Missing summer blockbusters and live outdoor Shakespeare performances? Her Majesty’s Will by novelist (and actor and fight choreographer) David Blixt is your perfect substitute! It’s a fun and thrilling adventure about the young pre-genius Will Shakespeare who becomes entangled in a deadly and hilarious misadventure when he accidentally uncovers an attempt to murder Queen Elizabeth herself. David talks about his process and inspirations; how he’s attracted to gaps and Hope & Crosby shenanigans; some deceptive cover art; the difficulty of writing a funny novel when the world is in such an unfunny place; how it all comes from research; how he finesses the facts for fictional purposes; and how truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction. (Length 20:17)
Here’s Part Two of our conversation with the host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” Lawrence O’Donnell, who talks about Mister Sterling, the show he created that starred Josh Brolin as a newly-appointed senator from California who everyone assumes is a Democrat. (Part One of our conversation is here.) Lawrence shares behind-the-scenes tales of TV production; his favorite bits of direction; the real-life sources of drama and inspirations for fictional characters; the identity of the so-called “101st Senator;” how actors remember forever the parts they don’t get; how casting sessions work (and don’t work); games senate staffs play; shout-outs to great and important mentors; the possibilities and challenges of rebooting Mister Sterling or any shows like it; the extraordinary journey it took to realize multiple Tony-winning actor Audra McDonald was right for a role; things you can still shoot in quarantine; and, in a 17-year-old journalistic coup — and after 700 episodes — Finally! The RSC Podcast has its first scoop! (Length 34:06)
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)
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)
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)
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.)
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)
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)
Second City alumnus Brian Stack (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; Late Night and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien) has a knowledge of popular music that’s both broad and deep, and this week he shares with us the kind of music that gets him through tough times (like, say, a pandemic); how music intersects with comedy in surprising and hysterical ways; how Van Morrison is perfect for any occasion; his outstanding Neal Young and Michael Macdonald impressions; some comedic inspiration from Men Without Hats; and the importance of sharing your music (while not, of course, sharing your germs). (Length 23:08)
Stephen Sondheim turned 90 two weeks ago and to commemorate the event (and because he’s quarantined at home like all the rest of us), NYU MFA student (and Austin’s nephew) Andrew Moorhead compiled his list of the great lyricist/composer’s top ninety songs. Like all lists like this, it provokes lively discussion about such topics as teenage discoveries; being a great artist and a great teacher; the beauty of starting ridiculous arguments; an argument for the first ten songs from Sweeney Todd; a diatribe against some (well, one) terrible and unnecessary song; uncalled-for aspersions against Andrew’s friend Jordan; reverence both genuine and irreverent; what it’s like being a Sondheim savant; some frankly scandalous opinions that Mr. Sondheim definitely won’t like; and how there isn’t much blue in The Red and the Black. Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! (Length 21:57)
STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S TOP 90 SONGS
By Andrew Moorhead (as of April 6, 2020)
- Finishing The Hat
- Color & Light
- Losing My Mind
- Marry Me A Little
- Being Alive
- Could I Leave You?
- Worst Pies in London
- Send In The Clowns
- Another Hundred People
- A Little Priest
- The Miller’s Son
- Joanna/Joanna (Reprise)
- Move On
- Opening Doors
- We Do Not Belong Together
- Not A Day Goes By
- Sunday in The Park With George
- Everyday A Little Death
- The Ballad of Sweeney Todd
- No One Is Alone
- Pretty Women
- No One Has Ever Loved Me
- Take Me To The World
- Ladies Who Lunch
- Moments in the Woods
- A Weekend In the Country
- Franklin Shepard, Inc
- Anyone Can Whistle
- My Friends
- Your Fault
- Buddy’s Blues
- Someone In A Tree
- Broadway Baby
- Putting It Together
- I’m Still Here
- Not While I’m Around
- Old Friends
- The Road You Didn’t Take
- Steps of the Palace
- Getting Married Today
- By The Sea
- Loving You
- Any Moment
- Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You
- You Could Drive a Person Crazy
- I Know Things Now
- Waiting for the Girls Upstairs
- Unworthy of Your Love
- You Must Meet My Wife
- Everybody Loves Louis
- You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow
- The Ballad of Booth
- Everybody Says Don’t
- Into The Woods
- Our Time
- Someone Is Waiting
- The Day Off
- Giants in the Sky
- Stay With Me
- Last Midnight
- Children Will Listen
- It’s Hot Up Here
- Children and Art
- God, that’s Good!
