Saluting The Understudies

“Stand-ins of the world, stand up!” (Tom Stoppard, The Real Inspector Hound) 2022 will be remembered as the Year of the Understudy – not only did the Patron Saint of the Understudy King Charles III finally step into the leading role after waiting in the wings for 74 years, but audiences began to fully appreciate how understudies keep theatre going during a global pandemic. Understudies come in a variety of flavors, from covers to swings to alternates, and actors Loren Jones and Cindy Gold talk about which flavor they are in the Goodman Theatre’s 2022 production of A Christmas Carol. The conversation features lessons learned from the pandemic; how understudying can actually be a good paid gig; the difficulty of learning the lines without learning the moves; fast-tracking the understudies during rehearsal; the challenge of not just learning the role but the entire show; how old ways of doing things are changing; the identity of Scrooge’s overstudy; and tales of understudying both glorious and horrendous. (Length 19:43)

Goodman’s Christmas Carol

Jessica Thebus directs the Goodman Theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, and this year she’s brought our own Austin Tichenor along to play Scrooge at ten designated performances. Jessica and Austin discuss how much the production changes from year to year (and, surprisingly, how little); how heaping helpings of Dickens’ actual text is present in the production; the willingness of returning veterans to investigate the script anew; the eagerness of artists and audiences to revisit this ritual; how a story is only as good as its bad guy; how everyone is invited to the Christmas Carol party; and how Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the great roles in the theatrical canon. (Length 17:43) (PICTURED: Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Jessica Thebus. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Happy 16th Anniversary!

Mya Gosling, aka GoodTickleBrain, joins us to celebrate the 16th anniversary of the Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast, new episodes of which have dropped weekly since early December, 2006. Mya interviews producer/host Austin Tichenor, who discusses the podcast’s origins and evolution; the greatest gift the podcast has turned into; how it was partially inspired by physical media; how much of a Shakespearean he was to begin with (and how much of one he’s become); how the RSC’s shows evolved into longer narratives; and the fun of filling existing spaces with your own stories. (Length 26:18) (Stick-figure Mya and Austin courtesy of Mya Gosling/GoodTickleBrain. Used by permission.)

Weird Al’s Guitarist

Jack Lancaster (above, left, with Daniel Radcliffe) plays Jim “Kimo” West, or at least a highly fictionalized version of him, in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the straight-faced and factually dubious biopic now streaming on the Roku Channel. Jack reveals the early musical training that helped prepare him for this (and many) roles; the challenge of standing out in an audition; the importance of great acting and great musicianship, especially when making something silly; dealing with a major case of Imposter Syndrome; buying his first grown-man suit; the thinking behind the decision of whether to be based in Chicago or Los Angeles; and the glorious fun of working with both Weird Al Yankovic and Harry Potter! (Length 18:33)

Measure For Measure

Director Henry Godinez talks about his powerful Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Measure For Measure, how he loves Shakespeare’s famously problem play, and how his background informed his approach to it. Set amidst the glamour, music, and sensuality of 1950s Cuba, where Shakespeare’s Vienna becomes Havana just before Fidel Castro seizes power, Henry also discusses how this setting enriched his understanding of the play; how differing strands of self-righteous fanaticism and hypocrisy come into conflict; his own crazy childhood dreams; how this production manages to (amazingly!) end on a mildly positive and hopeful note; and how Shakespeare’s problem play is better the more nuanced and complicated it is. (Length 17:40) (PICTURED: The company of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, directed by Henry Godinez, in the Courtyard Theater, October 21–November 27, 2022. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Doug’s Time Traveling

RSC Actor Doug Harvey (Hamlet in Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel)) performs his one-man show A Time Traveler’s Guide to the Present at the United Solo Festival in New York City on November 5, 2022 (an important date in the space time continuum). The show’s director Abigail Deser joins Doug to discuss how the show evolved for its run at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe; how the show helps them (and us!) survive in the worst timeline; the expedience of rehearsing over pizza; dealing with pandemic loss; finding the show’s spine; the excitement of virtuosity; the value of stripping away extraneous bells and whistles; the wonder of sacrificing your babies so as to not kill your momentum; how the best time travel stories are also love stories; and the beauty and satisfaction of fulfilling the promise of the time-travelly premise. (Length 21:57)

Shana’s “All’s Well”

Shana Cooper discusses her direction of one of Shakespeare’s infamous “problem plays,” All’s Well That Ends Well, which ran (quite well!) at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in the spring of 2022. Shana reveals how the project came to her; how the options of possible plays narrows considerably when you’re completing the canon; how a play about deeply flawed people at transitional points in their lives matches our historical moment; the vital importance of casting a sympathetic center in your leading role; how her next production is that light-hearted romp Metamorphoses at Seattle Rep; how Bertram typifies the annoying number of fraught men and boys in Shakespeare; and ultimately the importance of finding allies in transitional moments and identifying your next version of Home. (Length 21:40) (PICTURED: Diana (Emma Ladji) and Helen (Alejandra Escalante) in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of All’s Well That Ends Well, directed by Shana Cooper. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Lighting The Comedy

