In Favor of the Duke

October 22, 2008

It’s question time again!  Brandon Andrus (aka Duke Orsino) answers below….
1.)  What has been the most challenging part of rehearsals for you so far?

Trying not to laugh with Jessica in the Finale. We just look at each other and crack up.

2.)  What is your favorite moment in Illyria (either involving you or someone else)

I love the scene where Viola gets Orsino drunk and takes advantage of him. Well, that is how my character remembers it.

3.)  Put your iPod on shuffle.  What are the first five songs that come up?

West End Blues – Louis Armstrong
My Guiding Star – Dean Martin
Everyday – Dave Matthews Band
I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles
Tiny Broken Heart – Alison Krauss & Union Station

4.)  What is the strangest job you’ve ever had (non-theater related)?

I used to restock the bookshelves at Borders at 4 o’clock in the morning!

5.)  If I asked your mom to tell me one weird thing about you what would she say?

She would say, “How dare you imply there is anything weird with my son!”

6.)  How closely can you relate with either your character or an individual story-line in Illyria?

Oh, I totally did what Orsino did. But I didn’t think she was a man. But we were friends, and I kept pining over this girl who was totally not interested. Anyway, when I finally figured out who I should be going after, she was already dating someone else. So my happy ending came years later when I met my wife, Deven.

7.)  Can you juggle?  And if so what’s the largest quantity that you can juggle at a time?

No.

8.)  Have you ever written and/or received a love letter from a secret admirer?

Yes, I received one. And he and I are friends now.

9.)  Best part of being involved in theater?

Getting to meet people like the ones in this cast. When you are in something good, surrounded by great performers, and spending time with fun and caring people, you know your life is good. That and playing the part with Pip!

10) What color would your aura be?

Orange.

11) What is your favorite place to eat in the city?

Bai Sushi on Broadway between 37th and 38th in Astoria, Queens!

A New Beginning

October 19, 2008

10.15.08

The new beginning is definitely better.   When we originally did ILLYRIA in 2002, the show started with an elaborate shipwreck sequence.   We dramatized the backstory that Shakespeare (wisely) skips over when he opens with Viola already ashore in Illyria.   In that first adaptation, we met Viola and Sebastian on board a ship as it passed the coast of Illyria.   And there was a Sea Captain who gave the twins a crash course in Illyrian current events, introducing Orsino and Olivia.   And then the storm struck–fabric swooshed, music swelled, and Viola landed in Illyria.  

It was a cool opener in some respects, but it didn’t prepare the audience for the show they were going to see.   The mood of it was sweeping, poetical, and not the least bit funny, so it took a while for the audience to feel like they were watching a comedy and were allowed to laugh.   It reminds me of the story about A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum: the show wasn’t working and Jerome Robbins came in and diagnosed the problem.   He said the opening number (“Love Is Going Around”) wasn’t preparing the audience for a raucous comedy… so Sondheim went back to the drawing board and came up with “Comedy Tonight.”

Anyway, we had realized this was the problem by the end of the initial run in 2002, but the solution was by no means obvious.   The story of Twelfth Night depends on certain tragic circumstances:   Viola must believe her brother drowned, and Countess Olivia must have been in mourning for seven years. Before we can have the comedy that follows, we have to set up that situation.   Shakespeare’s solution was to do it as quickly as possible, and to tell rather than show these sad events.   But we felt that we couldn’t begin a musical the way the play begins–with two very brief scenes presenting first Orsino and then Viola.   We felt that the musical had to begin in a bigger, splashier (no pun intended) way, and that’s what led us to the shipwreck.

When ILLYRIA was done at the Shakespeare Theater of NJ in 2004, we made one improvement to the opening:   Feste took over the Sea Captain’s job as provider of exposition.   He now began the show by singing the Sea Captain’s lyric–“Illyria, lovely isle / Some years ago I anchored there awhile…”   But rather than enlightening the twins, he was simply narrating for the audience’s benefit.   He introduced the status quo in Illyria, presenting Orsino and Olivia, and then went on to introduce the twins as the agents of change coming into this static world.   We allowed a smidgen of ironic commentary into Feste’s introductions, but even so, there was still no real comedy in the opener.   Comedy had to wait until the scene immediately following, when Toby, Maria and Andrew made their first appearance.   And as before, the audience wasn’t sure what to make of the new tone after the more solemn beginning.

