Monday, July 13, 2009

A Midsommer Nights Dreame

Original Practice Shakespeare Festival
June 13 - July 19, 2009

Review by peanutduck

At its best, enthusiastic, spontaneous, bumbling, and raw, with actors continually engaged and working together. Hilarious fight scenes. But, all told, show felt long. While performance technique may mimic that of “Shakespeare’s day,” many of the actors lack the necessary comfort-level with this type of language to pull it off.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why would a weaver have his name on his jacket like a gas station attendant?

Anonymous said...

What does "changing roles each performance" mean? That one actor plays multiple parts in a given performance or that an actor plays Bottom one day and First Fairy the next.
If the latter, what is the purpose behind this choice? Is it to recreate for the actors benefit, the "Original Practice" of playing multiple parts throughout the season? Because I certainly haven't seen any evidence to suggest that Richard Burbage played Hamlet one day and Marcellus the next. Just curious.

Ops Fest said...

It does mean the latter, in that one actor will play one role one day and a different role the next.

And yes, we do that for exactly the reason you suggest - to recreate for the actor's benefit the Original Practice of playing multiple parts throughout the season. As we only do one show per season, this is the closest we can come to replicating the process of playing 5 or more different roles in a given week.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but surely this exercise is not only "for the actor's benefit," as Ops Fest says above? I assume you're intending to please an audience as well. But will these conditions necessarily result in "a more immediate, organic, improvisational feel to the performances" -- or, even if they do, will that be to Shakespeare's and the audience's benefit?

Ops Fest said...

I was only referring to the changing of roles in every performance when I referred to something being for the actors benefit.

In past performances using the Original Practice technique, it has led to very engaging and entertaining performances for the audiences. As to Shakespeare, as these are the performance techniques used by his own company in his own day, it surely serves the play as well or better as our modern "rehearsed" standard format.

But in the end, I guess you'll have to come and judge for yourself.

Anonymous said...

i object to the assertion that what this company attempts is "original practice". my understanding is that the players received their sides a day or two prior to playing them. does this co. do that? i don't think so. the original players also played five or six different plays A WEEK. this production seems to be an interesting experiment in flex casting maybe but does it resemble the practice of the original players? not much.

Grant said...

So much "original practice" is conjecture any way (which is why I asked the initial question about role swapping - I genuinely wanted to know what prefaced the decision) and while its easy to challenge some of their claims (ie. a true OP show would have an all-male cast) I think its best to let this company do what they want to do and then evaluate the performance afterward.

Anonymous said...

Letting them do what they want is all well and good, but they are promoting their methodology in their press, thus it can be called into question.

It'd be like Profile doing a season of two authors.

jeff woods said...

I'm guessing everyone performing is sober? I cry foul!

-j

Ops Fest said...

Dear Anonymous-

Are you familiar with what we actually do? If you haven't checked our website for the full description of what our practice is, I really encourage you to do so at http://www.opsfest.org/about-us.html. The 50 word followspot description really doesn't do it justice, through no fault of FS.

There is a lot more to what we do than role swapping. The practices that we follow are, but not limited to:

1) No rehearsal other than fights, songs, dances

2) No actor is allowed to read or see the play from the time of casting (of course we all have some familiarity with the play, that can't be helped, but we do our best to limit contact with the play)

3) Actors only have access to a "cue script" (the term "side" is a modern term, and not one that is appropriate for Original Practice) with their cues and lines. Nothing else.

4) Using the first folio text instead of a modern, edited, text.

5) Subjecting every line, nearly every word, to a rigorous process of unearthing meanings and stage directions.

Our performance practices were pioneered by Patrick Tucker and his (now disbanded) Original Shakespeare Company, which was one of the first groups to perform at the new Globe Theatre in London. Many companies use these techniques and philosophies for rehearsal--the American Shakespeare Center, for instance, shares much of our approach--but very few companies use them for performance. Though the format is growing - two new theaters have started up in NYC this year, as well as the more established New England Shakespeare Festival and No Holds Bard in Denver.

As to your criticisms, I'm not sure where the idea that the actors only had their cue scripts for a few days before performance came from, but it's not something that we've come across in any of our research.

As to playing 5-6 different shows a week (which is true, that is what they did - one of the reasons we know they didn't rehearse the way we usually do in modern times) we'd love to, but simply don't have the resources for such an endeavor. This is the reason that each actor learns more than one role in the show, to replicate this as near as we can.

And as to it being like Profile doing two authors, I would need you to further explain the comparison, because I'm not following. Sorry.

I'd love to talk with you more about this offline, if you'd like. Or we can continue here, if you prefer to remain anonymous.

Brian Allard

Jen Trager said...