- It takes Two
- Now You Know
- The Little Things You Do Together
- The Gun Song
- Lesson #8
- In Buddy’s Eyes
- The Glamorous Life
- That Frank
- It Would Have Been Wonderful
- Everybody’s Got the Right
- So Many People
- I Read
- Good Thing Going
- Hello, Little Girl
- In Praise of Women
Dr. Katy Reedy, a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Lake Forest College who’s working on a book-length study of contagion and performance in the early modern era, discusses her research and what we can learn (and take small hope) from the plagues that forced the theaters to close in Shakespeare’s day. Featuring the importance of recognizing that this is a marathon, not a sprint; how her examination of early modern revenge plays led to research into plague and pestilence; spatial lexicons; scant evidence; scholarly suppositions; shout-outs to James Shapiro’s The Year of Lear, Stephen Greenblatt’s Will In The World, and Folger Shakespeare Library director Michael Witmore; temporal changes and the elastic nature of time; how playwrights became pamphleteers; the invention of social-distancing; and the dangers of calling attention to the pestilential potential of a communal art. (Length 22:10)
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)
For the time being, please enjoy these epic reductions from the comfort of your own shelter!
THE RING REDUCED
Where can you see Wagner’s 17-hour Ring Cycle crammed into a brief and palatable 23 minutes? RIGHT. HERE.
At the invitation of Sky-TV, we reduced the first five seasons of the landmark TV series Lost down to ten minutes, with the blessing of (and a specially-filmed introduction from) its creators Damon Lindelof (Watchmen, The Leftovers) and Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel, Locke & Key)!
Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions
The Answer Is: In 2005 and 2006 this theatrical touring troupe was its own video category in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.
The Question Is: Who is the Reduced Shakespeare Company?
PLUS! SOME RECENT ADDITIONS
“I Laughed Till I Cried”
from The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)
Austin’s song, now with pictures and clips and one new line addressing the current moment. See if you can spot it!
Sonnet 18 — First Draft
from Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impaired (abridged)
As part of the #ReadASonnet thread on Twitter, Austin reads Shakespeare’s long-lost first draft of one his most popular sonnets.
CROKE’S QUARANTINE… (name tba) IS NOW OPEN!
Let Matt Croke teach you these comedy classics!!
LEARN TO PLAY THE GUITAR!
Most recent member Doug Harvey teaches you the basics!!
WANNA HEAR SOME STORIES?
Dee Ryan tells this one, and has dozens more at her Louder Than a Mom storytelling page!
THE REMOTE REDUCED REUNION
Join us for this epic reunion of 50 actors, stage managers, and props & wardrobes gods & goddesses who’ve worked with the Reduced Shakespeare Company over the years. Featuring RSC artistic directors Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor, founding members Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, host and actor Matt Croke, and literally dozens more. Recorded from at least four different time zones on April 11, 2020.
In a conversation hosted by Matt Croke, co-artistic directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor discuss the history of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the scripts they’ve written, and some helpful dos and annoying don’ts when performing them in this almost two-hour livestream, recorded April 25, 2020.
More to come!!
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)
It’s The Sonnet Man! Who, disguised as mild-mannered Devon Glover, fights for truth, rhythm, and the Shakespearean way. At the recent Shakespeare Theatre Association conference, Devon spoke about his recent vow, what he’s been doing, who he’s been working with, and where he’s been teaching; the beauty of finding your voice through verse; the challenges and rewards of finding your own individual swagger; early work with Flocabulary; inspiration from the movie O; the dangers of a stagnant Devon; possible epitaphs; unexpected inspiration from Heathcliff and the Cadillac Cats; the difficulty of acting while rapping; a reduced abridgment of his fantastic article for Dramatics Magazine; and finally, what it’s like to duet and collaborate with MC Bard. Coming soon (probably) to a state near you! (Length 25:09) (Hear our first podcast conversation with The Sonnet Man here!)
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)
New York Times best-selling author Christopher Moore talks about his best-selling novel Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, and how he weaved together the history of the color ultramarine blue, the rise of the impressionists, and the death of Vincent Van Gogh to create a wildly entertaining novel about the sometimes-comic sometimes-poignant dangers of invoking the Muse. Featuring tips from Famous Genius School; ideas begun from simple notions; misappropriating (and mispronouncing) French terms; secrets of surviving book tours; inventing more Earthly Delights; the truth of the arrival of the muse; and the joy of discovering — and then filling in — holes in history. (Length 22:38)
For the last podcast of the decade, we answer the two biggest questions we’re regularly asked: What advice do you have for young actors; and when will you tour the UK again?! Featuring advice both practical and philosophical; tips for auditioning; advice from Mister Rogers; Top Ten Shakespeare Monologues; the value of learning by doing; a tiny Twitter Q&A; what kind of people you should surround yourself with; and finally, what you can do to make a UK tour happen. Special thanks to Instagram follower Zach Gillam, and Twitter followers Liz Marsden and Bob Linfors for the questions. Happy New Year! Happy New Decade! (Length 18:36)
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)
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)