things as color, fit, and style of the garment.  An effective costume designer must be creative, knowledgeable, skillful and collaborative.

Working in concert with one another, the costumer,  the lighting designer, hair dresser, the set designer create the world of the play, enabling the audience to suspend disbelief in order to be swept away from their "real life" world and into the life on the stage.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Music Man

What makes for a thoroughly satisfying theatrical experience?

For the most part, whether you love a production, are lukewarm about it or hate it entirely rests on your own taste.  But the goal of any producer is to get a universal word of mouth that drives traffic to the show and puts "bums on seats" for every performance.  The success of a production, then, must be embraced by at least the majority of its audience members and critics, and there are elements that are critical to achieving that goal.  The next few blogs will take a look at some of the people who help drive the success of any show, and we'll begin with the music direction.

Anthony Bez, Musical Director of ASC
Audience members who truly love a show may not be aware of what is making them enjoy themselves.  Typically, the experience depends on sensory input, and the more effectively the senses are engaged simultaneously, the richer the enjoyment of the play.  The textures of the sound, if blended well into the production, will move the plot along, deepen the emotional resonance of the play and draw the audience in, helping them to react to the stimuli of the visuals onstage.

Sound design is a new discipline in theater.  Up until the late 1960's, a Stage Manager would be expected to find the appropriate sounds to support a production.  The SM would gather sounds for on and offstage, and it was rare that a nonmusical production would have the kind of "background" music that we associate with film.  But in the last 40 years, with the great advances in sound technology and equipment, the Music Director has become an invaluable contributor to the life of a play, creating all whatever layers of music and sound effects are appropriate for the presentation.

A talented music director will produce a flexible, complex, inexpensive integration of sounds that will influence the actors' action and the plays feel.  Collaborating with the director,  the sound will blend with the director's overall vision of the piece and complete it.
Anthony Bez and Colette Rice in Collaboration
Photo by Cindy Boyle, Boyleimage

Anthony Bez, Music Director at ASC, has been collaborating with Colette Rice long enough that he can, in some ways, anticipate her esthetic and present ideas already at early production meetings, which hastens the construction of each production.

Go see Macbeth, and try to notice the various sounds as well as any music that envelopes you as you hear the play.   Notice how the music of the drums, for example, augments the suspense of the thickening plot.  Notice how the witches' evil is captured in what you listen to as much as in what you watch.

Then thank Anthony Bez for enhancing your experience and making it memorable.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Your Last Chance to See Macbeth at the ASC

Friday evening, at 7:30, closing weekend begins for our production of Macbeth at the West Side Theatre.

 Tickets are onsale at the box office for Friday (7:30), Saturday (3:00) and Sunday (3:00) shows.  Don't miss this exciting show!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Work Behind the Scenes - Thank a Stage Manager

Jennifer America 

Jennifer America, ASC Stage Manager, deserves a huge round of applause.  She is the stage manager, responsible for a flawlessly smooth production, where props are where they are supposed to be, actors make entrances on cue, lights illuminate at exactly the moment they are needed, stage is a safe place for actors to work, scenery stands still when it needs to and moves when appropriate to do so, etc., ad infinitum.  A multitude of tasks comprise the Stage Manager's job, and she must be a master of many trades to do it well.  There is no more critical person in any play than the Stage Manager.

Ask any high school theater director, and h/she will tell you that the single most consistently and successfully employed graduate of the program is the kid who learned how to be a responsible, dedicated Stage Manager.  The youngster who graduates from high school and enters a tech ed Bachelor's program and dedicates him/herself to the arduous work will never ever want for a job.  
horizontal line
 The stage manager's work often begins in the preproduction planning and audition process, where s/he is important to the director in all kinds of ways. The SM is likely to be the one who organizes all the auditions, contacts all the actors to return for callbacks, and creates and keeps track of every schedule for every member of the company.

