This ‘n’ That Way Madness Lie

By Jared McDaris

In celebration of our upcoming Twelfth Night, here’s a quick re-publishing of what I learned a few years ago.

The year was 2008. It was a more innocent time. I was wearing blue stockings, oversized pants, an oversized white shirt, and an oversized… I wanna say jerkin, but I know I’m wrong.

Still wearing glasses. What a tool.

Still wearing glasses. What an amateur. (Volpone, 2008)

The play was Volpone. I was playing Voltore, a greedy lawyer who gives a slanderous speech in court. I had to tell a story to the audience, an untrue story, involving several characters who were onstage, but with whom I’d had no interaction. I had to remember who was whom based on what I’d already seen that day, get those people close to each other, keep the action downstage, and move quickly enough to keep the energy high.

On top of all that, I had a challenge that, at the time, had never been addressed.

Most of the basic rules of Unrehearsed Shakespeare are simple verbal interpretation, and none of these is simpler than the this/that rule. Simply put, when you say “this glass,” you must be touching the glass; when you say “that glass,” you must not be touching the glass. Easy as pie.

But there was another issue. It’s easy enough to grab a sleeve or point to a shoe, but what about “this argument,” “these illusions,” “that vile deception,” or my personal favorite, “these deeds?” How do you touch, or point to, an abstract idea? How do you indicate a thing that is no longer there?

Eventually, these would come to be known as “Abstract Thises and Thats,” but at the time, I just saw words highlighted in yellow and orange, which meant I had to touch something or point at something. So, not knowing what else to do, I grabbed the air. I pointed at the sky. I patted the ground. I gesticulated wildly. It was cray.

This was somewhat tenebrous ground at the time. We had been given clear instruction not to “interpret” our characters unless the text said so. I couldn’t “gesticulate wildly” unless someone described me as doing so, or if I described myself thusly.

…Thusly…

But on the other hand, there were those words. I had to grab something. I had to point at something. So I did.

What I didn’t know was, later in the play, the two leads come on and comment on my character. In essence, they say: “That guy sure was crazy. He was shouting and gesticulating wildly.”

BAM!! Shouting (I had a lot of exclamation points, a rarity in original Elizabethan copies), and gesticulating wildly! Bam! Nobody told me I was flailing my arms about, and Voltore sure never describes himself as an amateur windmill. How could I have possibly known to do that?

That’s the greatest thing about Unrehearsed Shakespeare: it works. We’ll probably never know if this is really how they did it back then, how carefully Shakespeare (or in this case Ben Jonson) chose his words, or how strongly cod-pieces figure into the phrase “my willing love,” but we do know that when we apply these guidelines to scripts from the era, any scripts from the era, it creates dynamic performances that are always new! Exclamation point!

Twelfth Night is a play I have worked on eight times, both in Unrehearsed productions (this is our fifth annual Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night, and my seventh Unrehearsed performance of it) and in more conventional shows (like in Milwaukee couple Summers ago). But it took me until now to realize: this script has more Abstract Thises & Thats than any other I can remember working on. And what’s really cool is, most of these Abstracts are spoken by Olivia and Malvolio. What do these two have in common?

Besides the fact that they’ve both been played by Danny Pancratz, looking ridiculous.

Malvolio (Danny Pancratz) is released from prison '12

Malvolio (Danny Pancratz) is released from prison 2012

Chad Tallon (Malvolio) and Danny Pancratz (Olivia), 2013

Chad Tallon (Malvolio) and Danny Pancratz (Olivia), 2013

Well, there’s another chapter in the Volpone Voltore story. Shortly after his first impassioned lie in court, the lawyer’s situation reverses. He’s betrayed by a confederate and has to go admit his folly to the court. He does this (at the suggestion of the title character) by pretending to be possessed. He goes mad, convulses on the floor, pretends to vomit up needles (that was fun) and otherwise acts stereotypically insane (all at the direction of Volpone). In a way, his wild gesticulations were a prelude to the coming comic madness.

Voltore, being told to vomit up pins... yikes

Voltore, being told to vomit up pins… yikes (Volpone, 2008)

So what does this have to do with Olivia and Malvolio? In a play about repressed passions exploding forth, they are the two characters who are most often called crazy. Olivia is simultaneously called a madonna and a mad-donna, both madam and mad-dame. Most of these epithets are hurled by Feste, liberally; and shortly after she proves him right by madly lusting after the young Caesario. Malvolio’s madness is more straightforward: falsely accused of demonic possession, he is locked up and driven mad (or nearly there), also by Feste.

Sydney Ray as the dame of questionable stability.

