Emily Carding’s ‘Quintessence’

Our friend Emily Carding performs their solo show Quintessence this week at the Brighton Fringe Festival (where it won the “Outstanding Theatre Award” in 2019) and talks about how the show was inspired by their love of Shakespeare, science-fiction, and Frankenstein. Featuring the embodiment of an artificial intelligence onstage; starting out life as a commission from the London Science Museum; influences ranging from Shakespeare’s Ariel to Star Trek’s Data; the power and profundity of silliness; the elimination of barriers provided by Fringe performing spaces; upcoming pub garden performances of As You Like It with the Open Bar Theatre; and real-life warnings about how humanity will ultimately be destroyed — and possibly be reborn. (Length 20:22)

Writing Like Shakespeare

Our last two scripts — William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) and Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel) — have been written largely in iambic pentameter, and this week we talk to lecturer and playwright Richard O’Brien (who, as his very helpful Twitter handle @NotRockyHorror explains, is not the author of that legendary classic) about what that all means. Featuring essential differences between poets and dramatists; the only problem with doing a surprisingly good Fletcher impression; how formal poetic structure can deepen character; how verse pulls off the wonderful double act of lending gravitas and making jokes land; showing off the precision and pyrotechnics of language; the floated possibility of guest lecturing (let’s make this happen, Shakespeare Institute!); and how one of the pleasures of writing (and watching) verse plays is how much they resemble musicals (but without the expense and difficulty of getting them on). (Length 21:08)

Everything Is Theatre

Richard ET White is the former artistic director of the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, Wisdom Bridge Theatre in Chicago, and the outgoing and longest-serving chair of the Cornish College of the Arts Theatre Department in that institution’s 103-year-old history. Richard was also an acting and directing teacher at the University of California Drama Department where many RSC members got their early training. RSC co-artistic director Austin Tichenor talks with his former professor about how theatre can be anything and everywhere; how comedy about serious issues from the San Francisco Mime Troupe became life-changing; the influence of Richard Schechner and the Performance Group; sneering at prosceniums; what people forget about Brecht; the value of immaturity; the immediacy of improv; the storytelling and performance art of stand-up; being both expansive and inclusive; the value of sharing your lived experience; and how you want theatre to have the visceral impact of a great rock concert. (Length 24:06)

Introducing The Shakespeareance!

There’s a reason this week’s episode is shorter than usual, and it’s because Austin’s special guest is…himself! Austin talks about his new project — The Shakespeareance — a new monthly web series that talks about Shakespeare in our life and culture and features live Q&A conversations that you can be part of. He also shares how he offers private monologue coaching and play or novel manuscript review, and how you can become a Patreon supporter and get exclusive free content. If you’ve ever wanted to work with Austin, this is your chance! Join the Shakespeareance! (Length 13:39) (Shakespeareance Flag & Banner by Jennie Maizels.) 

Depicting William Shakespeare

It’s William Shakespeare’s Birthday Week! On this milestone 750th episode (!), Nicole Galland discusses the fun and intimidating challenge of making Shakespeare a character in her new novel Master of the Revels, and the chutzpah required to put words in the great poet and playwright’s mouth. Nicole shares which parts of the novel are autobiographical (and to what degree), and how even a genius like Shakespeare had gatekeepers; how Edmund Tilney (Queen Elizabeth I’s master of the revels) was both censor and showman; understanding metrics of success (and then ignoring them); how even the greatest writers — maybe especially the greatest writers — walk around in a daze, lost in thought, figuring out story elements and language choices; and how her novel is, ultimately, a celebration of the countless unsung behind-the-scenes champions of playwrights and artists. PLUS: A special appearance by Gary Andrews, author of Finding Joy, and the artist behind the extraordinary portrait above.

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)

Hamlet’s Prequel Adventure!

