Analyzing Shakespearean Biofiction

Dr Edel Semple (bottom right, above) from University College in Cork, Ireland, and Dr. Ronan Hatfull (bottom left) from the University of Warwick convened a seminar entitled “Shakespearean Biofiction on the Stage and Screen” for this year’s annual conference of the Shakespeare Association of America, where we discussed the how and why of, among other things, we made William Shakespeare a character in William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) (left). Edel and Ronan discuss how the seminar went and talk about the similarities between academic seminars and RSC performances; how incredible planning goes into making things casual and relaxed; what red leather pants really signifies (in both their American or British meaning); how adaptation is also a form of biofiction; shout-outs to all the contributors; layers of irony; what our version of Shakespeare might look like as played by teenagers; how the Shakespeare in Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow is and isn’t like Homer Simpson; climbing up on high horses; and, as always — the importance of the craic! (Length 28:57)

Hamlet’s Prequel Adventure!

Dramaturg Kate Pitt joins us for a deep dive into the creation of the script for Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel), on which she cast her dramaturgical magic (and which we’ll finally get to tour once this stupid pandemic is over). Kate discusses HBA’s intertextual conversation with Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, its biofictional elements, and reveals the identity of the most confusing Hamlet ever; how a prequel can (and should) reveal insights into Shakespeare’s play; how old Hamlet is; the importance of double confirmation; how both Ophelia and Hamlet have All. The. Feels; the value of deploying random skills; the question of how old Hamlet is, anyway; how the gravedigger is an unreliable narrator; the struggle of theater as a career and what to say about it to your kids; and finally, possible spoilers (especially if you know anything at all about the career of UK comedian Tommy Cooper). Plus: jokes for everyone! Poster Art by Lar DeSouza. (Length 32:01)

Supporting Independent Bookstores

Robert McDonald is the director of special events at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL, and tells us exactly why supporting independent bookstores — and all small businesses, including theater companies! — is not only a good but an important idea. Featuring changing landscapes; romantic notions of bookstores, and the ways in which those notions are true (and not); ways to pivot; the importance of learning new skills and finding individuality; parental warnings and regrets; who the true essential workers are (aside from the obvious ones); important social niceties; who Bookshop.org is genuinely helping; and finally, how to measure convenience, and how Amazon is really not convenient and is probably doing more harm than good. (Length 21:39)

Remembering George McFly

“Beware the Ides of March…” because March 15 is also the day in 1973 that George McFly was killed by Biff Tannen in one of the darkest timelines of Back to the Future. Actor Jeffrey Weissman, who played George in Back to the Future II and III, tells the unreduced story of how he got the role; shares stories from the film’s set and lessons learned from roles in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and Twilight Zone: The Movie; the importance of actor diversification; giving subtle and nuanced performances in The Show Must Go Online; and a return to our shared Shakespearean and comedy roots. Great Scott!! (Length 19:44)

Advice For Writers

Pat Verducci is a screenwriter, writing coach and consultant, and old UC Berkeley classmate and collaborator, and this week offers the encouraging wisdom that most of us are storytellers even if we don’t know it! Pat discusses how training in different disciplines can help a writer; the importance of barfing out that first draft because you can’t edit a blank page; the benefit of a routine; the wearing of different hats and writing like a director (while directing like a writer); the value of images vs. words in different media; the merit of constantly trying new things; life-changing college collaborations (left); and ultimately, the tricks of finding the right voice, both for your characters and you. (Length 20:45)

Something Wonderful Now

Jeffrey Sweet’s Something Wonderful Right Away, an oral history of The Compass Players and Second City was first published in 1978 and it’s arguably still one of the definitive works about the rise of Chicago improvisation and maybe the defining actor training method of the second half of the 20th-century. Jeffrey discusses how the book came to be and talks about his encounters with such greats as Barbara Harris, Sheldon Patinkin, Jules Feiffer, Mike Nichols, Anne Meara, and Elaine May; how specific movies and plays revealed to him a specific style; reveals the joy and wonder of shared realities; what it means to have gotten a B from Martin Scorcese; gives a shout-out to oral history pioneer Studs Terkel; how poverty can be theatre’s friend; how the only two essential elements to theater are actors and audiences (not playwrights!); the devastating truth that playwriting is not literature; and finally, further proof that following your passion can frequently lead you to a career. (Length 20:45) (PICTURED: Jeffrey Sweet in his one-person show You Only Shoot The Ones You Love. Photo bu Dixie Sheridan.)

Truth In Silliness

We tell our RSC actors to always ask themselves, “Yes, it’s silly…but is it Truly Silly?” This week, we talk to the man who taught us that: film editor Doug Purgason (left), an alum of the University of California, Berkeley, Drama Department (along with Reed, Austin, RSC founding member Jess Winfield, and RSC performing alums David Letwin (UK), John Tichenor (US), and Phil Abrams (US, Israel).) Doug explains how he came upon this youthful wisdom and discusses the dangers of short-changing the audience; the importance of spelling and punctuation; committing to the extreme belief and behavior of what you’re saying; how the truly silly “ethos” applies to his current work; the importance of not rejecting absurdity; and finally, the fundamental understanding that, if the actors don’t care enough to invest in the truth of what’s happening, then why should the audience? (Length 20:59) (PICTURED: Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor in their first onstage appearance together, in Eugene Ionesco’s Jack, or the Submission, University of California, Berkeley, Drama Department, Room 7, December 1981. Directed and choreographed by Douglas ‘Zip’ Purgason.)