Tony, Obie, Drama Desk, and Joseph Jefferson award-winning designer Christopher Akerlind has designed the lights for the current Goodman Theatre production of Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s, a powerful comedy directed by Kate Whoriskey and featuring astonishing performances from a terrific ensemble (including friend of the pod Kevin Kenerly). Chris discusses how his bold (and funny!) lighting design for Clyde’s goes against his general philosophy of staying out of the way; how he always tries to stay open to the possibility of improvisation in your design; the importance of finding restrictions; how he’s open to the timing and rhythms of actors, language, and ultimately, audiences; how he embraces the opportunity to create visual humor; the secret to developing design muscles; and how Shakespeare is the opposite of restricting. (Length 18:29) (PICTURED ABOVE: Reza Salazar and Nedra Snipes in the Goodman Theatre production of Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s, directed by Kate Whoriskey. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Actor/Singer David Benoit

Broadway veteran David Benoit works all over the country, including the current Chicago Lyric Opera production of Fiddler on the Roof and the recent world premiere musical Bruce at Seattle Rep. David discusses the various paths he’s taken to some of his favorite roles; how he considers the audition the job; learning lessons from Susan Stroman; how to partner in the dance between actor and director; the importance of avoiding cutesy pogroms; manifesting roles as far back as third grade; and how Jaws nerdery leads to work! (Length 21:33)

‘Owning Shakespeare’ Podcast

The first season of Rob Myles’ extraordinary Owning Shakespeare podcast is now available on all the usual platforms, and it’s a fantastic collection of six noted Shakespeare actors tackling (in real time) a speech they’ve never looked at before, and sharing their process, stumbles, and successes with the listener. Rob’s a wonderful guide, and he joins us to discuss how the podcast came together; how the RSC’s Austin Tichenor was a briefly unwitting test subject; what this and future seasons will accomplish; how he blushes at praise for his knowledge of Shakespeare and skills as a director; the joy of taking both Shakespeare and actors off pedestals; how a rushed rehearsal process led to a kind-of triage of Shakespeare; the importance of demystifying the idea that actors are only using “intuition;” how to avoid “impenetrable babble;” the value of showcasing the new generation of Approved Shakespeareans; and the hoped-for possibility of getting an Avenger on Season Two. (Length 21:40) (PICTURED, clockwise from top left, the six “text detectives” from Season One of Owning Shakespeare: Isabel Adomakoh Young, Austin Tichenor, Miguel Perez, Debra Ann Byrd, Paterson Joseph, and Adjoa Andoh.)

Tyla Abercrumbie’s ‘Relentless’

Tyla Abercrumbie is an actor, director, and playwright whose play Relentless was produced by Chicago’s Timeline Theatre Company, called “The best new work here in years,” by the Chicago Tribune, then subsequently presented by the Goodman Theatre. Relentless tells the story of two sisters who return to Philadelphia in 1919 to settle the estate of their mother and make family discoveries that change their knowledge of the past and will possibly determine their future. Tyla talks about her play came to be; what inspired it but also (more importantly) what motivated it; how her acting informs her writing; her goals for a large canon; the joy of costumes, both wearing them and writing for them; the fun of doing it the way Shakespeare did it; and how disparate ideas come together as if they were meant to be – which they probably were. (Length 21:40) (PICTURED: Ayanna Bria Bakari and Jane Ladymore in the Timeline Theatre Company’s production of Tyla Abercrumbie’s Relentless, at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson.)

Adrian’s Alan Adaptation

Two-time Olivier Award winning actor Adrian Scarborough has written The Clothes They Stood Up In, an adaptation of the novella of the same name by Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, Talking Heads, The History Boys, and The Lady in the Van), about a mild-mannered couple (played by Adrian and Sophie Thompson) who return home from the opera one evening to find their flat completely bare and every single item they own stolen. What happens next is the action of this very funny play, which opens this week at the Nottingham Playhouse, and Adrian talks about about how his adaptation came to be, and how many versions he’s had to learn; the challenges of wearing both his actor and playwright hats; his successful preview at The Berko Speakeasy; finding (and imitating) Bennett’s voice; the value of getting microphones in the toilet; the privilege of getting to sit on the other side of the table; and the enormous satisfaction of challenging one’s self to come up with the goods. (Length 21:38)

Ron OJ Parson

Ron OJ Parson is a multiple award-winning director and Resident Artist at the 2022 Tony-winning regional theater Court Theatre in Chicago, where his production of Arsenic and Old Lace opens this Saturday night. Ron’s extraordinary range includes over 30 productions of August Wilson’s plays, musicals, classics, and world premieres, and he discusses how he approaches each script, regardless of genre; how the best direction is collaboration; bonding with Brian Dennehy and formative mentoring from Marion McClinton and Stephen McKinley Henderson; the art of not doing all that much to the play while you’re doing the harder work of just doing the play; how he’s one of the folks responsible for it being a golden age of August Wilson in Chicago (and elsewhere); and how believes in the fundamental importance of laughter, not just as entertainment but as catharsis. Can you say #RonaissanceMan? (Length 18:33) (Photo of Ron OJ Parson by Joe Mazza.)