Cara felt that we somehow had to involve the comic characters in the opening sequence.   Her idea was to insert Toby, Maria and Andrew immediately following the introduction of Olivia–since those characters are part of the Countess’s household.   We had the chance to try out this new idea for a 2006 concert.   I took the song that the comic trio had in Scene 2–“Any In Illyria”–and boiled it down into a new little songlet (“What shall I do in Illyria…?”) in which each of the three took a verse to lay out his or her frustrations.   Then, after this comic interlude, Feste resumed with the introduction of the twins and the shipwreck.   Then, in another bit of new writing, I spun an extended ending out of Feste’s main “Illyria” theme.   One by one, all of the characters joined in singing a contrapuntal hodge-podge out of which emerged a final, choral refrain.   It gave the sequence more closure, and made it feel like a real opener.

But now there was a new problem.   This opening sequence was almost ten minutes long!   Because I’d tried to cover most of what used to happen in scene 2, the comic “interlude” within the opener was over three minutes long.   It broke up the momentum of Feste’s narration.   Also, because Andrew was introduced earlier now, there was a long stretch of four scenes in which he disappeared.   These two issues led us to a further refinement which we’re now trying out for the first time in this 2008 production:   the introduction of Toby, Maria and Andrew has been cut down to a bare minimum within the opening sequence–just enough to tell the audience that there will be some “low comedy” in this show.   Then, some of the extra material for those three has been transplanted to the top of the third scene, when we return to Olivia’s house.   This accomplishes two things:   it knocks two minutes or so off the lengthy opener, and it gives us an opportunity to check in with Toby, Maria and Andrew at more regular intervals.  

So after six years of evolution, I think we have a great opening number that does everything it needs to do.   The changes weren’t so big really, and yet each one of them required a kind of paradigm shift in my brain.   It seems like it could only have happened in baby steps:   a little progress, the perspective gained from that, and then a little more progress.

Improving on Shakespeare?

October 19, 2008

10.17.08

“The plots are often so loosely formed that a very slight consideration may improve them, and so carelessly pursued that he seems not always fully to comprehend his own design.” —Samuel Johnson, on Shakespeare’s plays

I don’t claim that ILLYRIA is an improvement on the Bard, but I’ve always been very pleased with and proud of the few changes I made to the plot of Twelfth Night in adapting it.   True, for every change I made, there were probably about ten cases where I tried tinkering with something only to realize why it was better Shakespeare’s way.   But here are a few of the changes that really seemed to work well:

1) Toby and Maria are developed as a secondary comic romance, unfolding by way of their practical jokes, so that their eventual marriage feels less arbitrary.   What initially appears to be Maria’s scheme to fool Malvolio turns out to be a scheme to fool Sir Toby into marrying her.   When Toby is on the verge of being thrown out of Countess Olivia’s house for the cruel prank on Malvolio, his only means of escape (provided by Maria) is to claim that the love letter Malvolio found–which spoke of a noble person’s love for a lowly servant–was a letter he’d written to Maria.   And so, at the story’s end, we have a new understanding of what Maria was thinking when she initially laid out the plan to Toby, saying “The man is mine…”

2) Rather than calling herself Caesario, Viola simply adopts her brother’s name when she is disguised as a boy.   This allows for some delicious comic misunderstandings once the real Sebastian shows up.   For instance, when Olivia comes to Sebastian’s aid in the duel, she uses his name.   When he says, wonderingly, “You called me Sebastian…” she replies, “I know it is wrong of me to be so familiar, but in the short time we’ve known each other, you’ve become very dear to me.”   As far as Sebastian knows, that “short time” is about half a minute.   But Viola’s use of her brother’s name pays even bigger dividends when Sebastian goes to the Duke’s palace… see below.

3) Duke Orsino, who largely disappears from the later part of Shakespeare’s play, is given an extra scene that does not appear in Twelfth Night.   Left alone at his palace, the Duke muses on his hopeless love for Olivia, and how it is his servant Sebastian who truly understands him best… and whose lips are more “smooth and rubious.”   Then, just as the Duke is confronting these alarming feelings of his, the real Sebastian shows up to seek a position as a servant.   What follows is a pretty rich misunderstanding–as Orsino confesses his love to the bewildered Sebastian, who eventually flees.   As silly as the moment is, it fills in a part of Orsino’s arc that does not appear in the play:   that moment when Orsino comes to realize that it’s not Olivia but Sebastian (i.e. Viola) he loves.

