More Shakespearean Biofiction

Shakespeare’s Birthday Month continues with Part Two with our conversation with Dr Edel Semple (bottom right, left) from University College in Cork, Ireland, and Dr. Ronan Hatfull (bottom left, left) from the University of Warwick, talking about Shakespearean Biofiction onstage, screen, and this week on the page, too. We share love for both Hamnet the novel by Maggie O’Farrell and Hamnet the play (by Irish companies Dead Centre and the Abbey Theatre); brushes with greatness (in the forms of playwright Edward Bond and comedian Eddie Izzard); and we discuss all the big questions: how intimidating it can be putting words into Shakespeare’s mouth; how biofiction can speculate realistically or fantastically about where Shakespeare’s genius comes from; whether Shakespeare is, in fact, worth it; how Shakespeare compares to Leontes in The Winter’s Tale; how we can avoid spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier; what’s amazing about Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will; and, amazingly, the good things in Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous. PART ONE OF OUR CONVERSATION CAN BE FOUND HERE. (Pictured, clockwise from top left: Laurie Davidson as the title character in the miniseries Will; Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; Austin Tichenor as Richard Burbage in Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will at Northlight Theatre, photo by Liz Lauren; and Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare in All Is True.) (Length 22:31)

Advice For Writers

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

Something Wonderful Now

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

Another Day’s Begun

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

Anthony Clarvoe’s ‘Living’

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

Madhuri Shekar, Storyteller

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

Play On Shakespeare

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

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)

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.)

Chris Interviews Austin

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

693. Phone Porn Voices

Playwright, actor, and musician Deb Hiett discusses one of her most interesting survival jobs, many years ago in the heyday of the 900 number, and how it allowed her to flex her storytelling muscles and skills as a character actress. Featuring writing and performing both audio erotica and Quarantunes; creating stories; involuntary gag reflexes; an arsenal of accents; crafting monologues; being co-lead singer in the band Orson Welk; an extensive resume of appearances in film and television; the limited imagination of Tower Records; and the profitable power of delaying gratification. A perfect tale for these times of social distancing and self-isolation! (Length (23:10)

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)

690. Alchemy Of Gender

Lisa Wolpe, currently playing Cassius in Julius Caesar at Playmakers Repertory Company, is an actress, director, teacher, playwright, and producer; the founder of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company; and the creator and performer of Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender, her solo show which explores the transformational power of empathy. Lisa, who’s “probably played more of Shakespeare’s male leading roles than any woman in history,”  talks about creating her show and exploring the masculine in Shakespeare’s plays; how this helped understand her father’s PTSD; reveals the true definition of ingenue; investigates a re-gendered Taming of the Shrew; and shares the urgency and importance of putting the quest in the question. (Length 23:59)

Holy Land Hamlet

It’s a podcast bar mitzvah! The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast became a man last week when it celebrated its 13th birthday while we were performing Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel) in Israel. To honor that special occasion, we gathered in Molly Bloom’s, Tel Aviv’s traditional Irish pub, to talk about how Israeli audiences responded to the show. Featuring universal cultural references, slowing down the pace, dealing with the heaviest sword in the world, people surprised by the number of actors, miraculous costume changes, combining parodies in a The Court Jester/Hamilton mashup, and the pleasure of pleasing both Shakespeare nerds and neophytes. (Length 23:35)

Red Fox Theatre

Playwright Ellen Margolis (left )saw the Red Fox Theatre production of Catch of the Day (short-listed for Best Musical at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe) and the experience of seeing it was as wonderful as the show itself. Ellen discusses how all the extra-theatrical elements combined to make a magical evening at the theatre even more so, and shares insights into the nature of crazy fish stories, excellent marketing materials, local hand-held guidance, uniting the audience through the power of a Van Morrison singalong, tales of Fungie the Dolphin, kindred reduced spirits, worldwide Fringe experiences, and further adventures within the comedy industrial complex. (Length 19:09)

Steadfast Tin Soldier

Doug The Time-Traveler

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Other Famous Prequels

Hamlet’s Big Adventure!

‘Ma Rainey’s’ Band

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Episode 621. Processing The Process

Episode 607. Getting To Edinburgh

Episode 601. More Lauren Gunderson

Episode 594. ‘Caged’ World Premiere

Episode 589. Chicago’s Northlight Theatre

Episode 584. The Comedy “Plantation!”

Episode 581. Reagan And Gorbachev

Episode 579. Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries

Episode 569. Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Episode 566. Captain Picard’s Autobiography

Episode 549. Remembering A.R. Gurney

Episode 539. Encouraging Young Writers

Episode 535. What’s A Play?

Episode 534. Writing About ‘Veils’

Episode 501. Thaddeus And Slocum

Episode 491. Reviewing The Reviews (LongLostShakes Edition)

Episode 489. “Long Lost” Opening

Episode 488. Studying Reduced Shakespeare

Episode 479. Designing Stage Sets

Episode 473. Meet Aaron Posner

Episode 467. Holy Humor Sunday

Episode 464. Writing “Almost, Maine”

Episode 456. Broadway’s “Something Rotten!”

Episode 444. The New Pages

Episode 441. Shakespeare’s Lost Play

Episode 429. 2014’s Top Podcasts

Episode 428. The Artist Rolls

Episode 426. Marin Theatre Company

Episode 424. Comedy’s Seriously Funny

Episode 417. Comedy Cast Notes

Episode 415. Dudes Talkin’ Comedy

Episode 397. Science Fiction Theatre

Episode 391. The Director’s Job