In rehearsals,  the director and stage manager work side by side.  The stage manager records the director's blocking and notes for the actors, which s/he will later compile into the production book, the director's book and the SM's book.  The SM keeps track of logistical and scheduling details and communicates what goes on in rehearsals to the rest of the team. This enables the director to concentrate his or her full attention on staging the show and directing the actors.

Stage managers' key responsibilities include:
  • scheduling and running rehearsals
  • communicating the director's wishes to designers and crafts people
  • coordinating the work of the stage crew
  • calling cues and possibly actors' entrances during performance
  • overseeing the entire show each time it is performed
  • marking out the dimensions of the set on the floor of the rehearsal hall
  • making sure rehearsal props and furnishings are available for the actors
  • attending all rehearsals
  • notifying the designers and crafts people of changes made in rehearsal
  • keeping track of hours worked, abiding by union rules if applicable, keeping pay records

    In rehearsals the stage manager also records all blocking, plus all the light, sound and set change cues, in a master copy of the script called the prompt book. The information in the prompt book also allows the stage manager to run the technical rehearsals, calling each technical cue in turn to determine precisely how it needs to be timed to coordinate with the onstage action.

    The stage manager and the technical director also work out a smooth and efficient plan for the stage crew to follow during set changes. Furniture and prop plans for complicated sets are drawn up by the stage manager and technical designer to show exactly where the furniture and props are to be positioned on stage at the beginning of each scene and  sometimes in the wings.  The stage manager directs the crews' movements and tasks in much the same way a director directs the play and the actors.

    Once the show opens, the director's work is essentially complete, and the stage manager takes over, making sure that every aspect of the production runs just as the director intended time after time, until the production closes.

    Most schools with extensive drama departments offer training specifically toward becoming a Stage Manager.  Equity has a membership category for stage managers.

     Jennifer America, ASC's resident Stage and Production Manager, is a graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she also studied directing and design.  She often serves as Play Master at the ASC and directs plays in neighboring theaters as well.  She is a member of the Actors Equity Association.

    Photos of Jennifer America, by Cindy Boyle, Boyleimages.com

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    Congratulations and Good Night for Now!

    In honor of the closing of another weekend of successful performances of that Scottish Play, one more time let us repel the curse . . . and have a laugh, courtesy of Blackadder!

    Merdre! to Colette Rice and her cast and crew . . . may all your legs be broken!

    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    The Actor's Work - Part III

    What makes powerful acting?  A subjective question if ever there was one!  What one likes is very individual, and what appears effective and honest to me might be just the opposite to you.  What training an actor -- did the training come from US traditions where visceral, emotional elements of the character are found through some use of The Method(based on some form of Stanislavsky's precepts) process, or did the training come from a British tradition where truths are explored through external means, by way of breath and speech, or did the training come from some combination of them? -- has had will contribute to his/her style and will either appeal to the beholder or not.  But there are certain truths that hold for all judgments.

    An actor must be the physical master of his/her face, voice, and body at all times.  Whatever h/she does in a scene must be predicated on the character's physical, psycho-social, and emotional realities, and the benchmark is absolutely believability.  If an actor's performance is not credible, i.e., if an observer does not buy that this character is who the actor claims him/her to be doing what h/she is supposed to be doing, the actor has failed.  In a British tradition, actors find authenticity from the outside in, allowing emotional and psychological truths to reveal themselves through the text and get to the characterization by exterior means.  In the American Method approach, the actor is only credible if all the underpinnings are motivated by interior constructs discovered through epiphany and revelation.

    Macbeth has been performed admirably by actors schooled in each of these approaches, and when you see great acting, you will recognize it, whether it emanates from the one convention or the other.  Below You'll see an example of the Tomorrow and Tomorrow by great American actor Orson Welles and then by British actor Patrick Stewart, then the sleepwalking scene by Britain's Dame Judith Dench and Philadelphia-born Jeanette Nolan.  If the actors have succeeded, you shouldn't be able to tell where the truth is coming from; it will simply BE.

