Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year, New Brand, New Billboard!


As we get ready to welcome 2009, the year in which RS will move our downtown season to Richmond CenterStage, the company will also introduce a new look. It will begin in phases, the first of which is our new billboard!

If you're driving in Richmond, try the southbound lanes of I-195 (Powhite Parkway) between I-64 and Broad Street. You'll see a sequence of images like the one pictured here.

Be sure to drive the route a few times----there are four (4) fun images and you'll want to see them all. We'll post them here over the next month as well. Enjoy! And don't forget to pick up your tickets for Amadeus, our Acts of Faith entry for 2009. Performances begin February 12 at 2nd Presbyterian Church.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

“Scrooge & Molly’s”

Eleven years of A Christmas Carol for Two Actors came to a close yesterday afternoon, and I just wanted to post a little thank you, most especially to Molly Hood, and write a little bit about gift-giving. "A Christmas Carol for Two Actors" is a whirlwind show, very physical, and can be surprisingly draining emotionally. Molly is an outstanding actress, the most punctual I've ever met, detailed and organized, and a very dear friend. It's been a treat to have her back, and we had a blast on this abbreviated run.

Every single time I said "Marley's voice" or "Scrooge and Marley's" this time, I had to pronounce that "r" verrrry carefully. I'm absolutely certain the sign over the door of Scrooge's office more than once inadvertently read "Scrooge & Molly's!"

Many other thanks are due, from the terrific Richmond Shakespeare board, many of whom attended the show again, to Bryan and Jennifer, Andrew, Cynde, Julie, and James Sved, the most recent Building Manager at 2nd Presbyterian Church. The Sextons at 2nd Pres, too, have been marvelous help: Carey, Cliff and Nat embody service.

But there are so many of you who've come to see the show over the years, and so many new faces---it makes one want to express the same gratitude to all of you. "A Merry Christmas to everybody!" exclaims Scrooge, upon waking from his ordeal. "A Happy New Year to the World!"

What does it mean, to do this show, year after year? Well, perhaps most importantly, there are the magical children's faces. The show is ideal for about age 6 and upwards---or a sophisticated 5. Their wide eyes upon seeing Ebenezer Scrooge materialize for the first time are priceless. And I've written elsewhere about preparing the show each year. But somehow I forget that there are always new faces.

The other new faces, the adults, I forget to expect each year. I forget that "newbies" to the show, as they watch the performance, are just as much fun for the vets to observe as the show itself! Martha Cratchit, the fiddler, Dick Wilkins and the three "Miss Fezziwigs" are old hat to Scrooge, sure, but to the new audience member, they're every bit as silly, as wonderful and as heartfelt as they were when I first played them for my parents, in front of the fire, more than a dozen years ago now.

You may already know---it's our custom after each performance of "Carol" to take up a collection for CARITAS, a local collaboration of various faith organizations who provide shelter to the region's homeless—especially in the winter months. Several nights during the run, the box office took in more in donations to CARITAS than we did walkup ticket sales. They're a terrific organization, and truly do make a difference in the lives of the poor. If you would like to join those who gave at the performances, you can do so by following this link. Just click on "get involved," and "donate."

What started as a gift for just my parents and a few family and friends has evolved into something much larger than I ever imagined. And of course in all that giving, one realizes that the greatest reward comes to the giver.

Merry Christmas, Richmond. Thank you for my wonderful present.

-Grant Mudge

Friday, December 5, 2008

Midsummer in December!

Richmond Shakespeare presents
Midsummer in December

A Midsummer Night's Dream
December 15, 2008
7:00 PM

The weather outside is frightful, but love and fairies are so delightful. Join us for a magical staged reading of the Bard's most beloved comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, featuring some of Richmond's most beloved theatre artists: Scott Wichmann, Jennifer Meharg, Audra Honaker, Joe Carlson, Harry Kollatz, Daryl Clark Phillips, David Janosik, Cynde Liffick, TJ Simmons, Liz Blake, Sarah Jamillah Johnson, Shanea Taylor, Julie Phillips, Frank Creasy and more!

Directed by Andrew Hamm, the show features music by Liz and Andrew, with Jake Allard on percussion. The pre-show music is a mix of Richmond Shakes' greatest hits from Midsummer, Hamlet, and The Tempest, as well as love songs from summer's acclaimed production of As You Like It. Come early or you'll miss it.

Monday, December 15, 2008 at 7:00 PM at Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street). $15 Adults, $10 Students and Children. All proceeds benefit the Richmond Shakespeare Annual Fund.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

James Bond on Letterman!

James Alexander Bond, my dear friend and director of many Richmond Shakespeare hits, is going to be on David Letterman on Monday night!

He's reading the top ten list, which is James Bond-themed. Apparently, the producers called James Bonds in New York to audition on Friday, and James lives 10 blocks from the studio. Also his middle name starts with "A," so he wasthe first one in the phone book.

There exists the possibility that the producers will pull him at the table read, but the gig is currently his. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Workshop canceled

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the workshop for this evening has been canceled. We will try to reschedule it for later in the year. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Cheers,

Andrew

Friday, November 7, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's November Workshop

Dialects
(French and Scots)
with David Sennett
Tuesday, November 11, 7:00-9:30 PM

Offend men. Romance women. Or romance men. Offend women. Nothing says romance more than speaking with a French accent, and nothing puts people off quite like the Scots dialect. Learn both in just one evening! Come prepared to leave with a new relationship or a new bruise.

David Sennett, instructor for this workshop, has offended nearly everyone in nearly every dialect. Ever since high school, he has failed at romance, but he suspects that has more to do with his behavior than his accents.

20 students maximum, high school age and older. Cost: $20. Call 232-4000 to make your reservation today!

All classes and workshops are held at Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street). Participants should bring a bottle of water and dress for moderate physical activity.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The reviews are in: "Hamlet" is a hit!

Critics and audiences love Richmond Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Read what they're saying!



The Richmond Times-Dispatch's Susan Haubenstock calls it:

"...an intriguing "Hamlet"...

...Most striking is the choice to have Jeffrey Cole's Hamlet speak the "To be or not to be" soliloquy to Ophelia in the midst of love-play. This has a very different effect from that of the classic downstage delivery to the audience, and while surprising, it has a truly organic feel in the context of the scene. It seems like a late-night revelation from one lover to another, and as such it is thoroughly believable.

...Cole's Hamlet is an authentic punk, from his first sullen appearance in a moss-colored hoodie through the symphony of emotions he plays for us. The performance is always intense, but it is modulated throughout the three hours of the play so that we see the many authentic moods of a young man in mourning, in fury, in love."


Style Weekly's Mary Burruss praises

..."a Spartan version of the play, a version that will appeal to Shakespeare novices and die-hard purists alike.

...Jeff Cole as Hamlet does wonderful things with the words during the famous speeches (especially the “to be or not to be” speech), a gentle rolling quality. But the play is not so word-focused that it becomes dreary.

...The focus on words in the production heightens the action that much more. A brilliantly staged fight scene between Joe Carlson’s fiery Laertes and Hamlet snaps the audience to attention. Passini creates such realistic and electrifying swordplay in the tight audience-packed space that it caused gasps of amazement (and maybe some fear) from the audience. At one point I caught myself actually looking for blood from fictional nicks on actors’ flesh."


Richmond VA Theater blog's David Timberline raves:

"...Mr. Cole is princely without being ostentatious and his extreme emotions don’t seem to emerge from an outsized personality but from a well-meaning, loving son being compelled to vengeance and acts sure to wreck his life. It is a nicely contained but still compelling portrayal.

And his relationship with his Ophelia is heartbreaking.... It doesn’t hurt that Liz Blake plays Ophelia with such a sweet devotion to her prince.

...Richmond Shakespeare’s growing tradition of adding pre-show and intermission entertainment is a great addition to their performance philosophy.

...I cannot let it go without mentioning Timothy Saukiavicus’s powerhouse performance as Claudius. He is convincingly regal but has the self-aggrandizing pomp of a true politician and the slimy edge of someone willing to kill his own brother. I’ll be hoping to see Mr. S. in more local productions in the future."


WCVE Radio's John Porter concludes:

"One aspect of Hamlet which was especially nice was seeing the work of fight choreographer Vanessa Passini as she brought the duel between Joe Carlson's Laertes and Jeffrey Cole's Hamlet to a slow boil. The energy exuded by these two fine actors along with her choreography make the three of them individuals to watch for the future.

