Tyla Abercrumbie’s ‘Relentless’

Tyla Abercrumbie is an actor, director, and playwright whose play Relentless was produced by Chicago’s Timeline Theatre Company, called “The best new work here in years,” by the Chicago Tribune, then subsequently presented by the Goodman Theatre. Relentless tells the story of two sisters who return to Philadelphia in 1919 to settle the estate of their mother and make family discoveries that change their knowledge of the past and will possibly determine their future. Tyla talks about her play came to be; what inspired it but also (more importantly) what motivated it; how her acting informs her writing; her goals for a large canon; the joy of costumes, both wearing them and writing for them; the fun of doing it the way Shakespeare did it; and how disparate ideas come together as if they were meant to be – which they probably were. (Length 21:40) (PICTURED: Ayanna Bria Bakari and Jane Ladymore in the Timeline Theatre Company’s production of Tyla Abercrumbie’s Relentless, at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson.)

Adrian’s Alan Adaptation

Two-time Olivier Award winning actor Adrian Scarborough has written The Clothes They Stood Up In, an adaptation of the novella of the same name by Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, Talking Heads, The History Boys, and The Lady in the Van), about a mild-mannered couple (played by Adrian and Sophie Thompson) who return home from the opera one evening to find their flat completely bare and every single item they own stolen. What happens next is the action of this very funny play, which opens this week at the Nottingham Playhouse, and Adrian talks about about how his adaptation came to be, and how many versions he’s had to learn; the challenges of wearing both his actor and playwright hats; his successful preview at The Berko Speakeasy; finding (and imitating) Bennett’s voice; the value of getting microphones in the toilet; the privilege of getting to sit on the other side of the table; and the enormous satisfaction of challenging one’s self to come up with the goods. (Length 21:38)

Chagall In School

James Sherman is a founding member of the Tony-winning Victory Gardens Theater’s Playwrights Ensemble and his new play, Chagall in School, opens this weekend at Theater Wit in Chicago, in a production by the Grippo Stage Company, directed by Georgette Verdin. Chagall in School follows the the young artist Marc Chagall struggling to find his voice amidst political, cultural, and artistic revolution – which, not coincidentally, happened almost exactly 100 years ago – James discusses the impulse that led to the play’s creation; how plays like Chagall in School come to be: the mixed message of people encouraging you to become a playwright after seeing you act; how the first draft of any play is simply the author improvising; the relationship between revolutions in painting and revolutions in acting; and finally, how the audience is the crucial – and final – component for a brand new play. (Length 20:37) (PICTURED: John Drea and Yourtana Sulaiman as Marc and Berta Chagall in James Sherman’s Chagall In School, directed by Georgette Verdin, Grippo Stage Company.)

The Understudy Bookstore

Chicago will soon get its own Drama Book Shop in the form of The Understudy Bookstore, and founding owners Adam Crawford and Danny Fender talk about their ultimate pandemic pivot and how it’s already become a project the entire Chicago theater community is enthusiastically supporting; how Chicago is like one big college theater campus; how difficult it is (and how privileged they are) to be able to realize this beautiful dream; how it’s possible to have a theatrical career in Chicago; how they learned lessons from fellow small business owners; give a shout-out to Scenes, Chicago’s previous theater bookstore; and The Understudy’s fantastic motto: “Good Books, Fresh Beans, & All The Drama.” (Length 20:47)

Expanding The Canon

Emily Lyon and Shannon Corinthen are the artistic and producing directors of the Hedgepig Ensemble in Brooklyn, NY, and two of the hosts of “This is a Classic: The Expand The Canon Theatre Podcast,” an outgrowth of Hedgepig’s mission to uplift the legacy of women and non-binary writers. Shannon and Emily talk about the plethora of plays out there by underrepresented writers; how they curate their annual “Expand The Canon” lists; how many plays they read each other to create their suggestions; how Hedgepig is committed to expanding the canon by commissioning new works and new translations; the surprising timelessness of so many of these plays; and how so many of them would fit into a theater’s season so much better than some of the overdone and less-worthy plays that get done now. (Length 20:35)

Austin’s Sondheim Tale

Attend the tale!! In 2016, The Sondheim Review published an article by our own Austin Tichenor that discussed the similarities between the Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical The Fantasticks and the James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim collaborations Sunday in the Park with George and Into The Woods – and Mr. Sondheim was sorely displeased. What follows is a tale of honest curiosity; genuine repentance; possible projection; extreme umbrage; high dudgeon; missed fact-checking; lack of graciousness; sincere regret; and everlasting gratitude. CLICK THROUGH TO READ THE CORRESPONDENCE AND JUDGE FOR YOURSELF. (Length 15:54)