Dramaturg Kate Pitt joins us for a deep dive into the creation of the script for Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel), on which she cast her dramaturgical magic (and which we’ll finally get to tour once this stupid pandemic is over). Kate discusses HBA’s intertextual conversation with Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, and its biofictional elements, and reveals the identity of the most confusing Hamlet ever; how a prequel can (and should) reveal insights into Shakespeare’s play; how old Hamlet is; the importance of double confirmation; how both Ophelia and Hamlet have All. The. Feels; the value of deploying random skills; the question of how old Hamlet is, anyway; how the gravedigger is an unreliable narrator; the struggle of theater as a career and what to say about it to your kids about it; and finally, possible spoilers (especially if you know anything at all about the career of UK comedian Tommy Cooper). Plus: jokes for everyone! Poster Art by Lar DeSouza. (Length 32:01)

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)

Meet Kamilah Long

Kamilah Long is the new managing director of Play On Shakespeare, the company dedicated to exploring the world of Shakespeare by commissioning living playwrights — many of them women, many of them playwrights of color — to create new translations and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Like all of us, Play On Shakes is changing and evolving through the course of this pandemic, and Kamilah discusses how they’re continuing the meet the needs of its audiences, both now and in the future. Featuring the looming presence of Shakespeare’s shadow; biblical comparisons; a commitment to doing no harm; the consequences of the pandemic, both good and bad; the wonder of playwrights getting paid and being in the room; a soon-to-come exciting new podcast; and the unfortunate demise of Shakespearean phrases like “jive turkey.” (Length 17:53)

The Revels Master

Master of the Revels is Nicole Galland’s sequel to her New York Times best-selling novel The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., and picks up right where that fast-paced adventure takes off. It’s a thrilling tale of time-travel, witchcraft, and Shakespeare, and Nicole describes how the novel came to be; how she dipped into Shakespearean fiction before with her memoir I, Iago; some twisted love letters; how characters evolve from one novel to another; a climax at the very first public performance of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play; and how a years-long passion for Edmund Tilney has resulted in an extraordinary new novel. With a special appearance by (speaking of Shakespeare’s original productions) Ben Crystal. (Length 19:42)

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)

My Podcast Faves

For this last podcast of 2020 (and thank goodness this annus horribilus is over!), we present highlights from our favorite episodes from over 14 years of regular weekly podcasting! Featuring solid categorization; excessive candidates; important work; stories of process; helpful tips; new partners and old friends; and ultimately, passionate chats about things both serious and ridiculous. (Length 23:05)

Holiday Ghost Story

Inspired by the Berko Speakeasy, this week we present a festive tale by Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, from his slim volume High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories. Abridged and read by Austin Tichenor. Featuring: ghostly visitations; poor relations; spectral elitism; Norwegian sneering; drafty accommodations; phantom arthritis; and something called…a rumpus room. (Length 24:34)

731. Berko Speakeasy Christmas

Two-time Olivier Award-winner Adrian Scarborough talks about the latest edition of The Berko Speakeasy which has turned its annual holiday edition of festive favo(u)rites into a virtual international affair, allowing folks from all over the world to enjoy excellent short stories performed by terrific actors. Adrian discusses the pleasures and challenges of moving to a virtual format and reveals some other writing projects; the creativity and fun of editing; how he learns from masters and excellent teachers; the power and difficulty of a festive background; sobering up from being drunk with power; and how short stories provide more bang for your buck (and quid). Featuring smooth holiday music from guitarist Eric Essix off his album, My Gift To You. Get your tickets here, and follow the Berko Speakeasy on Twitter here! (Length 18:48)

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)

Loud Storytelling Moms

Now in its sixth year, Louder Than A Mom is a monthly storytelling show that celebrates voices you don’t usually get to see or hear. Co-founder Dee Ryan (left) talks about how LTAM evolved and reveals many moments of generosity; her comparisons to Mary Shelley; how she and co-hosts Kate Hill and Erin McEvoy Mason create their ever-growing community (first in person and now online); how we all miss gathering at LTAM’s regular location, Martyr’s in Chicago; how they always give space to newbie storytellers; threading the needle of funny and moving; how art shouldn’t be competitive; becoming more political; and how there are always new stories to tell and new voices to hear from. (Length 16:34) 