First off.. I'm really disappointed by all the negativity on the board. You should welcome new creativity and new productions to your community. With the economy being crap, we all know the first thing to go is always the arts. So the fact that there are still people out there really working at creating something that's creative, educational and entertaining is AWESOME! It's exciting to hear that OPs is bringing a new "old" technique to the area.

Best of luck to OPs :)

Anonymous said...

but we are not living in Elizabethan times. We do not understand their world the way those actors did and are not as ready to embrace the Shakespearean characters therefore not suffering from shorter rehearsal time.

Anonymous said...

as for receiving "cue" scripts only days ahead of time, this is the tradition as I understand it.

Anonymous said...

And what evidence can you offer for your "understanding?"

Steve said...

I saw this show on Sunday at Peninsula Park. What a fun ride! Truly the best time I've ever had at Midsommer.

I don't know much about the ins and outs of all the technical Shakespeare stuff you are all debating - I just know that I laughed a lot. Shakespeare that isn't boring - who would have thought!

I left with a smile on my face and a laugh in my heart.

Thank you, Midsommer.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, because a well rehearsed Shakespeare play, where all of the actors actually know their lines without the aid of a prompter would be BORING

Anonymous said...

Good for you Brian.
There are SO MANY CHEAP SHOTS on this site.
You cheap shot-ers should be humiliated by your own unfathomable
lack of intelligence and humanity.
You need to look in the mirror and take stock of your life.
You can continue to try to damage other's with your total lack of brains and compassion, or you can at least attempt to be a constructive member of society.
It's your choice.
But, hey, while you are deciding, would you please keep your cheap shots to your own damn self?
Have some respect.

Jeremy Lillie said...

That's what Brian Boitano would do.

-sorry, couldn't resist.

Anonymous said...

humans are cheap shot artists. we cheapen everything we do. that's why we revere those scarce works which supercede our cheapness. when brian allard cheapens one of the best superceders, i say he shouldn't cry when it flies in his face.

btw - 10:49....i'm glad you love so well what you see in the mirror.

Brian said...

How, precisely, am I cheapening Shakespeare?

followspot said...

Okay, everyone, breathe and cease the attack-fest.

Anonymous said...

The real problem here is that followspot allows anonymous comments. It should not.

You will never be able to change the fact that humans have dark thoughts, but the last thing in the world you should do is seek to provide a public forum for these emotions.

By allowing anonymous comments, followspot significantly contributes to an overall level of hostility and attack that otherwise would not exist in Portland theatre. This entire cyber vortex is created by followspot - it exists nowhere else.

Seems paradoxical, doesn't it, that a blog supposedly devoted to local theatre actually does a lot of damage to that same community? But's that is the case.

Look around at other legitimate blogs and web sites, and see how many allow anonymous comments.

Stop allowing anonymous comments, and a lot of this vanishes overnight.

splattworks said...

I have to second the motion on disabling the anonymous comments. Use avatars, as the Wonkette political blog does. Something the posters have to own. I've expressed my affection for Followspot here and elsewhere, but I think it's time for a change.

Steve Patterson

Anonymous said...

Disable anonymous comments and the blog will die. Simple as that. Lest we forget that we've been down that road before.

Jeremy Lillie said...

A previous disabling did indeed lead to almost no comments posted.
But (as suggested by Steve), an avatar name would go a long way toward helping gain consistiency of a commenter's thoughts while still retaining some annonymity.

jam.es said...

well i for one would be willing to put up with the initial drought, knowing that eventually people would figure out if they still want to post their opinions after they have to have some ownership over them. it might take some time, but i'd rather read comments that people stand behind (at least in some form or other) then continue with this style of posting.

(james moore)

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised the mean spirited anonymous attacks on this site are finally being monitored. I'm surprised that such a policy wasn't implimented much sooner as some of the postings I've read on this site clearly cross the line into libel.

I also agree with Jeremy and others who suggest that taking away the ability to leave cruel anonymous postings will probably result in no one leaving any postings at all. Whatever the initial intention, this sort of thing is clearly the primary appeal of Followspot; to allow people to take anonymous pot shots at people they resent either because of their success, their position in the community or their inability to appreciate the artistic gifts of the poster.

Theatre Vertigo used to operate (perhaps still does) a very useful blog site for local theaters to conduct practical business, exchange harmless gossip and comment on plays they'd seen. The Vertigo site, to it's credit, has achieved nowhere near the popularity of this one.

Followspot is a place where an emotionally unhealthy theater community works out it's grudges.
Make no mistake, Followspot reflects our community in some unfortunate ways. But we should ask ourselves, if pettiness and back stabbing is already an issue facing our theater community, is Followspot really the answer?