Sydney Ray as the dame of questionable stability.

It rocks my world that these two different authors, in these two different comedies, would assign such a heavy amount of Abstract Thises & Thats to characters who have the label of ‘insanity’ attached to them.

We’ll never know if Unrehearsed Shakespeare is historically accurate, but it works, and even after eight years, it continues to yield new and fascinating ideas for me, and new ways to apply those ideas to performance.

Be sure and check out our fifth annual Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night, and judge for yourself.

TWELFTH NIGHT ON TWELFTH NIGHT
January 17th (Tuesday) and 25th (Wednesday)
The Rugby Club, 3614 N Damen Ave
Doors open at 7:00, show starts at 7:30
$5 at the door
Come be something great… the Audience!

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TWELFTH NIGHT UNREHEARSED

Mike Speck is the Storm

Mike is an Unrehearsed veteran of ten years who has performed in such plays as Antony & CleopatraAll’s Well that Ends WellHamlet, and Merry Wives of Windsor. You can see him as a special guest performer in King Lear on Monday and Tuesday, December 12th and 13th.

Q: What first turned you on to Shakespeare?
MIKE: We can credit Bill Kincaid for this one. I did some Shakespeare classes – both acting and literary – in undergrad, but really never got into Bardiness before working with Bill at WIU. As soon as he introduced SVO, my game brain latched on and I was hooked.

Q: How has your approach to Unrehearsed altered over the years?
MIKE: I’ve become more and more comfortable using the audience as a buddy or a sounding board. Earlier on I spent a LOT of effort on keeping the text onstage and actively tried to keep my focus off the audience…but frankly, they’re the ones paying to see the show, and in shared light they KNOW I can see them, so why not engage?

Q: What, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
MIKE: There’s so much factional interplay – your casting breakdown gave instructions for 5-6 different costume colors based on allegiances – but it all comes back to the personal. “How loyal is this person to me, and how do I know?” becomes a key question for every character I can think of, especially the ones who get it wrong.

Q: How would you compare Unrehearsed to conventional theater?
MIKE: I’d quibble and say that it’s still conventional theatre – just with a different set of conventions. And those conventions are a huge part of the fun: playing the Unrehearsed game, following the Unrehearsed rules, and accepting the results. I don’t know WHY this speech switches from “thou” to “you” in a single sentence, but I don’t have to know why; I just need to follow that coded instruction in an observable way that the audience can follow. Maybe my scene partner and I will find a purpose for it, or maybe we’ll stay confused, but the audience doesn’t need our comprehension, only our acting.

Q: Has Unrehearsed influence your teaching techniques at all?
MIKE: Yes – Unrehearsed has really hammered in the importance of observing what’s actually happening in the room, focusing on students rather than on curriculum. That’s been an immensely useful lesson in teaching performance (stage combat in particular; I think those two disciplines reinforce each other nicely), and anything else: all my prework says I need to be across the stage from the speaker, but she’s got a crown and she just said “we,” so I guess I’m over by her now. OK, now what? My plan said today’s class was going to start choreography, but half the class is still cutting incorrectly? Choreo gets pushed back a bit, and technique gets more time. What’s next? Unrehearsed trains you to acknowledge where you ARE, not where your notes said you’d be.

Q: What’s your favorite Unrehearsed role to date?
MIKE: Malvolio is the only role I’ve done twice, and it was a blast both times. Of course, there was something like 8 years between iterations, so…

Mike as Gremio in Taming of the Shrew (2011)

Q: What else is coming up soon?
MIKE: Chicagoans should know about two stage combat opportunities in January: the Winter Wonderland Workshop and its associated Intensives (www.macenfp.org/#events), and Destruction in Decatur, a downstate two-week workshop that offers skills tests (http://destructionindecatur.webs.com/).

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The Seven Ages of Unrehearsed Shakespeare

[By Jared McDaris]

We haven’t done December shows in a while, but King Lear‘s late production coincides nicely with Unrehearsed’s first show ever back in 2009.

December 5th was the seventh anniversary of our first production of MacBeth. Mildly frustrated with grad school, I made a somewhat impulsive decision to help facilitate the verse education of my classmates and myself by throwing together an unrehearsed production. My classmate Danny Pancratz had actually put more work into Unrehearsed than I at the time, and I knew the ol’ Scottish King was a dream role of his, so I (again, impulsively) chose the ol’ Scottish Tragedy and went to work.