Chagall In School

James Sherman is a founding member of the Tony-winning Victory Gardens Theater’s Playwrights Ensemble and his new play, Chagall in School, opens this weekend at Theater Wit in Chicago, in a production by the Grippo Stage Company, directed by Georgette Verdin. Chagall in School follows the the young artist Marc Chagall struggling to find his voice amidst political, cultural, and artistic revolution – which, not coincidentally, happened almost exactly 100 years ago – James discusses the impulse that led to the play’s creation; how plays like Chagall in School come to be: the mixed message of people encouraging you to become a playwright after seeing you act; how the first draft of any play is simply the author improvising; the relationship between revolutions in painting and revolutions in acting; and finally, how the audience is the crucial – and final – component for a brand new play. (Length 20:37) (PICTURED: John Drea and Yourtana Sulaiman as Marc and Berta Chagall in James Sherman’s Chagall In School, directed by Georgette Verdin, Grippo Stage Company.)

Playing Henry V

Chicago actor Sam Hubbard just finished playing the title role in the the Michigan Shakespeare Festival production of Henry V, directed by artistic director Janice L. Blixt. Originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, Sam talks about what changed with two additional years to think about his performance; where he got the freedom to let go of the bad ideas; how Henry succeeds (or doesn’t) in rallying his men; the joy of getting to play dream roles; investigating what effective leadership looks like, both centuries ago and now; the richness of adding memorable unspoken moments to Shakespeare; the temerity of imagining a God-appointed king as actually human in 1598; the gratitude of avoiding the “Intern Drop-off;” and finally, the great good fortune of considering doing the Don Knotts version of Henry V – and then rejecting it. (Length 24:25) (PICTURED: Sam Hubbard in the title role of Henry V, Michigan Shakespeare Festival, directed by Janice L. Blixt. Photo by Victor Yang.)

Mr. Javier Muñoz

Javier Muñoz (Hamilton, In The Heights) stars in The Devil Wears Prada, the new musical based on the film and novel, with songs by Elton John and Shaina Taub. Javier plays Nigel (instantly erasing any memories of Stanley Tucci), and discusses how creating a role is less about ego and more about serving the story and character; the challenges of rehearsing changes during the day while performing the existing show at night; how he gave his first Broadway performance of Alexander Hamilton in front of President Barack Obama and his First Lady Michelle; what originating the song “Seen” means to him and his activism (and how precious it is to work with his “Seen” partner); and how debuting a song written by Sir Elton John differs from performing songs written by Sir Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Length 33:05) (PICTURED: Above, Javier Muñoz in The Devil Wears Prada, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Photo by Joan Marcus. Below, Javier Muñoz, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Leslie Odom Jr, and the cast of Hamilton greeting President Barack Obama backstage, July 2015. Photo by Pete Souza.)

Where We Belong

Madeline Sayet’s one-woman show Where We Belong tells the story of her journey from discovering Shakespeare as a child to studying him in England and directing him (and others, and opera) around the world. Madeline is a director, educator, and writer, a member of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, and she discusses her play’s origins; how different audiences react to it; how Shakespeare became a part of her normal childhood fairy-tale world; the sometimes thorny challenge of adapting personal relationships to accommodate the art; an uncomfortable reminder about how history works; possible sequel titles; how everybody wants to be in the play now that it’s a success; the art – and importance – of loving a thing and still being able to criticize a thing; and how theatre can also be good medicine. Where We Belong ran at the Goodman Theatre and will play Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in August 2022, Seattle Repertory Theatre and New York’s Public Theatre in the Fall of 2022, and Portland Center Stage and Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2023. (PHOTO: Madeline Sayet in Where We Belong. Photo by Liz Lauren.) (Length 21:33)

Celebrating Anne Hathaway

(No, not that one.) This weekend is the 399th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway, and to commemorate the occasion we talk to Dr. Katherine Scheil, author of Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway. Dr. Scheil discusses what drew her to Hathaway as a subject for study; how Hathaway is almost always portrayed in relationship to Shakespeare; what to make of the “second best bed” she received in Shakespeare’s will; the wonderful democratization and liberating opportunities of biofiction; how sex is frequently the default source of Shakespeare’s “inspiration;” a discussion of the relative merits of the films Shakespeare In Love and All Is True, the TV series Upstart Crow, and the novel Hamnet; and ultimately, how biofiction can be a more insightful way of understanding historical figures, and even how sitcoms can reveal greater story and character nuance than drama. (Length 25:59)

Counting ‘Zero Zebras’

Children’s book author (Great Estimations, The Beastly Feast) Bruce Goldstone discusses his new book Zero Zebras: A Counting Book About What’s Not There, an adorable way of introducing the idea of nothing (and everything!) to a young audience…and maybe even you. Bruce explains how zero’s possibly the most powerful number, and shares inspirational childhood delight from Hughes Mearns’ “I met a man who wasn’t there;” how divisions and categorization are our enemy; a previous collaboration with the world’s most famous (and surprisingly talkative) mime; his fondness for the absurd; the theatrical nature of children’s picture books; mixing classics with vaudeville; how he’s introducing children to the concept of seeing and imagining things that aren’t there; and how – as in jazz – it’s all about the zebras you don’t count. (Length 19:22)

Celebrating ‘Lookingglass Alice’

