If you ask the cast of Charles Busch’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which will open Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series at the Encinitas Library this evening, how rehearsals have been going, you will find that they’ve all had a similar experience.
“I’m just trying to get through the scenes without laughing,” says Linda Libby, who will be playing Marjorie Taub, the title character of the play. “It’s very unprofessional.”
Linda joins a stellar cast this evening in this story about an Upper West Side socialite who craves the richness of a life filled with culture and substance, yet finds herself paralyzed by her own neurosis. Trina Kaplan portrays Marjorie’s mother, Frieda, and Gabriel Mario Cornejo, will break from his stage direction duties to step in as Mohammed, the doorman. Jill Drexler will play Lee Green, a childhood friend who arrives on Marjorie’s doorstep. Ruff Yeager rounds out the cast as Dr. Ira Taub, Marjorie’s allergist husband.
While most of these actors are veterans of Intrepid’s Reading Series, this marks Jill and Gabriel’s debut.
“We’ve all been wanting to work together for a long time,” says Jill with a smile.
Ruff Yeager, who also sits on Intrepid’s Staged Reading Committee and will direct tonight’s reading, says that picking this play to open this year’s series was not a difficult choice.
“It’s a funny play with a lot of surprises,” he says. “I think audiences will be comforted by the familiarity of the family dynamics. The fun of this script is watching this family, who thinks they are very balanced, become completely unbalanced.”
“We get to watch characters go places that most people would never go, even though they might entertain the idea,” says Linda. “Then we get to watch them work out how life continues after that. There’s a passionate neurosis about each of these characters.”
Passion is the name of the game in this “tale,” and even though the issues at hand may seem trifling to an outside audience, the ferocity with which these characters pursue their needs inspires both awe as well as humor.
This can be both great fun and a great challenge for an actor, however.
“The lines are familiar, ones you would hear in your own home,” says Trina. “But one thing you don’t want to do is play the comedy.”
“Charles Busch is a master,” says Ruff. “You have to play the reality of the situation and the high stakes that are written in. The comedy takes care of itself.”
With a note of warning, the cast also clarifies that the humor can lean towards mature audiences. Trina is frank about how many “F-bombs” she uses during the course of the play.
“That’s Yiddish, right?” Gabriel jokes.
“Also,” chimes in Ruff, “clothing will be removed. We can’t tell you what clothing, though.”
With all of these laughs, it’s hard to imagine this cast having more fun performing this reading than they are having in rehearsals. But if there’s one thing aside from the humor that we can expect from this play, they say, it’s the surprises.
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch, a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, January 27. 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.
Macbeth. Macbeth. Macbeth.
Chat with anyone in theatre about “The Scottish Play,” and inevitably there will be some hesitation in saying the actual name aloud.
After all, that is how curses tend to go.
Once upon a time in 1606, the actor who played the first Lady Macbeth died of a fever backstage and a curse was born. Since that time, there have been records of ill-fated actors and production crew with each incarnation of the play, the bad luck often attributed to the “authentic” witches’ chants, the general bloody mayhem of this dark and twisted play, and low lighting.
The cast of Intrepid’s upcoming Macbeth has been dealing in darkness and magic for weeks now as they navigate the swamps of Scotland, sorting out the political intrigue and wiping blood from their hands. But, how did they manage to overcome the curse?
The modern day translation of the superstition goes something like this: You are not allowed to say the word in a theater. If you do, you are required to leave the theatre, turn around three times, spit, swear, and knock to be let back in.
If you are not an actor this may sound ludicrous. If you are an actor, you most likely have one or two or five stories of undertaking these actions yourself or forcing someone else to do so.
There is a loophole. Superstition also says that there are major curse-exceptions if a company is actually performing the play.
Director Christy Yael-Cox was never hesitant about dropping the “M”-bomb from the beginning of the process, and while the rest of the cast seemed relieved to follow suit, that hesitancy to utter the word still remained for some.
What to do? There was only one answer.
