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) [revised], 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) [revised], directed by Reed Martin. Photo by @chuknowak.)

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) [revised] (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)

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)

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)

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)

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.)

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)

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 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)

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)

Drawing On Shakespeare

Drawing on Shakespeare is a 16-episode webseries hosted by Austin Tichenor and the ridiculously talented Gary Andrews, where we talk about Shakespeare with witty, wonderful, and wise people while Gary draws what we’re talking about. As a possible second season/series gets closer, Gary and Austin remember how Drawing on Shakespeare began, discuss how different actors bring new meaning to a character; how every conversation leads to new insights about a play; how Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be like Keith Richards; and how audience figures are staggering into the several. (Length 17:40)

My Favorite Hamlet

John Vickery (above, as Antonio in The Tempest at the Stratford Festival in 2010 and Orak the Klingon on Star Trek: Enterprise in 2003) starred as Hamlet in Richard E.T. White’s production at the California Shakespeare Theater (then the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival) in 1982, and it remains, almost 40 years later, Austin’s favorite performance of that role he’s ever seen live. Richard discusses how that production came to be; how returning to Shakespeare allows such powerful explorations of class, wealth, and power; what favorite scenes we share; the danger (and rewards) of rewriting copyrighted material; the frustrations of college drama departments everywhere; how the streets of New York City became Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley; interesting collaborations and treasures discovered in the second quarto; how Shakespeare is open and available to any culture and any society; and who Hamlet’s final climactic sword should really be with. (Length 21:27)

Doing. Teaching. Learning.

Director and outgoing chair of the Cornish College of the Arts Theatre Department Richard ET White returns to discuss the reciprocal nature of directing and educating: about how creating art leads to the ability to teach the art, and how both creating and teaching leads to much unexpectedly wonderful learning. Featuring the value of simple acts of necessary communication vs. mad conceptual skills; the sting of painfully truthful recommendations; the advantages of them paying you vs. you paying them; an historic season at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco; how using theatre to teach English in Japan opens up whole new worlds; the pomposity of holding forth; and the incredible universality of Marowitzian deconstruction. (Length 14:29)

Everything Is Theatre

Richard ET White is the former artistic director of the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, Wisdom Bridge Theatre in Chicago, and the outgoing and longest-serving chair of the Cornish College of the Arts Theatre Department in that institution’s 103-year-old history. Richard was also an acting and directing teacher at the University of California Drama Department where many RSC members got their early training. RSC co-artistic director Austin Tichenor talks with his former professor about how theatre can be anything and everywhere; how comedy about serious issues from the San Francisco Mime Troupe became life-changing; the influence of Richard Schechner and the Performance Group; sneering at prosceniums; what people forget about Brecht; the value of immaturity; the immediacy of improv; the storytelling and performance art of stand-up; being both expansive and inclusive; the value of sharing your lived experience; and how you want theatre to have the visceral impact of a great rock concert. (Length 24:06)

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 as 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) 

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) 

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 professionals to students 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 new considerations about the American criminal justice system; and how the community of Grover’s Corners is always populated anew by the community of actors and audience members coming together at every performance. (Length 28:07)

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)

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)

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)

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)

More Lawrence O’Donnell

We continue 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. 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) (NOTE: Click through to find links to Part One of this interview.)

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)

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.)

692. J. Nicole Brooks

Actor, director, and playwright J. Nicole Brooks is the author and director of Her Honor Jane Byrne, which looks at the moment in Chicago history when its first woman mayor moved into the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Just three nights after it had its official world premiere opening at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, the rest of the run was cancelled due to the restrictions being imposed around the world in the midst of this global pandemic. Brooks discusses how the play came together and how love letters to Chicago can be complicated; the value of Shakespearean echoes and wise fools; a fascination with corruption; shining light on haunted communities; getting laughs when you least expect them; decolonizing the space; losing revenue streams; surprising shout-outs to Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure; and the brilliance of writing a dark comedy about kings and queens and guillotines. (Length 22:03)

689. Seven Stages Shakespeare

Dan Beaulieu and Christine Penney are the co-founders and directors of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company, New Hampshire’s only year-round dedicated to performing the works of Shakespeare or pieces that illuminate him. Seven Stages engages with Shakespeare in a variety of contexts, including performances, readings, workshops, and podcasts, and as Christine and Dan explain the company’s mission and objectives, they talk about swimming where the fish are, such as in in parks, bars, theaters (sometimes), barns, and warehouses; give shout-outs to influential professors; reveal how musical theatre performers are frequently excellent Shakespeareans; celebrate Shakespeare with a morning zoo/sports talk-radio energy; compare Brooklyn neighborhoods; and finally — beautifully — share what happens when you get to the sixth and seventh stages of Shakespeare. Recorded LIVE at the Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference in Dallas, January 2020. (Length 20:23)