David Catlin is a founding Ensemble Member, actor, writer, director, and former Artistic Director of the Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, and, whose adaptations and productions, which include Moby Dick and The Little Prince, “has sculpted the Lookingglass aesthetic.” David discusses the origins of Lookingglass Alice and the art of combining multiple skillsets; how the show is reshaped to the specific skills of its cast members; how David’s less of a director and more of an air traffic controller; the challenge (and joy!) of creating theater that shatters boundaries and explores possibilities; a proposed title for a new reduced version of a Herman Melville classic; and how Lookingglass is one of several models of college kids forming a theater and making a go of it. (Length 23:57)

Starling Shakespeare Company

Heron Kennedy (left, below) and Jessie Lillis, the founding artistic directors of Starling Shakespeare Company, discuss the company’s origins, plans for the future, and the rewards and challenges – both artistic and practical – of performing Shakespeare with only five people. FEATURING: Exploring different institutional models; inspiration from Actors From The London Stage; the definition and comic possibilities of “extreme casting;” the importance of a playful rehearsal room; how they’ve added touring dates and educational residencies; and how, ultimately, Starling Shakespeare provides both an excellent focus on Shakespeare’s text – and a remarkable showcase for actors. (Length 21:40)

Jack And Louise

Two-time Olivier Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig has written Dear Jack, Dear Louise, a funny and charming romantic comedy that won the Helen Hayes award in 2020 for Best New Play and opens this week at the Northlight Theatre in the suburbs of Chicago. Dear Jack, Dear Louise depicts the unlikely courtship of Ken’s parents during World War II, and he discusses the origins of a play that is both right in his wheelhouse and a departure from the rest of his oeuvre; the joy of discovering subject matter that’s both freeing and always surprising; the wonder of actors becoming new people who also have his parents’ essence; whether it’s easier to think of your parents as real people or as characters in a play; how he’s writing a brand-new jukebox comic opera, using music by Rossini, called Tenor Overboard; a shout-out to the Chichester Theater Festival; and how Dear Jack, Dear Louise is ultimately a love letter to Ken’s – any maybe all – parents. (Length 18:45) (PICTURED: Casey Hoekstra and Sarah Price as the title characters in the Northlight Theatre production of Dear Jack, Dear Louise, directed by Jessica Fisch. Photo by Greg Inda.

Summertime Shakespeare Rom-Com

“To go for it, or not to go for it?” That is the appealing question that drives For the Love of the Bard, the debut novel from author Jessica Martin, which is being published just in time to go to the top of your summer reading list, especially if you’re a Shakespeare nerd. The story involves our heroine Miranda Barnes returning to her hometown of Bard’s Rest, New Hampshire, and helping to run the theater festival run by her parents. But once there, Miranda struggles with her feelings for Adam, the hunky veterinarian who spurned her in high school but also looks great with his shirt off. Martin discusses an early pumpkin-related success led to her passion for writing; how writing gets easier only by doing it; how the book’s fantasy works on so many levels; the surprisingly tricky aspects of writing urban fantasy; how she started writing, how she came to Shakespeare, and how she came to write about Shakespeare; shout-outs to both Robertson Davies’s Tempest-Tost and the Hogarth series of Shakespearean novels; and how people who don’t like Shakespeare puns are sad and to be pitied. (Length 17:32)

The Understudy Bookstore

Chicago will soon get its own Drama Book Shop in the form of The Understudy Bookstore, and founding owners Adam Crawford and Danny Fender talk about their ultimate pandemic pivot and how it’s already become a project the entire Chicago theater community is enthusiastically supporting; how Chicago is like one big college theater campus; how difficult it is (and how privileged they are) to be able to realize this beautiful dream; how it’s possible to have a theatrical career in Chicago; how they learned lessons from fellow small business owners; give a shout-out to Scenes, Chicago’s previous theater bookstore; and The Understudy’s fantastic motto: “Good Books, Fresh Beans, & All The Drama.” (Length 20:47)

Harlem’s Classical Theatre

Ty Jones, the producing artistic director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, talks about how CTH has survived the pandemic; continues to provide theatrical productions and theatre-based educational and literary programs for free or at little cost to Harlem residents, businesses, schools, community-based organizations and all who seek Harlem as a cultural destination from around the world; and is trying to create a permanent home for not only itself, but all of Harlem’s classical institutions. FEATURING: how we define classics; unintended consequences of the last two years; the difficulty of keeping the drama on the stage; the possibility of transforming lives, especially for children; creating a sustainable organization; the importance right now of doubling down on support for theater; how costs have skyrocketed post-pandemic; connections to Steve Harris and The Practice; getting the tools, and then sharpening them; the challenge of creating a home for the arts while also bringing the arts to where the people are; adhering to the motto of “go big and get a home!”; and a hugely important push-back on the idea that a parent has failed if their child goes into the arts! (Length 21:00)

Jackie & Me

Louis Bayard’s new novel Jackie & Me tells the story of the courtship of Congressman John F. Kennedy and Jackie Bouvier from the point of view of Kennedy’s oldest friend, a closeted gay man named Lem Billings. It’s a charming and moving imagining of how these events played out that takes us inside the heads and hearts of these real people, and Lou discusses how writing about recent Presidential romance is different from writing about 19th-century Presidential romances; how he embraces the multiverse (and who actually invented it); the fun of Googling while reading; a fascination with closeted love; some great jacket copy; how the types of mysteries he writes about has changed; and an irreverent yet perfect celebration of Pride Month. (Length 25:19)