    We leave it to you to judge for yourself.

    Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, 1948

    Judi Dench sleepwalking scene

    Macbeth's Tomorrow speech by Orson Welles

    Patrick Stewart as Macbeth ("Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow")

    Friday, March 23, 2012

    An Actor's Work, Part II - Voice with Kristin Linklater

    Kristin Linklater, renowned voice coach, Columbia University professor, talks about voice and breath.  No one makes it look easier than Ms. Linklater, and no one understands it all more profoundly.


    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    NJ Arts Maven LOVES ASC's Macbeth!


    by Ruth Ross
    Production Photos by Cindy Boyle, Boyle Images

    In my 34 years of teaching high school English, I've probably taught Macbeth to close to 3400 students, watched films versions countless times and attended about five live performances, but rarely have I seen as riveting a production as the one onstage at the Actors Shakespeare Company. If you think Shakespeare is boring or for intellectual types, get on over to the Westside Theatre in Jersey City where the joy of seeing the play performed live will make you (teenagers, college students and adults) a Bard-lover forever.

    Macbeth (Michael Basile) swears allegiance to King Duncan (Jonathan Dewberry) in the presence of his
    subjects (Terence MacSweeney and Colin Ryan)

    Everyone who has graduated from an American high school knows the plot. Three witches prophesy that a courageous Scottish warrior named Macbeth will become Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and “King hereafter.” The first two predictions are fulfilled in short order, but his hopes for the third are dashed when King Duncan names as heir his young son Malcolm. Egged on by his beautiful spouse, Macbeth takes matters into his own hands, murders Duncan, assumes the throne of Scotland when Malcolm and his brother flee the country and, to cover up the crime, commits subsequent murders, among them the vulnerable family of his nemesis, Macduff. Buoyed by further predictions by the witches, Macbeth faces Macduff, and upon learning that he is not “of woman born,” accepts his fate with dignity.

    There are two aspects of the ASC production that really stand out for me. One, is the striking scenic design by Timur Kocak, which consists of a long playing space set between two facing banks of seats. There isn't a bad seat in the house, and one feels almost as if he/she is watching an athletic competition for the soul of Macbeth. At either end sits a granite plinth holding a large basin, one red as though filled with blood, the other clear. The seven actors sit in two groups at each end of the stage, where they provide sound effects and change costumes to assume the myriad of parts they assume (more about that later). If you have ever wondered just what a lighting director/designer does for a play, then this production is a fine example. Most of the time, the ends of the stage are shrouded in darkness, with spotlights pointing us to look to where the action is occurring. Creative lighting projected on the floor suggests a witches' cauldron and even conveys the presence of a table in the banquet scene. It's inspired lighting! Eva Lachur-Omeljaniuk's costumes are appropriately medieval (the real Macbeth lived in the 11th century), allowing actors to change character by the addition of a tabard, a cloak, a hat, a robe. Michael Hajek has provided props galore to enhance the sense of place and time. And yes, there is lots of blood.

    If it were done when 't is done, then 't were well . . .Macbeth (Michael Basile)

    You may wonder how just seven actors can portray the large cast of thanes, courtiers and servants (not to mention the three witches) needed to tell the tale of Macbeth. This is accomplished by a technique called "doubling," whereby one actor plays several characters. Most of the time, this works quite well; trouble comes with the actor playing Malcolm/Young Macduff and another taking the roles of Macduff and Macbeth's servant Seyton. The characters don’t look sufficiently different to make a quick distinction. Perhaps a hat or a different tabard would help. But both occur near the end of the play so that viewers who have been paying attention heretofore can easily make the adjustment.

