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)

Shakespeare’s Marriage Play

Shana Cooper directed the outstanding five-actor American Players Theatre production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (which runs in person and online until November 14, 2021) and returns to the podcast to discuss how this production differs from the previous two times she’s directed it. Featuring pandemic producing on the fly; changing identities; learning how to watch to play; embracing chameleonic warriors in a pandemic-inspired minimalist aesthetic; how Shakespeare continues to interrogate our society; how the play redefines the power of vulnerability; complicated feelings; and which of Shakespeare’s Histories, Comedies, and Tragedies should more accurately be designated as Satires. (Length 20:50)

Othello’s Powerful POV

Chicago’s Court Theatre is producing a powerful and intimate production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice, and they are absolutely leaning into the play’s full, proper title. Kelvin Roston Jr. (as Oedipus, left, and Othello, above) stars in the title role and discusses how he was brought in early in the process by directors Charles Newelland Gabrielle Randle-Bent, and shares fantastic insights about he approaches Shakespeare’s text; how it’s sometimes better to find physical alternatives to the text; the similarities between Shakespeare and August Wilson; how you can’t stage a vehicle without getting a good driver; the importance of specificity in language; the power of presenting an epic tragedy on a human scale; the valuable lesson that it’s not what or how the classics speak to us, but how and what we say to the classics; and a determination to make the phrase #TheatreInTheSurround happen. Now playing – and streaming! – until December 5, 2021; visit courttheatre.org for more information. (Length 20:34) 

Change The Podcast?

On the eve of the RSC Podcast’s 15th anniversary, podcast host and RSC actor/consigliere Matthew Croke, joins us to discuss whether it’s time to change things up. What do you think? Should we change the format or the emphasis? Make it longer or more infrequent? Should we eliminate some annoying tics or regular features, or is it just perfect the way it is? Let us know what you think as we discuss how to stimulate engagement; changing trends; supply and demand; the importance of stories and anecdotes; unnecessary whining; more inside baseball; which Stephen King novel would make a good Shakespeare play; and – most importantly – which Shakespeare character would make the best Starfleet captain. Also: Should we upgrade our equipment?? SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW! (Length 21:03)

Kate And Petruchio

Friends of the pod Alejandra Escalante and Daniel José Molina are playing Kate and Petruchio in the five-actor American Players Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Shana Cooper, until November 14, 2021. Alejandra and Daniel discuss how they decided to do the play; how they approached their characters; what the play is about now; how the language defines the play; the advantages of seeing many previous productions; how it’s a play about navigating relationships, the various worlds of the play, marriage; and, ultimately, two misfits in a patriarchal, transactional society. BONUS: Here’s where you can watch this production online! (Length 26:27) (PICTURED: Alejandra Escalante and Daniel José Molina in Taming of the Shrew at American Players Theatre, directed by Shana Cooper, 2021. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Troubador Theater’s ‘Lizastrata’

Matt Walker is the founder and artistic director of the Troubador Theatre Company, the LA-based ensemble that combines classic texts with classic Top-40 songs to create such astonishing mashups as Much A-Doobie Brothers About Nothing, The Comedy of Aerosmith, Fleetwood MacBeth, Santa Claus is Coming to Motown, The Little Drummer Bowie, Julius Weezer, Abbamemnon, As U2 Like It, A Christmas Carole King, Hamlet – the Artist Formerly Known as Prince of Denmark, A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream, and It’s a Stevie Wonderful Life. The Troubies’ most recent magnum opus, which just closed its sold-out run at LA’s Getty Villa, was Lizastrata, which combined Aristophanes bawdy political comedy with music associated with Liza Minnelli. Matt explains how “The Troubies”, after more than 18 months, finally made the show go on; hired a COVID Compliance Officer; got advice from classical scholars; received letters anyway from “concerned” patrons; held a funhouse mirror up to nature…and hung it over the bed; and were visited by royalty: the Divine Miss Liza with a Z herself. BONUS! Austin reveals how Kander & Ebb’s “New York, New York” became the official anthem of New York City. (Length 25:29)