Michael Chiklis’s Red

Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor Michael Chiklis (The Shield) plays legendary Hall of Fame coach, president, and general manager of the Boston Celtics Red Auerbach in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (now streaming on HBOMax). Michael discusses why the role is so special; why he has a permanent resistance to typecasting, even (and especially) in grad school; the power of actors; the terror of complacency; tales of impulsive behavior in TV audition rooms; the dangers of stinking up the room; the joy of nothing going ‘snap’; a tease about his upcoming project; and how he manifested reinventing himself from “roly-poly affable guy” to someone who’s “adult, hard-hitting, smart…and has something to say.” (Length 24:40)

Shakespeare In Detroit

Sam White (left) is the founding artistic and executive director of Shakespeare In Detroit, currently presenting the African-American Shakespeare Company production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) , directed by Reed Martin. On their first opening night in years, in their new home at Marygrove Conservancy, Sam sat down to discuss the history of @ShakesInTheD; her own origin story; how she has a new appreciation for King Lear after caring for aging parents; the important distinction between loving Shakespeare’s works and loving Shakespeare the man; the dangers of taking Shakespeare too seriously; the importance of changing the idea of who Shakespeare is for; how the best actors are funny; the crazy delight of becoming BFFs with Margaret Atwood; and how the pandemic has enriched and deepened our understanding of Shakespeare’s plays. (Length 18:15) (PICTURED: Tre Tyler, Lijesh Krishnan, and Gabe Ross in the Shakespeare In Detroit / African-American Shakespeare Company co-production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) , directed by Reed Martin. Photo by @chuknowak.)

Staging “Athena”‘s Fencing

David Blixt is the co-fight choreographer of the Writers Theatre production of Gracie Gardner’s Athena, directed by Jessica Fisch and featuring two stand-out performances by Aja Singletary (right) and Mary Tilden (left). David discusses the things that make this production unique in his experience; the importance of being a storyteller; the language of the body; the value of creating theater as an ensemble; how distance equals danger; why the actors had to actually hit each other; and how stage violence is always a story of desire and denial. (Length 16:24)

Christopher Moore’s ‘Razzmatazz’

Christopher Moore’s latest comic novel Razzmatazz is a sequel to his 2018 novel Noir, a wonderfully funny and satisfying novel of reinvention that depicts San Francisco’s seedy but fabulous underbelly in post-war 1940s San Francisco. Chris discusses how Razzmatazz came out of the research he did into the history of San Francisco for Noir; how he manages to find the funny in serious subjects; the fun of jumping around in time; the importance of following Shakespeare’s example by adding comic relief to serious subjects; giving readers a win; the ah-ha! moment of realizing a secondary character in Noir can become a protagonist in Razzmatazz; how not to get bogged down in a consistent point of view; which characters got moxie and which characters don’t; the surprisingly long wait for the perfect synopsis; and the origin (and surprising new definition) of the title. (Length 25:35)

Shakespeare Lightning Round

Austin Tichenor was a guest on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Instagram Live series Shakespeare Lightning Round, a hugely fun format where guests from all corners of the Shakespeare world answer rapid-fire questions about all aspects of Shakespeare. Host Ben Lauer, the Folger’s Social Media and Communications Manager, hurls thirty rapid-fire questions at Austin, who reveals his favorite prop, his favorite Midsummer mechanical, and his favorite Shakespeare ghost; which Shakespeare moments have made him cry; how the RSC set a Guinness World’s Record; his favorite Shakespeare play he’s never got to work on; and how not getting #SnakesOnAPlane trending is such a missed opportunity. In the words of Shakespeare himself, strap in. (Length 23:14)

RSC D&D One-Shot

Chad Yarish served as the Dungeon Master for the RSC’s very first Dungeons & Dragons campaign – certainly the very first one we recorded for a podcast. While long by podcast standards, this was incredibly short for a D&D campaign, and features the importance of a working knowledge of vampire lore; dead guys both talkative and disappearing; a surprising and very special appearance by the Bardic composer of Guys and Dolls; the difficulty of choosing between the Rooms of Weeping, the Larder of Ill-Omens, and the Pantry of Pleasure; inexplicable and unconscious invocations of Once Upon a Mattress; and the heroic and cathartic power of invoking the Brown Noise. (Length 1:05:11)

Thing Of Darkness

What if Shakespeare didn’t die on April 23, 1616, and instead sailed to the New World? Novelist Allan Batchelder (the Immortal Treachery series) dives into speculative historical fiction to investigate this very question in his new novel This Thing of Darkness, which imagines the aging playwright creating a new family of outsiders amidst tension between their fellow English settles, the suspicious Powhatans, and a creature out of legend. Allan discusses his novel’s origins; how much of the historical record fuels his imagination; how he dives into and refutes various Authorship theories; how spite is a powerful motivator; how his experience as an actor, educator, former stand-up comedian and Girl Scout (!) influences his writing; how he navigates the dangers of writing from on-high; and the fun of positing a different kind of a relationship between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. (Length 20:13)

