Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Tug of War" by Matt Garner

Matt Garner
by actor Matt Garner

Matt Garner plays four characters in The Making of a King, including Warwick in Henry IV and the Dauphin in Henry V.

Early in my acting career, Shakespeare presented itself as this distant, intellectual quagmire - a party for smart people, to which I was not invited. I didn’t understand it, couldn’t appreciate its beauty and consequently began to loathe it. Any exposure to it left me feeling ostracized and ignorant.

Then I saw Propeller Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night at BAM in Brooklyn and the wall between me and the beauty of Shakespeare’s words came crashing down. I was enthralled. The language seemed so current, so effortless. Yet, the words were still Shakespeare’s, still 400 years old.

The truth is, Shakespeare becomes increasingly accessible in the hands of artists who lean into the storytelling (which is timeless) while preserving the rhythm and structure of the language. Since-retired PlayMakers vocal coach, Bonnie Raphael, called this the “tug-of-war.”

As actors in The Making of a King, it’s our job to live in this tug-of-war, balancing the elevated text with the need of the story. So many of our guest artists and company members are masters of this balance, and as a graduate student, it’s a great opportunity to learn from them and hopefully steal a few tricks.

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The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V runs January 28 to March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Infinite Possibilities" by Jen Caprio

Jennifer Caprio

Jennifer is the Costume Designer for The Making of the King.

Hi!  This is Jen Caprio, the costume designer for the Making of a King repertory.

I write this blog entry from tonight's work session for Henry IV.  Mike Winters is performing Falstaff as I write, a force of talent that is beyond enjoyable to watch.  We made it through 4 long days of technical rehearsals and the plays are in incredible shape.  No matter how many times I see this cast in costume onstage, I am consistently interested in their choices and performance. 
This project has been one of those special theatrical experiences that comes along once in a blue moon (maybe a Carolina blue one? is that what makes it so special?). When Joe contacted me this past fall to take part in this ambitious project, I switched around my schedule to design the clothes.  It is rare that you get to design a project of this scope, telling the arc of a character such as Hal/Henry all in one fell swoop.  The choices you have to make clothing wise knowing a character's outcome for a 2nd night of theater informs the first plays' choices in ways you don't get to experience otherwise.  On top of that, Mike and Joe's decision to take the plays out of period, but to not set them on a modern setting, is a designer's dream.  On one hand, it is more difficult a choice because I have to make up a world, and have infinite possibilities.  On the other hand, I have infinite possibilities and am not restricted to suits or codpieces.

We chose to place these characters' clothing into a timelessness that audiences can identify as similar to their own (pants and long coats) versus putting up that wall of a costumey-time long long ago and far far away (tights and doublets). It also keeps us out of saying that Hal or his father are any political figures of today.  The story we are more interested in telling is that of fathers and sons, and of the atrocities and consequence of wars, not this one we just "Finished", not Agincourt, but any and all wars.  The collaboration on these plays has been unified from the outset-it's been such a great experience working with Jan Chambers (the set designer) so tightly in color palate and texture-it helps to tell a more clear story.  It had also been a treat working with Jennifer Tipton (our lighting designer)-so often lighting can make or break a play, and she paints a beautiful picture with the light.

I should also say that the work from the costume shop has been spectacular.  I am continually impressed by the training program at UNC, and feel very blessed to come to work every day in this environment. There are over 100 costumes, 600 or so pieces at least, 60+ pairs of shoes, and I don't even want to count the belts!  We are working on opera scale (huge!) and it is an impressive sight to see all the clothes in the dressing rooms and in the halls on racks. 

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The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V runs January 28 to March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"New clothes, new smells, new lights, new sounds"
by Katie Paxton

Katie Paxton
by actor Katie Paxton

Katie plays four characters in The Making of a King, including Doll Tearsheet and Lady Mortimer.

“Inhabit your costume with utter familiarity, and make it work for you; after all, your character chose it in order to convey an image to the world.” --Maria Aitken

New clothes, new smells, new lights, new sounds. New floors, new shoes, new hair. The first day of technical rehearsals harkens back to my childhood: reaching into my dress-up trunk and seamlessly stepping into the characters I’ve created in my mind.

Katie Paxton as
Doll Tearsheet in Henry IV.
Photo by Jon Gardiner.
For me, a huge part of my process is my character’s clothing. My favorite part of tech is seeing the dressing room and feeling the fabrics of my costumes. What we wear is so indicative of who we are, whether we like it or not, and it is no different for the people in the Henry plays. Before we even started rehearsals, costume renderings were available to actors so that we could hit the ground running on character work. Costumes help the audience to identify individual characters while recognizing a common world the characters live in through the artistic vision of the Costume Designer (for this production, the lovely Jennifer Caprio).