    Playmaster Colette Rice confers with Michael Basile in a pre-production meeting

    Praise goes to director Colette Rice for selecting a cast of stellar actors and letting them loose on the large stage while keeping a tight rein on the action. As Macbeth, Michael Basile is the only character who doesn't double in a speaking role. He commands the audience's attention from the minute he appears, resolute and confident in his ability as a military general. His disappointment at being passed over to succeed Duncan as King ((his being named Thane of Cawdor, the messengers tell him, is "in earnest of a greater honor") is totally understandable, and even as his wife works her feminine wiles on him, we sense he is at heart an honorable man, albeit an ambitious one. Basile delivers Macbeth's several soliloquy's naturally, as though they are the ruminations of his mind. And by the time he faces his end, we are almost rooting for him to prevail, despite his horrible deeds.

    A small company of players (Colin Ryan, Patrick Harvey, Elizabeth Belzoni) play multiple roles

    Denise Hurd's Lady Macbeth is less evil temptress than mature, supportive wife who knows her husband better than he knows himself. When she tells him she'd dash her nursing child's brains out had she promised him to do so, we really believe her. Her performance is also natural, and the chemistry between the couple is convincing.

    "But stick your courage to the sticking post, and we shall not fail."
    Lady Macbeth(Denise Hurd) to Macbeth (Michael Basile)

    As Macbeth's lieutenant Banquo, Elizabeth Belonzi is stalwart, wary, curious and, as a ghost returned to haunt Macbeth, frightening. Patrick Harvey as Malcolm grows before our very eyes from callow youth saved from capture by Macbeth to a survivor who sizes up the situation after his father's murder to hie himself to England for safety to crafty politician who toys with Macduff to discern whether the thane's loyalty is real and trustworthy. Jonathan Dewberry's star turn as the drunken porter is a comic foil to the awful events unfolding within the castle; the truth of his lines comes clearly through after what we've just watched. And Terence MacSweeny is equally as stellar in the role of Macduff who comes loaded for bear to confront his nemesis in the final scene. Able support is provided by Colin Ryan in a variety of roles.
    Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more. Macbeth does murder sleep" . . . .
    Macbeth(Michael Basile) to his wife (Denise Hurd)

    Of course, everyone remembers the three weird sisters, the witches, in Macbeth, whose very appearance in the first scene sets the stage so that "fair is foul, and foul is fair," the conundrum at the very heart of the story. Donning ragged cloaks and hoods that have long hair attached, Jonathan Dewberry, Patrick Harvey and Terence MacSweeney have a fine time concocting those noxious potions and toying with our tragic hero. They are especially interesting in the final scene (not included by Shakespeare) in which they turn on the audience!

    Music Master Anthony Bez and Fight Manager Mark McCarthy are to be commended for their efforts at making the production eerie and violent.

    Far from the usual caricature, Colette Rice and her cast present a Macbeth worthy of being called a tragedy. It’s the tale of a highly regarded man who brings about his own downfall by a flaw in his character—in other words, “a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.” But this production is far from that, one that breaks the play’s curse, one that should be revisited by all former students and experienced by those currently reading the play in class.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012


    The critics have begun to speak!!! Check out this glowing review of our Macbeth in the NJ Arts Maven post, and CONGRATULATIONS to Colette Rice and her cast and crew on another huge success!

    nj arts maven: REVIEW: “MACBETH” @ ACTORS SHAKESPEARE COMPANY IN ...: In my 34 years of teaching high school English, I've probably taught Macbeth to close to 3400 students, watched films versions countless ti...

    An Actor's Work, Part I -- Breathing

    One of the hallmarks of great acting is the ability to make acting look effortless.  Minions of youngsters have been attracted to acting just because their idol looks like he's just breezing through his work, having a ball as he goes.

    Acting is, however, hard work.  It's physically, intellectually, and emotionally draining, and Shakespearean acting is the hardest work there is.  Much preparation is required to be ready to tackle the material, from acting classes to literature classes to vocal training, to physical conditioning.