Elsewhere on this site people are discussing the validity and merit of the Drammy Awards. Do they actually serve a purpose for the amount of disruption and discontent that they cause? The small number of people who win rarely seem to care (since they aren't usually people who measure their success in awards) and the large number of people who are consistently overlooked feel even more unappreciated. A week later no one remembers who won and they appear to neither promote local awareness of theater 9since they are clearly very insular) nor further anyone's career. I've been to several of the ceremonies over the years and I always came away feeling more embarassed than anything else.

We need to ask ourselves the same question about Followspot. Is Followspot worth keeping? Followspot has been a shameful aspect of Portland Theater for a long time. I'm not sure the brilliant mini-reviews of somebody named "peasnutduck" really merit the damage this site causes.

I for one am not sure the problems with this blog are fixable. Maybe it's time to put Followspot to rest.

Signed, The Last Anonymous Poster?

Anonymous said...

I had a lot of fun seeing Midsommer this weekend.

Wait, is it ok to make positive comments?

Bob said...

Wow. First, one of the great things about theater is that you get do-overs. How many productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" do you think the world's seen in the past 400-odd years? There are many, many ways to approach it, and if you don't like the one you just saw, just wait six months: Another one will come along.
In that sense, theater is like music, not movies.

I haven't seen this show and probably won't because I'm out of town a lot this summer. But I seriously doubt Brian Allard is arguing that anything this company does is actually as it would be done in Elizabethan times. That's impossible: We aren't Elizabethans, we don't share their world view, we are both smarter and dumber than they were -- and we have both the advantage and disadvantage of history and hindsight. We can't BE Elizabethan. But we can try to imagine fresh ways of thinking about what it might have BEEN LIKE to be an Elizabethan, even knowing that any attempt at understanding will be a failure. If we're lucky it'll be a glorious failure. And trying to understand the past is a huge and absolutely necessary part of understanding the present. It's what draws us to Shakespeare, in whatever shape we might prefer to take him, in the first place.

This seems a bit like the early music movement, in which classical and baroque and other historical musics are played on original instruments, with an attempt to replicate the sound as the composers themselves heard it. Again, it ultimately "fails," because, as Helmuth Rilling of the Oregon Bach Festival once told me, even if you get the sound perfect, the audience is hearing it with modern ears, and so it's not the same thing. I've talked with other musicians who like to straddle the two, playing on modern instruments sometimes and period instruments others. And of course there are a lot of musicians who are dedicated to early music, which may not be "real" early music but is early music as WE experience it. So where's the problem? I happen to like both, at different times. I just want them to be well and cogently performed.

Is that different from Shakespeare? Maybe I'd dislike this production because I didn't think it was done well -- I don't know. But I definitely don't dislike the IDEA of it, and that seems to be what several posters are objecting to.

I guess I object to the objection.

-- bob hicks

Anonymous said...

i like the allegory with "early music" practitioners. this makes sense.

what i don't like is the name "original practice". to me it implies that somehow this company is more legitimate in it's process than all of us who merely "rehearse".

Anonymous said...

what i don't like is the name "original practice". to me it implies that somehow this company is more legitimate in it's process than all of us who merely "rehearse".

I agree. There's a sense in the PR that some how this practice makes Shakespeare better. I think that's the assertion so many people find fault with.

Anonymous said...

"Original Practice" refers to the name of the method. They didn't come up with it by themsleves.

Ops Fest said...

Thank you, 8:28. That's exactly what I was going to say.

"Original Practice" is a term that has been in existence long before we were. It describes the performance technique we use.

I'm not sure why you feel the term is perjorative, or insulting. We actually tried very hard in our PR and in our company methods NOT to imply that this technique is somehow better than others.

Many of the actors in our company work in traditional modern productions, and do so quite happily. We are working very closely with PAE as both a sponsor and as a sister theater, and doing much cross-promotion and share many actors.

I can see why you would object if we were putting ourselves out there as the "one true method" or something like that, but we certainly aren't, or don't mean to be. I'm sorry you got that impression.

If you would care to share what about our PR made you feel that way, I would be very happy to listen. I can be reached at Brian@opsfest.org, or, of course, here, if you prefer to stay anonymous.

Thank you,
Brian Allard

Anonymous said...

Pluses:
1) encourages audience participation.
2) played at a "two hours traffic" pace
3) played as a complete text
Quibbles:
1) actors didn't know 2/3 of their lines. They carried scrolls with their lines and read most of the play. In addition, they would occasionally mis-read or misinterpret a line. I'm not sure how much of an original practice this would be. I would argue Elizabethan actors had a better grasp of the text than this company did.
2)actors were encouraged to be as broad and generic as possible and to add lib at will. This tended to flatten out the language, find most of the humor in shtick (often at the expense of the language), and become a free-for-all rather than actors serving the text.
3) I still don't know that I buy the OP claim. As mentioned before, I've seen no evidence to support actors reading most of their lines. The idea that "the first folio gives the actors all the clues they need" seemed unrealized by some of the cast (as an example, some of the cast chose to force the rhyme in their couplets others didn't). All of the ad-libbing seems to contradict Hamlet's advice to the players (which isn't in the folio so I guess they don't have to embrace that).