It was a very lucky choice for my first play. Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, it’s relatively simple as far as historical plays go, featuring many roles of fairly surmountable size and complexity. There was only one particularly daunting role, and I knew ahead of time that the performer of said role was very motivated to do it justice. The fairly overt morality was rendered even more black-and-white by an engaged audience, who delighted in booing MacBeth and his wife like music hall villains the instant they began discussing Duncan’s murder, and did not let off until the bloody King’s beheading. This and the increasingly broad violence, and of course the infamous chanting of the witches, conspired to create a virtually fool-proof show.

We ‘remounted’ Mackers in early 2010 under Western Illinois University’s aegis, for the 2010 KCACTF festival. Starting the show at 11pm and encouraging audience commentary while performing at what was essentially a giant theater party, was another recipe for success.

Since performers just want to perform, the low overhead and ready access of Unrehearsed was attractive to many actors. In my last semester at WIU, we staged The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Hamlet, where I self-indulgently played the title character on my birthday. We also learned a lot about riling and teaming the audience, responding to all stage directions (even unexpected ones), and balancing pacing with specificity.

That same year after graduation, despite our many uncertain futures, we moved to Chicago and staged our debut in late 2010: Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. This was when I began to appreciate methods by which we might introduce some elements of conventional acting into Unrehearsed shows without damaging technique. This continued to grow, though relatively slowly, in 2011, which featured only our next double-header: Shrewthello, Taming of the Shrew and Othello.

It wasn’t until 2012 that things began to really pick up again. Unrehearsed collaborated with Orion Couling (founder of EDGE Theatre) to perform Comedy of Errors on a ship at Navy Pier. We also performed Act 3 of Pericles with Blunt Object’s Shakespeare I Love You, and thanks to TheaterRED we were able to bring the ol’ technique up into Milwaukee.

Things truly blew up in 2013. We started our annual Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night (which was also brought to Milwaukee by TheaterRED), brought back Much Ado About Nothing, debuted our Midsummer Night’s Dream and MacBeth in Chicago, and got to stage Two Gentlemen of Verona with TheaterRED in Milwaukee. This, a couple of staged readings, and some workshops helped to make the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company resemble some kind of theater company.

In 2014, we were a little more planned out. Our Twelfth Night was in full swing, and we added Julius Caesar, Romeo & Juliet, and Henry V to our roster, as well as a double-header: Comedy of Errors and Double Falsehood. It was a big year for us (though a poor one for photography). It was also the year our managing director Jessie Mutz left to pursue her graduate degree in Florida. She left some excellent performances behind her.

It was in 2015 that our membership began to grow appreciably. Intro classes became a little more regular, as did our tendency to keep with Shakespeare’s more popular works: Twelfth Night, Titus Andronicus, Richard III, and The Tempest was our lineup. With Richard III, we had to say goodbye to another central figure in our success, as Zack Meyer took off to undertake his own graduate career in Ohio.

2016 has been a little quieter, but our ranks are slowly growing, we did manage to reach a new audience in Elgin, and with four potential new directors for next year, I have reason to believe our future is pretty bright.

We’re closing our 2016 season a little later than usual with King Lear. Please be so kind as to join us next week for some epic intrigue and the strangely relatable tale of the clueless ruling generation and their unwise investment in the most evil elements of their children.

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Eyes on Actors: Lana Whittington

lwhittingtonLana is a new Apprentice, debuting with King Lear. You can also see her this December in EDGE Theatre’s A Steampunk Christmas Carol as the Mad Madam Fizzlewig. Lana will be performing in Lear on Tuesday, Dec 13.

Q: How were you first introduced to Unrehearsed Shakespeare?
LANA: I first heard about it through my good friend Charlie Baker. We went to school together and he has been a part of Unrehearsed for a few years now. Then I was cast in Countess Bathory written and directed by Jared and I knew I needed to work with this guy more.

QHow does Unrehearsed differ from other acting experiences for you?
LANA: It is completely different from what I am used to. In college mostly I worked with many directors who blocked us to a tee and gave us our characters’ motivations. Though Unrehearsed has set rules you should follow to make it interesting there is much more freedom to do what feels natural and to find your own motivations even if they might not be perfect. I’ve never been in a show where I didn’t have weeks of rehearsals and had no idea who was playing who until I was on stage. This is a little frightening, but mostly exciting.

Q: What, if anything, is your biggest challenge with this technique so far?
LANA: This technique relies massively on listening skills, and that has been a challenge of mine in the past with shows that have rehearsal time. It’s easy to become complacent when you know what will be said and when your next cue is. Unrehearsed keeps everyone on their toes which is what I like most about it.