688. Sonnet Man Returns

It’s The Sonnet Man! Who, disguised as mild-mannered Devon Glover, fights for truth, rhythm, and the Shakespearean way. At the recent Shakespeare Theatre Association conference, Devon spoke about his recent vow, what he’s been doing, who he’s been working with, and where he’s been teaching; the beauty of finding your voice through verse; the challenges and rewards of finding your own individual swagger; early work with Flocabulary; inspiration from the movie O; the dangers of a stagnant Devon; possible epitaphs; unexpected inspiration from Heathcliff and the Cadillac Cats; the difficulty of acting while rapping; a reduced abridgment of his fantastic article for Dramatics Magazine; and finally, what it’s like to duet and collaborate with MC Bard. Coming soon (probably) to a state near you! (Length 25:09)

Livermore Shakespeare Festival

Livermore Shakespeare Festival is the thriving cultural center of the Tri-Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area, and founder and producing artistic director Lisa Tromovitch talks about how the company began and how it’s continuing to grow. Featuring the journey from parks and vineyards to a brand-new building; how working with new plays and living playwrights is great training for collaborating with William Shakespeare; how Shakespeare and theatre acts as an economic engine; and finally, the greatness of being in the so-called center of the MegaRegion! (Length 20:21) (Lisa Tromovitch; Nicole Odell and Skyler Cooper in the 2019 Livermore Shakespeare Festival production of Othello, directed by Michael Wayne Rice. Photo by Gregg Le Blanc, CumulusLight.com)

Comparing Twelfth Nights

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

Director Robert Falls (Part 2)

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

Director Robert Falls

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

Romeo And Juliet

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

Steadfast Tin Soldier

The Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago is remounting Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Steadfast Tin Soldier this holiday season, and the Tony-winning director and adapter herself talks to us about how the show came to life. Featuring seeking and finding, bittersweet qualities, being drawn to outsiders, staging an advent calendar, music hall influences, Masterpiece Theatre memories, colonizing the mind, actor contributions, a tribute to longtime collaborator Christopher Donahue, the value of taking a break, kitty sneezes, ending on a pun, toggling back and forth between literary and theatrical storytelling, and the value of beautiful legitimate sentiment. (Length 25:05) (Pictured: Alex Stein in the title role in the Lookingglass Theatre Company production of The Steadfast Tin Soldier, directed and adapted by Mary Zimmerman (left). Photos by Liz Lauren.)

Into The Woods

The Writers Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods combines professional artistry with community theatre charm to create a very immediate and powerful version of this popular musical. Directed by Gary Griffin, one of the world’s leading interpreters of Sondheim, the cast features McKinley Carter as Jack’s Mother, Brianna Borger as the Baker’s Wife, and Bethany Thomas as the Witch, all of whom discuss the challenges of going into the Woods multiple times and making new discoveries every time you do. Featuring impertinent references to The Fantasticks; doing the Lord’s work; creating characters instead of types; heightening the immediacy and stakes; the danger of gateway Sondheim drugs; Borscht Belt energy; and an emphasis on the frequently-fraught (“fraught than I thought,” to quote another Sondheim show) relationships between parents and children. (Length 21:05) (Pictured, l to r: Bethany Thomas, Brianna Borger, and McKinley Carter in the Writers Theatre production of Into The Woods, directed by Gary Griffin. Photos by Michael Brosilow.)

Completing The Canon

Many people talk about it but Stan and Debbie Rea have actually done it: They’ve seen all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays live onstage (plus Two Noble Kinsmen and Edward III, if you count them) and they’re well on their way to doing it a second time. Stan and Debbie tell us how they did it and what they discovered along the way, including the fun of getting into different conversations with plays and their directors; the difficulty of bagging the three Henry VI plays; how different actors change the impact and meaning of the canon; the pride of seeing the plays while not reading them; the importance of adjusting your expectations; the frustrating necessity of resetting the Bard-O-Meter; the perils of driving in New York City; the value of supporting your community; and finally, the dramatic importance of Shakespeare’s most famous role, the Attendant to the King of France. Recorded on August 15, 2019, seventeen years to the day since Stan and Debbie saw The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (the RSC abridgment, not the entire canon)! (Length 21:32)