During technical rehearsals, we are stitching together each individual artists’ work on and off the stage. The lighting designer, sound designer, costume designer, directors and actors each add a unique piece of cloth to the tapestry of our production.

The idea of putting it all together can seem impossible (Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France?)--but I was astonished by how our plays effortlessly slipped into the Paul Green Theatre like a pair of old gloves in my childhood trunk.

We teched through and ran each show in four days, which means room left to play, tweak details and explore before previews...who woulda thunk?! That has to be a record. If not, it’s certainly a testament to our phenomenal team of artists on this epic project, working day and night to tell the story of The Making of a King.

The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V runs January 28 to March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.

"A Tech Survival Guide" by Nathaniel P. Claridad

Nathaniel P. Claridad
by actor Nathaniel P. Claridad

Nathaniel plays Corporal Nym in The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V.

In my years of being an actor in DC, New York City, and now happily at PlayMakers Repertory Company, I have never been a part of a project of such epic proportions.  I have also never been part of a project that was in tech for NINE DAYS.

Usually, tech (which is when the creative team for any given show adds costumes, lights, sets, and props, and plods through the show making sure us actors look dashing and brilliant) lasts about two to three days, and goes straight into previews. But when you're doing essentially three plays (Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 being condensed into one play, and then Henry V), you're going to need more time.

So, since I've spent so much alone time with the character I'll be playing in both shows, Corporal Nym, ...here is a quick guide for surviving tech through the eyes of the dagger-happy tavern dweller, Corporal Nym:

Corporal Nym's Tech Survival Guide
  1. Buy a smart phone.  Being in a theatre from 12pm to 12am can cause copious amounts of cabin fever.  I find solace in Words with Friends.
  2. Find a daily ritual to keep your creative juices flowing:  the out-of-town actors treated the cast to Krispy Kreme...and the donuts came with a little hat...Nym's daily ritual?  Taking pictures of the cast in said hat.  There is nothing funnier than seeing a "hair-brained Hotspur" wearing a Krispy Kreme hat.
  3. Nym is not fond of war, so he has a bit of time to relax.  During long breaks, WATCH THE SHOW COME TOGETHER!  The creative staff for this epic is mind-bogglingly talented, and since I won't be able to watch the show during the run, this is my one chance to see what the audience will be "oooo-ing" and "aaah-ing" at.  I don't want to give anything away, but when watching the show, the word "magical" comes to mind.
  4. John Patrick, the vocal coach, has a favorite saying: "Stay curious."  And this is a great time to stay curious about the many actors in the show.  When you're in a dark theatre for 12 hours, there is no choice but to get to know the people you are sharing the stage with.  Ask questions, and get to know your castmates, more often than not, the answers and their stories will surprise and amaze you. 
  5. Nym is lucky enough to have a best friend: Bardolph (played by John Allore).  If you don't have a best friend in the show, find one...he or she will keep you sane and keep things fun.
  6. And last, but not least, after many hours spent in a tavern on stage...go to a real tavern on Franklin Street after tech.  Two 12 hour days will make anyone desire "small beer". 
See you all from the stage!

The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V runs January 28 to March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Before we’ve even moved into the theatre" by Cody Nickell

Cody Nickell
by actor Cody Nickell

Cody Nickell plays Hotspur in Henry IV and Fluellen in Henry V.

     I write this blog post as the cast of The Making Of A King: Henry IV and Henry V gets ready to have its last rehearsal in the rehearsal space before moving into the theatre to start tech rehearsals. So far, it has been a fast and furious process, unlike anything I have ever been a part of.  The scope of the story that Joe Haj and Mike Donahue have set out to tell is breath taking and I have had an absolute blast watching my fellow cast mates and all the people involved wrestle this monster text down to the ground and build it back up into an exciting, moving, funny and surprising ride.

     The chance to see these plays done in conjunction with each other is such a rarity and to get to be a part of their creation here at PlayMakers means so much to me.  I saw my first production of a Shakespeare play right here at PlayMakers almost twenty years ago as a high school student in Chapel Hill (Twelfth Night).  I was absolutely amazed by the production and everyone involved (some of whom I am getting to work with on this show), and it went a long way in inspiring me to pursue theatre and acting as a career.  To get to come back home and explore the amazing words of Shakespeare on this stage with this group of people is thrilling to me.