Hail, Richard II

The African-American Shakespeare Company production of Richard II, in a new Play On! translation by Naomi Iizuka, runs this weekend and next April 15-24, 2022, at the Marines Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. Director L. Peter Callender and star Lijesh Krishnan discuss the creation of this production; the return to live performances with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)  (and how it will travel to Shakespeare in Detroit in May, 2022); the open secret of how Shakespeare gets adapted and translated all the time; unnecessarily nice words about Reed Martin; the distinction between common people and the masses; the difference between the quality of the jokes and the people saying the jokes; the promise of opening night drinks; and the importance of rewarding audiences for returning to live performances. (Length 21:31)

Episode 800! Hail, ‘King James’!

For our landmark 800th episode, we’re joined by Rajiv Joseph, the Obie-winning playwright and screenwriter whose Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, talking about his new play King James, now in its final week at Steppenwolf Theater before its month-long run at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Rajiv talks about how the play found its ultimate shape; the bona fides and credibility he brings to the topic; the theatrical pageantry of sporting events, and how some of that invaluable arena energy is brought into the theater; the largely unexplored area of the emotional impact of sports; and our shared belief that the subject of sports remains fruitful and largely unexplored territory in the theater. (Length 17:44)

Are You Here?

A veteran of film, TV, and Broadway, Jim Ortlieb stars in John Kolvenbach’s Stand Up If You’re Here Tonight, a tour-de-force one-person play about what it means to struggle to survive, to move on, to connect, and to find community again. Now in its Chicago premiere at the American Blues Theater, the noted film, stage, and TV actor talks about the challenge of acting by himself…but with an entire audience; how behavior reveals meaning; how the death of Hal Holbrook inspired the play; the importance of mourning and how we, as a culture, aren’t that good at at; that moment when spouses figure you out; how this one play might become a life’s work; and navigating that line where the character stops and where the actor begins. (Length 19:53)

Back To Rehearsal

Last week we gathered in the RSC’s hometown of Sonoma, California to finally return to Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel) since the last time we performed it back in 2019. Original cast members Doug Harvey, Austin Tichenor, and Chad Yarish talk about what it’s like to back on their feet; how they survived this “long intermission;” how it was time to retire from cracking nuts; the promise of a possible live RSC D&D one-shot; some important pandemic pivots; the importance of crystallizing our purpose; the (hopefully only temporary) end of an RSC tradition; and how the themes of Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel) have become surprisingly resonant and more comically powerful in the intervening two years. (Length 18:41)

Untamed Shrews Podcast

Dawn Tucker, Hannah Fontes, and Becki Zaritsky are the hosts of the Untamed Shrews Podcast, a production of Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival (where Dawn and Hannah are the Executive and Marketing Directors, respectively, and Becki is the former production manager). The three Shrews discuss their work with Flagstaff Shakes and how the pandemic inspired the podcast’s creation, and how they bring their irreverence and humor not only to podcasting but to Shakespeare and theater. FEATURING: an RSC Podcast first; how Dawn is livin’ the dream; how shrews need love, too; how their specific skillset allows a trapeze Winter’s Tale; the state of the arts in Arizona (or at least in Flagstaff); wisdom from a Shakespearean elder; and how FlagShakes may be the only theater company in Arizona that doesn’t own a fog machine. (Length 25:05)

Revealing Naked Emperors

Reed Martin remembers seeing the 1985 production of Merrily We Roll Along, the troubled musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth that found its final form (according to Sondheim) at the La Jolla Playhouse when it was directed by James Lapine. Reed and Austin struggle to find the greatness that everyone else sees, and discuss what compels them to take icons like Sondheim and Shakespeare off their pedestals; how one story created rare flops from two hit-making teams; the multiple intersections of Austin and John Rubinstein; the trouble with problematic female leads; the relief of having built-in happy endings; how the best thing to come out of Merrily We Roll Along just might be the documentary about its making Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened; the desire to not diminish anyone’s greatness; the problem with veneration; and the importance of pointing out that sometimes the emperor isn’t as fully clothed as everybody thinks. (Length 16:33)

To Decolonize Shakespeare

Nicolette Bethel, the co-founder of Shakespeare in Paradise, in The Bahamas, talk about the process of decolonizing Shakespeare in parts of the world where Shakespeare’s been weaponized as a tool of imperialism and a symbol of “superior” – meaning, white and English – culture. This second part of our conversation (part one can be found here) features discussion about the complicated symbolism of Caliban and Prospero; shifting the narrative of Shakespeare in the Caribbean; the frustration of external validation; how The Bahamas is slightly to the side of the typical Caribbean colonial experience; the number of people who actually travel to Nassau to see Bahamian theater (SPOILER ALERT: very few); how we look forward to larger international gatherings; and the trick of taking advantage of fantastic opportunities that are also huge challenges. (FOR FURTHER READING: see “Decolonizing Theater” by Annalisa Dias and Madeline Sayet. Artwork by Mya Gosling, aka GoodTickleBrain. Used by permission.) (Length 16:45)

