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

Episode 620. Tom Hanks’ Falstaff

Director Kristen Osborn talks about serving as assistant director to Daniel Sullivan on the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of both parts of Henry IV earlier this summer, which starred Tom Hanks as Falstaff, Joe Morton (Scandal, Brother From Another Planet) as Henry IV, and Hamish Linklater (Fargo, Legion, The Newsroom) as Hal. Kristen discusses how the script was abridged and cast and also shares insights into how the emphasis of Shakespeare’s History gets transformed by star quality. Featuring music by Michael Roth, shout-outs to our own Jeff Marlow, mysterious secrets of the pocket gopher, becoming invaluable, digging into the work, figuring out backstage traffic, transforming the space, changing class distinctions, putting in understudies, feeling like a fraud, what this gig might lead to, how to double a cast of “only” nineteen people, a growing love of Shakespeare, and how a young director shapes her career. Recorded live at The Celtic Knot in Evanston; Where else to talk about Henry IV but in a pub?! (Length 23:29)

Episode 618. Directing ‘Twelfth Night’

Austin Tichenor is directing Twelfth Night at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company this fall, and it turns out he’s almost the only one at Cincy Shakes or the RSC who’s never worked on it before! Fortunately, RSC members Teddy Spencer, Jerry Kernion, and Dominic Conti, plus Chicago actress and professor of acting at Northwestern University Cindy Gold, are able to give him tips and insights into the play and its characters because they’ve all done Twelfth Night multiple times. Featuring discussions of the text, Shakespeare’s authorial intent, the driving force that is Maria, the difficulty of Malvolio, spectacular insight into Sir Toby Belch, the value of dumb shows and fencing, the way to dress Sir Andrew, excellent high-kicking, and the wonder of having a well-oiled Orsino. (Length 23:47) 

Episode 617. Remy Bumppo’s ‘Frankenstein’

Nick Sandys is the artistic director of Chicago’s Remy Bumppo Theatre and is currently playing both Victor Frankenstein and the Creature in the Nick Dear adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, which opens this week and runs through November 17, 2018, now also celebrating its 200th anniversary (he alternates roles with Greg Matthew Anderson). Nick talks about the power of this tale of monstrousness and how it fits into Remy Bumppo’s mission of great language driving great ideas. Featuring ways in which Shelley’s novel continues ideas expressed by Shakespeare in The Tempest, early modern analogues to rap battles, how one can highlight (and quite possibly confuse) certain issues, the precision with which one handles cultural negotiation, how the use of language — even in Shakespeare — tells you how a scene must be staged, how literature can also be a verb, how monsters are not born but made, and how one addresses the ultimate question: Who, really, is the monster? A star is shorn! (Length 22:42)

Episode 616. Directing ‘Nell Gwynn’

Christopher Luscombe, who’s directed in London’s West End, at Shakespeare’s Globe, and for the ‘other RSC’ (the Royal Shakespeare Company), now directs Nell Gwynn, a charming new comedy with music about the famous (or infamous) 17th Century actress now having its world premiere at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Also an alumnus of the Cambridge Footlights, Chris discusses Nell the play, Nell the actress, and Nell the production. Featuring a wonderful tribute to Chicago actors, the value of being authentically English, the absolute treat of continuing to work on a play over several years, the advantage of embracing contradictions, the great thing about not being afraid of comedy, and the importance of starting from scratch every time. (Length 18:21)

Episode 614. Taming Shakespeare’s “Shrew”

Shana Cooper directed Taming of the Shrew at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival this summer, a production that received rave reviews from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Shana, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, discusses how she made this troublesome play work in our slightly more enlightened (hopefully) and evolving era. Featuring key commedia influences, a classic battle of the sexes play that’s also a satire of same, being sold on the love story, the importance of clowns, the danger and absurdity of the patriarchy, one virtue of the Christopher Sly scenes, forging unknown and thorny paths, the importance of non-verbal text, radical and revolutionary individuals, and most importantly, finding alternatives to broken systems and masculine ideas of power. (Length 28:56) (Pictured: Liz Wisan and Biko Eisen-Martin as Kate and Petruchio in the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival production of Taming of the Shrew. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.)