    Even breathing is hard work.  An actor's instrument is his/her voice, and breathing is the basis of strength in the voice.  Here's a typical warm-up at the RSC for Shakespearean actors about to go onstage.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Elizabethans love their Words

    In a presentation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) a few years ago, famed RSC speech and dialect coach Cicely Berry (Voice and the Actor) made the assembled participants laugh when she said that if one sits close to the stage and cannot see the spit fly, the actors are not working hard enough. What she meant was that language is meant to be enunciated clearly, and English requires that all parts of the mouth and throat (and core, etc.) be engaged in that effort.  In order for the words to find their way to the audience's ears, they must be pushed and vibrated through the air, and the actor must do the work to make them find their mark.

    Words are the essence of any Shakespeare play.  As John Barton, venerable acting teacher, director and coach, reminds us, the Elizabethans were much more sensitive to words.  They spoke and heard words at a far faster pace, and a play was performed at a speed most modern ears would be incapable of following.

    When you go to hear Macbeth, try to imagine the dialogue/monologues coming at you at twice the speed. . . .

                     Roger Rees demonstrates a game of words. . . .

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    A Most Excellent Beginning!!!!!

    Apparently the ASC has evaded The Curse of The Scottish Play . . . but one can never be too careful.  Below is another suggestion for warding off its effects, courtesy of Blackadder.

    Meanwhile, CONGRATULATIONS to the entire ASC Macbeth Company on a successful, well-trafficked first weekend!   Good marketing (Thanks, Peter!)  plus strong production (Kudos, Colette, Cast and Crew!) equals a triumphant entrance!

    Wishing you all Merdre! for next week. . . .

    May all your legs be broken.

    Angels and ministers. . . . .

    You know where this is going.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Out Damn Spot . . . in Song

    Don't forget to come on over to the West Side Theater this afternoon at 3 for the Sunday Matinee performance of Macbeth.  While you are likely to see Denise Hurd, as Lady M, agonizing over her bloody hands, you probably won't hear the monologue sung.  So, for something different, how about a look at Lady Macbeth . . . the musical star.

    And later, when you're thinking how silly this is, come on over to the West Side Theater and hear the words done in earnest.

    Saturday, March 17, 2012

    Scotland, PA

    A hit at Sundance in 2000, Scotland, PA, by Connecticut native Billy Morissette, casts Macbeth (Christopher Walken) in a whole new light.  Billy says he got the idea when he had to sit through his English teacher's droning explanation (who among us has not felt that way about at least one of our English teachers as h/she explains Shakespeare?!) of Macbeth, but it took ten years and his wife Maura Tierney's help and participation to get it made.  It's a great romp -- if only for Walken's manic portrayal -- and can be found in parts on YouTube or in toto at Blockbuster.

    An updated version -- and somewhat comedic -- of Macbeth
    set in Scotland, PA.  Christopher Walken is downright maniacal. . .

    Saturday Matinee

    Today's performance of Macbeth is at 3:00 at the West Side Theater.  Plenty of time to digest your lunch and get here, see the show and be home in time for evening repast.  Come on down for an afternoon of murder, mayhem and magic. . .

    I case you'd like a refresher before they come out to watch the actors hitting the boards. . . .Not broads, silly.  Boards.  The stage! . . .  Uploaded below is a Sparks Notes graphic novel- style synopsis of the play(Cliffs Notes is turning their guides into animated videos.  But that's still on the horizon.)


    Video SparkNotes: Shakespeare's Macbeth summary

    Next year Cliff's Notes are being turned into video.  They're not available yet, but Sparks has these graphic novel notes on YouTube.   In case you would like a pre-show rundown of the story -- here you go!

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    Elizabethan Theatre

    A small treat by way of YouTube -- a play goes up at the Globe.  As you dress to go to see the ASC production of Macbeth at the West Side Theater, from now through the first of April, you can imagine you will see it at Shakespeare's Globe.

    Lady Macbeth -- a man playing a woman becoming a man?

    Sometime around the Sixth Century B.C., when theater was ritualized, women were banned from the stage and were almost universally prohibited from performing in Western Europe until 1660.  So Lady Macbeth, like all the great Shakespearean roles, was written for a man.