Shakespeare In Paradise

Shakespeare In Paradise, an annual festival committed to exposing Bahamian audiences to a range of productions from classical theatre traditions around the world while celebrating and developing Bahamian Theater artists. Co-founded in 2009 by Nicolette Bethel, Shakespeare In Paradise is the only international theater festival of its kind in the Caribbean, and Nicolette talks about the festival’s origins; the complicated nature of what the words “Shakespeare” and “paradise” actually mean; how Shakespeare in Paradise is slowly but officially becoming the national theater of The Bahamas; why there’s been resistance to Shakespeare throughout the Caribbean; how a seven-person Measure For Measure transformed perceptions of how Shakespeare can be done; how certain of his plays speak to certain audiences; how certain of his plays maybe just shouldn’t be done anymore; and how Shakespeare In Paradise is creating new generations of people who aren’t afraid of Shakespeare. (Length 18:15)

Mike And Mandy

The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s own Michael Faulkner and his wife, actor Amanda Pajer, have created new musical identities as Mike & Mandy, writing and producing new music that’s being heard and buzzed about all over the world. For this special Valentine’s Day episode, they discuss working together as a couple and the process of collaboration; how they survived the pandemic by turning it into an opportunity; the danger of doing Twitter all wrong; how their eclectic and diverse musical tastes make it difficult to define their “brand”; the fun of upgrading both your equipment and your skillset; and the amazing moment when you discover you already know everything you need to know. (Length 21:52)

Netta Walker’s ‘Homecoming’

Netta Walker, one of the stars of All-American: Homecoming and a stage actor who spent time in Chicago, discusses how her stage experience compares with her TV experience, and, amazingly, how one of her early formative experiences was with the Reduced Shakespeare Company (!). FEATURING: her debut on the stage of Lincoln Center; where she got her early professional experience; being blessed with supportive parents; the value of seeing Shakespeare performed (even by us) before studying it as literature; being part of the original cast of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley; how to avoid the stress of trying to guess what a director wants in an audition; and where she gets her (for want of a better word) confidence. (Length 16:07) 

Surviving Theatre School

Gina Pulice and Jen Bosworth-Ramirez are the hosts of the “I Survived Theatre School Podcast”, which started as a pandemic project, but has become a fantastic ongoing conversation about the things we learned in theatre school, the things we didn’t learn, and how we’ve all managed to survive: some of us in the theatre, and some of us in other fields. Austin Tichenor was a guest on their podcast and now returns the favor, letting Gina and Bos talk about how their podcast came to be and what it’s now become. FEATURING: the value of active listening, both within the theatre and without; the counterintuitive freedom of a rigid schedule; the joy of “psychological spelunking;” how one can become a reimagined artist; and how something that didn’t start out to be a “self-help” podcast has turned out to be, for its listeners, remarkably healing. (Length 19:15)

New York Classical

Just what New York needs – another theater, right?! Yet New York Classical Theatre has carved a valuable niche by presenting all-free productions of popular classics and forgotten masterpieces in public spaces throughout New York City. Founding Artistic Director Stephen Burdman talks about how the company began; how the importance of access drives everything; the blessing of producing in a city filled with thousands of wonderful professional actors; the value of always telling the truth; the development of the concept of “panoramic theater;” and one of the greatest helicopter interruptions ever. #ThanksObama Did we mention their productions are all-free?! (Length 19:53)

Expanding The Canon

Emily Lyon and Shannon Corinthen are the artistic and producing directors of the Hedgepig Ensemble in Brooklyn, NY, and two of the hosts of “This is a Classic: The Expand The Canon Theatre Podcast,” an outgrowth of Hedgepig’s mission to uplift the legacy of women and non-binary writers. Shannon and Emily talk about the plethora of plays out there by underrepresented writers; how they curate their annual “Expand The Canon” lists; how many plays they read each other to create their suggestions; how Hedgepig is committed to expanding the canon by commissioning new works and new translations; the surprising timelessness of so many of these plays; and how so many of them would fit into a theater’s season so much better than some of the overdone and less-worthy plays that get done now. (Length 20:35)

Running The Gamut

The Gamut Theatre in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, hosted the 2022 Shakespeare Theatre Association conference last weekend, and artistic director Clark Nicholson sat down to talk about the theater’s origins, its evolution, and how they run many different operations under one umbrella. Featuring adventures in real estate; changing one kind of sacred space into another; the challenges and rewards of making much out of little; dealing with onstage Egos; the challenges of wearing many different hats; and – most importantly – how children’s theater is the new vaudeville in terms of giving actors the chops to handle any kind of audience. Plus! A special tribute to playwright Russell Lees, who died on January 4, 2022. Just a couple of pedantic jerks sitting around talking… (Length 20:05) (Pictured: Melissa and Clark Nicholson, executive and artistic directors, respectively, of the The Gamut Theatre in Harrisburg, PA. Photo by Rick Snizik.)

