Friday, September 30, 2005

Afraid of Missing an Entrance (or Entering too soon)

posted by Sara Hennessy at 2:40 PM

As one of the six founders of Furious Theatre Company, I’ve been involved in every production in some way. When not onstage, I’ve been found directing, costume designing, props designing, managing the house and working to develop audiences. Each one of the ensemble members works like this on each show. It never gets boring and we’re all there to support each other and fill in the gaps.

For The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I & II, I’m putting in much less time at the theatre. My official role is behind-the-scenes as the dialect coach. My unofficial role in this production is to try and hold off having a baby until the play opens. I’m 9 months pregnant today.

My pregnancy can almost be calendared alongside the theatre production schedule. I became pregnant just after opening our production of The Shape of Things in late January. I was acting in this show and not affected by the pregnancy at all yet, but I was scheduled to play my largest role to date in The God Botherers in the spring. As rehearsals began, so did my morning sickness. It was one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life, working onstage until midnight each night through the nausea and exhaustion. Everyone was incredibly supportive, especially fellow ensemble-member and costume designer, Melissa Teoh, who had to put me in loose, grow-able clothing and took it like a champ when I had to introduce my own elastic-waisted maternity pants by the end of the run. Also, fellow-actor Robert Pescovitz had to pick me up and carry me in a scene each night. As I gained weight, I joked that it was like working out on incremental weights and that I was just giving him a good workout. By the time the play closed, we could barely hide the pregnancy and it was time for me to leave the stage. Luckily I was not scheduled to act again that season.

Since then, my duties have been strictly backstage. I designed props for Tearing the Loom and have been working as a producer, developing audiences and coaching dialects for this show. More to come on those subjects in a later blog. Luckily, I can do most of this kind of work from home, because I’ve been put on partial bed-rest by my doctor.

A few weeks ago, and I’ll admit I was working too hard, I needed to go to the doctor suddenly because I was having trouble walking. She put me on the fetal monitor and then asked how long I’d been having contractions. I quickly informed her that I wasn’t there because of contractions, but because I couldn’t easily walk. She told me that I was having contractions at about 7-10 minutes apart and sent me to the hospital to stop them, because at 33 weeks, this was too early. The Labor & Delivery Nurses were able to stop the contractions and I am on partial bed-rest until my pregnancy reaches full term. I’ve been doing quite well ever since. I’m still having contractions, often regularly, but they seem to be settled by resting and hydrating. Most importantly, they are not progressing into full labor. I’m not officially due until the end of October, a full 2 weeks after the play opens, but the doctor does not think I’ll make it to my due date.

This is where my husband comes in. Fellow co-founder, blog-writer and Director of Fair Maid, Dámaso Rodriguez is in the middle of crunch-time at the theatre. He doesn’t get home until after 1am/2am, but leaves by 8am each morning. He’s working diligently with the technical team to figure out all of the lights, sound, projections and scene shifts. It’s a key time in rehearsals with the actors as well, with less than a week before the show is up in front of an audience. There are so many details to be worked out, so much to do. Neither he, nor the show can handle the split focus of our 1st child’s birth right now.

I’m not unrealistic, I know that babies come on their own time. And my family will always come 1st, followed by the theatre. But it’s my family at the theatre I’m thinking of, and if this baby can work on making his or her entrance on time, as scheduled, it will make for a better show!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Fair Maid's fair maid blog

posted by Vonessa at 3:03 PM

I think the title of this show is misleading. And I’m curious as to what Thomas Heywood meant by it. Was it a draw for audiences in 1600 to know that there would be an attractive (or blond depending on your definition) woman leading the play? Wasn’t it a man playing a woman-who ultimately in the course of events plays a man—so a male actor playing an attractive woman pretending to be a man? Nonetheless it is 2005 and I am a woman, playing the Fair Maid of the West, who sometimes pretends to be a man, in a show that should be titled The Brave English or some other brilliant manifestation since it really is about Spencer, Goodlack, Roughman, Clem and about 10 other characters and not just the Fair Maid.

I am all for equality of women when it suits me. Like when it involves something fun (and not when it involves what I deem ‘male activities’ like taking the trash out). So when I found out that the Fair Maid gets to sword fight, I was beside myself with excitement. The first day of training they actually handed us real swords. I remember thinking, “I know we’re adults and all but can this be safe?” Days later with the fighting geniuses at SWORDPLAY, Tim Weske starts choreographing the 10 fights (or is it 11, I lose count). I distinctly remember him picking up this thick rope and doing a series of tricky fight moves with it. I am awed and look at Eric (who plays Roughman) to see if he is intimidated by having to do what Tim just showed us. Then Tim says, “Did you get all that, Vonessa?”

Sword fighting, by the way, began in July, long before actual rehearsal started. Now it is September and the rope is my favorite prop. If we can pull this off…and I do mean ‘WE’. Fights are just as much about the person receiving the blow or pretending to receive the blow, as the blow giver. Please note the excellent deaths and “ouch, that hurts” by the ensemble. Worth the price of admission.