4) Malvolio is given a happy(er) ending. Rather than have Malvolio stalk off saying “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,” we instead give him a chance at reconciliation and redemption.   After Malvolio complains bitterly that everyone is to be married and yet there is no consolation for him, Toby says, “Might I make a suggestion…?”–which is the cue for a reprise of “Cakes And Ale.”   When it appeared earlier in the show, the song was about the provocation and humiliation of Malvolio.   Now Toby offers it to him as an olive branch.   Near the end of the verse, Toby pauses at a crucial moment… will Malvolio reject Toby’s peace offering?   No, he joins in the refrain, and this gesture launches us into the final choruses of the show.   Some may think it’s sacrilege to change Malvolio’s ending; the Shakespearean version is undeniably truer to the character.   But hey–this is a musical; and more to the point, it’s a musical that is several shades lighter in tone than the original play throughout.   How can our cast sing a final joyful refrain if Malvolio’s bitterness has been left to fester?

5) The circular journey of Olivia’s ring is a minor bit of plotting legerdemain, but it makes me happy.   In Twelfth Night, Olivia sends Malvolio after Viola to return what Olivia says is the Duke’s ring–an unwanted gift.   In fact, it’s Olivia’s own ring, which she’s sending Viola as a love token.   In the Shakespeare, Viola refuses to take the ring, so Malvolio drops it on the ground… end of story.   In ILLYRIA, Viola pockets the ring, and in a later scene she gives it to Orsino as a token of “a servant’s love.”   Later, when Orsino has come to realize his feelings for Viola, he tries to give the ring back as a token of his love… except that he foists it upon the real Sebastian rather than Viola.   And finally, at the end of the show, Sebastian offers the ring to Olivia as a marriage proposal, saying, “I hope it fits.”   Olivia sees the ring and replies, “I’m sure it will.”

Wisdom from a Fool

October 14, 2008

Jim Poulos, who plays Feste in Illyria, answers some of our (now) favorite questions.  Enjoy!
1.)  What has been the most challenging part of rehearsals for you so far?
Learning Cakes and Ale was crazy!  It’s a great number, with great choreography, but it’s so tricky because the lyrics and melody never quite go the same way rhythmically or melodically.  So  I think particularly Dan, Ryan, Christine and I hit the wall a few times with this number.

2.)  What is your favorite moment in Illyria (either involving you or someone else)?
There are many.  Ryan’s first entrance.  Jessica, Laura, and Brandon singing Save One.  A great scene between Brandon and Jessica, leading into Jessica’s beautiful rendition of Patience.  Devilishly plotting against Malvolio with my fellow clowns in The Man Is Mine.  I can safely say, now, that Cakes and Ale is close to my favorite.  I could go on and on.  But my very favorite moment is more personal.  When Feste first returns to Olivia’s house after “some years” have passed, he reconnects with Maria.  Tina Stafford, who plays Maria, has been a friend of mine for longer than either one of us probably cares to mention. Among other shows, we were in  productions of West Side Story and The Grapes of Wrath that still rank among my most satisfying theater experiences.  Although we’ve seen each other over the years, Tina and I haven’t worked together in a long time.   And when Feste and Maria hug each other, it just feels so right. Just like old friends.  Easy.  It’s been a real treat to share the stage with her again.  She’s just so talented and gracious.
3.)  Put your iPod on shuffle.  What are the first five songs that come up?
Uhh….  well, since I learn my music for the show from iPod recordings……  The Lunatic slow.  The Lunatic at tempo.  “Judge” section of Lunatic slow.  “Judge” section of Lunatic at tempo.  “All together” section of Lunatic slow……  But you know, once you get past that, then it’s…  “Man Is Mine” harmony slow, “Man Is Mine” harmony at tempo….
4.)  What is the strangest job you’ve ever had (non-theater related)?
I had to dress up as the Easter Bunny once for extra cash while working as a temp back home in California. This lady took me to surprise her kids, one in kindergarten….. one in middle school.  Kindergartner loved me.  Middle school kid punched me.
5.)  If I asked your mom to tell me one weird thing about you what would she say?
I used to drink garlic flavored red-wine vinegar out of the bottle as a kid.
6.)  How closely can you relate with either your character or an individual storyline in Illyria?
Feste is a wise clown.  Like all clowns, I think, his humor comes from some kind of pain.  I can relate to that. The trick is to keep it light, and keep it real at the same time.
7.)  Can you juggle?  And if so what’s the largest quantity that you can juggle at a time?
I can juggle.  Four is my max, but I usually only go for three.  I learned to juggle balls, rings, pins, scarves, bricks doing Barnum many years ago.  I played Tom Thumb.
8.)  Have you ever written and/or received a love letter from a secret admirer?
I probably wrote one in like, the fifth grade?  I receive them daily.
9.)  Best part of being involved in theater?
The people.  It’s a big family.
10) What color would your aura be?
Not sure.  But I usually gravitate to green or orange highlighters.  I think those are cool colors for lightsabers as well.
11) What is your favorite place to eat in the city?
Melissa and I usually go to Hell’s Kitchen for celebratory dinners.  The food’s amazing and so are the margaritas.  We order from Thai Thai for, well, Thai.  And we get our wine delivered from 54 Wine & Liquor.  He’s our wine guy.  He never misses with his recommendations.