Fan Fiction Finn

Dr. Kavita Mudan Finn is an independent scholar (late of Georgetown University, George Washington University, and most recently, MIT) who is both a creator and scholar of Fan Fiction Studies, and who recently filmed an hour-long interactive conversation with Austin Tichenor on The Shakespeareance. In this excerpt, Dr. Finn discusses how “fan fiction” might be best defined; how fan fiction is a surprisingly new field of study, despite it being a centuries-old practice; some of fan fiction’s earliest examples, including the identity of two OG slashers; the distinctions (such as they are) between performance studies and fan studies; what the actual opposite of fandom is; ridiculous casting uproars; and how the shows of the Reduced Shakespeare Company – including the RSC name – are forms of fan fiction themselves. (Length 21:17)

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)

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)

More Shakespearean Biofiction

Shakespeare’s Birthday Month continues with Part Two with our conversation with Dr Edel Semple from University College in Cork, Ireland, and Dr. Ronan Hatfull 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. (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)

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)

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 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! (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

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.)

Doug The Time-Traveler

Meet Doug Harvey (center, above), the newest member of the RSC and also the author and star of the one-man show The Time Traveler’s Guide to the Present, which earlier this summer won the Paul Koslo Memorial / MET Theatre Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Doug reveals his RSC origin story and shares some live musical spaghettification; his feelings about the need for adventure and more shows about science; how a one-man show became a sci-fi romance; day gigs at LA’s Griffith Observatory; references to the darkest timelines; a couple of harmonizing triads; the Michael Faulkner conduit; growing up with Bay Area theatre like California Shakespeare Company and American Conservatory Theatre; tales of successful auditions; the importance of serious clowning; and the answer to the ultimate question: What’s the closest we have to a time machine? Not a Delorean, not Bill and Ted’s phone booth, but…a theatre. (Length 21:29) (Pictured: Austin Tichenor as the King, Doug Harvey as Hamlet, and Chad Yarish as Yorick in the Reduced Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel).)

Creating Hamlet’s Adventure

Authors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor talk about how they’ve created the definitive backstory to Shakespeare’s great tragedy in Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel). Featuring homage to Tom Stoppard, excerpts from the new show’s promo video, the difficulty of hitting moving targets, how the script has evolved from its workshop with Shakespeare Napa Valley, previewing performances at Spreckels Performing Arts Center and the London in Tel Aviv Festival in Israel, fascinating by-products, eliminating framing devices, answering all the unanswered questions you’ve ever asked about the greatest play ever written, milking tragedy for laughs, seeing Shakespeare’s tragedy in a brand new way, and the value of asking important marketing questions early. (Length 23:44)

Other Famous Prequels

With Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel) now being workshopped by Napa Valley College as part of its Emergence Festival, authors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor consider other famous prequels in different media, and hope for more of a Godfather II than a Star Wars Episodes 1-3 vibe. Featuring being part of a specific cultural moment (we see you, Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus); a form that Shakespeare probably invented; why sequels are more popular than prequels; wanting to know how we got here and discovering more about beloved characters; shout-outs to prequel authors Christopher Moore (Lamb; Fool), Nicole Galland (I, Iago), and Louis Bayard (Mr. Timothy; Courting Mr. Lincoln); creating a more challenging puzzle than “just” continuing the story; the desire to know how it all began; alternate titles (“Elsewhere in Elsinore”, anybody?); insight from Dr. Ronan Hatfull; absolutely no spoilers about Avengers Endgame; and finally a shout-out to Patton Oswalt’s great routine about eliminating certain disappointing prequels forever. (Length 20:21) (Jessica Romero as King Hamlet and Peter Downey as Hamlet, the prince of Denmark in the Napa Valley College workshop production of Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel). Photo by Shelly Hanan. Title graphic by Chad Yarish.)

Hamlet’s Big Adventure!

