Monday, July 25, 2016

Photos from What, Lamb! What, Ladybird!

Thank you to everyone who joined us for What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! Here are some photos from our performances!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What Juliet Knows About Love

I have never thought about Juliet as much as I have for this play.

Weird, right? I've been acting in Shakespeare plays for over a decade and I've never taken whatever nascent thoughts I had about Juliet very much deeper than, "I wouldn't play her like that; that's boring. She's so passive there."

Part of that can probably be explained by combined forces of casting and preference that drive me more towards the traditional breeches roles and the clowns. The closest I've been to Juliet before now was in the balcony scene, but as her counterpart. I didn't understand Juliet at all and didn't particularly try. Working on What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! has tapped some vein that was running real deep for a long time, and, to my own surprise, apparently I do have things to say about Juliet! I'm going to try to distill them down into six words.


Okay, go.

The band OK GO

Love is a choice that Juliet makes. And makes. And makes again.

Okay, that was eleven words, but the first sentence was six and that's what counts.

Let me explain.

My thoughts about Juliet are impossibly entwined with my thoughts about love. What does it mean to love? What is "true love"? Is the love Romeo and Juliet have really a healthy model of romantic love? There are many more answers to these questions than there is space in this blog post, which is lucky because I don't care about those questions here. I'm not particularly interested in the love between Romeo and Juliet here. When I say love is a choice that Juliet makes, I mean she makes the choice to love herself. Sarah (via Charlene) has a fantastic line towards the end of the play: "[Juliet] trusts...She trusts her own heart."

I can't be the only one to find this a huge deal for a young teenager. That is prime self-doubt time. I was certainly not that self-assured at thirteen. So let's break this down into the three times I think Juliet makes the choice to love and trust herself (and why I love her for it).

Choice 1: Romeo

No, not this Romeo

Romeo is what Juliet had no idea she wanted until he opened his dang smooth-talking mouth. Not because of the smooth-talking, because she probably has actually heard some similar attempts before, being the eligible bachelorette she is. She's never had an equal partner before. She's never been able to spar verbally like this before. She's always been sharper than everyone else in the room. (She still kind of is, but Romeo can at least keep up.) Juliet realizes almost immediately that she wants THIS GUY for her partner and says damn the torpedoes to any and all obstacles. She trusts her choice.

This is not to say that she becomes so single-minded in pursuit of her life with Romeo that everything else in her life loses meaning. Her suffering at Tybalt's death and her parents' machinations is very real, but she doesn't let these overwhelm her focus, which leads me to...

Choice 2: A thing like death

One more Princess Bride meme than you were expecting, right?
It's okay, just roll with it.

To Juliet, marrying Paris and realigning with her nuclear family, forsaking her new family of choice, would be the real death. That would be death and burial of her true self, and whatever lived on with Paris wouldn't be Juliet. So when she's faced with this non-choice, marrying Paris and subsuming herself or retaining herself and subjecting her physical body to starvation on the streets, what does she do? She finds door number three! She creates agency where none is freely available. She goes to the Friar and blackmails him into helping her escape with Romeo. And there's always the chance that something could go wrong here. Cue...

Choice 3: Happy dagger

When the plan falls through, which of course it does, Juliet again has a choice. She can live the rest of her life under someone else's terms by letting herself be found and returned to the Capulets. Or she can live the rest of her life under her own terms by ending it. Having just lost the only thing she was willing to take decisive action to obtain, the person who represented the freedom and the life she was building for herself, she trusts herself again and ends her life on her terms.

But wait, you're thinking, none of these choices seem particularly well-considered. I'm not sure I could fall in love with someone so quickly, or if that would even be love or just infatuation. If they survived long enough to actually live together as a married couple the shine would have gone off of that within a month.

You're right. And that's the whole point. In What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! we mention that the entire action of Romeo and Juliet takes place over just a few days. There's no time for the shine to come off or for anybody to make any considered decisions. These are reactions, not calculations. And that is fascinating to play. Juliet's objectives and through line are amazingly clear, and that makes her actions immediately understandable and relatable, no matter how far from what we would have done they may be.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

New Play, Old Practices: Alex Dabertin on some of the challenges of directing "What, Lamb! What, Ladybird!" for Bad Quarto Productions

Directing What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! is like ice sculpting at thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. What is normally a process that takes place over the course of weeks gets boiled down to a  decisive moment. Just like Shakespeare and his fellow players, we have only one day to put an engaging and nuanced piece up on its feet. While these staging practices gave rise to some of the greatest plays we know, they are atypical for modern actors and directors.

One of director Alex Dabertin's visual compositions for
What, Lamb! What, Ladybird!
When on a time crunch and in a very controlled space, everything you do will have a genuine impact on an audience. We are performing in a space where the audience is, at most, twenty feet away, although it’s usually closer to two, and so no detail of the performance will go unnoticed.

Every gesture that the cast makes will be noticed, every spoken word heard, and every action seen. In these intimate theatre conditions, the best approach for the director, designers, and cast is to simplify. Simplicity does not mean lack of depth, but often a clearer understanding of the depths of a piece. Only by understanding what is truly important can a director decide what to emphasize, which is especially relevant considering our need to adapt what was originally a one-woman show to suit a five person cast (with the blessing of playwright Charlene V. Smith, of course).

What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! Is a play about love, about one person discovering what love can be, believing that she deserves it. So, then, what lines do the most work in that direction? What costumes or props point us there? Above all, why do they do that work? I also took on the challenge of shaping the play to five people instead of to one, so those questions became more delicate to answer, and the only way to find the answers I was looking for was to work one line at a time.

Asking myself at every line “Why does this help someone understand Juliet and love better?” Then, once I had answered that question, I asked myself “How do I show it?” In another production scenario, I could have played with the whole cast, working with them to discover images. But under these pressure cooker conditions, the director’s role becomes one of planner-in-chief. If I cannot possibly have total control in the moment or let the piece grow of its own volition, I must make sure that everyone is aware of the plan from the very start.

I first concerned myself with the basics of who is onstage and when. Once that was resolved I looked at the props clearly necessary and added what set pieces I thought I needed. This was all done, more or less, in my head as I was editing, as a very first pass.

Once aware of who should be onstage and why, I started diagramming every scene and putting my imagined movements into the script. When I looked at those diagrams, I saw more logistical problems. I worked to solve those, motivating every movement that I could, keeping in mind the readings of the lines my actors have given me. I had a roadmap or the central action of my ice sculpture.

Finally, I was able to turn to the finer points that actually define how the audience will see the play. Some of my well laid logistical plans would not work with an audience. They would be confusing; they had to be changed. For example, I had wanted to use two blocks covered with a sheet as Juliet’s bed, but I also wanted it to be the Friar’s bench (Why did he have a bench? Another good example of audience confusion). I had also devised several movements for the bed, but these also were confusing. As such, everything had to be streamlined.
One of director Alex Dabertin's visual compositions for
What, Lamb! What, Ladybird!

Those changes, ostensibly logistical, have have turned out to be, instead, artistic. Decisions I needed to make because I realized that the audience might be confused by something, the set, the movement of bodies on stage, gave me the opportunity to more precisely lead my audience’s eye and ear. And that is where simplicity came in. I realized that by letting things be only themselves, a bed being always a bed, for example, they gained more weight in the audience’s eye. And in the same way, lines said around those heavier objects gained significance themselves.

By making the story clear, I made the various themes of the play more audible.

Though I have learned an incredible amount over the course of this project, I still have the greatest challenge ahead of me: staging it. But I am lucky in that regard to have a great team on all sides of me to help me make use of what I have learned in the most efficient manner.