Glory Of ‘Ensemble’

Mark Larson discusses his wonderful new book Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater, a magnificent (and massive!) collection of first-person narratives from such theatre legends as Alan Arkin, Brian Dennehy, Andre DeShields, Laurie Metcalf, Mary Zimmerman, Michael Shannon, Regina Taylor, RSC alum David Razowsky, David Schwimmer, and literally hundreds more, all explaining both the history and the unique nature of Chicago theatre as they lived and created it. Featuring gratitude to those who came before us; the concept of the Chicago theatre community itself as a massive ensemble; theatre as a civic point of pride; eliminating unnecessary characters (like the author); answering the question of why the concept of ensemble developed such strong roots in this particular city; the biggest surprises from this four-and-a-half year process (and how it relates to podcasting); similarities to Studs Terkel and Tom Wolfe; tales of enormous will and enormous generosity; great white whales who got away; the benefits of being an outsider at the edge of the story; making the reader feel part of the Chicago theatre community; how individuals and institutions assist and mentor others; and ultimately the freedom — the ability, the need — to take risks. (Length 21:45)

Tales Of Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is on and sadly, we’re not there! So we’ve dug into the archives to find some of our favorite Edinburgh moments. Thrill to tales of discovery; amazing performing experiences; reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones; the only (horrible) way to become a Catholic martyr; special appearances by Rachel Parris, Yisrael Campbell, and Tim Fitzhigham; the real-life inspirations for the Red Wedding and Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle”; fun-loving Puritan numpties; new Jews, old Jews, and faux Jews; the joys of both seeing and performing multiple shows during a single Fringe; the dangers of flyering; excerpts from The Complete Millennium Musical (abridged), which performed at the Assembly Rooms exactly twenty years ago; international tour dates for the Fall of 2019; and discovering how the theatre can become your temple and John Malkovich your lord and savior. (Length 25:51)

The Web Opera

Our friend Michael Roth has composed the music for, and produced the film of, The Web Opera, a form-shattering short film dealing with the unintended consequences of people living life online. Michael talks about his amazing collaborators (librettist Kate Gale; leading performers Reuben Uy, Adam Von Almen, and Stephanie Cecile Yavelow; graphic artists Lisa Glenn Armstrong, Yiyi Shao, and Chris Gaal; all under the amazing direction of Kate Jopson) and discusses the challenge of writing new pieces and the even greater challenge of getting the things produced; the ready availability of the means of production; the wonder of naturalistic, or quotidian, performance; the too-casual and not-aware-enough ways we treat each other; and the danger of how our even benign online behavior can have tragic consequences. (Length 19:30)

We Debate ‘Shipoopi’

Peter Marks, theatre critic of the Washington Post and co-host of American Theatre magazine’s Three on the Aisle Podcast, famously loathes the song “Shipoopi” in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man and this week we try to convince him just how wrong he is. Featuring strong emotional reactions; unworthy yet sophisticated analysis; unprovoked disdain of garden gnomes; pilgrimages to Mason City, Iowa; reverse snobbery; comparing Act Two openings; anthropomorphizing a month; ideal Harold Hill casting (the less said about Matthew Broderick, the better); and ultimately a celebration of one the American musical theatre’s greatest (give or take a song or two) shows. WARNING: No minds were changed in the recording of this podcast. (Length 20:13) (Pictured: Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as Marcellus Washburn in the Goodman Theatre production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, directed by Mary Zimmerman. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Shakespeare Cult Blueprints

Samuel Taylor is the co-founder of the Back Room Shakespeare Project, the author of My Life with the Shakespeare Cult, and now its two-volume followup, Blueprints for a Shakespeare Cult, which explains how you too can embrace and replicate the work of the BRSP in your own city or country. Sam talks about BRSP’s origins and its twin inspirations, the glories of having very little rehearsal, the difference between being actual and real, replicating late-night whiskey-soaked debates and the more sober morning-after conversations, great taglines, the difference between good chaos and unhelpful chaos, how you can order your very own copy of Blueprints for a Shakespeare Cult by going to Kickstarter.com, and how you can be part of this growing international movement. (Length 26:54)

