I’m late, I think as I delicately barrel down the Santa Fe off ramp in Encinitas. The first rehearsal of Intrepid Shakespeare’s Macbeth begins in five minutes and even though I am three minutes away, there is one cardinal rule of the theatre world: Early is on time. On time is late.
I semi-screech into the parking lot at San Dieguito Academy, with whom Intrepid shares the multi-million dollar performing arts venue. I park. I make a new year’s resolution to leave earlier. I take a deep breath.
I don’t care how experienced of an actor you are, there is a certain weight of anticipation that accompanies the first full cast read-through of a script. This is the first time the entire company is assembled. This is the moment when you meet your fellow colleagues, designers, directors. And as an actor, this is your first opportunity to “shine,” even though, in truth, absolutely nothing is expected from you.
My head races with the inevitable paranoia: Will they like me? Will they think me talented? Prepared enough? Too prepared? Is my scansion correct? Will they be able to tell? Wait, I can’t remember if I am supposed to pronounce the “t” in “fillet.”
I have an MFA in Acting, and yet tonight I am absurdly concerned that my potentially unimpressive delivery of what is basically a recipe for really gnarly jambalaya is going to blacklist me from the San Diego acting community as an untalented fraud.
Welcome to the headspace of an actor.
Today, I am a witch. Witch #2, to be exact, thank you very much, get it right. I have performed in seven Shakespeare productions in my lifetime, one of which has been Macbeth. This last performance was in 2000 on the Lower East Side of New York City with the Cry Havoc Company. In this incarnation, I was also a witch, although technically a “witch familiar,” which basically meant I was a sex-tainted surrogate-witch who would handle all of the human interaction, leaving the “real witches” to do the behind-the-scenes spell casting stuff. In short, I got to vamp around the stage in shiny silver pants and red lipstick. I expect this production of Macbeth to be…different from that.
This time, I am a full-fledged witch in the company of two formidable actors: Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen. I know these women. I know these women well. The first play I was cast in upon my return to San Diego in 2010 was Intrepid’s Romeo and Juliet, where I played Lady Capulet to Erin’s Juliet, with Savvy holding ranks as her maternal nurse confidante.
Needless to say, this time I am looking forward to being on the inside of the inside jokes.
I enter the theater. The space is bare except for a few long tables center stage and a plethora of chairs. Everyone is here: actors, production crew, interns. A diverse mix of these factions mill about, chatting and hugging. Dramaturge Gideon Rappaport sits at the table, surrounded by his own copies of Macbeth, pouring over the Intrepid script, his pencil moving quickly. Monica Perfetto, stage manager extraordinaire, is passing out scripts.
The production crew is settling at one end of the table. The San Dieguito Academy interns are starting to fill in the house seats. I notice that Savvy is already seated at the table and has marked out chairs next to her for Erin and me. This is indeed going to be different, I think, taking my place with the same glow I would display had my seventh grade BFF saved me a spot at the popular kids’ cafeteria lunch table.
I peruse the gang, waving hellos. I know a few people in this cast, I realize. Tyler, who will play Lennox, did a production of New Play Café’s Simply Sci Fi with me at Big Kitchen this summer. Danny Campbell, who will play Duncan, and Dr. Robert Biter, who will play Ross, both worked with me on Terra Nova, an Intrepid staged reading, in 2011. Others, I am not familiar with, but I know that inevitably by the end of this process, we will be best buds. People wonder why I have so many Facebook friends. This is why.
Sandy Campbell, who will play the coveted role of Lady Macbeth, seats herself a few places down from me. I watch her stalker-like for a moment as she settles into her chair. Was anyone ever so graceful?
Savvy turns to me suddenly and launches into a summary of her current witch-related research. I hesitate, glancing furtively around the room. Having this conversation would be the geekdom equivalent of showing up with my lines memorized. No one likes an overachiever. But soon, we are bandying about demonology, 16th century herbalist, dissonant musical interval, and Greek mythological figure factoids. My inner nerd gains a little confidence. I start talking animatedly about Furies. Two chairs down, Tyler eyes us with curiosity. So much for operating on the geeky down low.
Christy steps up to the table, now strewn with script and reference book and water bottle accouterment, and announces the plan for the evening. I settle in. I let go of my expectations for this evening, for myself. My nerves begin to dissipate, the same way that I know they will in that moment before I step onstage for opening night in a few weeks’ time. Because, after all, tonight is just another kind of beginning.
Macbeth previews January 31. Tickets can be purchased here. Look for further installments of Tiffany’s rehearsal chronicle in the Sunday Arts Section of the San Diego Union-Tribune, beginning January 26.
When someone says “theatre camp,” there are certain ideas that immediately spring to mind: fun, friendship, laughter, marshmallows. Erin Petersen, however, one of the main teachers of last summer’s inaugural sessions of Camp Intrepid, offers a different idea.
“Drama camp is a safe sanctuary where kids will be praised for thinking outside of the box,” Erin says. “Kids can be super hard on themselves about their performance and how they feel, especially now with everyone being bullied. The theatre is a creative place to go to escape from that pressure.”
Camp Intrepid represents the evolution of Intrepid Shakespeare’s Education Department, which currently includes year-round school tours and seasonal adult classes taught by local theatre professionals, including Intrepid Artistic Directors Sean and Christy Yael-Cox and special guest artists, like comedic actor Phil Johnson.