Meet Kamilah Long

Kamilah Long is the new managing director of Play On Shakespeare, the company dedicated to exploring the world of Shakespeare by commissioning living playwrights — many of them women, many of them playwrights of color — to create new translations and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Like all of us, Play On Shakes is changing and evolving through the course of this pandemic, and Kamilah discusses how they’re continuing the meet the needs of its audiences, both now and in the future. Featuring the looming presence of Shakespeare’s shadow; biblical comparisons; a commitment to doing no harm; the consequences of the pandemic, both good and bad; the wonder of playwrights getting paid and being in the room; a soon-to-come exciting new podcast; and the unfortunate demise of Shakespearean phrases like “jive turkey.” (Length 17:53)

The Revels Master

Master of the Revels is Nicole Galland’s sequel to her New York Times best-selling novel The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., and picks up right where that fast-paced adventure takes off. It’s a thrilling tale of time-travel, witchcraft, and Shakespeare, and Nicole describes how the novel came to be; how she dipped into Shakespearean fiction before with her memoir I, Iago; some twisted love letters; how characters evolve from one novel to another; a climax at the very first public performance of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play; and how a years-long passion for Edmund Tilney has resulted in an extraordinary new novel. With a special appearance by (speaking of Shakespeare’s original productions) Ben Crystal. (Length 19:42)

Remembering Christopher Plummer

The “grand old man of the theatre” energy of the late Christopher Plummer lives on in our production of Completely Hollywood (abridged), through our old friend, actor and Broadway fight director Thomas Schall (left), who, in this special bonus podcast episode, remembers the extra-close encounter he had with the legendary actor while appearing in the ill-fated (is there any other kind?) 1988 production of William Shakespeare’s Scottish Play. Featuring: rehearsals with Mr. Plummer’s golden retriever; a revolving door of actors, directors, and designers; bon mots from Lady M herself, Glenda Jackson; old-school grandness; immense charm; some unfortunate emergency dentistry; and how the story has both grown in theatrical legend, and — until now — mercifully been forgotten. (Length 16:51)

Alli’s Great(x30)Grandpa Duncan

RSC company manager Alli Bostedt has just discovered (through the genealogical detective work of her husband, RSC web dude Davey Naylor), that she’s the 30th great granddaughter of Scottish King Duncan I, the one slain by Macbeth in both real-life and Shakespeare’s tragedy. Alli and Davey share how they made this very cool discovery and it how it will radically change their lives (SPOILER ALERT: It probably won’t); some minor confusions with Hamlet; how Shakespeare changed history like the Tarantino of his day; a reminder of Davey’s great love for British Kings and Queens; and how royal etiquette demands some pretty goddamn more respectful behavior backstage from now on or heads will roll. (Length 19:50) (Pictured: King Duncan I’s 30th great-granddaughter Alli and 31st great-grandson Arthur.)

Another Day’s Begun

Author, journalist, and theater advocate Howard Sherman talks about his new book, Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the 21st Century, a fascinating oral history featuring conversations with over a hundred theater artists talking about productions of this seminal work from Chicago to Miami, from off-Broadway to the UK, and from students to professionals to Kate Powers‘ transformative production at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Featuring the two plays that framed World War II; how Howard’s opinion of Our Town changed during the writing of this book; how every production is telling its own story to its own community; how the play prompted dramatic reconsiderations about the American criminal justice system; and how the community of Grover’s Corners is always populated anew by the community of actors and audiences coming together at every performance. (Length 28:07)

We Remember ‘Balto’

The animated film Balto celebrated its 25th Anniversary last month, and RSC members Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor played the sidekick sled dogs Nikki, Kaltag, and Star…until they, like most of the cast, were replaced with different actors. Their voices stayed in the film, however, and this week Reed (left, with the statue of Balto in Anchorage, Alaska in 2012) and Austin remember the process of how they got the gig, how it went, and what happened next. A fun and funny remembrance featuring revelations about the film’s original title; having one degree of Balto himself, Kevin Bacon; big thanks to director Simon Wells and producer Steve Hickner; clues to executive producer Steven Spielberg’s changing enthusiasm; shout-out to other film projects we were in (Carry On Columbus, Liquid Television: Dogboy); how animated films are recorded first; a special appearance from our co-star and fellow “extra voice” Mike McShane; and how Balto is, appropriately enough, the perfect pandemic movie. (Length 18:48)

Meet Suzy Nakamura!

Suzy Nakamura, a familiar face from The West Wing, Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Modern Family, Veep, and over a hundred film and TV credits, is in London shooting the second season of Avenue 5, Armando Iannucci’s (Veep, The Thick of It, The Death of Stalin) comedy starring Hugh Laurie (left) about an interstellar cruise ship that gets knocked off course and struggles to return to Earth. Suzy talks about her journey from Second City to Los Angeles in the 90s; the early rounds of auditions; adventures in babysitting; the rewards and challenges of being in the room; memories of sitting around LA’s Farmer’s Market; fond recollections of the London A-Z Street Atlas; the origin story of the character of Ginger from The West Wing; the pleasure and catharsis of playing characters wildly different from yourself; being told to quiet down from the Harry Potter tour next door; love for Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfieldand extolling the talent and genius that is Hugh Laurie. (Length 19:19)