Sitz Probe

October 12, 2008

Hey y’all,

One of your Assistant Directors (or maybe the favorite Assistant Director, but don’t tell Chris), Mary Beth, blogging live from one of our final studio rehearsals.  You read that right, one of our FINAL studio rehearsals, with tomorrow being the final one before we move into the theater.  Its kind of crazy really, as it feels like we just began, and I guess we did just begin, I mean three weeks ago, but still.  A lot has been accomplished in three short weeks, and with one more week of rehearsals I can only imagine what this show will become, and I mean that in the best way possible.  We just came back from our hour break and are starting to work on the opening a bit as we have tweaked the beginning recently.  Personally, I think that the small adjustment that we made has really made the opening an incredible piece of cohesive story-telling.  Once we are done with this we will move into a full run of the show and, hopefully, with very few bumps.  Earlier in the day we had a sitz probe (German for “sing with the band”, for all of those who were uncertain as to what that term meant, such as myself) rehearsal, which was the first time that we’ve had the entire band play with the actors.  Of course this added an incredible new dimension to all of the numbers, giving more personality and life to the songs and giving the actors even more to play with.

All in all, I think we are in great shape and are definitely ready to move into the theater and get on our set.  I know I may seem a little biased, and rose-colored-glasses-esque, but this show really is going to be great.  If you don’t believe me, come check it out. Prove me wrong, I dare you. 🙂  Until next time….

*Edit*

Since writing this post we began the full run of the show.  Cara (the director) told the actors to do one thing that would surprise their fellow players and they took this direction full on.  In fact, many of the things they’ve done will probably make it into the show….makes you curious doesn’t it?

And Now for Kat West!

October 9, 2008

And now a member of Illyria’s creative team answers the most pressing questions of the moment.  Kat West, brilliant stage manager, joins in on the fun:

1.)  What has been the most challenging part of rehearsals for you so far?

Scheduling. No question. We have very talented and in demand actors so juggling all of their commitments outside of the rehearsals has been quite the puzzle.

2.)  What is your favorite moment in Illyria (either involving you or someone else)?

I always get goosebumps during “Save One” and always am blown away by “The Lunatic.”

3.)  Put your iPod on shuffle.  What are the first five songs that come up?
I don’t have an iPod. 😦
4.)  What is the strangest job you’ve ever had (non-theater related)?
Customer service at Gucci on 5th Avenue.
5.)  If I asked your mom to tell me one weird thing about you what would she say?
I always add 2 seconds to any time I put on a microwave to cook something. Don’t know why.
6.)  How closely can you relate with either your character or an individual story-line in Illyria?
I always relate to our guards and maids. The support team that makes the world of Illyria happen.
7.)  Can you juggle?  And if so what’s the largest quantity that you can juggle at a time?
Do schedules count? If so then the most I have ever juggled at once is 40.
8.)  Have you ever written and/or received a love letter from a secret admirer?
Someone once wrote a song for me but I didn’t realize it was for and about me until I was singing it in a concert.

