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, 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; 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)

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) 

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)

Brian Stack’s Music

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) 

90 Sondheim Songs

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)

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Shakespeare And Plague

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) 

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)

688. Sonnet Man Returns

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)

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)

Personifying The Muse

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)

Advice For Actors

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)

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.)

Standup Vs. Improv

Liz Allen is an improviser and teacher who, among other things, coached the improv team in Mike Birbiglia’s film Don’t Think Twice. Liz’s trip to the Mayo Clinic became an existential crisis that caused her to reflect on her work and career, and she shares with us her revelations about angels on earth, comedy with a purpose, misdiagnoses, spontaneous jokes, enriching laughs, weird complications, having a face for comedy, surviving a long night of the soul, embracing life lessons, coaching movie actors, the surprising spiritual element of joke-telling, and best of all: solid endocrine humor! (Length 20:10)

Shakespeare Rocks Tonight

Shakespeare rocks every night, of course, but especially on Lou Carlozo’s new album By Me & William Shakespeare, a collection of songs in a variety of styles set to the words of the immortal dramatist poet. Lou discusses how his love of music and relationship to Shakespeare inspires this project, and reveals the dangers of over-reverence; talks about poetic goldmines and high-culture milestones; shares shout-outs to favorite inspirational teachers; and glories in the possibilities of constant reinvention. Rock on! (Length 24:39)

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).)

All About Ophelia

The RSC’s 11th stage show, Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel), is really all about Hamlet’s best friend Ophelia, at least according to Jessica Romero, who originated the role in the workshop production, and Austin Tichenor, who co-wrote the script and will be playing Ophelia this fall in California and Israel. Hear them chat about reconciling the many interpretations of Ophelia, and discuss professional memorization methods, weaponizing feelings, how one person’s comedy can be another’s tragedy, shared inspiration from Taming of the Shrew (both pirate- and commedia-themed), playing bucket-list roles, favorite Shakespeare characters, and the reality of the curse of saying the title of the Scottish Play. (Length 23:09) (Pictured: Jessica Romero as the King (with Peter Downey as Hamlet) and Ophelia (with Chad Yarish as Yorick) in the Shakespeare Napa Valley workshop of Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel). Photos by Julie McClelland.)

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)

Tales Of Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is on and sadly, we’re not there! So we’ve dug into the archives to find some of our favorite Edinburgh moments. Thrill to tales of discovery; amazing performing experiences; reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones; the only (horrible) way to become a Catholic martyr; special appearances by Rachel Parris, Yisrael Campbell, and Tim Fitzhigham; the real-life inspirations for the Red Wedding and Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle”; fun-loving Puritan numpties; new Jews, old Jews, and faux Jews; the joys of both seeing and performing multiple shows during a single Fringe; the dangers of flyering; excerpts from The Complete Millennium Musical (abridged), which performed at the Assembly Rooms exactly twenty years ago; international tour dates for the Fall of 2019; and discovering how the theatre can become your temple and John Malkovich your lord and savior. (Length 25:51)

The Web Opera

Our friend Michael Roth has composed the music for, and produced the film of, The Web Opera, a form-shattering short film dealing with the unintended consequences of people living life online. Michael talks about his amazing collaborators (librettist Kate Gale; leading performers Reuben Uy, Adam Von Almen, and Stephanie Cecile Yavelow; graphic artists Lisa Glenn Armstrong, Yiyi Shao, and Chris Gaal; all under the amazing direction of Kate Jopson) and discusses the challenge of writing new pieces and the even greater challenge of getting the things produced; the ready availability of the means of production; the wonder of naturalistic, or quotidian, performance; the too-casual and not-aware-enough ways we treat each other; and the danger of how our even benign online behavior can have tragic consequences. (Length 19:30)

We Debate ‘Shipoopi’

Peter Marks, theatre critic of the Washington Post and co-host of American Theatre magazine’s Three on the Aisle Podcast, famously loathes the song “Shipoopi” in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man and this week we try to convince him just how wrong he is. Featuring strong emotional reactions; unworthy yet sophisticated analysis; unprovoked disdain of garden gnomes; pilgrimages to Mason City, Iowa; reverse snobbery; comparing Act Two openings; anthropomorphizing a month; ideal Harold Hill casting (the less said about Matthew Broderick, the better); and ultimately a celebration of one the American musical theatre’s greatest (give or take a song or two) shows. WARNING: No minds were changed in the recording of this podcast. (Length 20:13) (Pictured: Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as Marcellus Washburn in the Goodman Theatre production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, directed by Mary Zimmerman. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Weird Old Man