Episode 611. Burbage to Burbage

Kevin Kenerly is a 22-year veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is currently playing Richard Burbage in Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will (after having played Burbage in Shakespeare in Love in 2017). Kevin talks with Austin Tichenor (who played Burbage in the Northlight Theatre production in 2017 and blogged about it for the Folger Shakespeare Library) about his approach to playing Shakespeare’s leading man, how he first came to Shakespeare, how the role of Burbage resembles Cyrano de Bergerac, inspirational teacher shoutouts, impressive instruments, the magic of different interpretations, a love for language, the pleasure of needing no clue, Michael Caine aphorisms, how theatre sleeps when we do, and ultimately how Shakespeare and microbrew prove to be an unbeatable combination. Featuring a special appearance from Lauren Gunderson herself! (Pictured: David Kelly as Henry Condell, Kevin Kenerly as Richard Burbage, and Jeffrey King as John Heminges. From the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will, directed by Christopher Liam Moore.) (Length 22:56)

Episode 610. ‘Western Civ’ Lives!

Barnstormers Theatre in New Hampshire is producing our rarely-seen show Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (abridged), which we created in 1998 under its original title The Complete Millennium Musical (abridged). Director Blair Hundertmark and cast members (l to r) Jordan Ahnquist, Cheryl Mullings, and Rachel Alexa Norman discuss learning and updating the script and the songs, getting comfortable with audience participation, the freedom to go with the flow, lyrics that make your eyes spin, encouraging seriousness and the prospect of journaling, finding a through-line, sad topicality, getting the audience on your side, sexy inquisitors, unsung heroes, and timeless inspiration from Yogi Berra. Featuring excerpts from the original cast recording, which is available from iTunes! (Length 25:04)

Episode 609. Well-Intentioned Director’s Guide

Director Nate Cohen is in his second year of Northwestern University’s MFA Directing program and recently created a cheeky — and slightly tongue-in-cheek — flowchart entitled “Should I Direct This Play (A Guide for Well-Intentioned Cis Het White Men).” Nate posted the chart on Facebook and tagged, among other people, American Theatre magazine, which retweeted it and prompted much national discussion and a little bit of blowback. Nate discusses his own intentions and the issue of taking up space; the dangers of getting stuck in an irony loop; the cautionary tale of Robert LePage; the fact of walking like a (straight white) man; the reason it’s a guide, not a rulebook; vital interactions with Lauren Gunderson; the potential danger of artist-splaining; a grateful shout-out to the Hawkins Family (and this live concert recording in particular); the importance of thinking through things critically and not being a dick; and ultimately, the valuable question of how do we do better? (Length 27:46)

Episode 606. Composer Michael Roth

Composer and arranger Michael Roth has had a big summer, scoring not only the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV starring Tom Hanks, and Pamplona, the one-man play about Ernest Hemingway, starring Stacy Keach, currently having its world premiere production at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Michael has worked with such notable theatre artists as directors Robert Falls, Des McAnuff, and Daniel Sullivan, actors Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy, and songwriter Randy Newman, and he joins us to talk about with working with all these artists in a variety of media. Featuring the importance of first rehearsals, making sure Shakespeare’s songs are not perfunctory; small worlds; the challenges of writing a musical; and Shakespeare’s weird ability to be early-modern and post-modern at the same time. (Length 22:21)

Episode 605. The Actors Gymnasium

Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi is the artistic director and co-founder of The Actors Gymnasium, a physical theatre school with a huge emphasis on circus and telling stories through movement. A longtime collaborator with Chicago’s Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre, Sylvia created the underwater choreography for Lookingglass’ current production of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and talks about how she creates her work and the value of her collaborators, the invaluable nature of literally growing up in the circus, questioning the value of not taking a risk, learning the language of physicality, getting actors to a different level, and the joy of watching a performer discover new skills and manners of expression. (Length 19:20)

Episode 597. Lady Macbeth Herself

Chaon Cross plays Lady Macbeth in the exciting and literally magical production of the Scottish play directed by Aaron Posner and Teller in the current production at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and discusses the challenges of finding the balance between the textual and theatrical and between character and razzmatazz; the difficulties of acting while performing magic; the art of creating a useful backstory; the pitfalls of human desires: the glory of creating a world; the relative usefulness of politics; and the surprising delight of speaking with Lady She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. (Length 21:16)