The Winter’s Tale

Dramaturg Neena Arndt and actor Nathan Hosner (Polixenes) discuss The Winter’s Tale, currently running at the Goodman Theatre until June 9, 2019 in a production directed by Robert Falls. Featuring the importance of leaning into the tonal shifts; how the play plays in our current historical moment; the dangers of a record-scratch; eliminating thee’s and thou’s; acknowledging aspects of the play that may be either bugs or features; changing the first-person from plural to singular; identifying the hinge of the play; shout-outs to actors Dan Donohue (Leontes), Christiana Clark (Paulina), Gregory Linington (Antigonus), and Philip Earl Johnson (Autolycus); casting clowns; some notes for Will Shakespeare; possibly changing one’s mind about the quality of the play; different treatments of Time; and the very first question one must address when you decide to do The Winter’s Tale — how do you handle the Bear? (Length 24:20) (Pictured (l-r): Dan Donohue (Leontes) and Nathan Hosner (Polixenes) in the Goodman Theatre production of The Winter’s Tale, directed by Robert Falls. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Balancing Twelfth Night

We continue the conversation with Professor Katy Reedy and her class at Lake Forest College, taking student questions about Austin Tichenor’s approach to directing Twelfth Night for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in the fall of 2018. Austin talks about the trick to balancing the comedic and dramatic elements in his production, Shakespeare’s anachronistic examples, illustrating sisters in loss, staging the subtext, taking actor suggestions, creating a world in which both comedy and drama can co-exist and where certain kinds of storytelling can happen, underlying tensions, potentially anti-climactic reunion scenes, going on a journey with your characters, the importance of working with really great people, and discovering that not everything is actually in the text. (Length 17:29) (William Oliver Watkins as Orsino, Caitlin McWethy as Viola, and Abby Lee as Olivia in Twelfth Night at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 2018. Directed by Austin Tichenor.)

Discussing Twelfth Night

Professor Katy Reedy invited our own Austin Tichenor to speak to her class at Lake Forest College about his production of Twelfth Night that he directed for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in the fall of 2018. Austin discusses all the things he wanted his production NOT to be; how this great comedy is fueled by great loss; how Olivia threw herself into the physical comedy; the treatment of the treatment of Malvolio; speculation as to why Orsino is such a poorly written character; how to lean into both the comedy and the pain; and the possibly blasphemous notion that maybe Feste isn’t as interesting as many people think he is. (Length 19:50) (Pictured: William Oliver Watkins and Caitlin McWethy as Orsino and Viola, plus the entire cast of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night, directed by Austin Tichenor.)

High School Bard

“Friend of the pod” Daisy Tichenor talks about her wonderfully Shakespearean senior year in high school, where she played Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing on the Philips Exeter Academy MainStage and directed Twelfth Night for the PEA Dramat at the same time. We talk about incredible opportunities; how informal clubs can accommodate a more diverse group of students; how stage managing the Scottish play can inspire; the wonder of getting to play a dream role; being born of all mirth and no matter; keeping the timelines straight; and the ultimate tribute to theatre people. Pretention or Science? Discuss. (Length 19:54) (Daisy Tichenor as Beatrice and Cody Nunn as Don Pedro, Much Ado About Nothing, Philips Exeter Academy, directed by Sarah Ream, 2018.)

Remembering Stanley Donen

The recent death of legendary Hollywood director Stanley Donen — the so-called “king of the Hollywood musical,” responsible for such classics as Singin’ in the Rain, On The Town, Funny Face, Royal Wedding, Charade, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers — prompts this long overdue reminiscence from our own Reed Martin who in 2006 got to hang out with Mr. Donen while working on a new play at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco written and directed by the great Elaine May who, until his death, was Stanley’s partner. Reed tells stories about not only Mr. Donen and Ms. May but remembers the phalanx of bold-faced names who were involved with this production (pictured surrounding Reed, clockwise): Daveed Diggs, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, and Mark Rydell. Featuring the graciousness of the rich and famous; secrets of filming the famous dancing on a ceiling sequence with Fred Astaire; a fantastic story about John Wayne; and the truth of the old saying: you don’t always remember what people say but you always remember how they make you feel. (Length 19:57)

Episode 636. All Is True?