There is no right or wrong, and I appluad the effort of actors and company. I look forward to checking in next year with more experience under their belt, but MSND plays like a college exercise not a professional production. 

Lynn said...

I'm writing this on 7/18, having seen the performance today. I'm just an audience member, but a longtime fan of live Shakespeare for over 30 years.

I want to say that I don't have a problem with the idea of OPS, or the method. I just didn't happen to think the result was very good. Shakespeare when acted well is riveting, mostly because of the incredible language. This production didn't have that effect on me at all. It came off very sloppy and stumbling, with actors not knowing their lines at least 25% of the time.

Overall, the audience did laugh at some of the modern ad libs (more than I did), and that's fine. I happen to be one of those who appreciates Shakespeare more when it's done as written, without the need for 21st century-language to punch it up.

This is my humble opinion, given unanonymously, and not intended to disparage or degrade at all. Others might not be as disappointed as I was. Thanks for allowing my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Having seen it today myself, I thought it was a total revelation. Some of the most enlivening theater I've seen.

The freshness of the performances was revelatory.

Seemed pretty professional to me...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I should define what I meant by professional and why I think this played more like an acting exercise than an actual performance.
I (and fully admit that this is my bias) would expect in a professional production:

1) That actors had their lines memorized (and again, I argue that there is no contemporary evidence to support that Elizabethan actors did not have their lines memorized). Shakespearean soliloquies should be shared with an audience. There is little or no sharing when an actor is buried in a script. Even when reading, actors would frequently get lost and have to ask the prompter “where am I?” or “what am I saying?” I would expect in a professional production that the players involved had done their home work and knew at all times where they were and what they were saying.

2) That certain rudimentary blocking concepts be worked out in advance so that actors knew when and where they were supposed to enter. And that (particularly in an outdoor show where volume and projection are so important) actors didn't occasionally speak with their backs to the audience. Or to solve such problems as in one particular situation, when an actor said a line as scripted but had no idea where the character they were addressing was on the stage.

3) That emotion came from a real place rather than from the frenetic energy of not quite knowing what was going to happen next. Or at the very least that emotions seemed specific and sincere rather than the broad generic choices made here. It's not my place to say whether an actor did or did not commit to a real choice, but I can say that as an audience member I did not believe that any of these people were in love, I did not believe that the mechanicals experienced the thrill of performing for the first time or the true pangs of sadness when it appeared that their performance would be cancelled. I didn't believe that Oberon and Puck had any sort of history or relationship. I quite honestly didn’t believe anything. Again, these are all my biases, but these are things I would expect in a professional production.

As it played I saw an exercise wherein actors thought the challenge was to tell the story as spontaneously as possible. I think it’s possible to capture that spontaneity and still add the other elements necessary to make a complete performance which is why I say I look forward to seeing how this company develops and these actors become more familiar with the process. But what I saw was Shakespeare as TheatreSports.

I concede fresh and enlivening, I will give you revelatory, but I think you and I must agree to disagree on professional.

Anonymous said...

So TheatreSports isn't professional then?

It seems to me that your definition of "professional" is rather narrow.

These are professional actors, who are being paid, who trained extensively in the style in which they are performing. (This according to the newspaper article I read and the preshow speech).

So... it seems your argument, as was argued before (perhaps by you, or are you a new anonymous?) is with the STYLE of performance, with the METHOD of performance, as opposed to the QUALITY of performance.

You are saying an apple (this show) is not a fruit (professional) because it is not an orange (prototypical rehearsed show).

I suppose it's all semantics, though.

Brian said...

"Shakespeare as TheatreSports?"

I actually like that.

Anonymous said...

I saw no evidence that these actors were "highly trained" in this practice, which is why I felt it played like an acting excercise. If they were highly trained I think most of my concerns with the show would have been resolved. And to answer your question about TheatreSports? the same rules apply. Trained performers, who know what they're doing are fun to watch. Less trained improv is exponentially less fun to sit through.

Lynn said...

When actors are reading most of their lines off a scroll, they are definitely not reacting to each other in an immediate, natural way, which is the heart of acting.

So, there goes any "willing suspension of disbelief," which is why I go to see theater in the first place--not for crude melodrama.

If I want "theatresports" give me ComedySports. Their "Shakesprov" performances are hilarious and well done. Or give me Anonymous Theatre. Their recent unrehearsed Macbeth was a sight to behold.

Regarding the definition of "professional," getting paid for something doesn't prove that you were good at it. I just returned from seeing a "professional" play at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland yesterday, which was not only on a higher level...to compare it with OPS is like apples and oranges.