Last summer, Sean and Christy were overwhelmed by the positive response from both campers and parents to the first camp sessions of the summer. Some kids even enrolled in multiple sessions in order to continue their theatre experience.
“She’s addicted,” said Whitney DeSpain, of her daughter Abby’s interest in theatre, which grew even more during her multiple camp sessions. Abby was recently invited to perform in A Christmas Carol, Intrepid’s 2013 Staged Reading Series finale at the Encinitas Library.
Because of the wild popularity of the summer camp, Intrepid has created a winter incarnation of Camp Intrepid’s Young Actors Theatre Camp, with sessions starting January 10 and February 21 at the Encinitas Community Center. The winter camp will meet Friday afternoons and will run for five weeks. As with the summer camp, each session will culminate in a performance. (Click here for registration information.)
While it may seem daunting, putting together an entire show in such a short amount of time is exhilarating for campers, says Erin.
“The kids almost seem surprised at how good their shows go. There is always that moment of wondering if it’s going to be a train wreck and then realizing that, no, they’re actually really good at it.”
“It goes to show how much these kids care,” she continues. “This summer, the campers really took it upon themselves to know their character, their lines, and have it all motivated to make their end product the best it could be.”
While the admiration in Erin’s voice is clear, she is also adamant that it is not the performance that is the most important part of the theatre camp experience. It is the tools the campers learn to use while rehearsing and performing that matter.
“Everything we work on shows up in all different aspects of life,” she says. “For instance, public speaking, teamwork, confidence-building are all tools you can use even if you don’t choose to do theatre in the future.”
For that reason, kids of all theatre experience levels are welcome, and the balance of the newcomers with the more seasoned actors provide a chance for campers to learn from each other as well as from their professional teachers. This diversity made the summer productions sing – both literally and metaphorically.
“A lot of the campers had done some musical theatre, but in every camp there was at least one or two kids who had never done it before,” explains Erin. “There was always one or two who were terrified on the first day. Eventually, they rose to every challenge that we threw at them, and there was a lot – costumes, sets, tech. We try not to take away the magic of the theatre, but rather show them what’s behind the curtain, and how we use these tools to put it together.”
In turn, Intrepid also learned about its own ability to run a theatre camp, which – just like theatre – came with its own set of surprises.
“No matter how much you prepare, you are never prepared,” laughs Erin. “The unthinkable will always happen – for instance, bee stings. But we were able to roll with everything.”
Now Intrepid is eager to take their summer offering a step further, perhaps inspired by one young camper who announced he would be starting a petition for year-round drama camp.
“The camp surpassed our expectations,” says Sean, who is also Intrepid’s Director of Education. “We were all amazed at how much the kids could accomplish in such a short amount of time. Now we see that people are asking for it so we will do our best to deliver.”
— Tiffany Tang
Located at the Encinitas Community Center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024. Fridays 3:30p – 5:00p, Session One: Jan 10 – Feb 7; Session Two: Feb 21 – Mar 21; Cost: $190/session. Register here.
“As sad as Scrooge is in the beginning of his journey, there is just as much joy at the end. It’s a joyful thing to see someone really change and change for the better. It’s one of the most uplifting things to see in your life.”
Ron Choularton, who has played the character of Ebenezer Scrooge over 25 times, never tires of delving into the true meaning of Dickens’ oft-performed ghost story. He will again be gracing the stage at the Encinitas Library this Saturday evening as Intrepid presents its 2013 Staged Reading Series finale, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by local actors Brian Mackey and Rachael van Wormer.
“It’s the story of a second chance,” adds Ron.
Read more about Ron’s Scrooge and Brian Mackey’s direction here.
In addition to enjoying the last staged reading of 2013, please explore the shows on the docket for Intrepid Shakespeare’s Season Five. Subscriptions to our mainstage productions make the perfect holiday gift! Additionally, we will have subscriptions to the 2014 Staged Reading Series available, as well as gift certificates for our adult classes in Shakespeare and scene study. Bring home some theatre this holiday season and help support our growing programs which bring Shakespeare into the classroom. Thank you and happy holidays!
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens will be read on Saturday, December 14, at the Encinitas Library (540 Cornish Drive). 530 pm holiday reception, 600 pm reading. $15. Please rsvp to email@example.com
From the moment Gala Chair Dr. Lynne Thrope and Intrepid Board Member Kathy Brombacher enter the room, it is obvious why Intrepid picked these two to help create its first major fundraising event – a grand gala at a luxurious private residence in La Costa. In between checking off lists and fielding phone calls, the two chat easily about their own history of theatre memories – shows they’ve seen together, actors they love, critics they disagree with, and even the road trips they’ve taken in the name of art (ask them about their evening with Stephen Sondheim!). But aside from the fact that they are longtime theatre-going companions, both Kathy and Lynne are also notable names in the creation and support of San Diego’s vibrant theatre community.
When asked to bring Intrepid’s vision of a gala event to life, they both avidly voiced their support of the theatre company’s critically-acclaimed performances and youth-inspiring programming. Their efforts will culminate on Sunday evening amid glamorous dresses, glitzy auction items, and swanky musical fanfare.
“It is going to be fabulous,” says Lynne. “I love the planning and collaboration and we have such seasoned people on the committee. It’s coming together beautifully.”
Lynne and Kathy meet in Lynne’s office, which is lined with local theatre memorabilia – statements of her unwavering support of the San Diego stages. As an education and language arts specialist, Lynne has been working with students in the community for decades, developing techniques to open their minds to the world of words. It is not surprising that Lynne is so supportive of Intrepid’s educational programs – all of which will benefit from this weekend’s gala auction – since Shakespeare so often makes an appearance in her office.
