Lawrence O’Donnell’s ‘Sterling’

Before he started hosting The Last Word on MSNBC in 2010, Lawrence O’Donnell was an executive producer, writer, and actor on The West Wing, and the creator, writer, and executive producer of his own show, Mister Sterling, which starred Josh Brolin and Audra McDonald in the story of an idealistic young senator who has to learn how to navigate the ins and outs of Washington DC while also conducting his personal life in the public eye. Cancelled after ten episodes, Mister Sterling featured storylines and conflicts that would find fuller expression in later seasons of The West Wing, and Lawrence talks about how the show was created and shares some fundamental Perry Mason precedents; revelations about Zoey Bartlet’s weird taste in birthday entertainment; the difficulty of writing drama set in Washington where there are now no consequences for terrible behavior; how Aaron Sorkin taught us about what drama is (or can be); what political TV zone opened up and which show filled it beautifully (and hilariously); and how he was able to pay tribute to a deep Washington legacy in Hollywood. PART ONE OF TWO. (Length 29:21)

Joining The Cirkestra

The first thing you hear in our production of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) was composed by Peter Bufano (left), a graduate of Clown College, a former Ringling Brothers Circus Clown, and now an assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Peter talks about his journey from Clown to Composer and shares some of his secrets; his comic and musical inspirations; the difficulty of hitting moving targets; finding the music in a gag; how relationship and function is most important in finding the funny; his latest Spotify single; and the importance of finding and maintaining community in music, in clowning, and in life. (Length 23:39)

Crafting Colbert’s Comedy

Comedy writer Tom Purcell has been working with Stephen Colbert a long time, first as the executive producer of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central and now as the executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. (Pictured above and left, he also appears in sketches.) Tom discusses how he got started in the comedy business and what lessons if first taught him; shares boring origin stories; talks about the joy of vibing comedically; the importance of (and tips for) detaching one’s self; the value of mouth-feel; how fear is a mind-killer; how he misses the grease of unexpected interaction; and most heroically, how he eps turns today’s news — all of it, even when it’s unpleasant — into comedy. (Length 20:57)

Lockdown Shakespeare Pioneer

Rob Myles, along with his producing partner Sarah Peachey, is the creator of The Show Must Go Online, which, since March 19, 2020, has been creating fully if madly rehearsed productions of Shakespeare’s canon in the order in which they were written, once a week, using actors and fight directors from all over the world. With over 100,000 views on YouTube in just 12 weeks, Rob talks about how this has become huger than he ever imagined, and how he’s learned to work in this new space; how his early studies in psychology led to understanding characters and delivering an actor-driven experience; excellent new opportunities for both audience engagement and audience research; iambic discoveries expressed in actual iambic pentameter; developing his singular obsession; shout-outs to The Barnsley Civic; being leaders in a movement rather than a company; and the realization that our moment cried out for a Rob Myles — and thankfully we have one. (Length 28:16) Continue reading

Globetrotting Shakespeare’s Tempest

Brave new world, indeed: Globetrotting Shakespeare is presenting a live and virtual performance of The Tempest on Saturday, July 11, 2020, featuring multiple actors in four different countries and at least six time zones from Shakespeare Napa Valley, Shakespeare by the Sea, Prague Shakespeare Company, Atlanta Shakespeare Company at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, and Shakespeare at Notre DameDirectors Jennifer King (l) and Suzanne Dean (r) discuss how the project came together; how they see challenges as opportunities to create relationships and communities through Shakespeare; how they’re seizing this opportunity to Rethink, Reframe, and Resume; the unfortunate problems with technology; how a disruptive pandemic has its own tempestuous qualities; and how we must continue finding (despite sometimes losing) our humanity in crisis. (Length 19:27)

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.)

Amy Acker’s Beatrice

Amy Acker starred as Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s 2012 film version of Much Ado About Nothing, and she discusses her initial trepidation over playing this great role onscreen; how her early training at SMU and experience at American Players Theatre in Wisconsin prepared her for it; how casual play readings lead to leading roles; the value of rehearsing; the fun of doing your own stunts; the joy of working with the Joss Whedon Dancers; the differences between preparing for a play and preparing for a movie; how the Whedonverse is more Shakespearean than the (David E.) Kelleyverse; and the counterintuitive marvel (no pun intended) of how making a movie is more relaxing than taking an actual vacation. (Length 22:10)

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)

Shakespeare For Squirrels

Christopher Moore talks about his new comic novel, Shakespeare For Squirrels, which sees his great creation Pocket of Dog Snogging (the Fool from Shakespeare’s King Lear) stranded in the Athenian woods amongst the characters from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s both a breezy entertainment and a tour de force and Chris explains how the research for one novel became the basis for another one; how he satirized lovers and reconceived fairies; the importance of grounding your mechanicals; taking inspiration from both Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; being both fantastical and of the moment; giving important agency to Cobweb; why basing your novel on a comic play is more difficult; the struggle with titles; and the challenge of being affected as much by the world one’s writing in as by the world one’s writing about. (Length 20:08)

Remembering Brian Dennehy

Actor Elizabeth Dennehy (left) remembers her father Brian Dennehy, “a tireless tragedian of the old school” (Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune), who passed away at the age of 81 on April 15, 2020 from cardiac arrest due to sepsis. Elizabeth shares what it was like to grow up as the great actor’s daughter and what lessons she learned about the business from him; how her father did it backwards (family first, carousing second); was inspired by Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, and Oliver Reed; grabbed both roles and audiences by the throat; grew into his looks; loved taking roles that scared him and surprising people at auditions; took command of his physicality; was powered by adrenaline; and was absolutely terrified (in a good way) by the challenge of A Touch of the Poet. (Length 23:44) (Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Dennehy.)