Fan Fiction Finn

Dr. Kavita Mudan Finn is an independent scholar (late of Georgetown University, George Washington University, and most recently, MIT) who is both a creator and scholar of Fan Fiction Studies, and who recently filmed an hour-long interactive conversation with Austin Tichenor on The Shakespeareance. In this excerpt, Dr. Finn discusses how “fan fiction” might be best defined; how fan fiction is a surprisingly new field of study, despite it being a centuries-old practice; some of fan fiction’s earliest examples, including the identity of two OG slashers; the distinctions (such as they are) between performance studies and fan studies; what the actual opposite of fandom is; ridiculous casting uproars; and how the shows of the Reduced Shakespeare Company – including the RSC name – are forms of fan fiction themselves. (Length 21:17)

Adrian Scarborough Masterclass

Two-time Olivier Award winner Adrian Scarborough returns to the podcast to give a masterclass in learning to love Shakespeare, studying him in drama school, and performing him professionally. Adrian shares experiences of learning Shakespeare at his mother’s knee; playing Shakespeare’s clowns; getting direction from Sam Mendes; occasional rush-hour trains going by; the advantage of dance training in performing Shakespeare; an auspicious debut (playing young doomed Macduff as a child); an intensity of intention; how to root one’s self in rehearsal; the importance of heading for the full stop and the dogged pursuit of an idea; and the value of going for the truth instead of going for the comedy…because going for the truth gives you better comedy. (Length 22:51)

#TheShowMustGoOnline In Person

LIVE FROM LONDON, ENGLAND! The Show Must Go Online – the international phenomenon that performed Shakespeare’s uncut complete works once a week during the pandemic on Zoom – had an in-person reunion at the Globe Theater in London on September 22nd and 23rd, and Austin Tichenor and Elizabeth Dennehy (who each performed in three of the shows) were there to surprise co-creators Rob Myles and Sarah Peachey, and the several dozen alumni who came from all over the world to celebrate this community born of lockdown. Enjoy the surprise, the fear of anti-climax, the possible double surprise, the excited reunion, the loving testimonials, and revel in the possibility and hope for the future The Show Must Go Online represents. (Length 22:18)

Flatwater Shakespeare’s ‘Unshaken’

Flatwater Shakespeare Company is hosting its first (and hopefully annual) “Unshaken Festival,” five solo pieces that engage with Shakespeare comically, poignantly, and powerfully (including Dee Ryan’s Broadguess, featuring actor Fred Vogel). Summer Lukasiewicz is Flatwater’s outgoing executive artistic director, and she shares how these new pieces were selected; how the festival came to be, and how it’s a reaction to the pandemic; the importance of getting changes to the tech crew; the differences between working with living playwrights (as opposed to dead ones), including why the royalty line-item suddenly has numbers in it bigger than zero; whether (and how) the “Unhaken Festival” will continue; and why seeing Shakespeare through difference lenses and from different perspectives is one reason why Shakespeare continues to live. (Length 20:25)

The Steppenwolf Story

John Mayer – actor, director, and chair of the Theatre Department at Cal State Stanislaus – has written Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago: In Their Own Words, the (so far) definitive chronicle of Chicago’s groundbreaking theatre ensemble. A high school friend of two of the company’s founders – Gary Sinise and Jeff Perry – John interviewed dozens of artists and administrators who were instrumental in Steppenwolf’s evolution, and reveals such tidbits as Sinise’s early fundraising efforts (which involve a hubcap); the greatest summation of Steppenwolf ever; shout-outs to amazing influential teachers; what an MFA really gives you; tensions between art and commerce; memories of John Malkovich’s landmark production of Balm In Gilead; and, most importantly, how passion, chutzpah, drive, and the ability to adapt and change creates long-term artistry. (Length 21:31)