“I think Sean and Christy recognize that they are reaching the next generation of theatre-goer and how important it is to expose them to the possibilities of theatre to help us understand who we are in a complex world,” says Lynne. “Kids need to be exposed to the arts because it really defines us as a culture and a civilization.”
“Intrepid kind of shakes up Shakespeare and delivers it for a contemporary audience,” says Kathy, who recently wrapped her 30+-year stint running Moonlight Stage Productions. “I’ve seen lots of Hamlets. But the most memorable one – visually and textually and emotionally – was the Hamlet at Intrepid. It was astounding.”
So, what’s in store for festive theatre patrons on Sunday?
The evening will begin with a tasty culinary spread as guests are welcomed into the gala. In lieu of a silent auction, a handful of items that will be available for a raffle “opportunity,” including an elusive gift card to the San Diego-based Cohn Restaurant Group, as well as gift certificates to other local dining establishments like the scenic Top of the Market and Del Mar’s decadent Pamplemousse Grill.
A definite highlight of the evening will be the live auction, hosted by local actor and photographer Daren Scott, and featuring items such as a private makeup intensive with Peter Herman and Kathleen Kenna (complete with wine and cheese), an elegant dinner party prepared by local actor Jim Chovick (who knew he was a gourmet?) and a coveted walk-on role in Intrepid’s Season Four finale, Macbeth.
The evening will culminate with a singing performance featuring the sensational Four Divas: Leigh Skarritt, Kürt Norby, Jacob Caltrider, and Sandy Campbell with Taylor Peckham tickling the ivories on the residence’s grand piano (and perhaps throwing in some of his own surprise musical treats). Lastly, Intrepid will reveal the much-anticipated Season Five lineup.
The gala committee has also enlisted the help of local designer Julie Ustin to infuse the venue with festive decor. “That was a coup,” says Lynne. “She is going to make everything look beautiful.”
Julie’s inspiration for the gala decor? Intrepid’s upcoming production of Macbeth. Expect adult beverages in the form of a fancy witch’s brew.
The gala promises to be nothing short of celebratory, for both what Intrepid has accomplished on stage and in schools – as well as for what the company will become. Both Kathy and Lynne are excited to be a part of that.
“This is the first of many events we will work on for Intrepid,” says Kathy, clearly settling into her new position on the Intrepid Board of Directors.
“And I’m hoping to get the walk-on for Macbeth,” she adds with a wink.
– Tiffany Tang
To purchase tickets for Sunday’s Gala Fundraiser, click here or call (760) 295-7541. $50 per person, $80 per couple, $150 for a special “Music Maker” ticket.
Fran Gercke, Brian Mackey, Shana Wride, and Ruff Yeager sit at a table. No, they are not planning world domination via the theatre, although given the breadth and depth of their collective experience, that task would not be too far out of their reach.
Instead, they are thoughtfully pondering a lengthy list of plays, both classical and contemporary, written by a wide range of playwrights. They have been tasked with one simple challenge.
When Intrepid first opened its doors in 2009, along with the mainstage productions came the idea of staged readings – opportunities to hear plays in an intimate setting, presented by accomplished actors, lead by passionate directors, and accented with flavorful wine and tasty hors d’oeuvres.
The success of these sporadic readings was so much that, this time last year, the City of Encinitas offered Intrepid a standing spot in the ocean-view community reading room at the Encinitas Library in which to present an yearlong season of staged readings.
“Intrepid is helping us realize this longstanding preference of the residents to experience live theatre,” said City of Encinitas Arts Administrator Jim Gilliam of the city’s first and only professional theatre company.
Now, one year later, as 2013 and the inaugural season of the Staged Reading Series winds to a close, Intrepid and the City can see a plethora of accomplishments in the creative wake of this communal endeavor.
Among the playwrights featured this year were the likes of Moisés Kaufman, Jane Anderson, John Patrick Shanley, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, and, of course, William Shakespeare. The monthly readings on the whole hired more than 80 talented local actors, as well as eight directors culled from the most influential players across San Diego’s ever-expanding theatre scene.
For many, participation in a staged reading marked a debut with the company. Other faces were more recognizable to the subscribers who regularly attended the readings as well as the mainstage productions. Audiences embraced the readings, returned month after month, and were rarely hesitant to offer standing ovations at the conclusion of any given evening.
With this success of the series, the City was eager to renew the staged reading series contract with Intrepid for 2014. However, Artistic Directors Sean and Christy Yael-Cox knew that if Intrepid was to commit to another year, they had to harness and build upon the sense of community involvement the readings had inspired.
That’s when the idea of a Staged Reading Committee came into being. Instead of Sean and Christy deciding the playlist for a year, the reading series would be handled by a team of respected actors and directors who, from the benefit of their varied perspectives, would create, direct, and cast the 2014 season of staged readings for Intrepid.
Cut to the lengthy list of plays. While these four San Diego theatre notables may be scratching their heads about the 2014 compilation, one thing is certain. They are all excited to be at the table.
“I love the idea of committee-based theatre,” says Shana Wride, who directed the reading of Yasmina Reza’s “Life(x)3” this year. “To be part of a group of like-minded talented people and be allowed such a wonderful creative outlet is a real treat.”