Q: One of the defining attributes of Unrehearsed is the lack of a Fourth Wall. How do you feel about this? How does it affect your work and/or prep?
LANA: Well in many of Shakespeare’s works we often see actors performing their soliloquies to the audience, but Unrehearsed gives you more opportunities to use the audience outside of those monologues. It’s almost like the audience is it’s own character in the show. While I’m rehearsing my sides, I try to look for instances where I can use the audience even when my character doesn’t have speeches or asides. It’s also interesting to use the audience for story telling purposes, so I keep an eye out for chances to use the audience as characters for that purpose as well.

QWhat, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
LANA: It’s quite interesting that it takes Lear so long to discover that the only people who love him and have his best interests in mind are the ones that he banished just because they did not tell them what he wanted to hear. It’s strange how not getting our way can skew our judgment and our trust in others.

Lana recently appeared as “Jane” in sister-company We Three’s production of Countess Bathory

Q: If Lear asked you to flatter him, would you answer more like Cordelia or more like Goneril and Regan?
LANA: I’d probably be similar to Cordelia. I don’t like to play games with people and I prefer to be honest to other people rather than let them hear what they want to hear.

Q: So what’s next for you?
LANA: Come see Steampunk Christmas Carol; you will see many Unrehearsed actors and it is tons of fun. I’ve been in/seen many productions of Christmas carol but this one is special. You will be on the floor laughing with Christmas joy by the end.

Click here to see Lana in the upcoming A Steampunk Christmas Carol (with EDGE Theatre), or here to see photos from her recent performance in Countess Bathory (with We Three).

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JJ Gatesman is the Storm

JJ is an Unrehearsed veteran of seven years who has helped to spread the technique as far west as Las Vegas. He is currently working with the Milwaukee Rep’s The Foreigner, playing until December 18th. Also keep an eye out for upcoming productions of Henry VI part 1, an unrehearsing of the traditional play using the first folio technique;  and Blade of the Child, an original play by JJ, coming to Milwaukee this summer.

You can see him as a special guest performer in King Lear on Monday, December 12th.

Q: What first turned you on to Shakespeare?
JJ: I’ve always been interested in poetry. I learned about Shakespeare in high school and almost immediately got to perform it. The second show I ever did was Merry Wives of Windsor. I was drawn to the visceral energy that one can feel speaking in iambic pentameter and I’m constantly in awe of the different metaphors that pop up in Shakespeare.

Q: How has your approach to Unrehearsed altered over the years?
JJ: One of the best parts of Unrehearsed is giving and receiving stage directions, and I’ve become better at spotting the places for them. It creates a great spontaneity that you don’t typically see in more traditional performances of classical pieces. Also, I’m hoping that the more I use First Folio Technique the more grounded I can become while using it. It’s easy to get caught up in the hullabaloo and forget to breathe or flail around making gestures that aren’t supported by the script. I’m hoping that in King Lear I’ll have a bit more economy of action.

QWhat, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
JJ: The multi-tiered story that provides us with no specific protagonist, but instead we have arguments for any and all of the characters to be the “main” focus. It gives the opportunity for an ensemble to shine as a whole rather than some of Shakespeare’s other plays like Hamlet or Macbeth.

Q: How would you compare directing or teaching Unrehearsed to performing it? For that matter, how does Unrehearsed directing compare to more conventional productions?
JJ: It’s akin to driving a car. When learning there are so many individual things that have to go right (i.e. I have to shift into gear, put my foot on the gas, oh I forgot to adjust my mirrors, etc.). When you’re performing, there isn’t time to focus on these individual parts and instead you have go with the flow of how things are happening in the “now”. I think it takes performing in the actual shows to really understand how everything fits together, so when you’re teaching/directing one of these productions you have to accept that students new to the technique are going to miss some steps until they have the opportunity to make some mistakes in a performance.
I’ve only recently started directing traditional theater projects, and I find that whenever I’m stuck, I always go back to unrehearsed Shakespeare. Who’s speaking to who? How close or far away from each other do these characters need to be? Could any part of this be to the audience? These are questions we’re always asking ourselves while looking at our tracks in unrehearsed and I think they are excellent starting points for scene work.

Feste (Jared McDaris) & Sir Andrew (JJ Gatesman) party it up '12

JJ as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in our annual Twelfth Night on Twelfth Night (2013)

Q: What’s your favorite Unrehearsed role to date?
JJ: Proteus, nothing beats winning a crowd over that is actively booing you.

Come see JJ try to win over the crowd Monday, December 12th!

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Kevin Johnson is the Storm

Kevin Johnson Headshot 1 (1)Kevin is a recent Apprentice who debuted this season as Sylvius in As You Like it. He’s also appeared in Hamlet as Guildenstern and as Balthazar in our Comedy of Errors with Janus Theatre in Elgin.