Richmond Shakepeare's production of Hamlet has obviously been produced with great love and devotion to the play. Th actors are poised, the direction is swift, otherwise the show could run long into the night, and the climactic moments pack the right punch. I would say that the company has gotten it off to a good start for what looks like a promising season."


Don't miss the show everyone is raving about. Get your tickets now!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Play(ing)'s the Thing

Catherine Bryne said something at Hamlet rehearsal last night that I think a lot of us are feeling: "I feel terrible saying this, but I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy playing this character."

You would expect that getting cast in a play with the reputation of Hamlet (um, okay, perhaps there’s only one play in that category) would bring a serious actor a lot of joy. But it seems that I’m not the only one around suffering from Paul Rudnick’s Disease (a serious psychological disorder characterized by an illogical, unnatural dislike or distaste for the greatest play in the history of blanket statements). Since writing the first-read-through post below, I have had several people whom I didn’t even know read blogs remark on how much they enjoyed reading it, how they have similar feelings about Hamlet.

It turns out that there are more than a couple of us with similar responses to the play, and especially to being part of it. I generally prefer tackling lesser-known works like Richard II and Measure for Measure, where the audience knows of the play more than they know it, and where the preconceptions are less likely to be obstacles for them to accept a bold acting or directing choice. (And we certainly made our share of those in Measure.) But Hamlet is more than a play, it's a fixture in the canon of world literature, it's scripture, it's pop culture. It's all those famous speeches and moments and scenes. And it's locked in the collective subconscious in a certain way: Gertrude is a certain way, Ophelia is a certain way, Hamlet is a certain way.

So it's a thrill to talk to Catherine, and to other actors, about the discoveries they're making with characters so deeply rooted in our cultural literature that they may as well be pure tropes. It's a delight to see some non-traditional casting (Prasad Tupe and Katie Ford's Rosincrance and Guildensterne) bear great fruit, and my favorite part of the night is when Jeff Cole and Liz Blake come rushing up to me individually or in a pair, thrilled to share what they've discovered about the extremely dynamic relationship they have developed between Hamlet and Ophelia. As for Horatio, well, let's just say that the "loyal friend" stereotype doesn't quite satisfy me as an actor, and that I'm working hard below the surface.

Strong, bold choices are growing all across the board, from 'Rick Gray (the Ghost), Margie Mills (Voltemand, etc.), Tim Sakiavicus (Claudius), and Jonathan Adams (Polonius), and the fight between Jeff and the wonderful Joe Carlson (Laertes) is looking fantastic even in early stages. Vanessa Passini's fight choreography is a wonderful mix of the urbane and desperate, and the actors have such a long stage to work on that it should be absolutely epic. Hamlet is shaping up to be unexpected and thrilling.

One actor asked me when I cast him in the show, "Andrew, are you sure I can do this?" I say to them all: Yes, you can. We can do this. We're doing it. As long as we treat this play like a play and not like a dusty, holy museum piece, we can do anything with it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The NEA's "Artists in the Workforce" Study

Kerry Hugins, our excellent bookkeeper and dear friend, sent me this report after a delightful lunch discussion today. It was released in June of this year, but I hadn't read it.

It is the National Endowment for the Arts' "Artists in the Workforce" study. Every American professional artist should read at least the Executive Summary. Click here for the full 150-page version.

I've copied the cover page, hoping it will entice you to read more:


June 12, 2008

Washington, DC -- Today, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announces the release of Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005, the first nationwide look at artists’ demographic and employment patterns in the 21st century. Artists in the Workforce analyzes working artist trends, gathering new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau to provide a comprehensive overview of this workforce segment, its maturation over the past 30 years, along with detailed information on specific artist occupations.

“Artists now play a huge but mostly unrecognized role in the new American economy of the 21st century,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. “This report shows how important American artists are to both our nation’s cultural vitality and economic prosperity of our communities.”

Numbering almost two million, artists are one of the largest classes of workers in the nation, only slightly smaller than the U.S. military’s active-duty and reserve personnel (2.2 million). Artists now represent 1.4 percent of the U.S. labor force. While Artists in the Workforce is not an economic impact study, it does report the average income of various artist categories. Based on those statistics, artists earn an aggregate income of approximately $70 billion annually. The study compares artists with the labor force in general, reporting on factors such as geographic distribution, racial, ethnic, and gender composition, employment status, age, and education level. Among the key findings:

Demographic trends

  • Between 1970 and 1990, the number of artists more than doubled, from 737,000 to 1.7 million – a much larger percentage gain than for the labor force as a whole. Between 1990 and 2005, the growth of artists slowed to a 16 percent rate, about the same as for the overall labor force.
  • Women remain underrepresented in several artist occupations. Men outnumber women in architecture, announcing, music, production, and photography. Women outnumber men in the fields of dance, design, and writing.
  • Like the larger labor force, the artist population is becoming more diverse. The proportion of Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian artists grew from about nine percent of artists in 1990 to almost 15 percent by 2005.

Geographic distribution

  • Opportunities for artistic employment are greater in metropolitan areas. More than one-fifth of all U.S. artists live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston. Half of all artists live in 30 metropolitan areas.
  • Unique regional concentrations emerge. New Mexico has the highest share of fine artists, Vermont has the highest proportion of writers, and Tennessee, the highest proportion of musicians.

Employment and income

  • Artists are entrepreneurial – 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed.
  • Artists are underemployed – one-third of artists work for only part of the year.
  • Artists generally earn less than workers with similar education levels. The median income from all sources in 2005 was $34,800 for artists, higher than the $30,100 median for the total labor force, and lower than the $43,200 for all professionals.

Education level

  • Artists are more educated. Artists are twice as likely to have a college degree as other U.S. workers.
  • The share of degree-holding artists rose between 1990 and 2005.
  • Among artist occupations with the highest educational attainment levels are architects, writers, and producers.

In addition, the report profiles 11 artist occupations, including actors; announcers; architects; art directors, fine artists and animators; dancers and choreographers; designers; entertainers and performers; musicians; photographers; producers and directors; writers and authors. Each occupation profile describes key characteristics such as median age and income, and includes data on employment sectors, such as non-profit, business, or self-employed. Artists in the Workforce also features 60 supporting tables with detailed information about artists by state, region, and metropolitan areas, gender, racial, and ethnic designations, and other categories.

“This report brings cohesion to a large, diverse, and important constituency served by the NEA,” said Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research and Analysis. “It recognizes artists as a distinct and dynamic component of the total labor force.”

Artists in the Workforce assembled data from primary sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) averages for 2003-2005. This report is the first attempt to study artists by using ACS data. The study focuses on Americans who named an artist occupation as their primary job. It is estimated that 300,000 Americans have secondary employment as artists.

NEA Office of Research and Analysis
Artists in the Workforce is the latest offering from the NEA Office of Research and Analysis, which has conducted authoritative and comprehensive research on artist workforce patterns and other subjects for more than 30 years. The NEA Research Division issues periodic research reports and briefs on significant topics affecting artists and arts organizations. Artists in the Workforce and other reports are available in print and electronic form in the Research section of the NEA website, www.arts.gov.



I have not yet delved into anything deeper than the executive summary, but it's an eye-opening study, painting some very clear pictures of how far we've come--and how far we have yet to go. It also gives an interesting perspective on an angle we artists have yet to capitalize on in getting a stronger voice in community affairs, the angle that we are an irreplaceable part of the economy, both as service providers and consumers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lloyd Shockley

Please see this post from Bruce Miller on the recent passing of Lloyd Shockley, on the Barksdale Theatre blog.

Lloyd was a friend, and a terrific actor. His many roles include two that are quite connected to Richmond Shakespeare just at the moment: Claudius in Hamlet opposite David Bridgewater (our Henry IV this past summer), directed by Gary Hopper, and McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in which our very own 'Hamlets', Jeff Cole and 'Rick Gray (son and father, respectively) will also appear later this year for Henley Street Theatre. Lloyd's "McMurphy" in the Barksdale 'Cuckoo' is indeed now the stuff of legend. Thanks to Bruce Miller for the post.

-------Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

This is the Big One.

It begins tonight with the first read-through.

Richmond Shakespeare begins our fourth season of the Richmond Shakespeare Theatre at Second Presbyterian Church with a little-known work called Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. A cast of eleven makes the largest ensemble we have yet assembled for our downtown space. It seemed only fitting to give this grand play an epic-sized (comparatively) cast.