In addition to choosing plays that are favorites, the team has endeavored to pick selections that are new to them and, hopefully, to audiences. This is one of the advantages of working as an ensemble and acquainting fellow committee-members with unfamiliar plays.
Fran Gercke, most recently seen as John in Intrepid’s mainstage production of “Oleanna,” says this is one of the best parts of the process.
“I am excited about the ability to read new work and hopefully introduce the audience to a whole host of characters and a whole world they’ve not known before, about which they’ve no ideas, no preconceptions,” says Fran, who directed the reading of Sam Shepard’s “Geography of a Horse-Dreamer” this past year. “It’s always fun when there’s a thriller aspect, a who-done-it quality to every story so that you’re always wondering where is this going and how is this going to end. New stories provide that.”
While a staged reading is rehearsed, it is comparatively easier to present than a mainstage show. Therefore, the opportunity to perform big budget plays in this simplified environment – leaving much to the imagination – is also appealing.
“It is amazing to me how just listening to a play can, and has, elicited such strong, positive responses from audience members,” says Brian Mackey, who directs the yearly reading of “A Christmas Carol,” the reading series season finale.
Fran agrees. “I get caught up in staged readings because they invite me, almost magically and with little effort, to imagine much of what is happening,” he says. “That’s not so common anymore.”
From collaboration to imagination, the staged reading series is ultimately an opportunity to do the thing that everyone loves to do.
Ruff Yeager, who portrayed John Barrymore in this year’s reading of Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet,” says it simply. “I am looking forward to working with incredible actors on a play I really love.”
Add in a little wine and cheese, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a successful 2014 Staged Reading Series.
– Tiffany Tang
Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series
presented at the Encinitas Library
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch
Abundance by Beth Henley
In a Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
A Number by Caryl Churchill
Private Lives by Noel Coward
Defiance by John Patrick Shanley
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Seminar by Theresa Rebeck
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”
Julius Caesar utters this famous line in Act One of Shakespeare’s tragedy, blissfully unaware that fault and fate would soon play large parts in his own destiny. In this Monday’s staged reading of Julius Caesar, fault and fate are two questions Director Jason Rennie knows better than to tackle directly.
“I have always been very intrigued by the play and it took a while to figure out why I was drawn to it,” says Jason. “I think it’s mostly because the ambiguity is so appealing to me.”
That ambiguity is what has made this particular tragedy so memorable for audiences, and at the same time so challenging for actors and directors. Even though acts of savagery abound, the clarity of right and wrong in this political arena is not so absolute. Sympathy, surprisingly, falls on the backs of unexpected characters. The lines in the sand are blurry.
While this is Jason’s first foray into directing Julius Caesar, he has been through this story as an actor more than once.
“My drive to want to do this play stems from the frustration I’ve had as an actor,” he explains, citing the questions the story raises about politics, patriotism, and power. “The play itself doesn’t take one side or the other as far as the central conflict is concerned. All these characters, even the antagonists or the minor functionaries, are all drawn with ambiguity. It’s plausible to see them on one side or the other of that conflict, and you can easily sympathize one way or the other.”
In fact, he states, a more accurate title would probably be The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus, the character on whom most of the moral ambiguity falls during the course of the story.
“Brutus feels patriotic and wants to combat tyranny,” explains Jason, “but at the same time he’s thinking of committing murder. Can you ever truly justify and sanctify murder? I think none of those questions are actually answered within the play.”
Shakespeare plays his political cards close to the vest on this one, which makes sense, given that the play is perceived as a veiled critique of the Elizabethan monarchy. The fascination with Rome in the late 1500s provided an apt backdrop to the perceived overreaching power of Queen Elizabeth’s self-proclaimed deific reign.
“Elizabeth was starting to equate herself with that divinity and an immortal type of ruler, which was extremely hubristic,” says Jason. “It was a very hot political issue at the time.”
For us in modern times, the play still carries a critique – not of monarchy, necessarily, but of patriotism and the lengths to which it will be cited as justification for untoward acts.
“What is the motive when you invoke patriotism?” Jason asks. “Is it to justify an act that you personally don’t feel you can stand behind without it? And who’s to judge?”
Indeed, many of these questions have arisen within our current political climate, not just domestically, but globally. While Shakespeare writes sympathetic characters on both sides of the issue in Julius Caesar, the dialogue is the same as the one we are currently having around the world.
“A lot of the political issues that have been front page issues over the last few years can be boiled down to the same types of things,” says Jason, commenting that Julius Caesar could be performed against a backdrop of the current political landscapes of Egypt or Syria. “It’s a question of who has more power and do they deserve it?”
And with complicated questions come complicated answers. Once power is taken, what is left of the political state? It’s fine to depose a king, says Jason, but what happens afterwards? In this light, he says, Julius Caesar becomes not only a tragedy, but also a cautionary tale.
Hopefully, he and his actors can shed some light on this subject, but Jason is just as wary as Shakespeare was of actually picking sides.
“Shakespeare isn’t condoning or condemning a political assassination in Julius Caesar, but instead asking whether or not it is within the public’s power to make the decision,” clarifies Jason with a statement that, like the nature of both art and politics, perhaps generates more questions than it does answers.
– Tiffany Tang
Julius Caesar, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, November 18. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
Christy Yael-Cox does laugh as she checks the time and speeds down the 10 East, en route to Palm Springs and one of the closest National Theatre Live screenings of Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth.