Charlie Christmas’s new album, Weird Old Man, is your perfect summertime jam! A veteran of many bands over the years (from Urge Overkill to The Mobile Homeboys), “Charlie Christmas” is the nom du rock of music journalist Chuck Chrisafulli, who, amongst his many other credits, created some musical cues for our original production of All The Great Books (abridged). Chuck and Charlie discuss how journalism informs the music, where this particular blend of garage rock was actually recorded, important musical debuts, the constant need for good bassists, unfortunate reviews from service pigs, tales of Billy Idol, creating a fair but critical ear, and outstanding inspirations ranging from Pink Floyd and T-Rex to Brian Wilson and Curtis Mayfield (plus some Ramones & Frank Zappa). Buy Weird Old Man here! (Length 20:13)

Courting Mr. Lincoln

Louis Bayard is the author of such novels as Mr. Timothy, Roosevelt’s Beast, and The Pale Blue Eye, the former recapper of Downton Abbey for the New York Times, and the author of the New York Times obituary for William Shakespeare which appeared on the front-page of the April 23rd, 2016 edition, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. HIs new novel Courting Mr. Lincoln is funny, poignant, and fascinating comedy of manners, and Lou discusses the impulses that led to this writing the novel, influences ranging from private letters to the novels of Jane Austen and Henry James, catching Mary Todd at her best, performing rehabilitative acts, spawning (and creating) clickbait-y articles, the glories and challenges of writing on spec, the fun of digging into primary sources, discovering further eerie and ironic Booth/Lincoln interactions, and the privilege of being the novelist who steps in where the historical record falls silent. (Length 26:03)

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 (a prequel)

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)

Mary Poppins Kerfuffle

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a professor of English at Linfield College and regular contributor to The New Yorker and Atlantic magazines, wrote an article for the New York Times in January 2019 about the problematic racist imagery in both the 1964 and 2018 Mary Poppins films from Disney. The article sparked a huge outcry and backlash, resulting in calls for Daniel’s dismissal and threats to him and his family, and this week Daniel talks about how the article came to be and how he’s been dealing with its unexpected response, how we confront (or don’t) the legacy of white supremacy in so much of our popular culture, an impertinent reference to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the badge of honor of being on an alt-right watchlist, prescient wives and why they should be heeded, the question of why Disney keeps returning to problematic racist tropes, the threat (promise?) of being spat on by Julie Andrews, and what’s next in the multi-part series “Daniel Ruins Everything”. (Length 25:15)

Jasper’s ‘Early Riser’

New York Times best-selling author Jasper Fforde returns to talk about his new novel Early Riser, a comic thriller set in a world very much like ours — except here, humans hibernate. What happens during the cruel winter months is the subject of this gripping and funny book, and Jasper reveals much about the process of creating it, his ongoing fascination with all things Welsh, how he accepts narrative dares and creates Ffordian Middle Earths, why and when he has to spread textual jam, his ongoing effort to make ‘scribernation’ happen, the promise of sequels, and how creativity is both the angel and the devil sitting on a writer’s shoulders. Also featuring Jasper’s unsolicited (and totally delightful) praise for the Reduced Shakespeare Radio Show (available on Audible and iTunes)! Calling all editorial sherpas! (Length 25:25)

‘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 636. All Is True?

Dr. Paul Edmondson, the director of research for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, served as a historical consultant on Kenneth Branagh’s new film All Is True, an elegiac imagining of the final days of William Shakespeare. Paul discusses his role in the film’s production and how he came to be involved, and also shares backstage glimpses as to how and where the movie was filmed, insight into the film’s original impulses, some clearly lifelong passions, the presence of VIPs, a different key for Ben Elton to write about Shakespeare in than Upstart Crow, navigating hot spots, how research is helping us evolve our understanding of Shakespeare’s personal life, and how even a creative genius sometimes just needs to be professional, even in moments of great loss. Featuring a special appearance by (and extreme gratitude to) National Public Radio’s film critic Bob Mondello. (Length 24:02)

Episode 633. ‘Nerdy’ Brian Posehn

Reed Martin (who literally wrote the book on the History of Comedy) interviews his fellow Sonoma Valley High School alum, comedian Brian Posehn, about Brian’s new book Forever Nerdy: Living My Dorky Dreams and Staying Metal, as a fundraiser for the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. Brian talks about his favorite teachers and getting bullied, lighting up as a performer, polishing your material, touring with the Comedians of Comedy, killing the “Karkrashians”, working with Stan Lee, meeting his Star Wars heroes, shout-out to the Sebastiani Theatre, and talking about ‘spinners’ with Carrie Fisher. Featuring a special appearance by Brian’s fellow Mr. Show alum Brett Paesel, author of Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom! (Length 24:19)