9.)  Best part of being involved in theater?

The amount of positive creativity you can be around in a single day.

10) What color would your aura be?

Probably lilac or rose.

11) What is your favorite place to eat in the city?

Fatty’s Cafe in Astoria. Trattoria Dopo Teatro on 46th between Broadway & 6th.

Stay tuned for more answers to these questions and more!  Also look for video interviews with Chris and various members of the cast!  Until next time….

Jessica Grové Answers…

October 8, 2008

The following questions have been asked of the entire cast. The respondent today is Jessica Grové, who does a magnificent job playing Viola in Prospect Theater Company’s production of Illyria.

1.)  What has been the most challenging part of rehearsals for you so far?
Not laughing during the freeze in the finale.  Brandon (Duke Orsino) and I can’t seem to figure out a good romantic pose, so we just stand there and make faces at each other.  We’re very professional.
2.)  What is your favorite moment in Illyria (either involving you or someone else)?
“Cakes and Ale”.  It’s hilarious.  And I have to follow it with a very serious ballad, “Patience”.   That’s the hardest part of the show…following those clowns! It’s really not fair.
3.)  Put your iPod on shuffle. What are the first five songs that come up?
1. “Happy News” from The Alchemists benefit concert!  I swear I’m not sucking up…it really happened.  David rocked!!
2. ” I Will Always” – The Cranberries.  Haven’t heard them in a while!  This is fun! (Takes me back to high school, geez…I still can’t understand a word she’s singing.)
3. Um…”Lightning Crashes” – Live.  This is embarrassing. I think I need to update my iPod!  Remember how popular this song was?
4. “Some Other Guy” – The Beatles (Live at the BBC)…There’s now a chance I might be cool.
5. “Broken Fairy Tale” – The Nynth Ave. Drifters.  This is really cool because my boyfriend wrote this song…for ME!!   He’s in the Nynth Ave. Drifters…and they’re a really good band.  They’re playing at The Bitter End on October 21st!!  Come see them!!
4.)  What is the strangest job you’ve ever had (non-theater related)?
I haven’t had a strange job.  But my survival jobs have been babysitting, and assisting designer Tony Walton.
5.)  If I asked your mom to tell me one weird thing about you what would she say?
Hmmm…She’d probably tell you I like to pick my face.  Are you sorry you asked?
6.)  How closely can you relate with either your character or an individual story-line in Illyria?
Well, I’ve never been ship-wrecked, never posed as a boy, never been a servant, never been courted by a woman….so EVERYTHING!  Because Viola has never had these experiences either until you meet her.
7.)  Can you juggle?  And if so what’s the largest quantity that you can juggle at a time?
I’ve managed two bean bags…does that count as juggling?
8.)  Have you ever written and/or received a love letter from a secret admirer?
No, I’ve never written one.  No, I’ve never received one. What a boring answer!
9.)  Best part of being involved in theater?
Giving people a place to go for a few hours where they can leave behind their worries and stresses.  I also love creating and collaborating with fun, intelligent and interesting people.  It’s the best job in the world!
10) What color would your aura be?
Purple. Or rainbow!  That would be fancy.
11) What is your favorite place to eat in the city?
I like Good Enough to Eat for lunch, Neptune Room for brunch, Haku for sushi, and Pearl Oyster Bar for the BEST lobster roll!

Greetings, fellow Prospect groupies.  Chris here, live on location at Epiphany Studios with your Illyria update.

Today is indeed an exciting day as we are adding in the otherworldly talents of Mister Jimmy Ray Bennett to our rehearsal process. Jimmy Ray had his first rehearsal a number of weeks ago, and has since been working at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a part of “Broadway – Three Generations.”  Today is his first rehearsal with the rest of the cast.  In the meantime, the masterful Jed Peterson has been standing in and his assistance has been absolutely integral to the process.  Like I said, the guy’s a master.