I'm sure Grant, who's directing (his first time directing a Richmond Shakespeare production in three years), will have some very interesting perspectives on the show. I'm also sure they will be much smarter than mine. But I'm in the cast, and I'm going to write about that point of view.

My secret shame is that I've never been terribly crazy about this play. I have always preferred the antics of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the poet-politics of Richard II, and lately the raw passions of Measure for Measure. It's not exactly that there's anything wrong with Hamlet, it's just that other plays speak more to me. I'm more moved by King Lear's intensity and As You Like It's love-devotion than by Hamlet's inner struggle.

I think we all have an idea of what Hamlet is. It's "To be or not to be." It's "O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt" (also a Dream Theater lyric, by the way). It sure as heck is a bunch of "Words, words, words;" it's a long, long play. It's a guy in black with ruffles about his neck complaining and procrastinating. It's a play that could be over in ten minutes if Hamlet would just get up off his butt and do something, right? Take the Olivier picture here for example. This is just everything people who hate Hamlet hate about Hamlet.

I've acknowledged to myself recently that maybe this is the problem: I don't dislike Hamlet, I just don't love the idea of what I remember Hamlet to be. So I'm looking at it with fresh eyes as we begin this process, throwing my preconceptions aside, open to finding the wonder that the world has seen in this play for 400 years.

We're fortunate in this production to have a Hamlet named Jeff Cole to breathe his own kind of life into the role. Jeff is a dear friend of mine from years past, and he brings an openness and honesty to the role that I think we'll find refreshing in the shadow of our ideas of the play's awe-inspiring intellectual poetry. He's also a great guy and a blast to work with.

The late, great Dr. James Parker, who shared my passion for the History Plays, and in particular Richard II, once spoke to me of Hamlet. We were sitting in his cave-like office in the VCU Performing Arts Center discussing Shakespeare and musicals, and he intoned like a religious pronouncement: "Andrew, Hamlet isn't about procrastination. It's about waiting for the right moment."

Richmond Shakespeare is no longer waiting for the moment to produce Hamlet. We start tonight. And while I don't get to say any of the Dane's famous lines, I do get Horatio's gorgeous "Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." No small peanuts. That would be the best last line ever if Fortinbras didn't walk in. Rewrite!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Richmond Mayor's Race '08


Richmond Mayor’s Race Is On
Five mayoral hopefuls agree to candidate forum series.

The five men vying to become Richmond’s next mayor have agreed to engage in a three-part series of candidate forums kicking off Sept. 23.

The series, “Richmond Decision ’08,” is in response to the intense interest in this election by Richmond citizens, as well as many community groups, neighborhood associations and special-interest organizations.

The forums are produced by The League of Women Voters and Style Weekly, with the support of a diverse group of community organizations: Alliance for the Performing Arts, Arts Council of Richmond, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Homeward, OPUS, Partnership for Smarter Growth, Falls of the James Sierra Club, Venture Richmond and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“Voters are eager to hear side-by-side discussions by the mayoral candidates on a broad range of significant issues facing the community,” Style Weekly Editor Jason Roop says. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for that discussion. Who will replace Mayor L. Douglas Wilder?”

Roop will moderate the series, during which a panel of three journalists representing a variety of local media will pose questions to the candidates. The format is designed to give each candidate a fair, engaging platform to present his views.

The three forums are scheduled as follows:

Forum I: The Future of Downtown Richmond, Sept. 23
The Renaissance Conference Center, 107 W. Broad St.
Topics to include development, revitalization, city services and the master plan.

Forum II: Living and Working in Richmond, Oct. 14
Virginia Historical Society, 428 N. Boulevard
Topics to include growth, safety, environmentalism, housing, health care and workforce issues.

Forum III: Arts, Culture and Education, Oct. 28
The Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad St.
Topics to include the area’s arts and culture and Richmond Public Schools.

Each event begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m., with the candidate forum starting between 6 and 6:15. The program will run no longer than 8 p.m.
In addition, voter registration tables will be active at the event in order to increase citizen participation in the democratic process.

Forums are open to the public, although space is limited.

The panel for the Sept. 23 forum will consist of Edwin Slipek Jr., architecture critic and senior contributing editor at Style Weekly; Aaron Gilchrist, anchor at NBC 12; and Jimmy Barrett of WRVA’s “Richmond’s Morning News.”

The five candidates for mayor are:

• Paul Goldman is a former adviser and now frequent critic of Mayor L. Douglas Wilder. He was a key proponent and grassroots advocate of the city’s charter change to an elected-mayor form of government.

• Robert J. Grey Jr., former president of the American Bar Association, is a partner at the law firm Hunton & Williams. He’s also served as chairman of Mayor L. Douglas Wilder’s Committee on the Performing Arts.

• Dwight C. Jones, the pastor of First Baptist Church in South Richmond, is a Democratic state delegate for the 70th District in the General Assembly. He’s previously served as chairman of the Richmond School Board.

• William J. “Bill” Pantele is a private attorney who serves as City Council President, and has been a frequent voice in opposition to Mayor L. Douglas Wilder. He has represented the 2nd District on City Council for seven years.

• Lawrence E. Williams Sr., a previous candidate to represent the 6th District on City Council, owns his own architectural practice and has worked with several community development corporations.

Jason Roop
Editor
Style Weekly

1313 E. Main St., Suite 103
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 358-0825, ext. 323
jason.roop@styleweekly.com

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Performing an Old Contracting

First, a quick congratulatory cheer for Jim Warren and Ralph Alan Cohen on the announcement of their winning the Governor's Award for the Arts. Truly well-deserved. Their work at the American Shakespeare Center is an inspiration to thousands, and to me. Below, you'll find my thoughts on Measure for Measure, playing at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, which would not exist but for the vision of Jim and Ralph -Grant Mudge.

...Went to the Blackfriars' last Sunday night and saw Measure for Measure performed by the resident company. They have really settled into terrific productions over the last two years and it's a treat to see them doing so well.

It was fun, too, to see the play with James Alexander Bond's Spring '08 Richmond Shakespeare Theatre production so freshly in mind. Just the lyrics of the play's primary song, for instance, brought Andrew Hamm's spelndid melody back so forcefully there were tears in my eyes. More on that in a minute.

This production was directed by Patrick Tucker, whose "Original Shakespeare Company" appeared several times at the Globe in London, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting at several conferences, including the Teaching Shakespeare Conference in Chicago in 1998. Also---David Hall, whom we had in to teach a class this past January on Sound and Rhythm in Performance (see pics and video post here), was a part of Tucker's 'original' company.

Patrick's work with cue scripts has been thoroughly interesting. The likely argument is that Shakespeare's company received only their own lines of a play---the whole text being too valuable and too time consuming to keep recopying for rehearsals. See Patrick's book: Secrets of Acting Shakespeare: the Original Approach.

With incredibly strong performers in the ASC's resident company (like John Harrell, Allison Glenzer--deliciously "Overdone" in her role--- Gregory Jon Phelps and Rene Thorton, Jr. to name a few) the rich language of Shakespeare is deliciously clear in this production. So too, with last year's Winter's Tale and Love's Labours Lost, both of which I enjoyed very much but the latter of which I adored.

(Sidenote, it was during that LLL last November that an infant gurgled aloud just before Berowne says "...and when Love speaks!" He looked up into the balcony toward the child and smiled--the audience laughed, and he finished the line: "the voice of all the Gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony." Only in live theatre, and only when you can SEE the audience.)

This, in contrast to such empyrean sentiments, is as profane Measure as you're likely to see, even by the play's own ribald standards. True, it is about lechery, illegitimate pregnancy, the lust of an apparently virtuous man, pimps, prostitutes and ultimately imprisonment and death-by-beheading. Syphillis jokes, flatulence jokes, body part jokes, and bawds abound. So we're not really looking for loftiness. And apart from one erection joke that I could tell was hugely informative in rehearsal (but should have remained there), none of the bawdiness ran afoul of the play's, ahem, meatier matter.

And there it is. Amongst all of the tawdry bawdry, among all the intricacies of a convoluded plot (Angelo will never know he's sleeping with the wrong woman, it'll be dark!) is a perplexing leading character, Vincentio--the Duke of Vienna, who manipulates and manuevers everyone in the play toward one end or another. He places the strict conservative Angelo in power and "leaves town," then donning a Friar's habit to pass among his citizenry ostensibly to improve their morals in ways he can't as the Duke. We are left to guess at his motivations, and shake our heads at his outright cruelty to the novitiate nun, Isabella.