     So in these plays, I am playing Hotspur in Henry IV and Fluellen in Henry V, and I have to say I couldn’t be happier about it.  Hotspur is an incredibly fun and complex character to play and one that I have always wanted to tackle.  I get a pretty great sword fight.  Grown boys playing with swords.  Always fun.  And it is one of my wife’s favorite characters in Shakespeare, and it certainly never hurts to impress your wife. 

     Some of the other highlights of this rehearsal process so far have been working with a composer in the room (an incredible Marc Lewis, creating an entire soundscape by himself), jumping from working with one director to the other, watching this incredible company of actors delve deeper and deeper into their characters, and when I’m not acting, I am having so much fun being an audience member (the tavern scenes in Henry IV are especially fun to watch with Mike Winters as Falstaff and Shawn Fagan as Hal leading their wacky band of brothers in all sorts of shenanigans).  The chance to see the characters develop over the course of these plays is amazing, especially the journey that Shawn is creating with Hal and Henry. It is a special thing to behold.

     And all this has happened before we’ve even moved into the theatre.  These next few weeks should be crazy and busy and exhausting but full of amazing new discoveries along the way to opening night.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"Moving Day" by Joseph Haj

Joseph Haj
by director Joseph Haj

Today is the day we move from the rehearsal room to the theatre to begin tech for Henry IV and Henry V.  We’re there for a long time.  We tech from 1-11 today (Friday), and from noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday, and then we have a day off on Monday before we go back in on Tuesday for another week of tech before previews.

The PlayMakers team is incredible.  The admin staff goes to great lengths to protect my time when I’m in rehearsals, and that means additional work for them to shoulder.  The shops are working around the clock to get the scenery, costumes, lights, props and everything ready to go.  Our two stage managers, among the best in the business, are ready to guide us through tech.  Co-director Mike Donahue and I think we are exactly where we need to be in the process.

And the twenty-four member acting company?  Incredible. Generous, collaborative, smart, wildly talented, and on the cusp of something very special with these plays.

Many years ago, I was an actor in Genet’s The Screens at the Guthrie theatre in Minneapolis, and the lighting designer was Jennifer Tipton. I never knew that lights could be such a huge part of the storytelling. Jennifer is one of the most admired and in-demand lighting designers in the world, and it has been a long-held dream of mine to work with her on a project. I’m thrilled that it turned out to be this epic journey of The Making of a King.

Wish us luck! We’re on our way!

The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V begins performances on January 28. Click here to learn more and to buy tickets.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"A lotta touch of Harry in the night"

by "a secret source within the rehearsal hall"

What's it like being an actor in The Henrys? A little like being on the march to Agincourt. Hurry-up-and-wait... Stay focused for hours on end... give your captain your full respect and attention.

Tonight we finished up our work in the rehearsal hall with our first full run throughs of both plays, Henry IVand Henry V. It's a very satisfying sort of tired. Tomorrow we move into tech in the theatre (and so begins a weekend of 10 out of 12s).

What I have learned in the past 5 weeks:

  1. If you give the rehearsal your full focus, even when you're not on stage, that care and attention will all come back to you.
  2. It is just as hard to listen and react on stage as it is to have all the lines and be in the spotlight.
  3. Referring to 2 above: you can learn a lot by shutting your mouth and observing Ray Dooley.
  4. Bring your imagination to the role / the scene, but listen to Joe and Michael; they will give you gold. 
  5. Everyone is a soft touch for Tug, the PRC dog.
  6. Playmakers is the most supportive arts organization I have had the pleasure to work with; actors, designers, admin staff... everyone counts.

What should the audience watch for in The Henrys? Something struck me about three weeks into rehearsal. In one particular rehearsal I was living with Falstaff and Hal. These characters only exist as theatrical creations, and after years of reading them / reading about them, there they were, in the flesh. It was a magical moment; one that can only be experienced when you have really good actors doing the work.  I can't wait for audiences to reach this same point of realization, as I am sure they will with all elements of The Henrys.

I come from Eastcheap

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Altering Armor for The Making of a King

by Rachel Pollock, Crafts Artisan

On deck at work, we are currently well into production on a pair of repertory shows, Shakespeare's Henry IV and V. The designs for this show are one of those non-era-eras that I like to describe as "postmodern collage"—a mixture of modern and historical styles all blended together to create intriguing looks not tied to any specific time, leather jerkins with jeans and workboots and that type of thing.
I like working on shows done in that way for contemporary audiences because it allows for all the super cool craft stuff that Shakespeare histories pretty much need (like armor!), but it also makes those things accessible to the modern eye in an empathetic way that true period pieces from about the 17th century back don't. It is very hard, in the 21st century visual milieu, to look like an indomitable, ruthless soldier in, say, pumpkin hose and tights.