This year in particular has given Christy a lot to reflect upon. As CEO and producing artistic director of Intrepid Shakespeare Company, she has navigated the company through one of its most diverse production years, which also saw the introduction of the year-long Encinitas Library Reading Series as well as the new summer youth program, Camp Intrepid.
2013 was also a critically acclaimed year for Intrepid: all three of the company’s mainstage productions received “Critic’s Choice” in San Diego. All three were directed or co-directed by Christy.
Now, immersed in pre-rehearsal mode for Macbeth, the Season Four finale and – perhaps not coincidentally – the 13th production on Intrepid’s roster, she propels herself forward into the next chapter of the theatre company she runs with husband Sean Yael-Cox.
What’s on tap? Among other things, there’s the announcement of the Season Five set list (“some Shakespeare, some comedy” is all she will reveal), a commitment to another year of monthly readings at the library, and an expansion of the education program to include – oh yeah – prison time.
“There are those things in your life where at a cellular level everything says yes,” says Christy. “This is one of those things.”
Back when Intrepid began, Christy and Sean had a meeting with the director of San Diego Youth Services to discuss implementing a Shakespeare curriculum into the juvenile prison system. Since the kids there are required to be in school, the idea is that part of their Language Arts learning can happen by getting up and acting out some theatre, specifically Shakespeare.
“I understand on a personal, visceral level how redemptive it is to work through your own stuff through these plays and these characters,” says Christy, who, even though she spends most of her time directing these days, started her theatre career acting. “I think it’s empowering. I do. I think it’s life-changing.”
While this was always the goal, now seems like the right time to move forward with the idea, starting in juvenile detention centers and then to one day moving into adult prisons.
“What’s amazing is how successful these programs have been across the country in reducing recidivism,” she says. “I believe in this so much.”
This program will join an overwhelming roster of programs Intrepid has already implemented over the past four years. In addition to full seasons of mainstage productions, the company now hosts a monthly staged reading series, an education tour that has performed in over 50 schools and for over 35,000 students, an internship program with the students at San Dieguito Academy, fall and spring classes for adults, and the recently created summer drama camp.
“I love creating something from nothing,” she says. “Camp Intrepid was built from nothing. The idea for the school tour happened at my kitchen table at 2 a.m. while the kids were sleeping.”
As the mother of two, Christy understands that much of Intrepid’s movement has to be accomplished on the go or in the middle of the night. She is never without her iPhone, capturing bits of creative inspiration in the notes app throughout the day and reading dramaturgy research while putting the kids to bed at night. Taeya, 8, and Bodhi, 2, are no strangers to the theater, sometimes accompanying their mother to rehearsals where they are doted on by actors before finding quiet corners for naptime or tea parties.
It is evident with speaking with Christy that ‘Mom’ is her favorite role and that the idea of forming a theatre company was so appealing because she knew it would allow her to prioritize her family time. While it may seem as though this idyllic setup was always the big picture plan, Christy’s path from her childhood in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to now helming one of San Diego’s formidable young theatre companies was not entirely a straightforward journey.
Firstly, she admits to being the black sheep in the family (“No one else does theatre”). Her theatre roots were formed at The Citadel, Edmonton’s premiere theatre house, where she was taking classes when she was barely in school and was cast as a fairy in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the age of six.
“I was doing it already, so my parents thought they should put me in classes,” she says and laughs. “I remember that audition for Midsummer was very rigorous.”
And even though she claims her directing work for Intrepid is her first, the truth is that there was a tragic play about a broken valentine at Glenora Elementary School, which she may or may not have written, cast, directed, costumed, and starred in.
“I was a really nerdy kid,” says Christy.
Surprisingly, some of the turns in her path also include things like leaving behind a career in investment banking (“The myopic focus on the accumulation of wealth was unhealthy for me”), an unexpected move to Los Angeles to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (“I always thought I would go to New York”), and finally discovering a shared vision of theatre with someone who would eventually become her husband.
“The thing that Sean and I both knew was that Shakespeare could be done better,” she says of their first conversations. “We knew that it was more exciting than what we were seeing everywhere else. We couldn’t understand why people weren’t making it as exciting as it was.”
“The elements we were passionate about in respect to why we wanted to start the company we found in King John,” says Christy, who often circles back to the company’s mission to present Shakespeare in an accessible, immediately relevant, and meaningful way. In Intrepid code, that translates to honoring the text and keeping the plays modern.
“It’s about telling the story in the best possible way,” she says, and then recites what has become her own directorial mantra: “Keep going back to the text. Go back to the text. The answers are always in the script, which is the reassuring thing. Shakespeare is a very trustworthy playwright.”
King John inspired the critics, and not only because it had been 42 years since the play last saw light on a San Diego stage. The U-T ‘s James Hebert called it “a bracing and fast-moving thriller.” Martin Jones Westlin of SD CityBeat surmised that “as long as Intrepid stays the course, its claim to Shakespearean excellence will follow.”
The early critical love may have set up some lofty expectations, but Christy is more reflective when considering her first directorial foray.
“The actors did a wonderful job,” she says, “but looking back there’s probably a lot of things I would have changed. Part of my problem is that I’m a perfectionist.”
But the perfectionism follows on the heels of collaboration, and one of the things that inspires Christy when she directs is the co-creation that happens between her and the actors.
“The best thing I can do is trust my actors and the very best thing I can do is treat it as an ensemble,” she says. “Our brains together will create the best possible product.”