Inspiration And Transformation

Last week’s podcast about an uneasy correspondence with Stephen Sondheim prompts this first podcast of 2022! Matt Croke joins us to dig into the question of where artistic inspiration comes from, and how artists transform their influences into art. Featuring comic influences that have inspired the RSC (in both spoken word and musical form); finding more meat on the bone; the importance of acknowledging your influences and knowing what else has been done; how Elvis Costello responded to a similar question of influence; and a parody excerpt from the Reduced Shakespeare Radio Show. (Length 33:16)

Austin’s Sondheim Tale

Attend the tale!! In 2016, The Sondheim Review published an article by our own Austin Tichenor that discussed the similarities between the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical The Fantasticks and the James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim collaborations Sunday in the Park with George and Into The Woods – and Mr. Sondheim was sorely displeased. What follows is a tale of honest curiosity; genuine repentance; possible projection; extreme umbrage; high dudgeon; missed fact-checking; lack of graciousness; sincere regret; and everlasting gratitude. CLICK THROUGH TO READ THE CORRESPONDENCE AND JUDGE FOR YOURSELF. (Length 15:54)

Grownup Tiny Tim

Louis Bayard’s novel Mr. Timothy, a sort-of sequel to Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, imagines what happens to Tiny Tim as a grownup. It’s a moving literary thriller, with its own sort of redemption and set in and around the Victorian London underworld, and author Bayard discusses the book’s origins and creation; how A Christmas Carol is a surprisingly angry book; how he realized that Bob Cratchit is not the most reliable narrator; the ways in which Tiny Tim is a Rorschach test; the desperate need to find your own narrative; the struggle of being seen as a symbol, not a person; the importance of purging and exorcizing your demons; not having a good answer to the question of where this sh1t comes from; identifying at least one Dickens descendant (who you may recognize from Game of Thrones); the importance of keeping multiple plates spinning; the fun of finding the story that’s already there; and inside scoop on the upcoming film adaptation of Lou’s novel The Pale Blue Eye, starring Christian Bale. (Length 19:43)

Adam Felber: Memoirist

Improviser, novelist, TV writer, podcast host, panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and now memoirist Adam Felber is the co-author, with Charles Band, of Confessions of a Puppetmaster: A Hollywood Memoir of Ghouls, Guts, and Gonzo Filmmaking, and he discusses the extraordinary life he’s helped document; how he makes sure his writing is entertaining; his foray into the multi-podcast-verse; how his career has progressed in ways he didn’t anticipate; the futility of thinking one can “win” showbiz; the rewards of jamming with local dads; his ongoing adventures in writing for television; and, ultimately, how a bullshitter knows a bullshitter. FEATURING: a special appearance from Mr. Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me himself, Peter Sagal! (Length 17:09)

Choreographer Matt Crowle

Matt Crowle has directed and choreographed Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn at the the Drury Lane Theatre outside Chicago, and this week he discusses how one job led to (and informs) the other. Featuring early inspiration from Gene Kelly, Ray Bolger, Eleanor Powell, and Bob Fosse; a litany of luck; advice from Mike Nichols; a preference for “characters who dance” over a uniform chorus line; the attraction of athleticism; the importance of serving the piece and killing your darlings; and the relief of knowing the next show will come along soon. (Length 19:15) (Pictured, above: Danielle Davis and Adrian Aguilar in Holiday Inn, directed by Matt Crowle, Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner.)

Remembering Stephen Sondheim

Brad Oscar is a double Tony Award nominee for his performances in the original Broadway productions of The Producers and Something Rotten!, opens this Sunday in the Broadway musical version of Mrs. Doubtfire, met Stephen Sondheim many times, and played Beadle Bamford in the 2017 off-Broadway production of Sweeney Todd set in an actual pie shop where the audience sat at tables and ate during the performance. Brad discusses Sondheim’s legacy and work; his memories of seeing the original productions of Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Merrily We Roll Along; how Sondheim has influenced multiple generations; the value of the accumulation of details; the breadth of Sondheim’s impact and reach; and the similarities between Sondheim and Shakespeare. (Length 27:09)

Amanda Drinkall’s Desdemona(s)

Amanda Drinkall plays Desdemona in Othello, The Tragedy of the Moor of Venice, at the Court Theater in Chicago – and, as it happens, she’s also played Desdemona before with the Back Room Shakespeare Project. Amanda discusses the differences between the two productions and reveals why she continues to be drawn to the role; the appeal of approaching the text irreverently; the advantages of intimacy; further attempts to make #TheatreInTheSurround happen; the question of whether Desdemona is a victim; how we see her through Othello’s eyes; how Desdemona is like other Shakespeare heroines like Juliet and Viola; and the importance of grounding tragedy in fierce love. (Length 17:25) (PICTURED: Kelvin Roston, Jr. and Amanda Drinkall in the Court Theatre production of Othello, The Tragedy of the Moor of Venice, directed by Charles Newell and Gabrielle Randle-Bent. Photo by Michael Brosilow.)

Remembering Princess Diana

In celebration of the RSC Podcast’s 15th Anniversary, artistic directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor remember the surreal week they spent performing The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at the Gielgud Theatre in London in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Featuring memories of how the country came together; how all the performing arts suffered at the box office; how we were the only West End show to perform during Diana’s funeral; how news traveled via Town Crier; the joy of meeting Bernard Shaw (not George Bernard Shaw); and how something always happens when we perform in London. (Length 18:17)