The Duke tells her that her brother is dead (I'll let you see the play to ascertain his truthfulness), but the manner in which he does it cannot be considered anything but cruel. Why, then?

As the Duke, Blackfriars' newcomer John Pasha is able to carry the play--it feels like the Duke is in every scene---and his strength of voice and presence are terrific. I wanted to see more vulnerability in him, but his choices were certainly valid on their own. But the question of what Shakespeare was getting at with the Duke comes down to two bits of text, and one's a song:
Duke:
He, who the sword of heaven will bear
Should be as holy as severe;
Pattern in himself to know,
Grace to stand, and virtue go;
More nor less to others paying
Than by self offences weighing.
Shame to him whose cruel striking
Kills for faults of his own liking!
Twice treble shame on Angelo,
To weed my vice and let his grow!
O, what may man within him hide,
Though angel on the outward side!
How many likeness made in crimes,
Making practice on the times,
To draw with idle spiders’ strings
Most pond’rous and substantial things!
Craft against vice I must apply:
With Angelo to-night shall lie
His old betrothed but despis’d:
So disguise shall, by the disguis’d,
Pay with falsehood false exacting,
And perform an old contracting. [Exit.]
This song pops up seemingly out of nowhere. It takes us into an act break, but scholars disagree about it. Some say it's Middleton, others argue "obvious" lacunal chunks. Personally I like the feeling of finality it gives to the first half but must acknowledge the weirdness of its verse structure.

In the ASC production, Pasha (as the Duke) really begins to sing. He has an enormous, Broadway voice, which he uses here to hint that the Duke might be a little mad. But the passage does still feel a bit out of place.

Which leads me to the core of it all. Are we to see the Duke as playwright? As puppeteer manipulating the strings of everyone onstage? Or do we see him through a kind of divine-right-of-kings lens in which he plays the role of God? Dressed as a holy man but always deciding things for his people, are we to think Shakespeare is angry at this God? That the Duke, for all his 'divine benevlence' is a venomous depiction of the cruelty of God? Shakespeare certainly knew the difficulty of pregnancy before wedlock. It's almost as if he is finally coming round to proclaim justice on his own actions:
The very mercy of the law cries out
Most audible, even from his proper tongue,'
An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!'

Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure;
Like doth quit like, and MEASURE still FOR MEASURE.

In general I don't think we're meant to know. Ultimately, Shakespeare leaves it up to us to decide Isabella's choice at the end of the play, sisterhood or marriage, chastity or adult knowledge. Which moment you'll now have to see to ascertain. If you saw the RS production in Febraury, you know the choice our Isabella made.

Otherwise in the ASC production: Harrell is a delightful Lucio, one I'd like to have seen push his insolence with others even a little farther. But the performance recalls much of Harrell's great skill with words, always deliberate, always fun, and always crystal clear: from Holofernes to Camilo to Benedick and Tartuffe, (just to name a few that it's been my privilege to see) Harrell remains an excellent example of the kind of performer that would have drawn audiences back to the Blackfriars of 400 years past--over and again even as they do today. Wishing I'd seen his Volpone or Richard III. He'll try the supreme wordsmith monarch next with a different Richard: the Second.

James Keegan's Pompey reflects a versatile leading man who can ribbon his beard right along with the clowns and succeed in the task. It's not necessarily comic genius--while he IS funny, he just feels a little out of his element in the direct address comedy---but the strength of the fey Pompeii, the delightful character he's created we enjoy tremendously. I'm looking forward to his Lear.

Our own alum Stephen Lorne Williams (Prospero in the RSF Tempest in 2007) joined the ASC company this season and is a delightful and authentic Escalus. His trial scene of the bawd Pompey and the drunken fool Froth (a nicely convincing Alyssa Wilmoth) was simply a treat, very sweet and ringing completely true. Keegan coming to sit on his lap, nothing compared to Williams' embarrssed grin at the bizarreness of the situation.

I've been wanting to see Sarah Fallon ever since the Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) at the University of Delaware began inviting me up to audition their students. We've hired several actors from the school, all fabulous, and Ms. Fallon seems no exception. Her Isabella is at one and the same time somehow the hesitant novitiate in a sisterhood and a woman coming into the peak of her life's strength, vibrancy and adulthood. It's a fascinating portrayal, marked by her shattered visage upon arriving to see the Duke, to plead for justice, thinking her brother dead.

Word among the actors and staff is that the King Lear they're performing is truly outstanding. With Keegan in the title role, Williams as Gloucester, Glenzer and Fallon as Goneril and Regan, Phelps and Pasha as Edmund and Edgar and Harrell as the Fool, I can't wait.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

RTCC Award Nominations Are Out!

The first annual Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award nominations have been announced.

The award ceremony will be held on Sunday, October 19th at the Firehouse Theatre. Visit the Richmond VA Theater Blog for the full listing of nominees, but right here we're going to crow about Richmond Shakespeare's eight honorees!

Best Play
As You Like It (indoor), Richmond Shakespeare

Best Direction - Play
Andrew Hamm, As You Like It (indoor) (Richmond Shakespeare)
James Ricks, Richard II (Richmond Shakespeare)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Play
David Bridgewater, Henry IV, Part 2 (Richmond Shakespeare)
Joseph Anthony Carlson, Henry IV, Part 2 (Richmond Shakespeare)
Stephen Ryan, Richard II (Richmond Shakespeare)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Play
Liz Blake, Measure for Measure (Richmond Shakespeare)

Outstanding Achievement, Costume Design

Rebecca Cairns, As You Like It (indoor) (Richmond Shakespeare)

We're incredibly proud of all of our nominees, and would like to add our gratitude to the full casts and crews of all of our shows for the past year. No actor, director, or designer works alone; it takes an ensemble to create a play with a truly standout performance. Similarly, it takes a commitment to quality work the year round to empower an individual show or performer. You are all nominated.

Congratulations to all our friends and colleagues around Richmond who have been recognized. It truly is an honor to be nominated.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Our Humble Author Will Continue the Story...

Our humble author "Will" continue the story....

During last night's final performance of RSF 2008, I found myself wondering not only how many closing performances I'd seen at Agecroft Hall, but how many I'd seen overall.

Richmond Shakespeare has just begun its 24th year, just concluded its 11th summertime festival, and after a brief rest, will gear up for our 4th season downtown at 2nd Presbyterian Church. August 1 marked the beginning of my 13th year with the organization, a fact which still surprises me.

In that time, while other activities have precluded my seeing all the performances, I've certainly witnessed the majority, somewhere in excess of 300 evenings in the unequaled beauty of Agecroft Hall's grounds and gardens, looking out over the James River. Night falls, the stars come out---last night one shot across the sky---it's truly one of the most special places on earth.

In fact, last night was one of the best of all, with a large and appreciative crowd out for the closing of Henry IV, Part Two. The weather was unseasonably mild, with a cooling breeze and crystal clear sky. Lower than average temperatures meant for a wonderful evening, and after the patrons finished their picnics and ambled on into the courtyard theatre, the cast gave them one heck of a performance.

It hadn't been an easy birth---Henry IV-2 is a complex play both in psychological and dramaturgical terms. Its Elizabethan jokes need careful preparation to be understood, its many scenes need vibrant stage electricity to keep the momentum flowing.

I can't possibly list what thrilled me about all the performances of this sixteen-member ensemble, led by our now frequent guest director James Alexander Bond----there are moments I will treasure from each and every actor in that company. To list just a few: Cynde Liffick's vomiting into her purse as "Doll Tearsheet" (Indeed, all 3 productions had vomit jokes this summer---what can we say? It's an elite art), Zach Arnold's deep focus as Bardolph, the ruddy-nosed compatriot to Daryl Clark Phillips' rich, deep and satisfying Falstaff, Suzanne Ankrum---our warrior turned summer bird, the wild rhythm and dance of the "Rumorettes," the silly combat (which I love) of the Eastcheap Tavern, and of course most especially, the final scene between Prince Hal and King Henry.

It began early in the run: actors, dressers, ushers, box office staff, board members, anyone working the show would draw close, inching nearer to the stage to listen to David Bridgewater and Phillip James Brown go at each other in one of the most compelling scenes in all of Shakespeare. It's an epic scene, and as intimate as any father-son argument. The language roared through the clouds each night, and each audience was pin-drop silent in the moment before father embraced heir and, after a moment, said "Oh, my son."