Jimmy Ray brings a New and Fascinating energy to Malvolio’s scenes (I used to say “interesting energy” but Jimmy Ray took severe offense to the non-specificity of said word.  Even though he was kidding, I have taken the note and am now taking greater care in my use of adjectives).   This is always an interesting Fascinating transition to witness as the other actors receive their cues in New and Different ways than those they are used to. It also colors the show a little Differently on a whole.  All in all, it’s very interesting Fascinating to watch the transition from Masterful to Otherworldly.  INTERESTING FASCINATING!

So the whole show’s going to be Stellar.  Please take the time to look up the definitions of each adjective used so far in this post as they are carefully selected, by me, for you to read and not misunderstand.  When I say Stellar I mean of or relating to a star or stars, that is to say, “out of this world.”  For real, we’re doing the show on the moon (Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th St.).

Until next time, Illyrians!

Another Assistant Director

October 6, 2008

So you’ve met Chris, one of the Assistant Directors.  Now it’s time to meet the other.  I’m Assistant Director Mary Beth, super cool chick who sits in the back of rehearsals and writes blogs, among other things.  As Chris said before you will be meeting many of the creative staff for our (in rehearsal) production of Illyria.  Today you meet me.  As time goes on some actors, designers, and various management type folks will be posting here in response to random questions asked by me (and others).  When I say random I truly mean random: some are show-related, some have absolutely nothing to do with the show.  It’s more fun this way.

Enough about that.  I know you are sitting on pins and needles about what happened during today’s rehearsal.  Well, today was our very first “stumble-through,” and while this is self-titled by the production team it ended up merely being a run-through with a few bumps here and there.  It definitely exceeded any other first run-through of a show that I have worked on.  The actors are really starting to love their characters, and in turn the audience (meaning some of the other Prospect staff and me) loves them as well.  Where we are in the rehearsal process may be my favorite part: the actors have been given enough of a framework to really start playing within it and the stuff that they are doing is just brilliant.  If what happened today is any indication of what the final product is going to look like then those who come see the show are in for an amazing night of theater (and I’m not just saying that because I’m working at the company, I actually genuinely mean it).  For all intents and purposes the process is in full swing and is looking amazing.

If you haven’t bought your ticket yet, hurry and do it now, because we are indeed selling out.  I should sign off now, but check back in the very near future for some interesting outlooks on the show, theater, and life in general.  You won’t be disappointed.

Welcome to Illyria!

October 4, 2008

Greetings! Salutations! Bonjour! Hola! Wassaaaaaaaap!

Welcome to Prospect Theater Company’s brand new blog! You’ll be meeting lots of folks here, all of whom have a tremendous amount of interesting information to convey to YOU! Yes, YOU! CAPITALIZED!

I’m Chris, one of the Assistant Directors on our current production of Illyria, a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s beloved Twelfth Night. Periodically I’ll be blogging live from the rehearsal process to give you, the audience member (wink-come see the show-wink), the skinny on our doings.

The Rehearsal Process is not one that many get to be privy to, and it really is a shame. There’s so much that happens within a production in the months (and sometimes even years!) before the curtain finally goes up. Writing, revising, grant writing, funding, hiring a production team (directors, designers, stage managers, production managers, casting directors), finding a performance space, finding a rehearsal space, casting (auditions, scheduling, contracts), etc. Of course all of that is already done by now, but here we are anyway! We’ve been rehearsing for roughly 3 weeks now and things are going great.

Today we worked on staging Toby, Maria, and Andrew into “The Letter,” a scene in which Malvolio convinces himself that a cryptic love letter is in fact addressed to him. Very funny stuff. Any time tricksters and self-righteous servants mix, there’s bound to be entertainment.

Later on, we polished some choreography for the crowd favorite “Cakes and Ale.” I’m sure there will be plenty of merry-making to this number in bars all across Manhattan during the weeks following opening night. That’s October 23rd at the Hudson Guild Theater. In case you were wondering.

Just now, we finished rehearsing the song “Save One.” It’s really beautiful but I don’t want to spoil the story by giving a synopsis, so I’ll let you listen to it when you come to see our show. You should also bring a friend. I’m just saying.

All in all, we’ve had some great times thus far, and are sure to have more in the future! Come back soon for more rehearsal updates from more interesting people with interesting things to tell you! But mostly:

Come See Prospect Theater Company’s new production of Illyria, beginning October 23rd at the Hudson Guild Theatre (441 West 26th St.)!