It’s the comedy of the prince of Denmark! Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel) will be the eleventh stage show performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and the tenth RSC script by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, who discuss the origins of the script; where it’s being workshopped as part of Napa Valley College’s Emergence Festival; how the transitive property applies to ranking plays; the incredible insight given to us by our dramaturg Kate Pitt; echoes of Hamlet as well as Henry IV Part 1; the feeling of being both Queen Elizabeth demanding a new play about Sir John Falstaff and the Shakespeare who gets to write it; the hesitation of getting rid of our usual framing device; the challenge of creating a comedy that’s funny to people who don’t know the original; the balancing act of finding the right ratio of highbrow to lowbrow; and the fun of answering questions inspired by Shakespeare’s original tragedy. Poster art by the incomparable Lar DeSouza. (Length 20:45)

‘Ma Rainey’s’ Band

August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is getting an amazing production right now at the Writers Theatre in Chicago , directed by Ron OJ Parson and starring Tony-nominee Felicia P. Fields in the title role, and the four outstanding actors who play her musicians — David Alan Anderson as Toledo, Kelvin Roston, Jr. as Levee, A.C. Smith as Slow Drag, and Alfred H. Wilson as Cutler (pictured above, left to right) — sat down for a roundtable discussion about the roles they play; the extraordinary bond they’ve forged; comparisons to Shakespeare; dialogue as music and words turned into poetry; the familiarity of the characters; shout-outs to King Oliver and Buddy Bolden; strong communities; August Wilson’s incredible legacy, the shape of his ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle, and his ability to turn innate speech into poetry and familiar characters into titans. A one an’ a two…y’all know what to do… (Length 22:01) Photos by Michael Brosilow. Courtesy of Writers Theatre.

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 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 607. Getting To Edinburgh

How do you get to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? What’s involved with producing yourself at the largest theatre festival in the world? Jamie Gower, the creator and star (sorry, operator) of Denny O’Hare: I Feel Fuzzy, takes us step by step through the process of creating a show, picking a venue, developing a budget, making peace with the idea that this will most likely be a money-losing operation, and most importantly, understanding the danger of not going. Featuring nuts and bolts, waived visas, the value of pre-planning and starting early, the advantage of not being a good puppeteer, learning how to create good press releases and posters and flyers, the importance of location location location, and the supreme importance of not waiting for permission. (Length 24:53)

Episode 601. More Lauren Gunderson

Playwright Lauren Gunderson continues the conversation we began with her last November 2017, talking about her amazing play The Book of Will, a valentine about the creation of the First Folio, the first collection of all (most) of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623. WARNING: This is a slightly spoiler-y conversation (our first spoiler-free conversation can be found here) but in it Lauren reveals the process of research, dramaturgy, and creation; and also discusses the value of preparing for loss; being present; the wonder of ephemera; Shakespeare’s amazing women (both onstage and off); practicing memory as an active thing; favorite brilliant actors; and the absolute magic of double-casting. Featuring a special appearance by Oregon Shakespeare Festival Executive Director Cynthia Rider. (Length 17:23) (Pictured: Cristofer Jean in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of The Book of Will. Photo by Jenny Graham)

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 584. The Comedy “Plantation!”

Kevin Douglas’ new play Plantation! is having its world premiere right now at the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, in a production directed by Lookingglass founding member David Schwimmer and starring eight phenomenal actresses. It’s a family comedy that deals with race and legacy and family and atonement, and in addition to its many laughs, some of which are definitely uncomfortable, its ending takes audiences absolutely by surprise and bring them to tears. Kevin discusses his creative process, explaining why he decided to create a comedy in the first place, and features the danger of clinging, the benefit of listening to actors, the value of a spoonful of sugar, and how Kevin’s next play will solve all the world’s problems. (Length 25:05)

Episode 581. Reagan And Gorbachev

The Goodman Theatre in Chicago’s latest production, a world premiere by Rogelio Martinez called Blind Date, chronicles the courtship and ultimate conference in Geneva between American president Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Chicago actors Rob Riley and William Dick play Reagan and Gorbachev and talk about the challenges and rewards of playing two such seemingly familiar historical figures. Featuring the wonders of YouTube, the dangers of sketch comedy, massive and mostly-read biographies, reboot opportunities, gifts for character actors, the challenges of rewrites, and best-selling Broadway Play Publishing playwrights. (Length 24:08)

Episode 579. Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries

Anne Morgan is the literary manager of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, which has created the “Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries” project, a ground-breaking undertaking to discover, develop, and produce a new canon of 38 plays inspired by and in conversation with Shakespeare’s originals. Anne sat down at this year’s Shakespeare Theatre Association conference, hosted by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, to discuss the origins of this very exciting project, its ultimate scope, and what’s involved with administrating this wide-ranging, blind-reading, open-application process. Featuring outstanding opportunities for emerging or unrepresented playwrights, the power of embracing Shakespeare’s original staging practices, the importance and value of learning from your actors and learning from your audience, the removal of unconscious bias, and the important difference between dramaturgs and dramaturds. Recorded LIVE at the 2018 Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference. (Length 17:45)