The False Exit

Barbara Wallace, who, along with her writing partner Thomas R. Wolfe created the TV series Welcome To New York (starring Christine Baranski and Rocky Carroll), talks about one of her biggest pet peeves, an almost indefinable bit of stage business that always feels forced (and is not to be confused with an actual exit). Barb also discusses her creative journey from sketch comedy in Chicago to writing and creating TV series in both Hollywood and New York. Featuring: whether or not actors should be allowed to breathe; conflicting definitions of “hugely successful;” the importance of writing the best thing you can, not what you think people will like; fighting for gender parity at Second City in the early 1990s; the mixed benefits of multiple streaming platforms; getting close enough to the glass ceiling to fog it up but not break it; the joys of working with TV legend Christine Baranski; and finally, the ABCs of surviving in showbiz – Always Be Creating your own content. (Length 21:15)

Cutting The Plays

If you’ve ever wanted to cut down a massive Shakespeare play – or indeed any epic already in the public domain – but wanted a more sophisticated understanding of how it could best be done, directors and dramaturgs Aili Huber and Toby Malone have done that work for you. They’ve written Cutting Plays for Performance, a practical guide on how to go about…not reducing, but…shortening your play for any and all kinds of reasons, from the practical to the craven to the artistic. Featuring: the open secret that almost every Shakespeare play is for performance, every single time; how an initial argument led to a great partnership; tricks and philosophies for cutting and focusing; how these tips work for everyone from high schools to New York’s Shakespeare in the Park; why there’s so little pushback; what plays you emphatically cannot cut; and what The Complete Iceman Cometh (abridged) might sound like. (Length 23:45)

Star Trek Shakespeare

Elizabeth Dennehy discusses how teaching Shakespeare intersects with her experience playing Lt. Cmdr. Shelby on the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes “The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2”. Elizabeth shares behind-the-scenes stories about how she got the role and shot the episode; how her theatrical training (warp) factored into her ability to memorize sci-fi technobabble; how she and co-star Jonathan Frakes planted the seeds for any direction the narrative could take; how she prefers different kinds of costume fantasies; which Shakespeare characters and scenes resonate best with her students; how to measure photon torpedo hits; the further adventures of Sir Patrick Stewart: Matchmaker; and how she utilizes “The Price Is Right Guide to Shakespeare.” NOTE: This is edited from a longer conversation on The Shakespeareance. (Length 23:01)

Stephano & Trinculo

Adam Wesley Brown (left) and Ron E. Rains (right) played Stephano and Trinculo in the 2015 Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of The Tempest directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, and for no reason other than we’re huge fans, they discuss the rewards of playing Shakespearean clowns (these two in particular). Featuring the wonder of immediate connections at the auditions; the occasional difficulty of calling it ‘work’; shout-out to Zach Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee from Pilobolus Dance Company, who played an eight-limbed, two-headed Caliban; the beauty of being a bit factory; the dramaturgical importance of clowns, and realizing that if the most memorable character in Hamlet is the Gravedigger you’ve done something wrong; how it behooves young actors to get some musical skills, and how a knowledge of music helps particularly with speaking Shakespeare; how you must always fight for the biggest flask; how we didn’t even discuss Ron also being The Onion’s Film Critic, Peter K. Rosenthal; and the importance of learning that, when in doubt about a joke, make it sexual. (Length 23:05)

Translating ‘Uncle Vanya’

Alexander Gelman has created a new translation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and the director, translator, and outgoing director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Northern Illinois University, discussed how it came about and why he waited until now to write it. Our discussion features talks about Alex stepped in where others have already succeeded; the relationship between directing and translation; how Chekhov discovered people whose stories were worth telling; how great plays frequently don’t read well; the tantalizing possibility of a pantomime dame Lady Macbeth; how writing plays is more akin to writing music than novels; how we speak in order to hide, not reveal; the importance of one’s “envelope of truth;” how actors are translators, too; and how there are worse collaborators for a playwright than Anton Chekhov. (Length 23:17)

Living In “Schmigadoon”!