Shakes Of Thrones

Dr. Jeffrey R. Wilson, author of Shakespeare and Trump, now has a much more fun book to talk about, Shakespeare and Game of Thrones! Joining us in the discussion are Dr. Kavita Mudan Finn, a professor and scholar of medieval and early modern literature, and Senior Editor at The Public Medievalist; and Dr. Shiloh Carroll, whose book Medievalism in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones was published by Boydell & Brewer in 2018, and who’s also the associate editor of Slayage, the journal of the Whedon Studies Association. Featuring tips on engaging with Shakespeare the same way we engage with more pop culturey things like Game of Thrones; mutual inspiration from the Wars of the Roses; some helpful publishing tips; playing “Marry/F/Kill: The Shakespeare Edition”; thinking of fan-fiction as “transformative fiction;” thoughts on proposed casting for the Games of Thrones sequels; full-circle influences; proposals for future long-form interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays; and which fans we’re most afraid of: Shakespeare’s or George R.R. Martin’s. (Length 21:27)

My Podcast Faves

For this last podcast of 2020 (and thank goodness this annus horribilus is over!), we present highlights from our favorite episodes from over 14 years of regular weekly podcasting! Featuring solid categorization; excessive candidates; important work; stories of process; helpful tips; new partners and old friends; and ultimately, passionate chats about things both serious and ridiculous. (Length 23:05)

Holiday Ghost Story

Inspired by the Berko Speakeasy, this week we present a festive tale by Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, from his slim volume High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories. Abridged and read by Austin Tichenor. Featuring: ghostly visitations; poor relations; spectral elitism; Norwegian sneering; drafty accommodations; phantom arthritis; and something called…a rumpus room. (Length 24:34)

731. Berko Speakeasy Christmas

Two-time Olivier Award-winner Adrian Scarborough talks about the latest edition of The Berko Speakeasy which has turned its annual holiday edition of festive favo(u)rites into a virtual international affair, allowing folks from all over the world to enjoy excellent short stories performed by terrific actors. Adrian (left) discusses the pleasures and challenges of moving to a virtual format and reveals some other writing projects; the creativity and fun of editing; how he learns from masters and excellent teachers; the power and difficulty of a festive background; sobering up from being drunk with power; and how short stories provide more bang for your buck (and quid). Featuring smooth holiday music from guitarist Eric Essix off his album, My Gift To You. Get your tickets here, and follow the Berko Speakeasy on Twitter here! (Length 18:48)

Quarantine Panto Lives!

RSC UK member James Percy (William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)) is playing “Silly Billy” in Dick Whittington at the King’s Theatre in Portsmouth, England, from December 8 through (God and COVID willing) January 3rd, 2021. James (left, on the right, with Austin and Joe Maudsley) talks about how they’re doing it, how it’s all going, who he’s playing, and how it feels to be back in a theatre putting on a play again. Featuring the challenge of “playing Tetris in the auditorium” to reduce capacity; rehearsing in the actual hall; how emotional it is to be back onstage again; the danger of contagious luvvies; switching comic roles, depending on the show; a special appearance from Ebenezer Scrooge himself from the Goodman Theatre audio production of A Christmas Carol; and sweet memories of meeting up in bars after live performances. (Length 16:36)

Anthony Clarvoe’s ‘Living’

Anthony Clarvoe’s play The Living takes place in London during the plague year of 1665, and its echoes to our current moment are unmistakable. Anthony (left) discusses how The Living (written in 1990) was inspired by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s; how he discovered his primary play’s sources; how he was galvanized by Daniel Defoe’s 18th-century novel A Journal of the Plague Year; moving descriptions of empty streets; the value of current events; being simultaneously both intimate and epic; loving group protagonists; celebrating the father of population statistics; sharing themes, actors, and a director with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America; how you can order both physical and digital copies; and reference to an ancient and obscure research technology known as “a card catalogue.” (Length 22:06)

Rachel Dratch Thanksgiving

Old friend (and Thanksgiving bestie) Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live) joins us for this very special 14th Anniversary episode! Rachel shares holiday memories; how she’s navigated her career; and reveals who she always associates with Abba’s “Dancing Queen;” the opportunities she’s had and the ones she’s fought for; how she’s drawn to more comedic roles than dramatic ones; how she’s made peace with the uncertainties of an acting career; the creation (with Paula Pell) of Debbie Downer (left); a shout-out to John Cariani and the late lamented Broadway-bound musical Minsky’s; obscure silver dishes; a very special holiday meet-cute; doing Love’s Labors Lost with Shakespeare in the Park; and the glorious power of mid-level fame! (Length 22:22)

Loud Storytelling Moms

Now in its sixth year, Louder Than A Mom is a monthly storytelling show that celebrates voices you don’t usually get to see or hear. Co-founder Dee Ryan (left) talks about how LTAM evolved and reveals many moments of generosity; her comparisons to Mary Shelley; how she and co-hosts Kate Hill and Erin McEvoy Mason create their ever-growing community (first in person and now online); how we all miss gathering at LTAM’s regular location, Martyr’s in Chicago; how they always give space to newbie storytellers; threading the needle of funny and moving; how art shouldn’t be competitive; becoming more political; and how there are always new stories to tell and new voices to hear from. (Length 16:34)

Miranda In Milan

Author Katharine Duckett (left) talks about her new novella Miranda In Milan, which explores what happens when Prospero’s daughter from The Tempest returns with her father to Milan after the events in Shakespeare’s play. Katharine talks about her influences; how she draws on not only Shakespeare but Mary Shelley; how the novel came out of her reading of the play and found its eventual form; dominant storytelling forms; investigating the unresolved tension of the play; her shared Shakespearean instincts; pronunciation controversies; and her own origins story as a writer. (Length 15:45)