Q: What first turned you on to Shakespeare?
KEVIN: In 2013, I saw the Q Brother’s production of Othello: The Remix, which is a four-man show of Othello, told entirely through hip-hop (similar to Hamilton, though O:TR came first.)  I wasn’t into Shakespeare or rap before seeing that show, and afterward, I was a fan of both.

Q: How has your approach to Unrehearsed altered during your first year? (or is it too early to say?)
KEVIN: I don’t know if it’s altered that much, but I’ve worked on cutting down on and specifying gestures.

Q: What, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
KEVIN: It seems with most tragedies, the main character is introduced as a pretty decent guy (even Macbeth starts as a hero).  Lear enters in the first scene, immediately banishes the only two people who are honest with him, and then has to get the audience on his side from there.

Q: If Lear asked you to flatter him, would you answer more like Cordelia or more like Goneril and Regan?
KEVIN: I’d probably plan on being honest, and then as soon as he asks I’d panic and say he’s the best thing ever.

Q: What’s your favorite Unrehearsed role to date?
KEVIN: Sylvius.  Getting to lead the infamous (at least among Unrehearsers) “What ’tis to love” scene was an honor.

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Kevin retires the guard in the opening scene of Hamlet, 2016. Photo by iNDie Grant Productions

Q: So what’s next for Kevin Johnson?
KEVIN: Performing February 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg is a truly life changing production of The Lion King with the special needs inclusion based program, Ups For Downs.  I’m playing Scar on the 2nd and 4th.

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Eyes on Actors: Sarah Franzel

sarah-franzel-headshot-2Sarah is a recent Apprentice who debuted this season in Hamlet as the First Player and Fortinbras. You can catch her TONIGHT in the Conspirators’ The Resistible Rise of Her Helmut Drumpf, running these two weekends before the election. You can also see her this December in EDGE Theatre’s A Steampunk Christmas Carol as the Engineer. Sarah will be performing a leading role in King Lear on Monday, Dec 12, and a supporting role on Tuesday, Dec 13.

Q: How were you first introduced to Unrehearsed Shakespeare?
SARAH: I went to see friends in Richard III, attended several performances after that, and finally took the Unrehearsed technique class this summer!

QHow does Unrehearsed differ from other acting experiences for you?
SARAH: One of my favorite things about performing is the rush of adrenaline you get right before you enter the stage. After so many shows, so many performances, it’s easy to lose that feeling and slip into autopilot. Due to the nature of Unrehearsed, it’s always there.

Q: What, if anything, is your biggest challenge with this technique so far?
SARAH: Keeping gestures relevant and specific to the text, rather than flailing about if I get lost (though that’s better than doing nothing!) Also, you may go into a scene knowing exactly what you intend to do with it, and then your scene partner throws you a proposal that completely shakes things up and you have to adapt to what’s actually happening, rather than cling to what you planned. It’s times like that where Unrehearsed can be the most fun!

Q: One of the defining attributes of Unrehearsed is the lack of a Fourth Wall. How do you feel about this? How does it affect your work and/or prep?
SARAH: It’s so much fun! (Especially because Unrehearsed audiences tend to react enthusiastically). The lack of a Fourth Wall can be especially helpful during a soliloquy when you have no one else onstage to interact with.

QWhat, to you, is the most intriguing thing about King Lear?
SARAH: The frequent references to the natural world and how the chaos that springs from Lear’s banishment of Cordelia is mirrored by the storm.

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Sarah performs the Pyrrhus Monolog in Hamlet, 2016. Photo by iNDie Grant Productions

Q: If Lear asked you to flatter him, would you answer more like Cordelia or more like Goneril and Regan?
SARAH: Gah, what a question. I’d like to think that I would answer with Goneril and Regan’s positivity but with Cordelia’s genuineness so we’d all live happily ever after. End of play.

CLICK HERE to see Sarah in our recent production of Hamlet, or HERE.

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King Lear: Coming this December

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The Hour of Errors Heads to Elgin

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In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s shuffling off, Unrehearsed is joining Janus Theatre in Elgin, IL for a production of our short-cut of Comedy of Errors.

Mural Alley
66 S. Spring Street, Elgin, IL
Saturday, August 13, 1:30pm

FEATURING:
Chris Aruffo
Robbie Bersano
Bill Daniel
Nathan Ducker
Gilly Guire
Kevin Johnson
Kate Lass
Jared McDaris
Kamron Palmer
Kaelea Rovinsky
Chad Tallon