People called it breathtaking, fabulous, and even "one of those moments in the theatre when you feel privileged to have been allowed in the same room while it was going on." They were right. These two actors were simply amazing.

If you missed Henry IV, Part Two I feel sorry for you---it was an incredible experience. The good news is, there's a final episode in the saga, one that you needn't have seen the first two to understand, but if you have---your enjoyment will be all the more rich. We'll stage Henry V next summer, and Phil will be returning to finish this first tetralogy in Shakespeare's History Cycle.

So, whether you were in the audience, on the stage, behind it, taking tickets or hanging lights, distributing posters or pouring champagne, thank you for joining us for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival 2008---thousands of you---we look forward to seeing you this October for our indoor season kickoff, Hamlet, and of course back at Agecroft Hall as soon as summertime rolls back around.

Do keep in touch and e-mail me with your thoughts---I try to answer as many as possible; it's grant@richmondshakespeare.com.

Until then, the closing lines of last night's performance are freshly in my mind, as we think of returning to this story---we start rehearsals in less than a year----about 8 months:
I will lay odds, that, ere this year expire,
We bear our civil swords and native fire
As far as France. I heard a bird so sing,
Whose music, to my thinking, pleas’d the king.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "Henry IV Part 2" is "another knockout production"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Shakespeare troupe offers a fun time with Henry IV
Drama, comedy keep audience involved in Agecroft production
Sunday, Jul 20, 2008 - 12:08 AM
By SUSAN HAUBENSTOCK
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

If the staid Tudor presence of Agecroft Hall is too tame for you, check out the roller coaster they've installed.

It's called "Henry IV, Part 2," and it's another knockout production by Richmond Shakespeare Festival.

Having brought us the first two plays in the Henry IV story--"Richard II" and "Henry IV, Part 1" -- we're up to the 15th-century moment in which Henry is dying, worried to be leaving his kingdom to his wastrel son, Prince Hal.

Hal has been hanging out with the hilarious but shady Falstaff, though in Part 1 he stepped up and fought the rebels who sought to wrest England from Henry.

Part 2 veers between the high drama of the continuing political rebellion and the low comedy of Falstaff and the thieves and prostitutes in his orbit. It's a kind of emotional whiplash, and it's exceedingly fun.

The nominal leading roles -- Henry and Hal -- are not so large, though David Bridgewater's Henry has a marvelous scene late in the play.

As Henry berates his son, believing Hal is eager to become king himself, Bridgewater's face seems to take on the hollows of a dying man as he blasts Hal with the last gout of power left in him.

Phillip James Brown is back as Hal, and he doesn't have too much to do here, but he is powerful in the role. Happily, Daryl Clark Phillips returns as a bigger-than-life, rollicking Falstaff, whose version of a Shakespearean soliloquy is a worshipful discourse on his favorite booze.

And although all the secondary players speak beautifully under Melissa Carroll-Jackson's verse coaching, there are standouts. Cynde Liffick and Jacquie O'Connor are hysterical as Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly, pursuers of Falstaff.

Joseph Anthony Carlson is scarily intense as the outlaw Pistol, and he steals focus as the revolting recruit Wart, while Brandon Crowder is breathtaking in the complete switches he makes between the three roles he plays.

Director James Alexander Bond manages this circus, using the stage masterfully and somehow making the emotional changes work. Once again, Rebecca Cairns, assisted by Ann Hoskins, has created rich and varied costumes, and Andrew Hamm provides a subtle musical backdrop.

Carlson did the excellent fight choreography -- and in case that's not physical enough, several cast members do an amazing all-tumbling pre-show.

Apparently Shakespeare thought his audiences couldn't take their history without a good dose of laughs. "Henry IV, Part 2" turns us all into satisfied groundlings.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Now Playing: "Henry IV, Part 2"

Preview performances begin Thursday, July 17 for the latest installment in the History Cycle, Henry IV, Part 2, opening Saturday, July 19.

Beginning mere minutes after the events of Part 1 (performed last summer), the production features the returns of Phil Brown as Prince Hal and Daryl Clark Phillips as the incomparable Sir John Falstaff, and the addition of David Bridgewater as King Henry. The cast is a talented mix of Richmond Shakespeare Festival veterans and newcomers. It all happens under the direction of Master of Play James Alexander Bond, who has directed many of Richmond Shakespeare's best-received shows (Julius Caesar, Henry IV, Part 1, and Measure for Measure), and Master of Verse Melissa Carroll-Jackson, a remarkably gifted newcomer to the company.

Last summer's Part 1 may have been the most acclaimed production in Richmond Shakespeare's 23-year history, but you don't need to have seen the first part to appreciate the excitement, the hilarity, and the emotion of Part 2. It absolutely stands on its own, and is in fact even bawdier than its predecessor.

Performances are Thursday through Sunday nights at 8:00 through August 3. Visit our website or call 1-866-BARD-TIX for your tickets.

"Compleat Works" Returning for Encore Performance!

The wacky trio responsible for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's hit production of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) are returning for a one-night-only encore performance on Wednesday, July 30 at 8:00 PM.

If you are one of the unfortunate people (including me) who came out on Compleat Works' closing night only to have the show rained out after only fifteen minutes of hilarity, this is your chance to come see the rest of the ridiculousness. Jeffry Clevenger, LaSean Pierre Greene, and David Janosik--and, of course, Bob--are all returning to reprise their roles.

Visit our website or call 1-866-BARD-TIX for tickets to this special event.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Style Weekly: "As You Like It" is "charming, funny, unique, and unexpected"

From Style Weekly online:

The Dance Number Big Willie Didn’t See Coming


Even after a quarter century, Richmond Shakespeare keeps us guessing. Even if we already know who’s really a lady and who’s not.

“As You Like It,” Richmond Shakespeare’s most recent undertaking, is also its oldest.

Eleven years ago, the fledgling company cut into this play, already 400 years old, and have been fine-tuning it ever since. The play, one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedies, has all of the ingredients of a great production: girls masquerading as boys, love triangles (and pentagons, quadrangles and other assorted geometric shapes), an abundance of physical comedy and witty dialogue.

And typical of Richmond Shakespeare’s unwillingness to present the conventional play, directors Andrew Hamm and Julie Phillips (who refer to themselves as the Masters of Play and of Verse, respectively) incorporate thoroughly modern bits into the works, anachronisms dating back as far back as May 2007. Here the cross-dressing comedy includes a large song-and-dance number near the end in which the cast bursts into an impromptu rendition of the “Soulja Boy” dance.

The actors, for the most part, handle their characters beautifully. Sunny LaRose’s Rosalind is strong and endearing, and works well with the love-struck fervor of Orlando (Patrick Bromley). She also has great chemistry with Julia Rigby, who plays her cousin Celia; their scenes are filled with girlish glee and are enjoyable to watch. And as in most of Shakespeare’s plays, the court clown delivers many of the best lines; Adam Mincks’ brilliantly funny Touchstone is definitely up to the job.

But it’s Liz Blake who steals the show. Her role as Amiens in the play’s first half allows her to show off her lovely, lilting singing voice -- this is only topped by her portrayal of the crass shepherdess Phebe, who falls madly in love with the cross-dressing Rosalind, in the second half.

The production is not flawless, though. With the exception of the wrestling scene near the opening, the first half becomes dry whenever Rosalind or Touchstone is not onstage. And while the production’s several musical numbers work well for Blake, LaRose and Bromley each struggle during their few sung lines.

But “As You Like It” is a charming, funny production that bears the unique, often unexpected flavor that Richmond Shakespeare has spent 23 years stewing.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rainouts

Last night just after intermission, the opening performance of "As You Like It" was rained out. It followed an initial pause due to lightning (closer than we'd like), during which the audience filed dutifully into the inner courtyard and lobby. We then resumed performing, but not ten minutes later the clouds opened: sprinkles turned into light rain, then became an actual, honest-to-goodness, can't deny it, plain old rain. I've seen stronger, but the stage manager's report listed it as "pouring rain;' it was enough to call the show for good.

I've often told people that there's no need to wonder at my mood in the summertime---just take a look at the weather. If we get more than light rain between about 8pm and 11pm any Thursday through Sunday evening, I'd tell them, you know I feel terrible.