Once Again: Mr. Brian Dennehy

“The dream is the most important part of our lives.”
Brian Dennehy, 1938-2020

We remember Brian Dennehy, the acclaimed actor who passed away last night, April 15, 2020, with this repost of our podcast interview with him from 2012, recorded during his run of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Brian offers praise for his fellow actors, identifies the weather phenomenon O’Neill’s plays can best be described as, reveals what can happen when you succeed in an O’Neill play, shares who he thinks should be considered the Iron Man of the American theatre (the requirements for which sound strangely familiar), and laments the disturbing lack of 73-year-old vampires in the American cinema. (Length 19:09)

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)

691. Michael Morrow’s ‘Passage’

Michael Morrow stars in the Lifeline Theatre production of Middle Passage, Charles Johnson’s National Book Award-winning novel (“a novel in the tradition of Billy Budd and Moby-Dick,” according to the New York Times Book Review) adapted by Ilesa Duncan and David Barr III (and directed by Duncan). Michael discusses how he came to be cast in this epic production, and how he’s journeyed from the DePaul University BFA program to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Michigan Shakespeare Festival, and beyond; how he learned to buckle swashes and paint pictures with words; what it means to Choose; the miracle of a deus ex Quackenbush; shout-outs to David Blixt and the late PJ Paparelli; and the incredibly important power of telling stories for those who can’t. (Length 20:08) (Pictured: Michael Morrow and Patrick Blashill in the Lifeline Theatre production of Middle Passage, adapted by Ilesa Duncan and David Barr III from the novel by Charles Johnson. Directed by Ilesa Duncan. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.)

687. Gary Andrews’ #DoodleaDay

Gary Andrews is an animator and single dad whose #DoodleaDay visual diary chronicles his life, particularly how it transformed several years ago with the sudden death of his wife Joy (left). Gary discusses the rules he gives himself and how his daily ritual became a major part of the grieving process and a meaningful balm to an increasing number of followers and fans. Featuring touching chords, the marvel of having both talent and bandwidth, a beautiful film made from his drawings, the power of unpacking the day, the hardest thing one ever has to do, the mystery of laughter continuing through grief, how you can donate to the UK Sepsis Trust, Shakespeare being a constant, shout-outs to Fireman Sam and Horrid Henry, and connections to RSC founding member Adam Long! (Length 18:14)

Appreciating Viola Spolin

Aretha Sills discusses her grandmother, the legendary Viola Spolin, who invented an entire discipline and whose book Improvisation for the Theater is a fundamental text for generations of theatre artists. Viola’s son (and Aretha’s father) Paul Sills took Viola’s teachings “to the world,” where they became the foundation for more than sixty years of American acting and comedy. Aretha discusses Viola’s early training with Neva Boyd at the Jane Addams Hull-House in Chicago and with the Group Theatre in New York; early exposure to opera from her policeman father; how Viola’s work inspired the Playwright’s Theatre, the Compass Players, and Second City; the value of Spolin’s theatre games in de-colonizing authoritarian teaching methods; and the importance of understanding and honoring the origins of this work (play). (Length 22:47) (Photo courtesy of the Estate of Viola Spolin, www.violaspolin.org.)

Comparing Twelfth Nights

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

Director Robert Falls (Part 2)

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

All About Ophelia

The Web Opera

Weird Old Man

Dueling Chicago Hamlets

Fighting Writers Block

Episode 611. Burbage to Burbage

Episode 607. Getting To Edinburgh

Episode 606. Composer Michael Roth

Episode 605. The Actors Gymnasium

Episode 603. Value Of Limitations

Episode 602. Broadway’s Fight Guy

Episode 601. More Lauren Gunderson

Episode 599. Coming And Going

Episode 597. Lady Macbeth Herself

Episode 596. Nicole Galland’s D.O.D.O.

Episode 594. ‘Caged’ World Premiere

Episode 590. Serious Actor Clown

Episode 588. Resurrecting The Bible

Episode 584. The Comedy “Plantation!”

Episode 583. Short Rehearsal Process

Episode 581. Reagan And Gorbachev

Episode 579. Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries

Episode 573. Heminges & Condell

Episode 570. Book Of Will

Episode 569. Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Episode 562. Reframing The Shrew

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, terrific venues, Fringe memories, swan songs, retained poignancy, the challenges of dealing with audience volunteers, and also the challenge of being an audience volunteer. Puckin’ Ariel! (Length 20:29)

Episode 555. The Improv Nerd

Episode 543. Editing Pop-Up Shakespeare

Episode 542. Writing Pop-Up Shakespeare

Episode 539. Encouraging Young Writers

Episode 536. Discussing ‘Much Ado’

Episode 534. Writing About ‘Veils’

Episode 531. Thinking Shakespeare’s Text

Episode 529. Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation

Episode 516. The Q Brothers

Episode 515. Baby Wants Candy

Episode 514. Streamlining ‘Julius Caesar’