    In one of her most dramatic moments, Lady Macbeth pleads, "Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/Of direst cruelty!"suggesting that cruelty and "thick blood" are characteristics only attributable to a man.

    In order to spur her husband to bloody murder, she must become the man within her and eschew her softer instincts lest he be inclined to be somewhat womanlike and consequently afraid of action.

    The raven himself is hoarse
    That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
    Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
    That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
    And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
    Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
    Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
    That no compunctious visitings of nature
    Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
    The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
    And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
    Wherever in your sightless substances
    You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
    And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
    That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
    Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
    To cry 'Hold, hold!'

    "Macbeth" - Dench/McKellen -1979, Trevor Nunn, Dir.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Scenes from Macbeth

    To whet the appetite for The ASC production of Macbeth opening tonight and running through April 1 at the West Side Theater, we chose The Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor Macbeth's single most famous soliloquy and chose two outstanding actors' renditions to present to you here.

    The differences are in the nuances, and each illuminates a slightly different Macbeth, a Macbeth with singular perspective on life.  Take a look.  Which is the Macbeth that most closely resembles the Macbeth you envision?

    Then come to the theater, and hear Michael Basile's take on the speech.  Half the fun of seeing a Shakespeare play is hearing what you have heard a hundred times done just differently enough that you can hear what you never heard in the speech before.  Somewhere in this monologue,  you will realize that Basile's take has opened a curtain and has shed light on an aspect of the character or the play or/and on your perception of life itself that you had not examined before.

    Ian McKellen as Macbeth ("Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow")

    Patrick Stewart as Macbeth

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    Sting - In Darkness Let Me Dwell

    In Shakespeare's time, actors learned to sing in order to use their talents to enhance the plays in which they acted as well as to give them another skill to take on the road.  Sting might have been a rock star even then. . . .

    Give us some music; music, moody food. . .(Antony & Cleopatra)

    One of the best traditions in the Elizabethan/Jacobean theater, one to which Shakespeare was very sensitive, is the use of music to create mood, heighten or relieve tension, to create an audio backdrop or simply to entertain.  Productions of Shakespeare's plays often included vocal and instrumental music, especially when the plays were performed as special occasions before royalty.

    In many of the plays, though not necessarily in Macbeth, dances enliven the action in much the same way a fight scene does.  The music and the dance, then, underscore the characters' intentions, their motivations.

    Minor characters were often chosen to sing vocal selections, and instrument players were members of the ensemble; they played such instruments as the viol, the trumpet, the hautbois -- our oboe -- and the lute.

    Anthony Bez, ASC Music Master, is responsible to see that our production of Macbeth continues the tradition and does the Bard proud.

    "When daisies pied" a Shakespeare song by Thomas Arne

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Countdown to Opening. . .

    Only three more days till the curtain goes up on The Actors Shakespeare Company at New Jersey City University's production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth on March 16th!  We hope you're getting so excited you're telling all your friends to come see the show with you.  It runs through the first of April, and the schedule of performances is as follows:

    March 16 – April 1, 2012

    7:30 p.m. Friday

    3:00 p.m. Saturday

    3:00 p.m. Sunday

    Remember, as you prepare for your journey to the theater to see the show,  memorize Hamlet's invocation, so that you can recite it before the lights go down, and the first scene begins.
    "Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!" to protect the production from The Curse!

    Below some names of people to watch for when you attend the performance.