With so much work going into both our performances and our audiences anticipation, picnic preparations and excitement at coming out to the Festival, it's always disappointing to get rained out.

But then I remember Robert Henry the fifth.

Robert Henry first started coming to the festival at two and a half years old, at a performance of Henry V, (of course) and has been out with his family to see each summer since. A few years back, during a rainout pause, when Robert Henry must have been about 6, he really wanted the show to go on. In Agecroft's inner courtyard, where the rainwater collects a bit toward the drain, he began a barefoot 'anti-rain' dance, chanting at the top of his lungs, "NO MORE RAIN, NO MORE RAIN."

There's an excitement to the crowd all moving together from the Courtyard Theatre, gathering in the lobby and drying off---then there's more coversation and socializing while our dedicated crew attacks the stage and dries it for the actors; we often use a blower to push the majority of rainwater off the seats.

If the weather arrives during pre-show activities, the Festival Young Company typically comes into the lobby to perform excerpts of Shakespeare for the patient guests. The FYC are high school performers, who stroll the grounds nightly between 7 and 8pm performing for picnickers. Their fantastic costumes are designed by the fabulous Julie Wilson.
So it's in that spirit that I approach rainouts---I watch our youngest patrons. They will long remember the time they came out to the Festival and had to come indoors as a blustery storm cell passed over; they'll remember seeing young people, not too much older than themselves, performing in the lobbies and courtyards.

And with a little luck, they'll remember fondly the performances they saw, which resumed after the weather.
-Grant Mudge
"As You Like It" has five more performances: tonight, and Thursday through Sunday of next week. Artistic Director Grant Mudge was the company's original Orlando in the 1997-1998 season, and appears this summer in our season finale, "Henry IV, Part Two."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "You'll Like It"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Shakespeare play at Agecroft--you'll like it

BY SUSAN HAUBENSTOCK
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT


Midsummer may be nearing, but the peak of the summer theater season at Agecroft Hall has just arrived.

In the lovely Tudor courtyard, Richmond Shakespeare Festival's reprise of "As You Like It" is a laugh-filled, updated take on the Bard's comedy.

It's a reprise in two ways: The company opened with this play 11 years ago, and it did a rollicking five-actor version this past spring. Those five actors have returned in this production, along with director Andrew Hamm. Nine additional merrymakers join them to create a show that is full of contemporary style and plays hard for every laugh.

Yet with all the liberties taken, Master of Verse Julie Phillips keeps a steady hand on the language, which she tunes to a lovely, understandable vernacular that loses none of its poetry.

Hamm, for his part, contributes pleasant musical accompaniment, plays the two-line role of Hymen, and infuses the proceedings with all the subtlety of a Judd Apatow film. There's a strong physical component, whether comedy or combat (or spitting), and an especially clever use of upstage plays-within-the-play that enact some of the major speeches while they are delivered.

The story has two pairs of embittered brothers, one pair of faithful cousins, a clown, a melancholy thinker, a wrestler, servants and shepherds, and a trip through the Forest of Arden, where lovers find each other and things come to a happy end.

In lovely Rebecca Cairns costumes, and with well-designed lighting by James David White (who illuminates the outdoor space with seeming effortlessness), the simple set is enriched by humans playing trees, and the cast is augmented by stuffed animals. (It was hard to ignore the lively chipmunk in one of the trees.)

All the performances are delightful, although Adam Minks' Le Beau could have been reined in a tad -- but his Touchstone is hilarious and just this side of outrageous.

Sunny LaRose is the gender-switching Rosalind and Patrick Bromley her adoring Orlando; they are both a treat to watch, as is Julia Rigby as Rosalind's loyal cousin Celia.

Danny Devlin is an engaging Oliver, Orlando's cruel older brother, and Jeffry Clevenger is endearing as the old servant Adam and amusing as the shepherd Corin. Michael Dunn and Dan Summey make regal dukes, and Liz Blake is riotous as the adoring shepherdess Phebe. In smaller roles, Jay Banks and Jennifer Vick make pleasing debuts, and Jake Allard steals focus and hearts as the lovesick shepherd Silvius.

Frank Creasy gives the most impressive performance in two roles. As Charles the wrestler, he goes all-out physically, with pro-wrestling costume and attitude; and as Jacques, the melancholy courtier, he goes all-out emotionally, describing the seven phases of life and musing that "all the world's a stage." If the world were indeed a stage, I would be pleased to see Creasy on it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Now Playing: "As You Like It"

Last night saw the first preview performance of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's As You Like It. The show previews again tonight (Thursday) at 8:00, then opens officially on Saturday. It's an abbreviated run; just two previews and six performances, closing July 13, so don't miss it.

It's been a unique challenge and opportunity for Master of Verse Julie Phillips and I to restage a very successful production. Questions abounded: How many moments from the spring production do we duplicate? Do we change things just for the sake of changing them? What different perspective would Julie bring to a show that I had already seen through a complete production process and run? And how would the addition of nine new actors change what the play looks like and what it's about?

Well, Julie and I working together is never a problem. We co-directed Doctor Faustus in winter 2007, and had a long-standing mutual admiration society established before then. Julie has great ideas that I would never have thought of; she is the perfect example of how the two-headed directing process can work. Where I see physical choices, she sees verbal, and where I think something is funny that no one else ever possibly could, she reins me in. It's a great partnership; I never have more fun on the directing side of the table as when I'm working with Julie. And the new actors are a special bunch, five seasoned veterans and four apprentices to create the unforgettable characters which give As You Like It its texture and charm.

All five original actors have returned: Sunny LaRose's Rosalind, Patrick Bromley's Orlando, Julia Rigby's Celia, Frank Creasy's Jaques and Charles, and Adam Mincks's Touchstone and LeBeau all have a chance to live again, and to breathe a little more deeply now that the actors don't have to play all the other characters as well. The new actors have freely reinterpreted their roles: Dan Summey and Michael Dunn as the good and evil dukes, Liz Blake and Jake Allard as Phebe and Silvius, Jay Banks and Jennifer Vick as William and Audrey, Danny Devlin as Oliver and Sir Oliver Mar-Text, Cabell Neterer as Dennis, and Jeffry Clevenger as Adam and Corin all bring very different stuff to the table.

We've also added to the music. Jake Allard on drums and Todd Borden on bass round out the new Festival trio: Liz Blake and the Caliband. The play begins at 8:00, but the show starts at 7:30 with a preshow mini-concert and impromptu love poetry by Pat, Danny, and Adam.

Lighting designer J. David White has done a wonderful job establishing the beautiful dappled light of the forest of Arden, and Becky Cairns' and Annie Hoskins' costumes are a wonderful expansion of the already-gorgeous palate from spring. The trees are a personal favorite. Will Hankins and Agecroft's Richard Moxley have built some wonderful two-sided benches to delineate city from country. There are even a couple treats for Star Trek fans in there, as well.

What could be more charming than Shakespeare's most romantic play after a picnic on the grounds of Agecroft Hall? If you saw the show in April, you owe it to yourself to come out to the Richmond Shakespeare Festival for what we've been calling As You Like It 2: Like Harder!

Monday, June 30, 2008

What's a Preview? (For the first-time RSF patron, and for veterans who've wondered!)

Each show needs a test audience....

The RSF opens the gates on two (2) special nights per summer show--only one in the fall-to-spring season--with reduced price tickets! While the artists are putting finishing touches on their work, they need an audience to complete the rehearsal process; after all, you're the key ingredient in everything we do. We joke about the sixth-man in our five-actor shows, but it's really true, the audience completes the performance.

With this expanded version of our downtwon season finale, "As You Like It" has increased to fourteen actors, so count yourself as the fifteenth man.


In a preview, the directors (Master of Play and Master of Verse, in RSF lingo), stage manager and designers still have the right to stop the show and fix an item, although they rarely do; they want the actors to really get a feel for the momentum of the show, of course. Similarly, if a costume or set piece isn't working, or could be damaged, the show could be briefly halted. In the festival history, it's only happened once or twice.

It's also a great opportunity for students of all ages to secure very affordable tickets to the summer festival, as well as see the show as it's coming together.

So, join us for a romantic evening under the stars at beautiful Agecroft Hall, and catch a sneak peek of "As You Like It" before anyone else! Look for July 2 and 3 on the tickets page of our website, and we'll see you out at the Festival!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Unprecedented Feet"

It's been six (6) years since last we produced The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shakspr (Abridged), and lately I've been asking myself why we waited so long. True, those six years have been blindingly fast, but this is a show that our audiences and artists alike just both seem to love.