Ed And Larry

Peter James Smith and William Duffy played Washington power couple, comedy duo, and the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the White House, Ed and Larry, for seven seasons on Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wingplus the special reunion event A West Wing Special now streaming on HBO Max. On this 2020 Election Eve, Duffy and Peter discuss how they got their roles, how the roles evolved, and the adventure of playing them. Featuring good rapport; having a history with Aaron Sorkin (Duffy) and not knowing who he was at first (Peter); the power of fan message boards; how it stayed fun but never got completely comfortable; falling back into rhythms; and the privilege of being involved with a show that’s lasted much longer than just its original seven seasons. (Length 24:37)

So Potent Art

Actor and author Emily Carding’s latest book So Potent Art: The Magic of Shakespeare (due July 2021), explores how Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets are suffused with magic, prophecy, astrology, alchemy, herbalism, witchcraft, hauntings, and divine intervention. Emily (left, pictured as Richard III) talks about her background; where Shakespeare (and his audience) came across their knowledge of magic; whether it’s actual or metaphorical; what we’ve learned from the documentary The Wizard of Oz; paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law; how the supernatural was perhaps less fantastical back then than it is now; reclaiming pejorative terms as empowering; and the always-important reminder that we should look to our own sources of beauty and inspiration. Be the light! (Length 21:53)

Becoming Henry V

Daniel Jose Molina brilliantly played Hal in both parts of Henry IV and the title role of Henry V At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017 & 2018. Now quarantining in the Chicago area with his wife Alejandra Escalante (who fiercely played Hotspur opposite him in Henry IV Part 1), Daniel discusses how the roles came to him, and shares how Hal’s fear of becoming king matches the actor’s fear of playing him; the importance of knowing that Hal belongs in Eastcheap and isn’t just a tourist; how to best fight imposter syndrome; passing the baton to your fellow actors; the challenge of translating Shakespeare back into English; having multiple versions of the same conversation; the value of discovering new dream roles; devising the elevator pitch of Hal’s journey; and the flattering presence of the Reduced Shakespeare Company in his actor origin story. (Length 28:56)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Unabridged)

Paul Edmondson is the Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-Upon-Avon Poetry Festival for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and, together with Professor Sir Stanley Wellshas just published All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, which collects Shakespeare’s 154 standalone sonnets along with most of the other sonnets Shakespeare included in his plays, and arranges them all for the very first time in the order in which they were probably written. Paul discusses how he and Sir Stanley had a desire to counter the damaging (and reductive) narrative of a so-called Fair Youth and Dark Lady, and includes revelations of a lifetime of writing; recitations by request; unexpected wisdom from a relatively young poet; recognizing the difficulty of reading the sonnets; schoolboy exercises; how sonnets 50 and 51 suggest that Shakespeare wrote them while on horseback; and the possibility (probably the certainty) of leaving a lasting impact on how we understand Shakespeare’s biography. (Length 28:48)

Madhuri Shekar, Storyteller

Award-winning playwright, audio dramatist, and now screenwriter Madhuri Shekar is an alum of Julliard’s playwriting program and has an MFA from USC in Dramatic Writing and a dual Master’s degree in Global Media and Communications from USC and the London School of Economics. Madhuri was awarded the 2020 Lanford Wilson Playwriting Award and her audio drama Evil Eye won the 2020 Audie Award for Best Original Work, and now Evil Eye has been turned into a movie for Amazon Prime. Madhuri talks about how she first started writing stories as a child and discusses our shared Bay Area roots; how she felt seen at a performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged); the gift of parental encouragement; the perfection of a scary movie directed by identical twins; the marvel of accurate trailers; huge love for (and the difficulty of achieving) genre tonal shifts; the challenge of performing in empty space; a time to slow down; and the power of theatre and the importance of artist safety. ALSO FEATURING: Our unabridged joy at being a reduced part of Madhuri’s origin story! (Pictured: Madhuri Shekar and Reed Martin at the TCG Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon, 2017.) (Length 22:06)

Juliet To Hotspur

Character actor Alejandra Escalante has played ingenues at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (Isabella, Measure For Measure), American Repertory Theatre in Boston (Desdemona, Othello), and for five seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Juliet, Romeo and Juliet; Miranda, The Tempest; Princess of France, Love’s Labor’s Lost) where she also played gallant Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1. Blessed with both the ability and the opportunity to play that kind of range, Alejandra talks about the perils and wonder of being a character actor trapped in an ingenue’s body; her initial reaction to being offered the role of Harry Percy; studying and then copying big ol’ barrel-chested dudes; how some of the most wonderful and successful actors never went to college theatre programs; the desire to revisit certain roles; and the joys of working with your former fiancé/now husband. (Length 18:43) (Pictured: Alejandra Escalante as Juliet and Hotspur in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions of Romeo and Juliet and Henry IV, Part 1. Also pictured: Daniel José Molina as Romeo.)

