I've just opened Richard III at Northwest Classical Theatre Company, playing Lady Anne. The production is directed by a prestigious director from England, Barry Kyle, Honorary Associate Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, first Artistic Director of the Swan Theatre in Stratford, and founder of Swine Palace theatre in Louisiana. It also stars Artistic Director of NWCTC, Grant Turner, in the title role, and he's absolutely amazing.
The show runs until October 13 with 7:30 performances Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 and matinees Sundays at 2:00 pm. I've written two entries for our company blog, and I'd like to share them here to give a sense of my process working on this play. See you at the theatre!
9/9/13 On working with Trust
One of the elements of rehearsal that has struck me so far is the feeling of trust and respect that is inherent in our process. Richard III is different from the sort of general “trust” that many casts have – which resembles something more like charging ahead blindly despite fear of judgment than it does true support. Much of group came into rehearsals straight from working together on our Bend Shakespeare in the Park show, Much Ado About Nothing. While a rather loosey-goosey rehearsal process, Much Adowas a great bonding experience for the company because we have a lot of fun, and because we are very much left to our own devices to ensure that our text, voice and movement work was where it needed to be (due to time constraints in rehearsals). We had to trust and embrace that what others were bringing to the table was their best work. While others in the cast of Richard III did not participate in Much Ado, many of them have worked previously with Northwest Classical, and have good friendships and working relationships established. For the few newcomers, we hope they’re feeling welcomed too.
The other major component that makes Richard III such a trust-filled environment is our director, Barry Kyle. He treats the acting company with more respect than any other director I have ever worked with. After a scene is over, Barry says, “Thank you,” with such sincere gratitude for the work and risks that have just been performed, that it makes you immediately want to do it again, and better. Barry was with us in Bend, and witnessed how strong a company bond we have. He has commented on this frequently, and has used our work as an ensemble to drive our way of approaching the play, developing work with masks and choral movement that will help us portray battles and large crowds in the limited space of the Shoebox. Essentially, our ensemble work enables us to strongly delve into the use of metaphor because our personal relationships are strong enough to touch something deeper than a working relationship.
Barry asks our opinions and welcomes our frank answers. I was recently describing to someone outside the theater how our production is taking shape, and describing the mix of modern and classical costumes, props, and styles. We were specifically talking about if we should use crowns in a modern production, set in contemporary America. My conversation partner seemed appalled that these things hadn’t been sorted out by the director ahead of time. But I wasn’t scared at all. I was honored that Barry had waited to work with us to draw conclusions about what elements were appropriate to our production. In other words, because he trusted us to bring something to the table, we in turn, trust his thoughtfulness, and must honor his final decisions after considering all the options.
This amount of mutual respect has built space for the performers to take risks on stage; to become emotional, to turn their bodies into ferocious animals; to learn to become killers or to face death. I hope the results will be a play filled with true reactions and experiences, since the performers feel safe to “go there.” Barry is certainly challenging me to let loose, to let my emotional and mental state derail to a point that I am scared to go. I have faith that with his support and that of my ensemble, that I’ll be there by opening night.
9/20/13 On Opening Night
I’ve been thinking it’s time to take ownership.
Barry’s sort of a big deal. We’ve all been in a little bit of awe.
He throws out hundreds of bold, spectacular ideas a day. Many of them have found their way into our this large production in a small space.
The rehearsal process has been short, packed with ideas, discussions, music, movement, mask, videos, images, paint, chalk, swordplay, and a sort of scramble through text and scenes that has left us feeling both raw and itching to go on stage with this play.
As a part of scheduled rehearsal, we have not spent lots of time investigating our character’s inner thoughts. We have not broken down each line and chewed on each word. We have not done beat work. We have not dwelled on telling everyone our deepest character intentions. We have not done any character journaling, or free associations, or archetypal character exploration. This has been atypical for a Shakespeare show in the tradition of NWCTC.
It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s nothing like a show that’s ever been done in the Shoebox before.
This play has a definite stamp of Barry Kyle.
Not because I don’t trust Barry. I do. (See my previous blog post).
I haven’t yet trusted myself.
This play is like a roller coaster running through a haunted house without safety harnesses.
I go through this play both horrified and turned on.
I feel like I’m about to fall down or faint at any moment.
I feel like someone might actually die.
I stand in awe of the work of my fellow actors (especially Grant Turner… holy s*** he’s good in this) …but I have no idea how I stack up.
I feel like my acting training both holds me up and totally fails me.
I feel like I’m throwing everything I know about myself onto the stage and trying to mold it into some beautifully deformed lump of a woman, and giving her life.
In the last week, I’ve been very anxious about the lack of stability that I gain from a more traditional process. After a particularly tumultuous day thinking about Anne, I decided that I can’t do anything about it. That instability is part of the ground that has grown this play. I’ve got to embrace instability because it’s going to be there no matter what, and if I don’t embrace it, that is the one thing that will truly make my performance fall short.
So, I’ve decided to take ownership of the work I’ve done, and who I am, and what I bring onstage.
It doesn’t mean the performance is perfect, and it doesn’t mean that my terror is erased.
It strikes me how much courage one has to have, not only to go on stage, but to continually choose to rehearse and perform these plays that force us to press on our bruises again and again. We must be brave to go show someone how we react, and also brave to show the audience that we as actors sometimes fail to share our depths because we, too, are flawed. We’re working on it. Failure is inherent in the risk.
I wrote a blog years ago as in intern at Shakespeare Santa Cruz (RIP) and came to a revelation that I will revisit now: Acting is not about being fearless. It is about doing what you must do, with fear as your companion.
Break a leg.
-Brenan Dwyer, Lady Anne
Brenan Dwyer's Blog
Looking for happiness in art daily.