So I hope you're ready to laugh. Because the new production is just as funny as anything we've ever done. We've assembled a terrific team under the expert guidance of Matthew Ellis (Visiting us from the University of Oklahoma where he specializes in movement and clown work: if you missed his weeklong Clown intensive last week, you missed a tremendous exercise for actors and a hilarious final performance), but after two weeks of "Compleat Wrks," I wanted to share with the Blog readers how much fun the audiences at Agecroft Hall are having. ---Heck, so am I. Even during their rehearsals, one night I laughed so hard I could no longer see straight; the tears were rolling down my face.

You know the feeling---when your eyelids close so tightly they bend backward on themselves?

What an absolute delight.

Jeff Clevenger is an actor I've long wanted to bring to the Richmond Shakespeare stage and here he leads a cast of three in the astounding feat of this show: Perform the entirety of Shakespeare's plays in a single evening. David Janosik and LeSean Green bring a terrific comedic camaraderie to the group; thus far they seem to me to be having more fun than human beings should be allowed to have.

Of course, it's also very physical---that's hard work, nailing all these laughs. But they've really hit their stride: the last two nights have been large, near-capacity crowds and both have graced the trio with standing ovations. Bring a picnic, bring your stadium cushion, bring your kleenex, bring your friends, your co-workers, your kids.

The show runs tonight and for just four more performances: Thursday through Sunday next week. It must close June 29.

Next up: Andrew Hamm's expanded cast production of As You Like It takes the stage; you don't want to miss either one.

For longtime fans, here's a quick shot of our original production in 2002; the show performed both at Agecroft Hall and on a floating stage down on the Canal Walk.

The 2008 company has earned two great reviews for their delightful production. Scroll on down to read the perspectives of Ms. Haubenstock and Mr. Timberline.

See you all out at Agecroft Hall.

-Grant Mudge

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Style Weekly: " 'Compleat Works' strips the Bard down to his funny bone"

From Style Weekly:

Broad Comedy
Silliness is sublime in Richmond Shakespeare’s "Compleat Works."
The best thing about “The Compleat Works of Wilm Shkspr (Abridged),” the giddily antic production kicking off this summer’s Richmond Shakespeare Festival, is that it takes nothing seriously, including its own concept. While the show purports to present all of the Bard’s plays in a scant two hours, it condenses all of the comedies into a single skit called “The Love Boat Goes to Verona,” tosses off the histories in a pantomime football game, and skips the tragedy “Coriolanus” entirely (the “anus” part proving too scandalous for one cast member).

But the remaining plays (mostly the tragedies) provide ample grist for comic mayhem, at least in the capable hands of this production’s three-man cast. Longtime Richmond favorite Jeffry Clevenger sets the irreverent tone, breezing through the gory “Titus Andronicus” (performed as a cooking show) and infusing “Hamlet” with hilariously overwrought diction.

He bickers with adolescent humor specialist David Janosik, who can’t seem to end a play without vomiting. LaSean Pierre Greene is the affable emcee of the evening, though his cohorts’ conflicts eventually reduce him to performing yo-yo tricks (quite well!) to fill dead time. You can tell these guys are good because they even manage to pull off an extended crowd-participation bit without completely killing the show’s momentum.

Amidst all the silliness, there’s actually real knowledge being served up (do you know what Shakespeare’s Apocrypha is? I didn’t) and some excellent acting on display (Janosik’s second-act soliloquy is splendid). Jennifer Dryden’s costumes — rife with Converse tennis shoes and silly hats — enhance every scene. “Compleat Works” strips the Bard down to his funny bone, with exceedingly entertaining results.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "Compleat Works" is "loaded with laughs"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Brevity is the soul of this troupe's wit
Saturday, Jun 14, 2008 - 12:08 AM Updated: 12:14 PM
By SUSAN HAUBENSTOCK
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

You might call it an amuse bouche. It's amusing, all right, and it's a little warm-up to Richmond Shakespeare's summer festival at Agecroft Hall.

It's "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)," and it's loaded with laughs.

The 1987 comedy careens through the entire Shakespeare canon in an irreverent couple of hours, dismissing comedies and histories left and right to concentrate on the tragedies. Oh, and the sonnets are covered by having the audience pass around an index card.

Adam Long, Jess Borgeson and Daniel Singer wrote this hodgepodge, and though it may be a little dated (the rap version of "Othello" is very old-school), it's still hilarious. Three actors play themselves and most of the characters in the plays, with room left for improvisation and local color.

Matthew E. Ellis directs this production, with Jeffry Clevenger, LaSean Pierre Greene and David Janosik as the misguided actors who attempt this feat. Precise timing is as important for the combat scenes as for the jokes, and Ellis provides a good sense of fun and relentless pacing.

Each actor brings something special, too. Greene is the affable emcee, entertaining with yo-yo tricks before and after intermission, in addition to taking on roles ranging from the Nurse in "Romeo and Juliet" to Polonius in "Hamlet."

Clevenger is sort of in charge, wowing the audience with accents that range from a thick Scottish brogue for "Macbeth" to Laurence Olivier British.

And Janosik is the wild man who plays most of the girls in a motley assortment of wigs, then stuns with a low-key but moving rendition of the "What a piece of work is a man" soliloquy from "Hamlet." And he does a mean Christopher Walken, too.

Jennifer L. Dryden's costumes and James David White's lighting contribute much to the staging, and an array of silly props appears, from puppets to swords to the requisite asp for "Antony and Cleopatra."

There's a Julia Child-style cooking-show version of "Titus Andronicus" and a football version of the history plays.

The most extensive sendup is given to "Hamlet," which is done fast, faster and finally backward. "We don't have to do it justice," Clevenger reminds his colleagues; "we just have to do it."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's Summer Intensive - New Time and Tuition!

"Clown Intensive "
with Matthew Ellis
June 16 - 20, 2008, 6:00-9:30 PM
$250


To accommodate the many parties who have expressed interest in this class but who could not make the daytime hours, we have moved the Clown Intensive into evenings. If you wanted to take this class but could not do it before, now is your chance!

Matthew Ellis, Professor of Movement at the University of Oklahoma and director of this summer's Richmond Shakespeare Festival production of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), will teach a five day Clowning Intensive for Richmond Shakespeare's Training Department.

Matt says: “The clown is not just a circus performer or a birthday party attraction. The clown is the part of us that lives in a simpler place. Our inner clown is rife with problems to solve, and he or she solves those problems in a variety of ‘creative’ ways.”

The classes will focus on the discovery of that inner clown through a process developed by world renowned teacher Jacques LeCoq, taught to Matthew by the world famous clown Avner Eisenberg and master teacher Jonathan Becker. “You won’t learn how to ride a unicycle or how to walk in big shoes. This is an acting class that develops strong awareness and a powerful presence on stage. This work will improve all aspects of your performance, not just the slapstick comedy.” The workshop will consist of technique training and sketch development, culminating in a short show for the public on the final day.

The class is open to actors of advanced high school age and up. Participants should, as always, bring a bottle of water, a lunch, and be prepared to move. Some scholarships are available for interested participants with financial needs, and actors who have worked with Richmond Shakespeare in he past year are eligible for discounted tuition.

Email Andrew@richmondshakespeare.com or call him at 804-232-4000 for more information or to make a reservation.

Check out some images from Matthew's previous clown classes at the University of Oklahoma:


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's May Workhop

"Auditioning for Shakespeare"
with Daryl Clark Phillips

Tuesday, May 13, 2008, 7:00-9:30 PM
$20 to participate/ $10 to audit
at Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street)

This workshop is designed to help actors develop focused and clearly understandable monologue material from Shakespeare’s plays. Actors are guided through the “how to” of finding a suitable selection from the plays, how to use the whole body of the play to create an environment which supports their delivery, and how to create an appropriate aesthetic distance and focus which can maximize their efforts. They are also guided through simple techniques for physical realization of the environment and tips on how the poetry in the language can aid them in the creative process.

Each participant must have a monologue either completely memorized or be VERY familiar with it with book in hand. High School seniors (seriously committed) and older. Previous experience performing Shakespeare is not important, just a love of the process. Actors should wear comfortable clothing in which they will feel free to get down on the floor, if needed.