Episode 569. Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Playwright Lauren Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America, and has been near the top of that list for several years now. Her play Silent Sky was recently produced at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, she’s a resident playwright at Marin Theatre Company, she’s written a Shakespeare Cycle consisting of three Read more…

Episode 566. Captain Picard’s Autobiography

David A. Goodman (author of Federation: The First 150 Years and The Autobiography of James T. Kirk) returns to talk about his new book The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard, the definitive chronicle of Starfleet’s most inspirational captain. David discusses how his television writing helps address the challenges of writing Star Trek fiction, and gives a Read more…

Episode 549. Remembering A.R. Gurney

”Our good friend Howard Sherman remembers his good friend A.R. Gurney, the celebrated playwright and so-called “chronicler of contemporary America’s most unfashionable social stratum — upper-middle-class WASPS” (according to Frank Rich), who died this week at the age of 86. Howard talks about Gurney’s work and style, both onstage and Read more…

Episode 539. Encouraging Young Writers

”It’s national Encourage a Young Writer Day! To honor this auspicious occasion, we discuss the old adage “write what you know” with playwright Tom Coash, who shares his experiences struggling with narrative and the importance of procrastination research, the value of networks, the priority of open questions, the need for communication, and Read more…

Episode 535. What’s A Play?

”Last summer, while performing William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we saw all sorts of theatrical events that led us to ask, “What’s a play?” Over drinks at the pub after a performance, we discussed this question as well as the fundamental qualities that make theatre unique Read more…

Episode 534. Writing About ‘Veils’

”Playwright Tom Coash has written Veils, the story of a culture clash between two Muslim women — one American, one Egyptian, both college students — and how their friendship is tested by their different expressions of faith. After six professional productions, Veils recently had its college production premiere at Pacific University in Oregon Read more…

Episode 501. Thaddeus And Slocum

”Thaddeus and Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure is a great new comedy by Kevin Douglas having its world premiere at the Lookingglass Theatre Company in an amazing production directed by J. Nicole Brooks and Krissy Vanderwarker. Kevin talks about the inspiration for this new work and reflects about a misspent youth Read more…

Episode 491. Reviewing The Reviews (LongLostShakes Edition)

”We just closed our world premiere of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at the Folger Theatre in Washington DC, and the critical consensus (thankfully) is glorious. We review the gamut of opinions (including the one or two negative ones) and revel in the kind words, helpful criticism, levels of reference, Read more…

Episode 489. “Long Lost” Opening

”We opened the world premiere of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) last weekend at the Folger Shakespeare Library as part of the international hoopla surrounding the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616. We go backstage behind the scenes to talk about the difference between previews and openings, Read more…

Episode 488. Studying Reduced Shakespeare

”Doctoral candidate Ronan Hatfull is visiting Washington DC from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. He’s here to research 21st Century interpretations of Shakespeare, and focusing on the work of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. We asked Ronan to talk about his dissertation and explain the origins of “Shakespop”, the dangers of Bardolatry, Read more…

Episode 479. Designing Stage Sets

”As Austin Tichenor begins to direct his adaptation of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair at Valparaiso University, Assistant Professor of Design/Theatre Alan Ernstein talks about the job of the set designer and about the fun and challenges of creating a space for a play to happen. Featuring the joys of working in Read more…

Episode 473. Meet Aaron Posner

”Playwright and director Aaron Posner (Stupid F*cking Bird) talks about his celebrated production of The Tempest at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, his upcoming production of Midsummer at the Folger Theatre, and his ongoing exploration of the classics using both reverence and irreverence. Featuring the importance of populism, the fun of making plays you want to see, the gift Read more…

Episode 467. Holy Humor Sunday

”Not only are our shows fun and entertaining, but apparently we’re doing the Lord’s work! Pastor Robert Lewis discusses Holy Humor Sunday, the post-Easter celebration that honors the great joke God played on Death. Featuring the power of communion, essential differences between Pope Clement XV and Pope Francis, comparing actors to itinerant Read more…

Episode 464. Writing “Almost, Maine”

Playwright John Cariani (who’s also an actor from the original Broadway casts of the musicals The Band’s Visit and Something Rotten!) talks about writing his play Almost, Maine, one of the most popular and widely produced scripts in the U.S. Among many surprises, John reveals love stories for character actors, F. Read more…

Episode 456. Broadway’s “Something Rotten!”

Three of the stars and original cast members of the hit Broadway Shakespeare musical Something Rotten! — Heidi Blickenstaff, John Cariani, and Brad Oscar (pictured) — talk about the process of creating an original musical, from casting through rehearsals to last-minute changes right up to opening night. Featuring excerpts from the score, the joys Read more…