Here Are Frangela

Frances Callier and Angela V. Shelton, better known as Frangela, host the essential funny political podcast The Final Word and this Saturday night September 26, 2020, are performing as part of Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Virtual Tour, appearing right in your living room (on your computer)! Frances and Angela talk about how they joined comedy forces and share tips about the importance of using your voices; bringing the funny to the people; mutual Second City origins; memories of the TBS pilot The Week Reduced; the myth of world hunger; finding comic angles; possible spoilers to Star Trek: Discovery, the valuable bond of having opinions about everything; the importance of remembering that we have options and things don’t need to be this way; and the cathartic release of breaking crockery. (Length 22:04)

Hartford Stage Company

Melia Bensussen (l) and Cynthia Rider, respectively the Artistic and Managing Directors of the Hartford Stage Company, talk about the history of their multiple Tony-winning institution, and how they are managing and programming to reflect the various crises hitting their theatre specifically and the American theatre industry generally. Featuring a surprising number of laughs; gratitude at being in charge of an institution during a pandemic; the difficulty of hitting moving targets; the challenge of meeting the needs of multiple communities; how the best comedy is also the smartest comedy; a possible podcast scoop; some fantastic new brochure copy; and the opportunity and obligation to be of service to an audience and industry that’s battling crises on multiple fronts. (Length 19:43)

The Hark Journal

Another creation born of quarantine, The Hark Journal is a daily email service that offers quotes and lessons from and features about William Shakespeare and the many people who interact with and perform Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Michael Van Osch talks about how this passion project grew out of his clothing company Bard Shirts, who we already follow on Instagram but didn’t know the two organizations were related. Featuring different kinds of storytelling, turning passion projects into growing businesses, how to sign up for this totally service, and theories about what’s next for both theatre and Shakespeare once things get back to “normal” [sic]. (Length 18:21)

Gary’s ‘Finding Joy’

Finding Joy is Gary Andrews’ book about how he dealt with the sudden and unexpected death of his wife a few years ago. Gary talks about how the book evolved from his regular #DoodleADay ritual; how the grieving process navigates a Shakespearean combination of tones. the fun he’s having producing his web series called Drawing on Shakespeare (co-hosted by Austin Tichenor); the joy of Joy’s funny walks; how we’re all experiencing different forms of grief (loss of life, loss of lifestyle, loss of careers); receiving humbling and moving testimonials; a heat-induced inability to remember one’s own CV; and ultimately how you honor the deceased by learning to laugh again. (Length 20:07)

Play On Shakespeare

Lue Douthit is the creator and executive director of Play On Shakespeare, a series of translations and adaptations of the entire Shakespeare canon written by some of the most interesting and talented playwrights working today. Lue talks about the program’s origins and aims, and underscores how these adaptations are not meant to replace Shakespeare’s originals, even though they frequently offer insight into them. Featuring the ability to treat Shakespeare as a living playwright and his works as “new plays;” the importance of putting the playwright in the room; the dangers of editing Shakespeare; how flexible these texts are; establishing rules and then bending them; the importance of contrast in Shakespeare; the genius of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy and structure; how 90% of current Shakespeare productions are already adaptations; and the bold and radical idea of giving living playwrights living wages. Recorded in February, 2020. (Length 27:39)

That Shakespeare Voice

Samuel Taylor (author of My Life with the Shakespeare Cult, Blueprints for a Shakespeare Cult, and co-founder of the Back Room Shakespeare Project) and Jasmine Bracey (actor, teacher, and stakeholder in Back Room Shakes) talk about their new online class, “Spitting Out the ‘Shakespeare Voice'”, which breaks down the racist and colonizing ways in which speaking Shakespeare’s language is taught — and gives students and actors new ways of finding and utilizing their authentic voices. Featuring a breakdown (in every sense) of the teachings of Edith Skinner; delighting in Shakespeare’s language like jazz; the danger of asserting the dominance of a certain culture; the frustration of overcoming barriers to authenticity in a world of pretend; showing multiple facets of an actor’s diamond; possible textual evidence for the only two characters in the canon who can legitimately use a “mid-Atlantic” accent; the importance of not being complicit; the beauty of experiencing and speaking Shakespeare’s words authentically, especially if he’s the greatest playwright in the English-speaking western canon; the distinction of holding the mirror up to nature but not telling you what to see in it; and breaking down the idea that there’s only one correct way to speak the speech. Speak YOUR speech! (Length 33:46)

Shakespeare And Trump

Jeffrey R. Wilson, a lecturer in the Writing program at Harvard University, has written the new book Shakespeare And Trump, which examines not just which Shakespearean villain or tyrant Trump most resembles, but the more richly Shakespearean world of the politicians who enable him and the populace that continues to support him. Jeff explains how reluctant he was to write the book, but how he was drawn to more of a cultural conversation (as opposed to character criticism); weak kings versus dangerous clowns; whether we’re living in one of Shakespeare’s Histories or one of his Tragedies; the trick to finding the comedy in tragedy; the value of using Shakespeare as a lens through which we can look at a specific historical moment; how using Shakespeare as a look at cultural history might reveal things more traditional history might not; and what Shakespeare play most resembles the whole year of 2020. (Length 19:06)

Gender-Flipping The Shrew

In 2019, the “other RSC” — in this case, the Royal Shakespeare Company — offered a gender-flipped production of Taming of the Shrew that underscored the play’s issues of hierarchy and power. Austin Tichenor and Dee Ryan saw the production as an NT Live broadcast and are joined by GoodTickleBrain‘s Mya Gosling and dramaturg Kate Pitt (who saw the production live onstage in Stratford) and they discuss how the production landed in the two formats. This fascinating book club conversation touches on the play’s wonderful mutability; the comedy of straight male vanity; whether there’s a need to “fix” it; agreeing on the game of the scene; similarities to Henry and Kate in Henry V and other troublesome couples; woman-spreading and occupying space; surprising lack of sparks; transforming modern examples of masculine anger; and how (or whether) the play changes based on how (or whether) Petruchio changes. (Length 31:35)