This week, we continue our conversation with Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a tenured professor who has been fired from, and is now filing a lawsuit against, Linfield University, which would prefer to try to silence its critics rather than address the serious accusations of sexual misconduct against current and former members of Linfield’s board of trustees. Featuring: a special appearance from Washington Post theatre (and “Shipoopi”) critic Peter Marks; comic bestiality, William Goldman’s observation about what the real drag of a story can be; nostalgia for ancient things called “video stores;” shout-outs to In The Heights, Brigadoon (and its modern counterpart Schmigadoon!), Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man, Ben Franklin in Paris, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Leowe, Cabaret, and Sweeney Todd; and most fundamentally, important childhood connections to great musicals of the past. PART ONE OF OUR CONVERSATION CAN BE FOUND HERE. (Length 16:00) 

Firing The Messenger

Cultural observer and embattled professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner (who has appeared on the podcast before discussing Mary Poppins’ racist imagery and the queer narrative of West Side Story) discusses his $4 million lawsuit against Linfield University, which fired him for publicizing the serious accusations against…four members of the Board of Trustees at Linfield University. Featuring the disgusting nature of “himpathy;” how the helpful acronym “DARVO” articulates the process by which institutions betray their trust; the risks of telling truth to power; Shakespearean (and musical theater parallels) in real-life social justice dramaturgy; the dangers of boards of trustees who account to no agency; whether we’re in a Tragedy, Comedy, Romance, or Musical; the possibilities of a happy ending; and why the people who shine a light on the problem are never the problem. (Length 25:54)

King Lear’s Edgar

Daniel José Molina (who’s appeared on the podcast discussing his performances of Hal in both parts of Henry IV and Henry V), discusses playing the even more difficult role of Edgar in the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival production of King Lear starring Andre De Shields. Daniel reveals the challenge of playing a purely reactive character; the value of recognizing that Edgar only realizes when it’s almost too late what play he’s in; the trick of honoring Shakespeare’s intent to make ‘Poor Tom’ a crude performance, not a Daniel Day-Lewis transformation; the tricky irony of when performed mental illness meets genuine decline; gives a shout-out to Leland Fowler, who played one of the best bastards ever; a special appearance from Netta Walker, one of the stars of the upcoming CW series All-American: Homecoming; a preview of Daniel’s next Shakespeare challenge; and, ultimately, how Edgar is actually four or five characters in one. (Length 24:18)

The Historical Gap

Gaps in the historical record are treasure troves for playwrights and novelists, and this week we talk to novelist Louis Bayard (Mr. Timothy, Courting Mr. Lincoln) about two of his historical novels, The School of Night and The Pale Blue Eye. Lou discusses how he stumbles into these historical gaps and how he excavates what he does or doesn’t find there, and he reveals the pain of eliminating unnecessary characters; the difficulty in finding the heart of your mystery; meditations on both Dupin and Lupin; fan fiction about artists, scientists, and thinkers; the delight of dropping Easter eggs; the rewards of going on Google crawls; finding the balance in his promiscuous mix of fact and fiction; and what’s coming next down the Bayard pipeline. (Length 23:30)

760. Some Broadway B.S.

Abbey Harris is the co-creator and co-host of Broadway Bullshit, the seasonal weekly podcast that examines Broadway musicals and discusses whether they should “fly, die, or retry,” and strives to provide contextual analysis, while also reminding fans why they love Broadway. FEATURING: bleeding edge hot takes; looking at classic material in new ways; the power of being a double threat; the importance of editing; some recording tips; and addressing the danger of running out of musicals. (Length 19:18)

Protest Too Much

Stephanie Crugnola is the creator and host of Protest Too Much, a Shakespeare Showdown podcast that pits Stephanie against performers, educators, and scholars in a weekly battle of Shakespearean comparisons, challenges, and ‘best ofs’. Recently, Stephanie debated with Austin Tichenor the question of what is “Shakespeare’s Funniest Non-Comedy,” a conversation that lasted 45 minutes, and a 15-minute abridgment of which you can hear below. Featuring: Shakespearean pet peeves; the danger of sleeping on the Histories; how Shakespeare is all about contrasts; backup from Samuel Johnson in 1765; the comedy of ‘sad-off’s; comparisons to Monty Python and The Death of Stalin; and how Shakespeare is the king of tentpole media! (Length 20:38)