Our designer, Jen Caprio, is renting and purchasing the armor because there is just SO much of it needed. If we were doing one of these plays, I could have built some, but both in repertory with the bulk of the rehearsal period happening over our winter vacation, that meant too little time and not enough staff to plan the making of any of the big pieces. Instead, one of the biggest responsibilities I have is to make the armor we've rented fit the actors we've cast, without altering it in any permanent way, yet maintain the standard of quality that I expect.
One of the things I stress in my classes is that there is the best way to do something, and everything else is a concession you ought to choose to make. In a classroom context, I teach what I believe to be the best way of doing things, since it is easier to make informed concessions required by things like a lack of time/money/labor than it is to break bad habits of shoddy workmanship. It is exciting to see all these pieces of armor from all different sources and makers, and look at the choices they have made in construction (some of which are helpful and others leave me scratching my head). Today I am going to write about how we reversibly altered a piece of leather armor for our productions in such a way as to maintain its level of quality inside and out.

 Woven leather jerkin from OSF Costume Rentals
Shoulder seam detail. I see some grommets I need to replace. Note elements like the integrated D-ring for clipping a gorget to.
What's going on with this side-seam's double lacing?
...it's hiding a quick-change closure in there!
This is the piece in question. It's made from strips of leather woven together and riveted at all the crossovers. The edges are bound with a rollover leather strip binding, and the two halves lace together at the shoulders and sides. It has also been aged and toned with paint and dye effects. We have rented it from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's costume rental division.
Among regional theatres, the OSF is a powerhouse when it comes to quality armor production. Their pieces are made to withstand not only their own productions' run, but built to last for many shows and rentals thereafter. They make it policy to cut no corners, and their work is categorically levels of awesome: is it great, or is it spectacular? The artisans turning out their pieces know their work can't just be crap that looks decent enough from the front row and can cling on for a two-week run, and it's a pleasure to work on their stuff. OSF costumes are made with longevity and quality at the forefront, because they become assets in the rental side of the company.

So, if it's so great and all, what could we possibly need to do to this thing? Well, the design concept does not include any skirtlike hangdowns. We need to use it, but lose the long tabs along the bottom. Obviously, we're not going to make that happen with scissors and rivets.

For the fittings, to insure that it would work for one of our actors, I had my assistant Whitney use masking tape with a light-tack adhesive to just tape the tabs up inside. The light-tack adhesive would keep them out of the designer's sightlines for the fitting, without damaging or removing any of that great paint treatment. Tape was fine at this point, because why go to the trouble of a more professional finish if it wasn't going to fit any of our actors? So, tape-tape-tape, and off it goes to be fit.

A couple days later, it comes back. Yay, we love it on somebody, so we're using it! Now's the time to figure out something better than tape, because any tape that will hold up to over a month worth of repertory shows with fight choreography is going to damage the piece, which is not only Not Okay in my own personal book, it's Way Not Okay in our rental contract.

Inside of the front with the tabs folded up in the desired style.
What will I do? I can't and wouldn't ever cut those tabs off or duct-tape them up. If it were ours, I might consider popping some of the rivets and replacing them with Chicago screws (like a rivet, but with a threaded shaft so they're removable) so I could hold the tabs up that way, but I’m not popping whole rows of rivets on a piece that's not ours.

I took a measure of the area blocked out in black in the image above, for both front and back.
I use clips and clamps when I need to hold pieces of leatherwork together, not anything puncturing like pins or tacks.
I cut a rectangle for each from a section of black vinyl, doubled back an inch on each end for the lacing sections, then had Whitney punch holes to correspond with the holes in the sides of the garment itself. Above the vinyl insert is clipped to mark the holes for punching. Each vinyl insert is labeled to note whether it's front or back, since they're different sizes, just in case wardrobe needs to remove them at any point.

Crafts assistant Whitney Vaughan shows how she's tacking up the tabs.
See those strips at the base of each tab at the back, to reinforce the rivets? Those are only riveted on, not glued also, which meant that Whitney was able to use a heavy carpet thread and slide a needle between them, and whipstitch the tabs to the vinyl insert without ever puncturing any of the leather. Here, the blue lines show a vague diagram of how that stitching runs, for a visual:


Next, she laced the inserts into the armor, thus:

We put Velcro on the insert since it would cover the strip on the armor itself, to maintain the quick-change closure option.
Ta-da! Lookout, Hotspur! Prince Hal is ready for you!
So, there's one of many armory projects that are moving through my shop these days. I've got another couple in-progress, so once those move onto the Done Rack, I’ll give you the skinny on them as well.