Appreciating Viola Spolin

Aretha Sills discusses her grandmother, the legendary Viola Spolin, who invented an entire discipline and whose book Improvisation for the Theater is a fundamental text for generations of theatre artists. Viola’s son (and Aretha’s father) Paul Sills took Viola’s teachings “to the world,” where they became the foundation for more than sixty years of American acting and comedy. Aretha discusses Viola’s early training with Neva Boyd at the Jane Addams Hull-House in Chicago and with the Group Theatre in New York; early exposure to opera from her policeman father; how Viola’s work inspired the Playwright’s Theatre, the Compass Players, and Second City; the value of Spolin’s theatre games in de-colonizing authoritarian teaching methods; and the importance of understanding and honoring the origins of this work (play). (Length 22:47) (Photo courtesy of the Estate of Viola Spolin, www.violaspolin.org.)

Personifying The Muse

New York Times best-selling author Christopher Moore talks about his best-selling novel Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, and how he weaved together the history of the color ultramarine blue, the rise of the impressionists, and the death of Vincent Van Gogh to create a wildly entertaining novel about the sometimes-comic sometimes-poignant dangers of invoking the Muse. Featuring tips from Famous Genius School; ideas begun from simple notions; misappropriating (and mispronouncing) French terms; secrets of surviving book tours; inventing more Earthly Delights; the truth of the arrival of the muse; and the joy of discovering — and then filling in — holes in history. (Length 22:38)

Comparing Twelfth Nights

To celebrate Twelfth Night, we compare different productions of Shakespeare’s great comedy with Dee Ryan, adjunct professor at Northwestern University and president of the North Shore Shakespeare Society, and actress Elizabeth Dennehy, who recently directed Twelfth Night at the Los Angeles County School for the Arts. Featuring shout-outs to productions at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company; the Stratford Festival (with music by Michael Roth & Des MacAnuff), the South Australian State Theatre with Geoffrey Rush, Chicago’s Writer’s Theatre, and the Amanda Bynes film She’s The Man; how Twelfth Night got its title (and subtitle); how and when to make sure scene transitions flow as well as the play itself; the virtue of outright theft; how the play is NOT the tragedy of Malvolio; inspiration from the musical Once; Lear-like Orsinos; cleansing rains; shout-outs to Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Oklahoma! and San Diego Repertory Theatre’s The Humans; valentine reviews; pairing Antonio and Aguecheek; the benefits of isolating your Olivia; shout-outs to Caitlin McWethy and Abby Lee (pictured above); the food chain of status-climbing; and, as ever, the promise of getting it better…next time. (Length 27:50) (Pictured: Abby Lee as Olivia, Caitlin McWethy as Viola, and cast of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night, directed by Austin Tichenor. Photos by Mikki Schaffner Photography.)

Advice For Actors

For the last podcast of the decade, we answer the two biggest questions we’re regularly asked: What advice do you have for young actors; and when will you tour the UK again?! Featuring advice both practical and philosophical; tips for auditioning; advice from Mister Rogers; Top Ten Shakespeare Monologues; the value of learning by doing; a tiny Twitter Q&A; what kind of people you should surround yourself with; and finally, what you can do to make a UK tour happen. Special thanks to Instagram follower Zach Gillam, and Twitter followers Liz Marsden and Bob Linfors for the questions. Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!  (Length 18:36)

The Reduced Shakespeare Company Christmas

Your new holiday tradition! The complete (unabridged) recording of The Reduced Shakespeare Company Christmas, produced by Connie Blaszczyk for Public Radio International in 1995, which has been unavailable for years and features Adam Long, Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Matthew Croke in a special “live” recording from RSC HQ. Not to be confused with our stage production The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged), the RSC Christmas features transmissions from Yule-Sat, Reed’s Happy Wholesome Holiday Poem, Carolers from Hell, just A Little Dickens, the incredibly helpful Carol Complaint Line, almost-25-year-old references, a very minor holiday apocalypse, 12 Tips of Christmas, our epic production of “The Complete Christmas Carol (abridged)”, an exclusive interview with Charles Dickens himself, and ultimately, inevitably, the True Meaning of Christmas. (Length 46:33)

Director Robert Falls (Part 2)

This week we continue our conversation with Robert Falls, the Tony-winning artistic director of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. In addition to being well-known for directing classics like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bob has worked on such possibly surprising material as the Elton John and Tim Rice musical Aida, and that’s where we pick up our conversation. Featuring the joy of working with actors; collaborating with Elton John, Tim Rice, and David Henry Hwang; tales of working on John Logan’s Red, and Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure; why and how we’re drawn to certain plays or genres; false distinctions; some terrible phrasing and important corrections; why, for all the comedies Bob directs, he may be more of a tragedian; and the dual pleasures of tearing plays apart — and an audience’s heart out. (Length 18:54) HEAR PART ONE OF OUR CONVERSATION HERE! (Pictured: (l-r) Disney Theatrical’s Thomas Schumacher, Elton John, and Robert Falls in rehearsal for Aida, 2000.)