Episode 630. The Sonnet Man

Devon Glover travels around the globe as The Sonnet Man, working with students of all ages and keeping the world safe from dry, boring, vomitless, beat-and-rhythm-less Shakespeare. This week Devon reveals his origin story and how he spreads the gospel of Shakespeare through hip-hop, and shares student revelations and discoveries, valuable niches, the importance of friends and mentors, the differences between Shakespeare taught as performance and as literature, issuing creative challenges, and the incredible value of using the arts to teach non-artistic subjects. (Length 26:00) 

Episode 629. 2018’s Top Podcasts

Happy New Year! We kick off 2019 with excerpts of the Top Ten Most Downloaded Episodes of the RSC Podcast from 2018. Featuring novel excerpts from novelist Christopher Moore; testimonials regarding the efficacy of prison theatre programs; reviews of our favorite Broadway shows; the challenges of working on a new play about Mikhail Gorbachev; love for and from retired National Public Radio broadcaster Robert Siegel; actors from the Prague Shakespeare Festival; affection for Slings and Arrows; new plays inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and practices; confessions from an actual Lady Macbeth; and — finally! — an answer to the question, “What is Shakespeare’s greatest play?” Listen to the excerpts then click through to hear the entire episodes! (Length 23:03) 

Episode 628. Very Reduced ‘Christmas’

In honor of the holiday, we present excerpts from a live performance of The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged)! Featuring music and laughter, a traditional English panto, gay apparel, interrupted epiphanies, travel nightmares, decked halls, and warm cockles. ‘Tis the season! Happy Merry Chrismakwanukkahanzukkah! 

Episode. 627. Doctor Of Reduction

Our friend Ronan Hatfull is now Doctor Ronan Hatfull, if you please, having successfully submitted and defended his dissertation, “The ‘Other RSC’: The History and Legacy of the Reduced Shakespeare Company,” as partial fulfillment of the requirements for his Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Warwick. Ronan discusses the focus of his research; how his emphasis changed as his initial perceptions evolved; not having room to include everything he wanted to say; whether he’s actually finished writing about the RSC or merely on temporary hiatus; the difference between parody and homage and how it’s in the eye of the beholder; a special appearance by Adam Long and a shout-out to Chickspeare; and finally, the difficulty of thinking critically about your subject and thus having to actually, you know, criticize it. (Length 19:24)

Episode 626. Journalist Nellie Bly

Actor, director, and historical novelist David Blixt has written What Girls Are Good For: A Novel of Nellie Bly, an origin story of one of America’s great heroes and badass women. Using skills honed by writing two previous series set in ancient Rome and inspired by the origins of the Capulet/Montague feud in Romeo & Juliet, David tells this entertaining and hugely compelling tale that features incendiary writing, Shakespearean echoes, early exposures, pop-culture influences, finding the right angle, the joy of research, suggested casting, and the rush of exploring gaps in the stories we think we know. (Length 18:10)

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 619. Critic Chris Jones

Chris Jones is the chief theatre critic and Sunday cultural columnist for the Chicago Tribune, has also been recently named a reviewer for the New York Daily News, and has just written Rise Up! Broadway and American Society from Angels in America to Hamilton. Despite this hectic schedule of seeing and writing about theatre, Chris made time to chat about the role of the critic, how criticism has changed over the years and are a necessary (and valuable!) part of the ecosystem, what most great plays are about, examining not whether a play is good but what it means, an addiction to living in make-believe worlds, what happens when critics screw up, how writing about theatre is writing about life, the reality of complex relationships, the value and drawbacks of moving on to the next show, the nature of ensemble, the greatness of pre-Broadway tryouts, the democratization of critical voices, how ambition is devoutly to be wished, and what’s been the most fundamental change in criticism in the last 20-30 years. (Length 27:29)

Episode 615. American Revolutions Onstage

Julie Felise Dubiner is associate director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, a multi-decade program of commissioning and developing 37 new plays sprung from moments of change in United States history. On my recent trip to Ashland, I was able to meet and chat with Julie about OSF’s program and the wonderful plays that have already come out of it, a couple of which — Lynn Nottage’s Sweat and Paula Vogel’s Indecent — appear on this season’s list of Most Produced Plays in the US compiled by American Theatre magazine. Featuring the question of what it means to be American, dramatizing moments of change and the problem with tying those moments to US presidents, watching the first run-thru of this generation’s Death of a Salesman, overcoming one’s shameful past in improvisation, fueling comedy with rage, how a sense of humor might save us, and the importance of writing the history of your people on to the stage. (Length 22:49)

