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

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)

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

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) (Pictured: Deb Kinghorn as Lear in the 2016 Seven Stages Shakespeare production. Photo by M. Lavigne Photography.)

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) (Hear our first podcast conversation with The Sonnet Man here!)

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) HEAR PART ONE OF OUR CONVERSATION HERE! (Pictured: (l-r) Disney Theatrical’s Thomas Schumacher, Elton John, and Robert Falls in rehearsal for Aida, 2000.)

Director Robert Falls

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

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

Into The Woods

Completing The Canon

WATCH THE NEW PROMO VIDEO FOR HAMLET’S BIG ADVENTURE (a prequel)

Glory Of ‘Ensemble’

Tales Of Edinburgh

The Web Opera

We Debate ‘Shipoopi’

Shakespeare Cult Blueprints

The Winter’s Tale

Balancing Twelfth Night

Discussing Twelfth Night

High School Bard

Remembering Stanley Donen

Episode 636. All Is True?

Episode 634. Marya’s New ‘Tempest’

Episode 629. 2018’s Top Podcasts

Episode 624. Shakespearean Youth Theatre

Episode 623. Orsino And Othello

Episode 622. Viola And Olivia

Episode 621. Processing The Process

Episode 620. Tom Hanks’ Falstaff

Episode 618. Directing ‘Twelfth Night’

Episode 617. Remy Bumppo’s ‘Frankenstein’

Episode 616. Directing ‘Nell Gwynn’

Episode 614. Taming Shakespeare’s “Shrew”

Episode 611. Burbage to Burbage

Episode 610. ‘Western Civ’ Lives!

Episode 609. Well-Intentioned Director’s Guide

Episode 606. Composer Michael Roth

Episode 605. The Actors Gymnasium

Episode 597. Lady Macbeth Herself

Episode 594. ‘Caged’ World Premiere

Episode 589. Chicago’s Northlight Theatre

Episode 586. Reduced Show Report

Episode 570. Book Of Will

Episode 568. The Shakespeare Institute

Episode 565. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Episode 563. Orville Family Guy

Episode 559. Technical Theatre Textbook