Daryl has been a professional Actor, Singer, and Speech and Theatre Arts educator for 30 years. He has a B.A. in Speech, Communication and Theatre from Monmouth University and an M.S. in Speech and Oral Interpretation from Emerson College. The colleges, universities and private schools at which he has taught include: The Ranney School, Ocean County College, Northeastern University, Monmouth University and The University of Richmond. He was an Associate Artist at TheatreVirginia for many years and created the noted, “No Holds Bard” in-class teaching supplement program for TVA, which toured middle and high schools in Virginia for 10 years. Daryl is also a free-lance Theatre Arts and Voice, Articulation and Dialect Coach who has worked with actors and singers all across the country to prepare material for a wide range of audition situations. He currently lives in Richmond and teaches Theatre Arts at Prince George High School. He can be seen this summer in the Richmond Shakespeare Festival's production of Henry IV, Part 2, wherein he will reprise his critically acclaimed performance as Falstaff.

Email Andrew@richmondshakespeare.com or call him at 804-232-4000 for more information or to make a reservation.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Not "Waiting To Be Invited"

"Waiting to be Invited," produced by the African American Repertory Theatre, closed recently at Pine Camp Community Center. Richmond Shakespeare Artistic Director Grant Mudge saw the show on its closing weekend.


I can think of no more important story for African American Repertory Theatre (AART) to be producing right now than “Waiting To Be Invited.”

As we gear up for the summertime Richmond Shakespeare Festival with classes and rehearsals (the first performance is June 12!), I thought it an appropriate moment to pause---and write about a show I've seen recently. Further, as our first season as a resident company in the new Richmond CenterStage is only 17 months away, it seemed an ideal time.



Right here in Richmond----On February 22 of 1960, some 35 Virginia Union and Union Theological Seminary students staged a sit-in at the lunch counter inside Thalheimer’s department store. They were subjected to every repulsive slur you can imagine, then hauled out into the winter streets to waiting paddy wagons and jail.

It is with no small degree of import, then, that not quite sixty years later, in 2009, one of the primary resident companies in this same building will be a black theatre company, the African American Repertory Theatre. (AART) When Richmond CenterStage opens in the fall of that year, AART will be there.

For me, nothing could serve more fittingly as a local beacon of hope for the ongoing challenges of human interaction. Imagine: within the very building where blacks were prohibited from enjoying freedoms as simple as ordering lunch, where they could not try on clothes in fitting rooms because of the color of their skin, a theatre company will become resident for the express purpose of sharing the stories of these black Americans.

There was a little flak recently on David Timberline’s RichmondVaTheater blog regarding AART. It was nicely quelled by this post (you'll have to scroll down a little) from Barksdale/Theatre IV Artistic Director Bruce Miller, but the kerfuffle was unfortunate, as all those involved are friendly supporters of theatre in town. I want to add my thanks to Bruce for his letter, and not just because it was very flattering to be put in that illustrious company. He chose just the right moment to comment. If you’re interested in Richmond theatre, I encourage you to give it a read.

The controversy centered on the quality of AART shows. Now, I’ve seen several of the company's offerings dating back to one of their earlier spaces, a storefront theatre on Broad Street; I see the questioning perspective. In contrast however, I'd like to applaud this small and energetic company as brothers in a struggle to create art. Their performances have never failed to move me. In addition to the show I saw just a few weeks ago, I remember a deeply moving production several years ago of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.

In the full-disclosure department: I've been so impressed with Derome that Richmond Shakespeare is exploring collaborative productions with AART, especially as both organizations prepare to be sibling resident companies in Richmond CenterStage. We're really looking forward to working together.

AART's most recent production was illustrative of where the company finds itself, a place most theatre practitioners have been, (RS included) caught between inspiration and means. Their “quality” should be assessed by the strength of story, emotion, love, and power they bring to the stage, and on these grounds, they are fired up and raring to go.


* * *

Waiting To Be Invited
then, by S.M. Shephard-Massat, (A Helen Hayes Award-winner in 2006 for her play Starving) shows promise, but it’s an admittedly problematic script. The first act is split between doll factory (in an employee's locker room) and a city bus. Three women (Diana Carver, Shaundra Patterson and Sharalyn Bailey, joined later by Kesha Afrika Oliver in a powerhouse performance) prepare to exercise their newfound civil rights to eat in a downtown lunch counter restaurant. It's 1964, and violence toward individuals who made these efforts was not uncommon. Arrests were still expected, despite the Civil and Voting Rights acts.

The play’s second act struggles to keep the action going. As each character seems primed to take the lead into the store, they fail and fall back. One clunky plot device in particular feels like a first-time playwright's mistake: despite having set this afternoon for her task, one of the ladies suddenly misses her departing bus. Wouldn’t she have missed it had she been inside eating?

Perhaps it was meant to be indicative of the character’s state of mind, but this script moment felt like the author artificially creating material to avoid writing the actual sit-in. This would be the best grist for the drama mill, but the playwright stays outside on the curb. We are meant to see that the moment of entrance, of decision late in the play, defying the play’s title—as its resolution. But I still wanted to see the scene inside.

The actors mime some but not all of their surroundings, which is odd. I've always struggled with theatre that mimes some items but not others; to me it should be all, nothing, or reveal some clear reason for combining. One would think Derome Scott-Smith's carefully constructed set would preclude the need for miming, say, overhead hanging handholds, wiping invisible glass windshields, or manipulating a missing gearshift. Why have a steering wheel but mime the gearshift?

More, I wondered why we needed the bus at all; its narrow "aisle" forced more than a few moments of audience-staring-at-posteriors. Less than flattering. The actors dealt with it well; so too did they very well with the moment of a white passenger requesting a seat in the front of the bus, and later learning of the mission of the women aboard. (It’s a nice cameo by Lelia Pendleton, who stage managed Richmond Shakespeare’s Death and the Maiden in 1997)

In fact, the performances are strong enough that a few chairs lined up onstage would have sufficed. Toney Cobb, as bus driver Palmeroy exhibits his trademark affability and is an absolute delight to watch. He keeps the pace sparkling, and brings a welcome consistency; we miss him in act two. In a lovely program note, Cobb dedicates the performance to his late father, a DC Metro bus driver who retired in 1988.

Margarette Joyner’s costumes nicely evoke 1964; the ladies’ dresses are particularly well-conceived, all in white--including white hats, white pocketbooks, white shoes and white shopping bags. Joyner’s designs draw stark attention to issues far more complex hue. It’s a great choice.

It’s interesting to note that Shephard-Massat chose 1964, the year of Congress’ passage of the Civil Rights Act (and the Voting Rights Act)---she seems to conflate it with several Supreme Court decisions---rather than 1960, when eating at whites-only establishments was still prohibited by law. The much more famous Atlanta (and Greensboro and Richmond) sit-ins took place in 1960. The decision these ladies make is after they have a legal right to go, but before they had been "invited." In fact, when it finally comes, the climactic decision is an incredibly powerful moment. Standing centerstage as Louise, Sharalyn Bailey allows her shrill, abrasive fun defenses to subside, and describes a moment when police set german shepherd dogs against her young children. Her stillness was incredibly effective; she wasn’t far from tears. The best kind of could-hear-the-proverbial-pin-drop moment. She knew---and finally, so too did these women know---that they had to walk into that department store to order lunch.

As they exit the stage, they began to speak in unison:
The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green Pastures, he leadeth me
beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of
righteousness for his name's sake,

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me….
An army of four, dressed in white, these women stepped into the kind of change that helped a nation to more fully begin to right its wrongs. It was a wonderful ending, and the audience was deeply moved.

Shepard-Massat changed the name of the department store in which her characters are trying to eat, likely because even as the old "Rich's" no longer exists, its sale to Macy's led to a dual name, "Rich's-Macy's" and was branded that way as late as 2005. She changes “Rich’s” (the actual store in which Atlanta sit-ins took place) to “Marsh’s,” perhaps this also serves to remind the audience that the women she depicts were not figures of history but representatives thereof. Whatever the reason, Waiting To Be Invited finished powerfully.

Subsequent laws prohibiting such demonstrations included steep fines and lengthier jail sentences. But activists only continued their campaign, until retailers relented, laws were changed, and America took at step closer to becoming a free society.

How fitting then, that AART continues that story now, as we envision new life for an old building, new art for its stages, and the promise of new hope born out of the magic of story.

I’m really glad they did not “wait to be invited.”