“I’ve worked with Christy several times now,” says Tom Hall, who played the title role in King John and has since been cast in many roles at Intrepid. “One of the things I love about her is the room she gives you as an actor. It’s always a collaboration with her. She lets you know from the very beginning that your input counts. That’s one of the most generous things a director can give an actor.”
“This is going to sound corny,” says Christy, “but the part that I like the most about directing is being of service to the actors. It’s trying to make the actors the best version of themselves. I’m literally just there to make everyone great.”
As Intrepid wraps up 2013, it is obvious that this approach has served the company well. This year, productions maneuvered seamlessly from Shakespeare to Mamet to musical – with Christy at the helm of each one.
Hamlet was the company’s fourth production in their new home in SDA’s multi-million dollar performing arts center in Encinitas. Including this play as the finale of Season Three was a decision that neither Christy nor Sean, who played the title role, took lightly.
“Hamlet is hard because, first of all, it comes with way too much pressure attached to it,” Christy says. “There the, ‘Holy crap, you’re doing Hamlet! Don’t screw up Hamlet!’”
How to sidestep the pressure of producing Shakespeare’s most intimidating play?
“You’d be surprised,” says Christy, “but Sean and I tried not to talk about it beforehand.”
This is not actually that surprising given the fact that Sean and Christy give little regard to anything that causes hesitation in general. “Intrepid” not only refers to the manner in which they interpret Shakespeare, but also the manner in which they approach the work: fearless, fast, and undaunted. For them, this means spending little time worrying and more time researching and making pilgrimages throughout Southern California to see screenings and productions of the Bard.
This also means always, always, going to the text for answers about which lens through which to tell the tale.
“I think the thing that I loved about Hamlet was that it’s a really accessible story,” says Christy. “Ultimately, it’s about a family. It’s also so brilliantly, brilliantly, brilliantly written. There were times when I was sitting in rehearsal thinking, ‘I can’t believe I get to sit here and listen to these words.’”
Hamlet was set in the 1930s, which is the first time Intrepid chose a particular period of history as a setting. Christy felt it was right because of how the women were treated in the play. But the decision was not made to inspire empathy for the females. The decision was made on behalf of the men.
“It changed your perception of the men if it was set today, from my very 21st century feminist perspective,” she explains. “So for me it was helpful to move to the earlier part of the 20th century, which didn’t make their actions right. It just made them more commonplace.”
“Christy gets the psychology right, whether it’s that of individuals, couples, families, or armies,” says Danny Campbell, who played Polonius and has also been acting with Intrepid since their inaugural production of Macbeth. “She can bring convincing life to the stage because she has that insight into the human heart and mind. She knows what makes people tick.”
Among the critical acclaim was Pam Kragen’s observation in U-T, an apt reiteration of Intrepid’s mission and probably music to Christy’s ears: “…articulate, honest and contemporary…Intrepid’s Hamlet truly honors the words of Shakespeare and, at the same time, makes sense in today’s world.”
On the heels of Hamlet were rehearsals for the Season Four opener, Oleanna, and Christy laughs as she recalls the dramatic shift that had to occur between shows, not only with the tone, but also with the physical space. While Hamlet boasted a cast of 13, Oleanna is a two-hander. Where Hamlet was done broadly on a three-sided thrust stage, Oleanna was set up intimately in the round. Of course, moving from the language of William Shakespeare to that of David Mamet also presented its own set of challenges.
“I walked into the first day of rehearsal and said ‘All I know about this play is that it’s going to feel like we’re falling down a rabbit hole, and I promise you that we’re going to make it out the other side,” says Christy of her first conversation with her Oleanna actors, Fran Gercke and Rachael VanWormer. Even though Mamet’s writing can be “tricky,” she says, it is also like discovering a code – one that she knew the three of them would have to unlock together.
“I think the actors who are really invested in solving the problems and who participate in the process have a better end result. They’re not robots and if I treat them like robots then we’re not going to get the best, most evolved version of the play.” She pauses. “I could be wrong,” she says. “David Mamet would probably disagree with me.”
Regardless of what Mamet might think, the product delivered. In The Reader, Jeff Smith called Intrepid’s Oleanna the “best acted” production of the play he had seen. “Gercke and VanWormer are both excellent,” he said. “Their tandem work is truly impressive.”
Fran, who played John, credits Christy with this sense of unity and co-creation.
“The most striking qualities of her direction and leadership are her patience and generosity,” he says. “She’s always willing to listen, to patiently guide, to eagerly collaborate. It’s a unique and rare combination in any director – confidence and humility.”
“We had standing room only and super full houses at the end of the run last summer. It was a brand new thing that, for all intents and purposes, I made up in my head, so I wanted to give it the chance to evolve,” says Christy.
The show involves intertwining Shakespeare’s woodland comedy with music from the 1960s, a pairing that turned out to be tremendously successful and inspiring for both the directors and the actors.
“We learned really early on with King John how well modern music underscores Shakespeare plays,” Christy explains. “We’ve had amazing soundtracks with every Shakespeare play we’ve done which led to the evolution of the musical.”
The Examiner called it “one of the most innovative success stories of a theatre company.” Jeff Smith agreed, saying “this musical deserves a long life after this excellent production” and encouraged Intrepid to “take it on the road.”
Midsummer ran in tandem with the first appearance of Camp Intrepid, a summer camp run by Sean and Intrepid Artistic Associate Erin Petersen featuring youth programs in Shakespeare and musical theatre. By day, the theatre was filled with kids working on improvisation activities and pirate musicals. By night, audiences would stream in to enjoy a little Bard-inspired doo wop by the professionals.