Dr. Paul Edmondson, the director of research for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, served as a historical consultant on Kenneth Branagh’s new film All Is True, an elegiac imagining of the final days of William Shakespeare. Paul discusses his role in the film’s production and how he came to be involved, and also shares backstage glimpses as to how and where the movie was filmed, insight into the film’s original impulses, some clearly lifelong passions, the presence of VIPs, a different key for Ben Elton to write about Shakespeare in than Upstart Crow, navigating hot spots, how research is helping us evolve our understanding of Shakespeare’s personal life, and how even a creative genius sometimes just needs to be professional, even in moments of great loss. Featuring a special appearance by (and extreme gratitude to) National Public Radio’s film critic Bob Mondello. (Length 24:02)

Episode 634. Marya’s New ‘Tempest’

Marya Sea Kaminski is the new artistic director of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre and just opened her ambitious all-female production of The Tempest. Marya discusses how her production of is inspired by the Pittsburgh community and engages in fun and fantastical contemplations, reimagining a great text, honoring Shakespeare’s role as a producer and crowd-pleaser, developing partnerships with Pittsburgh’s civic and creative communities, recognizing the importance of time to reflect, and sharing her thoughts about what makes a great season and how one prepares them. (Length 20:00) 

Episode 629. 2018’s Top Podcasts

Happy New Year! We kick off 2019 with excerpts of the Top Ten Most Downloaded Episodes of the RSC Podcast from 2018. Featuring novel excerpts from novelist Christopher Moore; testimonials regarding the efficacy of prison theatre programs; reviews of our favorite Broadway shows; the challenges of working on a new play about Mikhail Gorbachev; love for and from retired National Public Radio broadcaster Robert Siegel; actors from the Prague Shakespeare Festival; affection for Slings and Arrows; new plays inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and practices; confessions from an actual Lady Macbeth; and — finally! — an answer to the question, “What is Shakespeare’s greatest play?” Listen to the excerpts then click through to hear the entire episodes! (Length 23:03) 

Episode 624. Shakespearean Youth Theatre

Logan Verdoorn and Lukas Brasherfons, the artistic director and resident dramaturg of Shakespearean Youth Theatre talk about how SYT provides “a world class education in Shakespeare for Twin Cities Teens”, and reveal how the company formed, how it works, how it seems like it could be an excellent model for other communities, the delight of coming to Shakespeare without excess baggage, a shout-out to Pop-Up Shakespeare’s exciting crowning action, the goal of ennobling and empowering young people through the power of theatre, and the inherent danger of ever underestimating Shakespeare. (And Fletcher.) (Length 19:09)

Episode 623. Orsino And Othello

William Oliver Watkins plays Orsino (left, with Caitlin McWethy as Viola) in the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night, after playing the title role in CSC’s production of Othello last season. Will talks about the similarities and challenges of the two roles and what it’s like to return to his home town of Cincinnati from where he lives now in New York City, gives shout-outs to mothers specifically and English teachers generally, reveals revelations about Tom Selleck’s mustache and the saga of Luke Cage’s little brother, explains the things they don’t teach you in acting school, and talks about the glory of doing Shakespeare in the Park (not that one). (Length 20:28) 

Episode 622. Viola And Olivia

Caitlin McWethy and Abby Lee play Viola and Olivia in the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night directed by the RSC’s own Austin Tichenor, and prior to the show’s opening this week, sat down to talk about their characters and how this production differs from other productions they’ve seen and been in. Featuring the wonder of two women sharing scenes onstage (and the weirdly specific thing that makes it possible), Viola’s narrative burden, definitive roles we’re dying to play (lookin’ at you, Valentine), the question of why Olivia is not a more generally-desired role in the Shakespearean canon, Olivia’s similarity to Kate from Taming of the Shrew, the magic alchemy of shared grief, roles that allow for greater interpretive freedom, wonderful surprises, hitting that sweet spot between fun n’ games and tragedy, and the joy of laughing and crying in rehearsal. (Length 21:08)

Episode 621. Processing The Process

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy Amrita Ramanan talks about the role of the dramaturg at a theatre dedicated to a playwright who’s been dead for 402 years, and discusses the planning and programs OSF has put in place to create a canon of new Histories, Comedies, Tragedies, and Romances. Our highly caffeinated conversation features distinctions between institutional dramaturgy and production dramaturgy, studying the intent of the text, carrying a sense of engagement, determining what a 400 year old play means today, identifying the ethos and identify of Shakespeare’s work, how a dramaturg’s job is very similar to a director’s, the value of gadflies, thematic connectivity, harnessing the all-important dramaturgy of the actor, and how producing new work and new playwrights, in addition to producing his 400 year old plays, actually does the greatest honor to Master Shakespeare himself. (Length 17:51