Episode 594. ‘Caged’ World Premiere

We’ve talked on this podcast about theatre and Shakespeare in prisons, but we’ve never heard about theatre created by the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated outside prisons. Director and teaching artist Jerrell L. Henderson directs the world premiere of Caged at Passage Theatre in New Jersey, and discusses the challenge of finding the narrative, radical love, predatory systems, the trick of navigating the demands of thirty living playwrights, mourning alone, and how to avoid the dangers of directorial slather and getting art on you. (Length 18:52)

Episode 589. Chicago’s Northlight Theatre

Artistic Director BJ Jones (left) talks about Northlight Theatre, the fourth largest theatre in the Chicagoland area and producer of an extraordinary body of new work. BJ discusses the importance of understanding one’s audience while raving (positively!) about student matinees, commissioning new work, remembering John Mahoney, challenging the current generation while training the next generation of theatergoers and theatre makers, and, most importantly, encouraging compassion and improving one’s perspective through theatre and art. (Length 17:07)

Episode 586. Reduced Show Report

During our two-week run of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at the New Victory Theatre in New York City we had the opportunity to see many fantastic shows, both on and off-Broadway, and between our final two performances we chatted about what we saw, what we liked, what we were disappointed in, what surprised us, what challenged us, and what completely blew us away. Featuring thoughts, opinions, critiques, and appreciations of Lobby Hero, School of Rock, Farinelli and the King, In & Of Itself, Chicago, A Bronx Tale, The Low Road, SpongeBob Squarepants, Three Tall Women, John Lithgow, Hamilton, and The Band’s Visit — plus tales of personal John Lithgow connections, out-of-the-ordinary shows, accidental benefits of snow days, excellent direction and not-so excellent direction, and wonderful moments of deeply moving exquisite joy. (Length 27:12)

Episode 570. Book Of Will

Director Jessica Thebus (Richard III, In The Garden: A Darwinian Love Story) returns to the podcast to talk about the midwest premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will, which she’s directing at the Northlight Theatre in Chicago. Jessica talks about her approach to this play, and from where she draws her certainties and insights. Featuring surprisingly little historical fudging, labors of love, illuminating paths, avoiding traps, staying ahead of the audience, and celebrating the creation of a thing that might easily never have happened. (Length 17:51) (l-r, Richard Burbage (Austin Tichenor), Alice Heminges (Dana Black), John Heminges (Jim Ortlieb), and Henry Condell (Gregory Linington) from the Northlight Theatre production of Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Episode 568. The Shakespeare Institute

Director of the Shakespeare Institute Michael Dobson talks about the history and current work of the Institute, and reveals the genius (and truth) of location location location; how he ensures Shakespeare academics also experience and practice Shakespeare in performance; the decision to delve; a fascination with Shakespeare in languages other than Read more…

Episode 565. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Paul Edmondson, in addition to being a scholar, author, editor, educator, poet, and priest in the Church of England, is the head of research and knowledge for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the UK’s oldest conservation charity and our host for our Pop-Up Shakespeare book launch event. Paul was good enough to Read more…

Episode 563. Orville Family Guy

David Goodman is the executive producer of the The Orville, the futuristic sci-fi comedy adventure created by (and starring) Seth MacFarlane. David discusses his 30 year (so far) career in television, writing on everything from the Golden Girls to Star Trek: Enterprise; his long collaboration with MacFarlane, dating back to Read more…

Episode 559. Technical Theatre Textbook

As students and teachers head back to school, it’s the perfect time to talk to Tal Sanders, assistant professor of theatre at Pacific University in Oregon, who has written a new textbook about technical theatre — and it’s absolutely free! Tal discusses the strengths and limitations of the books currently Read more…

Episode 557. Potted Potter P’nomenon

Daniel Clarkson is the co-creator of the international (and un-reduced) sensation Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience. Dan talks about that unauthorized aspect and reveals other tidbits about the show’s origins, his (cough) comic heroes, the challenges of compressing seven books and hundreds of characters into a two-man seventy minute Read more…

Episode 556. Abridged Too Far?