Needless to say, when Midsummer closed in late August and camp sessions came to an end, Sean and Christy finally found time to do the things they had been putting off all year – like sleep.
“It’s encouraging to us when we have people who believe in what we’re doing and want to be a part of it,” says Christy. “It means the absolute world to us, because we do work ridiculously hard. We work harder than anyone could imagine.”
Sean agrees, and is quick to give props to his wife. “Intrepid’s productions have been a great success both critically and with audiences and that is specifically due to Christy’s directing, leadership, and artistic vision.”
The hard work has certainly paid off. There is already a ten-year plan in place and neither Sean nor Christy has any intention of slowing the pace of the company’s breakneck growth.
Of course, looking back on the little girl who once produced an entire valentine tragedy in grade school, it isn’t entirely that surprising.
“All the things in the past,” says Christy, “you don’t realize it at the time, but all of these things connect. You only know it when you’re looking back.”
– Tiffany Tang
Macbeth will open in January 2014. Tickets available now.
“Everything that happened seems to be coming back.”
Kate Keller, who will be portrayed by Savvy Scopelleti in Monday night’s staged reading at the Encinitas Library, observes this in Act One of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. It is a foreshadowing comment whose results will change her family entirely by the conclusion of the play.
It is this sense of unease that permeates this particular Miller tale. Written in 1947 on the heels of the war, the play analyzes the aftermath of war in our society within the context of the family. And just as Kate, the matriarch, understands that the past cannot truly be left behind, as the play unfolds, we see the characters navigating their way through relationships, hope, and ultimately their own battle scars.
“What’s so wonderful about Miller is that he writes about universal truths,” says Amanda Sitton, who will be portraying Ann Deever. “He writes about family and love. Unfortunately, the underlying theme of war isn’t something we get away from as a culture.”
While the families have been irreversibly affected by this period in American history, the unease in the play stems from their refusal to acknowledge the past or to fully deal with the consequences of their past actions. Therefore, while the story seems innocuous at first, the smooth veneer these characters have built over time slowly begins to crack.
In his essay, “Tragedy and the Common Man,” Miller wrote, “The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies.” The stable ground of patriarch Joe Keller, who will be played on Monday by Dale Morris, has been built on secrecy and denial, and it seems as if it is about to be shaken at any moment, thus releasing a domino effect of fallout.
“Miller is one of those faces on the Mount Rushmore of American theatre, so doing this show in any form has been a long-term goal,” says Dale, although he admits that he may harbor some judgment about the characters in the play. Indeed, none of the characters is truly free from critique, even though everyone seems to earnestly defend his or her own past decisions.
“It’s interesting how everyone in the play justifies their own actions,” says Brian Mackey, who will be portraying Chris Keller, the surviving son in his family who is intent on marrying his brother’s former love interest, Ann. “That’s what’s interesting, those decisions in a human life, those moments when you have to make a decision one way or the other and how that affects the people around you.”
“It’s rife with grey area,” observes Amanda. “There’s no true villain.”
Even though the play was written over 60 years ago, there are still echoes of today’s conflicts. Eddie Yaroch, who will be playing the next-door neighbor, Dr. Jim Bayliss, observes that decisions in our most recent wartime could have been similarly fraught with difficult or even negligent behavior, which is a major source of tension in All My Sons. “There was probably some similar guilt trips happening in the Defense Department that soldiers are dying because of their lack of initiative or funds,” he says.
Ben Cole, who will be portraying Frank Lubey and whose appearance on the scene often lightens the increasing moments of tension, says that each character in the play also carries their own sense of guilt about the war, which also prevents them from moving forward.
“Everyone has a great deal of denial about what actually happened and a great deal of guilt about maybe even surviving or getting off or escaping blame,” he says. “Frank avoided the war completely by being just too old for the draft.”
“Bert avoided the war by being way too young,” chimes in Eddie, referring to Christian Payne, 11, who will be portraying Bert, a neighborhood tattletale. When asked why his character feels the need to constantly announce the misdeeds of his friends, Christian replies with, “Well, he’s young. He’s eight, you know.”
Christian joins the cast for his first Intrepid project alongside what Director Christy Yael-Cox calls “a fantastically talented group of actors.” Also featured are Tom Hall as George Deever, Erin Petersen as Lydia Lubey, and Debra Wanger as Sue Bayliss.
– Tiffany Tang
All My Sons by Arthur Miller, a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, October 28. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
Fall is upon us – the chill is in the air, the holiday preparation is underway, the scarves are out of their summer hiding spots. While Intrepid Shakespeare finds itself between shows at this time of year, that doesn’t mean that Artistic Directors Sean and Christy Yael-Cox are taking extended vacations. Far from it. Beginning tomorrow, both will start teaching fall classes at the theater.
“It’s a nice time of year,” says Sean, who is also Intrepid’s Director of Education. “We are in pre-production for Macbeth and gearing up to announce our fifth season and our 2014 reading series.” Believe it or not, in the land of Intrepid, this is what qualifies as “downtime.” Fortunately for experienced actors in need of a tune up or new faces needing a landing place, this is also the perfect time for Intrepid to offer a selection of classes revolving around Shakespeare, public speaking, comedy, and scene study.