Using Shakespeare’s Violence

Heidi Schmidt, assistant director of outreach and resident dramaturg for Colorado Shakespeare Festival, talks about Colorado Shakes’ program (now sadly on hiatus until the end of the COVID pandemic) for bringing Shakespeare into schools and using his characters and storylines as teachable moments. Featuring the dangers (and value) of the escalating pranks in Twelfth Night; the challenge and power of interdepartmental collaborations; the difference between good behavior and powerful drama; how companies gain both empathy and credibility; training actors to be teaching artists; ways of reframing Romeo and Juliet; fantastic quotes; the importance of under-promising and over-delivering; and the responsibility of giving young people (of any age) tools for dealing with crisis. (Length 20:47)

West Side Story

Remember live theatre? Remember when the big story back in late February was the controversial Ivo Van Hove production of West Side Story on Broadway? Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a professor of Shakespeare, English, and Gender Studies at Linfield College in Oregon, and a contributing writer to the New York Times and Atlantic magazine, wrote an article for the latter entitled, “Why West Side Story Abandoned Its Queer Narrative,” and, in this interview recorded on March 3, 2020, discusses the merits of the van Hove production and his insights into the original narrative. Featuring the peril of picking one’s prepositional poison; how a dorky 50s musical speaks to modern concerns about racism and police violence against communities of color; the struggle for Tony’s body; the problems with “I Feel Pretty;” Jerome Robbins’ lost play; expressing Jewish identity in the 1950s through ethnic minstrelsy; how Arthur Laurents “improved” on Shakespeare in particularly troubling ways; the rightness of questioning problematic aesthetics; the casting controversy in the recent Broadway production; and, most importantly, the feeling that when you love something you want to know and discuss everything about it. (Length 34:51)

Her Majesty’s Will

Missing summer blockbusters and live outdoor Shakespeare performances? Her Majesty’s Will by novelist (and actor and fight choreographer) David Blixt is your perfect substitute! It’s a fun and thrilling adventure about the young pre-genius Will Shakespeare who becomes entangled in a deadly and hilarious misadventure when he accidentally uncovers an attempt to murder Queen Elizabeth herself. David talks about his process and inspirations; how he’s attracted to gaps and Hope & Crosby shenanigans; some deceptive cover art; the difficulty of writing a funny novel when the world is in such an unfunny place; how it all comes from research; how he finesses the facts for fictional purposes; and how truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction. (Length 20:17)

More Lawrence O’Donnell

Here’s Part Two of our conversation with the host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” Lawrence O’Donnell, who talks about Mister Sterling, the show he created that starred Josh Brolin as a newly-appointed senator from California who everyone assumes is a Democrat. (Part One of our conversation is here.) Lawrence shares behind-the-scenes tales of TV production; his favorite bits of direction; the real-life sources of drama and inspirations for fictional characters; the identity of the so-called “101st Senator;” how actors remember forever the parts they don’t get; how casting sessions work (and don’t work); games senate staffs play; shout-outs to great and important mentors; the possibilities and challenges of rebooting Mister Sterling or any shows like it; the extraordinary journey it took to realize multiple Tony-winning actor Audra McDonald was right for a role; things you can still shoot in quarantine; and, in a 17-year-old journalistic coup — and after 700 episodes — Finally! The RSC Podcast has its first scoop! (Length 34:06)

Lawrence O’Donnell’s ‘Sterling’

Before he started hosting The Last Word on MSNBC in 2010, Lawrence O’Donnell was an executive producer, writer, and actor on The West Wing, and the creator, writer, and executive producer of his own show, Mister Sterling, which starred Josh Brolin and Audra McDonald in the story of an idealistic young senator who has to learn how to navigate the ins and outs of Washington DC while also conducting his personal life in the public eye. Cancelled after ten episodes, Mister Sterling featured storylines and conflicts that would find fuller expression in later seasons of The West Wing, and Lawrence talks about how the show was created and shares some fundamental Perry Mason precedents; revelations about Zoey Bartlet’s weird taste in birthday entertainment; the difficulty of writing drama set in Washington where there are now no consequences for terrible behavior; how Aaron Sorkin taught us about what drama is (or can be); what political TV zone opened up and which show filled it beautifully (and hilariously); and how he was able to pay tribute to a deep Washington legacy in Hollywood. PART TWO OF OUR CONVERSATION CAN BE FOUND HERE(Length 29:21)

Joining The Cirkestra

The first thing you hear in our production of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) was composed by Peter Bufano (left), a graduate of Clown College, a former Ringling Brothers Circus Clown, and now an assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Peter talks about his journey from Clown to Composer and shares some of his secrets; his comic and musical inspirations; the difficulty of hitting moving targets; finding the music in a gag; how relationship and function is most important in finding the funny; his latest Spotify single; and the importance of finding and maintaining community in music, in clowning, and in life. (Length 23:39)

Crafting Colbert’s Comedy

Comedy writer Tom Purcell has been working with Stephen Colbert a long time, first as the executive producer of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central and now as the executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. (Pictured above and left, he also appears in sketches.) Tom discusses how he got started in the comedy business and what lessons if first taught him; shares boring origin stories; talks about the joy of vibing comedically; the importance of (and tips for) detaching one’s self; the value of mouth-feel; how fear is a mind-killer; how he misses the grease of unexpected interaction; and most heroically, how he eps turns today’s news — all of it, even when it’s unpleasant — into comedy. (Length 20:57)