Meet the cast of Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth:
“They’re still in there,” she says to me, motioning towards the theater. I nod.
For once, it seems that I am a few minutes early, and while we wait the three of us chat about “American Horror Story: Coven” and whether or not we should schedule a viewing for research purposes. We are interrupted when the theater door opens and Brian Rickel, the actor playing Malcolm, steps into the lobby, packing his script into his bag and calling out thank yous behind him. Savvy and Erin and I look at each other.
Even though my fellow witches and I are eager to get down to spell casting, there is one important bridge we must cross before we can begin any cauldron-circling rehearsals: Table work with the dramaturge.
Table work is a highly technical term used in the theatre to refer to the intricate script analysis work that takes place…while sitting at a table. Literally. We all sit down and go over the script together.
While this may seem like a superfluous step in the rehearsal process, it is actually one of the most important elements of putting together a play – especially when working with Shakespeare. It is crucial that all of the actors exist in the same world when they hit the stage for rehearsals, and the development of that world starts with the words.
Dr. Gideon Rappaport, our passionate dramaturge with more Shakespearean research accomplishments on his CV than I can wrap my head around, is already in place at said table when I arrive. He sits on one side with Director Christy Yael-Cox, and, as if we are about to compete in our own mini academic decathlon, Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti, and I take the seats opposite them.
I pull my Macbeth script out of my bag, along with a Bevington edition of the play and, lastly, my First Folio edition of the complete works.
This last is by far my favorite Shakespeare reference book. It’s a worthy tome, hefty in weight as it is in substance, and was edited by my grad school Shakespeare professor, the late Doug Moston. Its cornflower blue cover is worn at the edges, a testament to years of transport and love. From this book, I have learned to unlock the directorial notes Shakespeare has buried in the lines of his characters. Yes, that capital letter is there for a reason. Yes, the discrepancies in spelling are purposeful. No, I can’t always read the 1623 typeset, but it gives me comfort to have it nearby.
I sharpen my pencil. Since the Weird Sisters open the play, we all turn to page one of our scripts.
The key to the witches, says Gideon immediately, is their specific rhythm and meter. Whereas the “normal” speech pattern for most of the characters in the Shakespeare canon is iambic pentameter (think heartbeat rhythm), the witches experiment with an incomplete trochaic tetrameter (think the opposite of a heartbeat rhythm) and accents of iambic trimeter. What all of that basically means is that the witches are going to sound unnatural without us having to do anything but say the words.
Surprisingly, Shakespeare often makes an actor’s job pretty easy.
Before too long, the three of us are finding our voices, and after some stops and starts and corrections, we begin to recite the lines in unison, overemphasizing the rhythm and meter, ensuring that our eventual memorization incorporates the spine-chilling cadence of this specific chant.
After lengthy discussions about our lines, the multi-layered meanings of certain expressions and word choices, and the breakdown of our sentence structures, the three witches spend the balance of the time peppering Gideon and Christy with questions about everything from the nature of our corporeal existence to the political structure of the demonic underworld we serve. We also spend a lot of time on one question in particular that may or may not have a clear answer in this moment: what are we here to accomplish and why?
I look at my script at the end of our hour-long session and review the hastily scribbled marginal notes: “falsehood,” “anti-trinity,” “conduit,” “this toad is very demanding.”
Erin and Savvy and I take deep breaths as we leave the table, slightly overwhelmed by how we are going to translate all of this information into our expression of this dark trio. It is immediately clear that there is only one thing to do between now and our next rehearsal.
We must have a witchy research slumber party.
We agree on a date and time, but before we depart I make one request, “American Horror Story” on my mind.
“No scary movies, okay?” I call to them across the parking lot, and the irony is not lost on me when I explain. “They freak me out.”
— Tiffany Tang
Look for further installments of Tiffany’s “Actor’s Diary” in the Arts Section of this Sunday’s edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, beginning January 26 and continuing on Sundays through February 16. Macbeth previews begin January 31. Tickets can be purchased here.
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.