Director Robert Falls

Robert Falls is the Tony-winning artistic director of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and after talking with several actors from his productions of Death of a Salesman (left), The Iceman Cometh, The Winter’s Tale, and Enemy of the People, we finally get to talk to the man himself. Bob discusses how he approaches his work, and how ultimately passion decides everything, but along the way gives shout-outs to Mark Larson and his invaluable book Ensemble; talks about how he finds his way into the work; shares guest appearances by Winston Churchill; reveals one or two trials by fire; enthuses about amazing introductions to Shakespeare; and tells a great story about working with Vanessa Redgrave (though probably not the story you’re thinking of). (Length 24:55) HEAR PART TWO OF OUR CONVERSATION HERE!

Holy Land Hamlet

It’s a podcast bar mitzvah! The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast became a man last week when it celebrated its 13th birthday while we were performing Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel) in Israel. To honor that special occasion, we gathered in Molly Bloom’s, Tel Aviv’s traditional Irish pub, to talk about how Israeli audiences responded to the show. Featuring universal cultural references, slowing down the pace, dealing with the heaviest sword in the world, people surprised by the number of actors, miraculous costume changes, combining parodies in a The Court Jester/Hamilton mashup, and the pleasure of pleasing both Shakespeare nerds and neophytes. (Length 23:35)

Red Fox Theatre

Playwright Ellen Margolis (left )saw the Red Fox Theatre production of Catch of the Day (short-listed for Best Musical at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe) and the experience of seeing it was as wonderful as the show itself. Ellen discusses how all the extra-theatrical elements combined to make a magical evening at the theatre even more so, and shares insights into the nature of crazy fish stories, excellent marketing materials, local hand-held guidance, uniting the audience through the power of a Van Morrison singalong, tales of Fungie the Dolphin, kindred reduced spirits, worldwide Fringe experiences, and further adventures within the comedy industrial complex. (Length 19:09)

Romeo And Juliet

The current Chicago Shakespeare Theatre production of Romeo And Juliet completely reinvigorates Shakespeare’s most famous play, emphasizing frequently overlooked themes and giving events an intense urgency that accentuates both the comedy and the tragedy. Director Barbara Gaines (who’s also CST’s founding artistic director) talks about what finally drew her to the play and how she emphasized certain things while eschewing too much romanticization; how she underscores the dangers of cycles repeating endlessly; creates powerful final images: how every Shakespeare play can be improved by setting it in a high school; how she adds tension and comedy to the balcony scene; gives us a reduced history of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre; and the wonderful but maybe not too surprising relationship between Chicago Shakes and Second City. (Length 24:02) (Pictured: Brittany Bellizeare and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by Barbara Gaines. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Steadfast Tin Soldier

Standup Vs. Improv

Shakespeare Rocks Tonight

Doug The Time-Traveler

All About Ophelia

Creating Hamlet’s Adventure

Playing Historical Characters

Sharing Great Theatre

The Devil’s Work

Into The Woods

Man About Town

Completing The Canon

The Impostors Theatre

Glory Of ‘Ensemble’

Tales Of Edinburgh

Mary Magdalene Revelations

The Web Opera

We Debate ‘Shipoopi’

Weird Old Man

History of Vaudeville

Dueling Chicago Hamlets

Fighting Writers Block

Courting Mr. Lincoln

Shakespeare Cult Blueprints

The Winter’s Tale

Balancing Twelfth Night

Discussing Twelfth Night

Other Famous Prequels

High School Bard

Hamlet’s Big Adventure!

Shakespeare In The Shadows

Theatre Communications Group

Mary Poppins Kerfuffle

The Viola Project

Jasper’s ‘Early Riser’

‘Ma Rainey’s’ Band

Remembering Stanley Donen

Episode 637. History Of Blackface

Episode 636. All Is True?

Episode 635. Department Of Curiosity

Episode 634. Marya’s New ‘Tempest’

Episode 633. ‘Nerdy’ Brian Posehn

Episode 632. Preparing And Doing

Episode 631. Joe Dempsey’s Mechanical

Episode 630. The Sonnet Man