Lockdown Shakespeare Pioneer

Rob Myles, along with his producing partner Sarah Peachey, is the creator of The Show Must Go Online, which, since March 19, 2020, has been creating fully if madly rehearsed productions of Shakespeare’s canon in the order in which they were written, once a week, using actors and fight directors from all over the world. With over 100,000 views on YouTube in just 12 weeks, Rob talks about how this has become huger than he ever imagined, and how he’s learned to work in this new space; how his early studies in psychology led to understanding characters and delivering an actor-driven experience; excellent new opportunities for both audience engagement and audience research; iambic discoveries expressed in actual iambic pentameter; developing his singular obsession; shout-outs to The Barnsley Civic; being leaders in a movement rather than a company; and the realization that our moment cried out for a Rob Myles — and thankfully we have one. (Length 28:16) Continue reading

Globetrotting Shakespeare’s Tempest

Brave new world, indeed: Globetrotting Shakespeare is presenting a live and virtual performance of The Tempest on Saturday, July 11, 2020, featuring multiple actors in four different countries and at least six time zones from Shakespeare Napa Valley, Shakespeare by the Sea, Prague Shakespeare Company, Atlanta Shakespeare Company at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, and Shakespeare at Notre DameDirectors Jennifer King (l) and Suzanne Dean (r) discuss how the project came together; how they see challenges as opportunities to create relationships and communities through Shakespeare; how they’re seizing this opportunity to Rethink, Reframe, and Resume; the unfortunate problems with technology; how a disruptive pandemic has its own tempestuous qualities; and how we must continue finding (despite sometimes losing) our humanity in crisis. (Length 19:27)

Directing Sketch Shows

Like many theaters in Chicago, Second City shut down on March 13, 2020, the same day we were scheduled to chat with actor, writer, and improviser Frank Caeti, who was directing their current production. We kept our appointment and recorded this interview with the Second City alum anyway, thinking we’d post it once everything re-opened “in a few weeks”. Ha! Nonetheless, enjoy this fascinating conversation about the process of creating a sketch show out of nothing, and listen as Frank shares Bull Durham analogies; how a director acts as a head writer; the importance of compassion, empathy, and understanding; the value of group ownership; being patient as ideas go from half-baked to more fully-baked; embracing relative autonomy; gives shout-outs to institutional memory; the endurance required for encore late-night sets; the importance of audience feedback and the uncertainty of not knowing when we might get it again; and finally, the challenge of getting used to not touching your face and how philosophers are really the forgotten victims during this pandemic. (Length 23:17) (Pictured: Frank Caeti, left, with Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) in The Second City’s Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Craig Schwartz.)

Amy Acker’s Beatrice

Amy Acker starred as Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s 2012 film version of Much Ado About Nothing, and she discusses her initial trepidation over playing this great role onscreen; how her early training at SMU and experience at American Players Theatre in Wisconsin prepared her for it; how casual play readings lead to leading roles; the value of rehearsing; the fun of doing your own stunts; the joy of working with the Joss Whedon Dancers; the differences between preparing for a play and preparing for a movie; how the Whedonverse is more Shakespearean than the (David E.) Kelleyverse; and the counterintuitive marvel (no pun intended) of how making a movie is more relaxing than taking an actual vacation. (Length 22:10)

Chris Interviews Austin

It’s our 700th episode!! And because it happily coincides with the publication of Christopher Moore‘s Shakespeare For Squirrels, the New York Times best-selling author turns the tables and interviews RSC co-artistic director Austin Tichenor in an epic un-reduced unabridged almost one-hour conversation. The two Fauxspeareans celebrate the release of Chris’s book by getting lost in the weeds of craft and discussing the importance of inoculating people against Shakespeareaphobia; the value of learning to keep 5-7 year olds entertained; the difficulties of working with living playwrights; understanding who got Shakespeare’s jokes and who didn’t; writing a Hitchcock adaptation for Disney animation; the dangers of unskilled labor; learning comic timing from stand-ups and Gilbert & Sullivan; using a five-act structure; the value of memorizing Shakespeare; the art of capturing Shakespeare’s exquisite mixture of tones; the perfectly understandable struggle to explain Shakespeare’s greatness; plausible explanations for why Shakespeare left his wife his second-best bed; snappy answers to listener questions; and being members in the small club of authors rewriting Shakespeare. (Length 58:17)

Shakespeare For Squirrels

Christopher Moore talks about his new comic novel, Shakespeare For Squirrels, which sees his great creation Pocket of Dog Snogging (the Fool from Shakespeare’s King Lear) stranded in the Athenian woods amongst the characters from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s both a breezy entertainment and a tour de force and Chris explains how the research for one novel became the basis for another one; how he satirized lovers and reconceived fairies; the importance of grounding your mechanicals; taking inspiration from both Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; being both fantastical and of the moment; giving important agency to Cobweb; why basing your novel on a comic play is more difficult; the struggle with titles; and the challenge of being affected as much by the world one’s writing in as by the world one’s writing about. (Length 20:08)

Marvel Musical Movies

What movie musical pairs best with what Marvel superhero movie? Nate Burger and Laura Rook (left), two married Chicago actors, are surviving the quarantine in the most entertaining and delightful of ways: Pairing Nate’s favorite Marvel superhero movies with Laura’s favorite movie musicals. Listen as they describe their method to this madness, and describe some similarities to Chris Pratt and Robert Preston; the beauty of healthy shirtless men in every genre (above); the glory of big musical numbers; which superhero movie qualifies as The Jesus Story (spoiler: most of them); the perfection of pairing Avengers: Age of Ultron with Little Shop of Horrors; surprisingly perfect pairings for Mamma Mia!, A Chorus Line, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; two terrific pairings for the two Ant-Man movies; and the importance of giving yourself permission to realize that enjoying fluffy garbage is the point. (Length 20:32)