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 606. Composer Michael Roth

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

Episode 604. Cartoonist John Kovalic

Failed astrophysicist John Kovalic certainly landed on his feet, becoming not only a fantastic cartoonist and board game designer, but the creator of Dork Tower and Apples To Apples, illustrator of Munchkin Shakespeare, the crafty current chronicler of geek culture. On our recent trip to Madison Wisconsin, we got to sit down and talk with John about the rise of geek culture, apologies to former professors, humble roots at the UW-Madison student newspaper, the wonders of crowd-funding, skipping Advanced Micro Economics, multiple interests across the arts and the sciences, how autobiographical comics aren’t, being directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the horrible dangers of Monopoly, and the startling and slightly bittersweet success of Apples to Apples. (Length 26:27)

Episode 603. Value Of Limitations

The script for William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) has now been published in the US (after having been published in the UK earlier this year) and this week we talk about how the various limitations we’ve encountered — physical, institutional, and personal — have all required we make changes to the script, many of which improved the script and we decided to keep. Featuring the challenges of retraining muscle memory, the differences between a two-hour performance and an hour-long one, the possibly counterintuitive value of sanitizing for your comedic pleasure, the dangers of swearing even in Pig Latin, the joy of turning limitations into gold, the surprising distinction between crotches and nipples, the futility of coming up with a Timon of Athens joke, and the dismay of thinking that something’s terribly moving and discovering you’re only half right. (Length 20:12)

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 600! American Theatre Magazine

For this milestone episode, we talk to the journal of record for the American theatre industry: American Theatre magazine. Managing Editor Russell Dembin and Associate Editor Allison Considine discuss the magazine’s origins, its operations, its expansion, and its impact. Featuring changing publishing schedules, expanded focus, evolving trends, exciting productions, bold new work, new takes on old work, challenges facing the industry, stepping up an online presence, shout-outs to Senior Editor Diep Tran, theme issues, changing job descriptions, ideas for possible future projects, a special appearance from Most Produced Playwright Who Isn’t William Shakespeare Lauren Gunderson, and above all, creating a go-to destination for all theatre practitioners — and fans. (Length 22:21)

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

Friend of the podcast, novelist Nicole Galland (I, Iago), has co-authored (with Neal Stephenson) a wonderful sci-fi time-travel thriller-comedy called The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., which the San Francisco Chronicle calls “a high-stakes techno-farce with brains and heart!” D.O.D.O. is now out in paperback so Nicole returns to talk about the book’s creation, the difficulties of describing your characters, how she met Neal Stephenson, the burden of having too many interests in too many places, the rarity of authorial rebranding, rewriting during the editing stage, how the authors’ writing partnership informed the relationship between the two main characters, some tantalizing clues about the sequel, and how one transitions from an historical to a sci-fi novelist. (Length 18:53)

Episode 592. Christopher Moore’s ‘Noir’

Christopher Moore, the author of such wonderful comic novels as Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal; Fool; The Serpent of Venice; The Stupidest Angel; Bloodsucking Fiends; Practical Demonkeeping; Sacre Bleu, and many others, has a new novel out called Noir, and it’s wonderfully comic, weird, and surprisingly poignant, all of which are hallmarks of a Chris Moore novel. Chris talks about this new novel’s inspirations which, it turns out, are varied and many. Featuring San Francisco history, film and literary precedent, surprisingly Shakespearean inspirations, weird connections to Roswell, loving language, shout-out to Damon Runyon, the joys of touring (and how to train for it), teasing future novels, and the Top Secret First Thing They Teach You at Famous Author School. (Length 21:18)

Episode 591. I Was Cleopatra

Dennis Abrams has written the new YA novel I Was Cleopatra, the fictional memoir of John Rice, a boy actor in the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s acting company, who played many of Shakespeare’s signature female roles, including Lady Macbeth, Cordelia, and Cleopatra. I Was Cleopatra was just published last week and its author discusses the creation of his novel, the amount of research he did, the wonder of being surprised by your main character, the supplemental reading he recommends, how we know when Shakespeare wrote his plays, the fun of deconstructing Shakespeare’s texts, and the ultimate joy of all: annoying Oxfordians! (Length 21:18)

Episode 590. Serious Actor Clown

Philip Earl Johnson stars in Enemy of the People at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and talks about the creation of his role in this new adaptation, and how he divides his time between theatre work and his other life as the RenFaire clown MooNiE. Featuring the fundamental virtues of conviction and truth, brushes with rockstar greatness, travels with Angels in America, the value of getting through 200 shows, the art of combining Ibsen with Charlie Chaplin, the magic of whistling, the inspiration of junkyard dogs, and the glory of scoring a leading role the old-fashioned way — by auditioning. (Length 24:17)