”We premiered our one-hour version of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last week, and RSC UK cast members Joseph Maudsley, Matt Pearson, and James Percy discuss the ups and downs of further reduction. Featuring problems with pacing, riding over slumps, totally different experiences, 30-year anniversaries, Read more…

Episode 554. Curtain Call Online

”John Schwab talks about how Curtain Call the book (left) has become Curtain Call the online community, a place for theatre professionals and fans where the shows live on after they close, built for theatre people by theatre people. Featuring celebration and connection, weird love children that catch the theatre bug, Read more…

Episode 552. Director Christopher Edwards

Christoper V. Edwards is directing this summer’s non-RSC production of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and he talks to us about how he got the job and how rehearsals are going (it opens July 29). He also talks about his new gig as Artistic Director of the Actors Shakespeare Project in Boston, and how he interprets LongLostShakes, doubling and tripling actors, the differences between LongLostShakes and The Complete Works…, mutual friends The Q Brothers, playing with language, shout-outs to Boston, opportunities to have conversations with Shakespeare, and, most importantly, the significant ways in which William Shakespeare is a rabid squirrel. (Length 25:16)

Episode 548. What About Cellphones?

”Several high-profiles performers (including Glenn Close, Patti Lupone, and Hugh Jackman) have recently stopped their live performances on Broadway to chastise an audience member for distracting everyone with a ringing or bright cellphone. But is the solution more distracting than the problem? Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, and Austin Tichenor discuss Read more…

Episode 545. Prague Shakespeare Company

Guy Roberts, the artistic director of Prague Shakespeare Company, talks about how the company was founded and how Shakespeare is bringing nations and peoples together. Featuring important Spinal Tap influences, the challenge of completing the canon, comparisons between LongLostShakes and The Complete Works…, revelations about the so-called “coast of Bohemia”, an excerpt from the Reduced Shakespeare Radio Show, echoes of Much Ado About Nothing, and the value of making people laugh. Recorded live at the Shakespeare Theatre Association. (Length 15:30) 

Episode 536. Discussing ‘Much Ado’

”Austin Tichenor‘s production of Much Ado About Nothing closed its four-performance run last weekend at Pacific University in Oregon, and on opening night, department chair Ellen Margolis conducted a Q&A where they talked about conceptual and dramaturgical choices, the importance of authorial intent, the value of children’s theatre, a weirdly progressive alternative Read more…

Episode 532. Shakespeare & Trump

How should / would / will William Shakespeare respond to a character like President Trump? We talk with Shakespeare artists and administrators Kate Powers, Amy Wratchford, Mya Gosling, and Mac MacDaniel about productions they’d like to see during the next four years that can shed some light on the current administration. Featuring the value of leaning in and telling truth to power, cruel things to do to Midsummer’s Snout, finding surprising resonance in unexpected places, and most excellent suggestions of Richard III, Richard II, King Lear, Hamlet, Coriolanus, and…hang on a bit…King John?! Recorded live at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore, Maryland. UPDATE: New York’s Public Theatre at the Delacorte in Central Park took this to a whole ‘nother level in June 2017, with its production of Julius Caesar in which the Roman leader is costumed to look exactly like Donald Trump. (Length 15:02)

Episode 531. Thinking Shakespeare’s Text

”Scott Parkinson is one of the truly great American interpreters of Shakespeare, and certainly the only one we know personally who will talk to us. While chatting about his recent Writers Theatre production of Julius Caesar (which he adapted, co-directed, and appeared in as Cassius), Scott discussed the method he uses Read more…

Episode 529. Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation

”Author, actor, director, and producer Ben Crystal tells us about his work researching, performing, and teaching Shakespeare’s words in their original 400-year-old pronunciations. Featuring the evolution of language and pronunciation, how accent affects movement and behavior, the king of rock and roll as an Elizabethan data point, the value of cutting Read more…

Episode 527. The Writers Theatre

”Recently dubbed “Company of the Year” by Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal, the Writers Theatre in the Chicago suburb of Glencoe began in the back of a bookstore and in its 25th anniversary season opened its brand new multi-million dollar performing arts venue — which is also an award-winner! Michael Halberstam, Read more…