Remembering Brian Dennehy

Actor Elizabeth Dennehy (left) remembers her father Brian Dennehy, “a tireless tragedian of the old school” (Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune), who passed away at the age of 81 on April 15, 2020 from cardiac arrest due to sepsis. Elizabeth shares what it was like to grow up as the great actor’s daughter and what lessons she learned about the business from him; how her father did it backwards (family first, carousing second); was inspired by Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, and Oliver Reed; grabbed both roles and audiences by the throat; grew into his looks; loved taking roles that scared him and surprising people at auditions; took command of his physicality; was powered by adrenaline; and was absolutely terrified (in a good way) by the challenge of A Touch of the Poet. (Length 23:44) (Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Dennehy.)

Once Again: Mr. Brian Dennehy

“The dream is the most important part of our lives.”
Brian Dennehy, 1938-2020

We remember Brian Dennehy, the acclaimed actor who passed away last night, April 15, 2020, with this repost of our podcast interview with him from 2012, recorded during his run of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Brian offers praise for his fellow actors, identifies the weather phenomenon O’Neill’s plays can best be described as, reveals what can happen when you succeed in an O’Neill play, shares who he thinks should be considered the Iron Man of the American theatre (the requirements for which sound strangely familiar), and laments the disturbing lack of 73-year-old vampires in the American cinema. (Length 19:09)

Brian Stack’s Music

Second City alumnus Brian Stack (The Late Show with Stephen ColbertLate Night and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien) has a knowledge of popular music that’s both broad and deep, and this week he shares with us the kind of music that gets him through tough times (like, say, a pandemic); how music intersects with comedy in surprising and hysterical ways; how Van Morrison is perfect for any occasion; his outstanding Neal Young and Michael Macdonald impressions; some comedic inspiration from Men Without Hats; and the importance of sharing your music (while not, of course, sharing your germs). (Length 23:08)

90 Sondheim Songs

Stephen Sondheim turned 90 two weeks ago and to commemorate the event (and because he’s quarantined at home like all the rest of us), NYU MFA student (and Austin’s nephew) Andrew Moorhead compiled his list of the great lyricist/composer’s top ninety songs. Like all lists like this, it provokes lively discussion about such topics as teenage discoveries; being a great artist and a great teacher; the beauty of starting ridiculous arguments; an argument for the first ten songs from Sweeney Todd; a diatribe against some (well, one) terrible and unnecessary song; uncalled-for aspersions against Andrew’s friend Jordan; reverence both genuine and irreverent; what it’s like being a Sondheim savant; some frankly scandalous opinions that Mr. Sondheim definitely won’t like; and how there isn’t much blue in The Red and the Black. Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! (Length 21:57)

 

STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S TOP 90 SONGS
By Andrew Moorhead (as of April 6, 2020)

  1. Finishing The Hat
  2. Color & Light
  3. Losing My Mind
  4. Marry Me A Little
  5. Being Alive
  6. Could I Leave You?
  7. Worst Pies in London
  8. Send In The Clowns
  9. Another Hundred People
  10. A Little Priest
  11. The Miller’s Son
  12. Joanna/Joanna (Reprise)
  13. Move On
  14. Opening Doors
  15. We Do Not Belong Together
  16. Not A Day Goes By
  17. Sunday in The Park With George
  18. Sunday
  19. Everyday A Little Death
  20. Company
  21. The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
  22. No One Is Alone
  23. Pretty Women
  24. No One Has Ever Loved Me
  25. Take Me To The World
  26. Ladies Who Lunch
  27. Moments in the Woods
  28. A Weekend In the Country
  29. Franklin Shepard, Inc
  30. Beautiful
  31. Anyone Can Whistle
  32. My Friends
  33. Your Fault
  34. Buddy’s Blues
  35. Someone In A Tree
  36. Broadway Baby
  37. Putting It Together
  38. I’m Still Here
  39. Not While I’m Around
  40. Old Friends
  41. The Road You Didn’t Take
  42. Steps of the Palace
  43. Epiphany
  44. Getting Married Today
  45. By The Sea
  46. Loving You
  47. Any Moment
  48. Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You
  49. You Could Drive a Person Crazy
  50. I Know Things Now
  51. Sorry-Grateful
  52. Waiting for the Girls Upstairs
  53. Unworthy of Your Love
  54. You Must Meet My Wife
  55. Everybody Loves Louis
  56. You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow
  57. The Ballad of Booth
  58. Barcelona
  59. Everybody Says Don’t
  60. Into The Woods
  61. Agony
  62. Our Time
  63. Someone Is Waiting
  64. The Day Off
  65. Giants in the Sky
  66. Stay With Me
  67. Last Midnight
  68. Children Will Listen
  69. It’s Hot Up Here
  70. Children and Art
  71. God, that’s Good!
  72. It takes Two
  73. Now You Know
  74. The Little Things You Do Together
  75. The Gun Song
  76. Lesson #8
  77. Remember
  78. In Buddy’s Eyes
  79. Happiness
  80. The Glamorous Life
  81. That Frank
  82. It Would Have Been Wonderful
  83. Everybody’s Got the Right
  84. So Many People
  85. I Read
  86. Free
  87. Good Thing Going
  88. Now
  89. Hello, Little Girl
  90. In Praise of Women