    Macbeth is directed by Play Master Colette Rice.  Fight choreography is by Mark McCarthy. Production Stage Manager is Jennifer America.
    Playmaster Colette Rice confers with Michael Basile, the actor playing Macbeth
    Photo by Cindy Boyle

    Macbeth cast

    Macbeth               Michael Basile
    Lady Macbeth      Denise Hurd (witch, Seward, Fleance)
    Malcolm               Patrick Harvey (Lenox, Young Macduff, witch)
    Macduff               Terrence MacSweeney (Seyton, Bloody Captain, witch)
    Ross                     Colin Ryan (Witch, doctor, murderer)
    Duncan                Jonathan Dewberry (Porter, murderer, Mentieth) 

    Michael Basile and Jonathan Dewberry rehearse a fight scene for ASC's Macbeth
    Photo by Lauren Casselberry
    Macbeth Creative Team 

    Set Design                 Timur Kocak
    Properties Design      Michael Hajek
    Costume Design        Eva Lachur-Omeljaniuk
    Lighting Design        Paul Hudson    
    Music Master            Anthony Bez
    Wardrobe Mistress    Cindy Boyle  

    West Side Theater Manager is Colleen Conwell      

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Another Openin' . . .

    Excitement is building.  This is the week that Macbeth opens!

    All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.  All hail Macbeth. Hail to thee Thane of Cawdor.  All hail Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter.
    Macbeth (Michael Basile) does battle with Young Seward (Elizabeth Belzoni) on his way to fulfilling his prophecy
    Photo by Lauren Casselberry

    "This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air/ Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself/Unto our gentle senses."
    Jonathan Dewberry, as King Duncan
    Photo by Cindy Boyle - BoyleImage©

    "Our tears are not yet brewed . . . Not our strong sorrow upon the foot of motion. . ."

    Banquo(Elizabeth Belzoni), Ross (Colin Ryan) and Malcolm (Patrick Harvey) discuss the state of Scotland
    Photo by Cindy Boyle

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Entertaining with Blood and Guts

    "kill a little kid or two a prince
                                                                  or something they like
                                                                  a little pathos along with
                                                                             the dirt" 

    "Pete the Parrot and Shakespeare"
    Don Marquis
    ASC Rehearsal of Lady Macduff's Assassination
    Pictured here: Jonathan Dewberry, Elizabeth Belzoni, Colin Ryan
    photo by Lauren Casselberry
    Nothing sells like violence, and William Shakespeare understood that better than anyone.  His objective was to put "bums on seats," as they said at the Globe (or the Rose or whichever venue they were playing) and get sell the standing room around the stage.  Shakespeare knew that he was competing with the most compelling entertainments of his day: bear baiting and executions.  And both were gruesomely bloody and attracted audiences in droves.

    So knowing that he must lure his people away from the hangings, beheadings and drawings and quarterings at venues like Tyburn, Shakespeare wrote in his scenes a fair modicum of blood and gore, and he employed the best stage tricks of the day to ensure that the audience would get the most for their money.

    According to the history of fencing, Shakespeare was the first playwright to recognize how compelling an onstage sword fight could be, and he incorporated a fencing school into his company, requiring that all actors partake of the instruction; in the school they learned how to use daggers as well as rapiers, the most popular swords of the day

    Rapiers and Daggers
    Before performing a violent play, Shakespeare's actors would fill vessels such as pigs' bladders with blood or a liquid resembling blood, which would then be concealed beneath their costumes. Onstage, a character had only to pound a fist against a bladder to release the blood and thus die a visually gruesome death. Truly fortunate groundlings would be splattered with the "blood" and could return home with vicariously gained spoils of slaughter on their clothing.

    At the Globe
    Violence is, of course, far more effective if it's loud.  In Shakespeare's day, stagehands in the wings simulated thunder by striking a sheet of metal or pounding a drum. They occasionally exploded fireworks during battle scenes and  lit torches during night scenes. Simple theatricalities such as these could fire up an audience's imagination and stir untold excitement.

    Michael Basile and Elizabeth Belzoni
    Photo by Lauren Casselberry
    Fight Scenes choreographed by Guest Fight Director Mark McCarthy
    In the upcoming ASC production of Macbeth, both Denise Hurd, the company's fight director, as Lady Macbeth, and Michael Basile, as Macbeth, along with the assassins they hire will be yielding deadly weapons in this production of Macbeth, and the passion with which they will wield their weaponry is just the right stuff with which to titillate the audience's desire for stage savagery.