While Sean will helm two of the classes, The Play’s the Thing: Intermediate Scene Study will be taught by Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael-Cox. “It’s a great opportunity for people to work with Christy,” says Sean of the woman who has directed or co-directred the entirety of Intrepid’s productions this year, all of which were honored with Critics’ Choice. “She rarely has time to teach classes, so those who are signed up for this one are really lucky.”
In order to register for Christy’s class, at least one year of training is required, or experience acting in at least one production. Christy will be tackling both Shakespeare and modern scenes with her actors, and describes the class as ideal for those who want to work on their craft.
“It’s like a mini-rehearsal session with her,” says Sean.
If a more intensive Shakespeare experience is the goal, Sean will be teaching a class on approaching and acting the Bard for new and experienced actors.
“It’s amazing when I talk to seasoned actors in town and mention our upcoming Shakespeare auditions,” says Sean, who played the title role in Hamlet earlier this year. “Even the most experienced actors have said that they would love to audition, but Shakespeare scares them.”
In light of this, Sean feels it is important to bring Shakespeare down from its unreachable, scholarly pedestal and tap into its origins.
“When he was alive, his plays were popular with everybody,” explains Sean. “People forget that Shakespeare wrote for everyone.”
If there’s any fear that four weeks of Shakespeare will be entirely lecture-based, Sean is quick to dispel that. “We’ll be discovering the material by doing,” he says. In other words, be prepared to get on your feet.
Sean’s Shakespeare session is open to new and experienced actors, and he is quick to assure participants that both are necessary to the process of unpacking this playwright.
“Everyone learns so much by watching other actors in class,” he says. “It’s actually really nice when there’s different levels.”
Both The Play’s the Thing: Intermediate Scene Study and Willpower: A Shakespeare Class will commence this weekend and run on Sundays for four weeks. There is still time to register for limited available spots.
Also on the fall docket is Phil Johnson’s A Master Class on Comedy, which will take place November 24. Public Speaking with Sean will begin November 3 for two sessions.
Classes will be held on Intrepid’s mainstage theatre, the Clayton E. Liggett, on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. For more information on fall classes, click here.
– Tiffany Tang
“I think about comedy all day and all night.”
Phil Johnson, most recently seen this summer as Bottom in Intrepid Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical,” admits this obsession without hesitation.
“I probably need a twelve step group for my love of it,” he adds.
In lieu of addiction therapy, Phil Johnson will instead be putting this passion to good use by sharing it with others. Along with Artistic Directors Christy and Sean Yael-Cox, Phil will be an instructor in Intrepid’s brand new offering of fall classes.
What will he be teaching? A master class on comedy, of course.
A comedic stage veteran, Phil has shone on the San Diego stage for more than 15 years, racking up starring turns on the city’s major stages, and receiving a Craig Noel Award this year from the San Diego Critics’ Circle for his rendition of Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came To Dinner.” Aside from his stints in Los Angeles writing with the Acme Comedy Theatre, his grant from the San Diego Foundation for the Arts to develop his comedy solo show version of “Hound of Baskervilles,” and his comedy/cabaret fellowship with the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, his most impressive comedic credit is probably his run as the tavern-owning criminal Thérnardier in the Broadway production and the national tour of “Les Misérables.”
While continuing to develop projects in town, Phil is also eager to share the tips and pointers that his own comedic gurus have taught him over the years. A master class for Intrepid Shakespeare seems the perfect fit.
“I have a great enthusiasm for good actors who are also good comedians,” he says. “It’s thrilling and exciting to go to the theatre and be impressed by someone who can do both sides of the coin. Plus, I love Sean and Christy, and I would love for there to be a whole bunch of good, funny actors in San Diego for me to play with all the time.”
The three-hour master class will be geared towards professional working actors; however, theatre lovers are also welcome to enroll. While some actors may shy away from comedic training, Phil maintains that the funny bits are completely accessible to even the most dramatic of thespians.
“So many people think it’s separate from them, so they’re not using all the tools in their toolbox,” he says. “Almost any good actor can be a good comedian. It’s about details and intention and thinking things through.”
To that end, he plans to organize the class around a checklist – particulars that the actor can pay attention to in order to achieve the maximum comedic effect from his or her scenes.
“If the audience is laughing, then they are following your story,” explains Phil. “If they aren’t, then you need to shake things up.”
This is why he loves previews, he says, which is that time during the run of a show when things can still be adjusted after receiving input from the audience’s reaction each evening. “I get to see what works and what doesn’t before opening.”
This willingness to continually pursue the perfection of comedic timing is part of paying attention to the details. This is something Phil learned from his comedic stints in theatre, his own teachers, and also from a childhood spent watching the greats: Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, and Jonathan Winters. Honoring the legacy of comedy is something he feels is fundamental to its study.
“I think one thing that young people don’t do often enough is watch the old stuff. They don’t know who Bette Davis or Rock Hudson are,” says Phil. “Comedy is so much an homage to what’s come before.”
Studying the legends is one way to keep one’s skills polished and in tune, but nothing beats the experience of a class. “I wish I had had someone to give me a tune up every once in a while,” he says. “You can always be funnier.”
And what if you are rather nervous about taking a master class in comedy?
“Don’t worry,” says Phil. “Nervous people are almost always funny.”
– Tiffany Tang
A Master Class on Comedy with Phil Johnson. November 24, 6-9 pm. Clayton E. Liggett Theatre at Intrepid Shakespeare (SDA Campus). $60. Enroll here.