Miranda In Milan

Author Katharine Duckett talks about her new novella Miranda In Milan, which explores what happens when Prospero’s daughter from The Tempest returns with her father to Milan after the events in Shakespeare’s play. Katharine talks about her influences; how she draws on not only Shakespeare but Mary Shelley; how the novel came out of her reading of the play and found its eventual form; dominant storytelling forms; investigating the unresolved tension of the play; her shared Shakespearean instincts; pronunciation controversies; and her own origins story as a writer. (Length 15:45)

So Potent Art

Actor and author Emily Carding’s latest book So Potent Art: The Magic of Shakespeare (due July 2021), explores how Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets are suffused with magic, prophecy, astrology, alchemy, herbalism, witchcraft, hauntings, and divine intervention. Emily (left, pictured as Richard III) talks about her background; where Shakespeare (and his audience) came across their knowledge of magic; whether it’s actual or metaphorical; what we’ve learned from the documentary The Wizard of Oz; paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law; how the supernatural was perhaps less fantastical back then than it is now; reclaiming pejorative terms as empowering; and the always-important reminder that we should look to our own sources of beauty and inspiration. Be the light! (Length 21:53)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Unabridged)

Paul Edmondson is the Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-Upon-Avon Poetry Festival for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and, together with Professor Sir Stanley Wells, has just published All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, which collects Shakespeare’s 154 standalone sonnets along with most of the other sonnets Shakespeare included in his plays, and arranges them all for the very first time in the order in which they were probably written. Paul discusses how he and Sir Stanley had a desire to counter the damaging (and reductive) narrative of a so-called Fair Youth and Dark Lady, and includes revelations of a lifetime of writing; recitations by request; unexpected wisdom from a relatively young poet; recognizing the difficulty of reading the sonnets; schoolboy exercises; how sonnets 50 and 51 suggest that Shakespeare wrote them while on horseback; and the possibility (probably the certainty) of leaving a lasting impact on how we understand Shakespeare’s biography. (Length 28:48)

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) 

Here Are Frangela

Frances Callier and Angela V. Shelton, better known as Frangela, host the essential funny political podcast The Final Word and this Saturday night September 26, 2020, are performing as part of Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Virtual Tour, appearing right in your living room (on your computer)! Frances and Angela talk about how they joined comedy forces and share tips about the importance of using your voices; bringing the funny to the people; mutual Second City origins; memories of the TBS pilot The Week Reduced; the myth of world hunger; finding comic angles; possible spoilers to Star Trek: Discovery, the valuable bond of having opinions about everything; the importance of remembering that we have options and things don’t need to be this way; and the cathartic release of breaking crockery. (Length 22:04)

Gary’s ‘Finding Joy’

Finding Joy is Gary Andrews’ book about how he dealt with the sudden and unexpected death of his wife a few years ago. Gary talks about how the book evolved from his regular #DoodleADay ritual; how the grieving process navigates a Shakespearean combination of tones. the fun he’s having producing his web series called Drawing on Shakespeare (co-hosted by Austin Tichenor); the joy of Joy’s funny walks; how we’re all experiencing different forms of grief (loss of life, loss of lifestyle, loss of careers); receiving humbling and moving testimonials; a heat-induced inability to remember one’s own CV; and ultimately how you honor the deceased by learning to laugh again. (Length 20:07)

Shakespeare And Trump

Jeffrey R. Wilson, a lecturer in the Writing program at Harvard University, has written the new book Shakespeare And Trump, which examines not just which Shakespearean villain or tyrant Trump most resembles, but the more richly Shakespearean world of the politicians who enable him and the populace that continues to support him. Jeff explains how reluctant he was to write the book, but how he was drawn to more of a cultural conversation (as opposed to character criticism); weak kings versus dangerous clowns; whether we’re living in one of Shakespeare’s Histories or one of his Tragedies; the trick to finding the comedy in tragedy; the value of using Shakespeare as a lens through which we can look at a specific historical moment; how using Shakespeare as a look at cultural history might reveal things more traditional history might not; and what Shakespeare play most resembles the whole year of 2020. (Length 19:06)

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)

Her Majesty’s Will

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)

More Lawrence O’Donnell

We continue 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. 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) (NOTE: Click through to find links to Part One of this interview.)

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)

CLICK THROUGH TO SEE THE ENTIRE LIST!

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)