At the same time we were sword fighting, we were battling with words. I have always been a big fan of the Queen’s English. Raised on Jane Austen and James Ivory I have been (pronounced ‘bean’ if you please) fascinated with the seemingly intellectualized nature of their discourse. And then thanks to my fine college education have studied Shakespeare (otherwise known as the 17th Earl of Oxford—-to honor Mr. Manke). But I have never lived and breathed 17th century iambic pentameter until now. In July the great Art Manke dazzled us all with textual analysis classes. Ignore the commas. A semi-colon is just a little breathe. You CANnot reversely stress in the fifth foot of the meter. And a word does not necessarily mean the same thing today as it did four hundred years ago. And above all, breathe. And breathe correctly.

Then rehearsal begins. All we have learned layered with more and more. Dialect notes, character notes, verse notes, blocking notes, fighting notes. My script was nice and neat, now it looks like a different language is written all over it. Thankfully Dámaso (the director) and most of the cast have worked together so many times before that the one thing that is second nature is our communication with each other.

I have been at every moment stimulated and inspired. For all its Princess Bride like fantasy I am enamored with the basic belief of the play. Anything and everything is to be done for someone you love.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On The Cutting Edge

posted by brad at 10:48 AM

“We need swords. A lot of them.”
That was a statement made during one of our very first production meetings for The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I & II. How true that statement has turned out to be. We cast 13 actors in the show to play 30 different characters, most of which wield a blade at some point in the story. As Production Manager for this show I claimed the task of finding the swords we needed to make this production sing with the sound of steel against steel.
The first question: To buy or rent? In general, the company would rather buy materials rather than rent, whenever possible. It gives you much more control in terms of making changes or adjustments to the props/costumes/set materials you select and many times (with the help of a little storage space) you’ll find another use down the road for pieces that you purchase now. So, when will we be using the custom-built, pirate-like cutlass swords that we bought for this show? Probably never. We’ll most likely sell them after the show, so let us know if you want one. Maybe we’ll have a silent auction in the lobby. We’ll keep you posted.
The next question: Where to buy? We checked a lot of sites online and had a few recommendations given to us, but we weren’t really finding what we wanted. We also liked the idea of being able to see the swords and hold them before we purchased and buying online doesn’t allow for that. We knew we wanted all the swords in a cutlass style, heavy on the pirate look. We also knew needed several swords to have the same look. A few would be designed with unique qualities for the heroes of the play, but we wanted all the swords to have a look and feel of coming straight out of Blackbeard’s scabbard. Jack Sparrow was a close second. Turns out, that’s exactly what we got.
Brian Danner, one of our fight choreographers suggested we check out a place in Burbank called Sword and Stone. The owner and master blacksmith is Tony Swatton. Unbeknownst to us, he is “the guy” all Hollywood productions call for medieval weaponry, swords of all shapes and sizes and any type of body armor you need.
When we walked into the small storefront on Victory Blvd in Burbank we’re told Tony is with a customer. Brian and I strolled through the shop to a glass case at the far end where there are 10 or so various swords laid out for us to look at. They were gorgeous. My first thought was – expensive. Upon further inspection, my second thought was – really expensive. We had a pretty tight budget for the swords and I started feeling unsure about how far I could stretch it to make this happen. When Tony came in we talked over the different types of swords, the styles he could re-create and adjustments he could make for each character. After chososing all of the swords that we wanted he told us a couple we had chosen were replicas of the swords used in Pirates of the Caribbean. Tony created all of the swords for that movie and is currently working on all the swords for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 – Dead Man’s Chest. He gave us an insightful tour of his metalshop and offered a few demonstrations of how he would be creating/adjusting all of our swords. The more he talked it became apparent that the guy really loves what he does – and from seeing his work there is no denying, he’s really good at it. We reached an agreement on cost for all of the swords we wanted, we shook hands and Tony went to work.
A week later, I walked into fight rehearsal (every Thursday night for the past 10 weeks) with shiny new swords for everyone. All of the heroes swords were designed and chosen specifically for their character and all of the “soldier/sailor/ruffian” swords (you’ll see these characters in the play) all have something unique about them even though they look very similar. It was like Christmas morning. Everyone sitting around looking at them with wide eyes waiting for the “ok” to pull them out of their scabbards and try them out. After a few comments on the proper care and handling of the new swords, we put away the old swords (kindly provided by the guys on the fight team) and laid out the new swords for the cast to pick out. As everyone picked up their swords and slashed at the air with a new confidence, I pulled out a pen and made a bold slash of my own, right through the middle of my task list and the words “get swords, a lot of them.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Language

posted by Eric Pargac at 11:44 PM

Alright, so we are doing a little classical theatre at Furious. Fair Maid is a 17th Century text, and it is in blank verse - neither of which I have any experience with. Although I’ve done my share of work with modern plays, outside of reading the title role in a high school English class oral reading of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I had not done any classical theatre. OK, maybe I was a little intimidated, who knows? But I have to say, I have more than embraced the work, I actually ENJOY it.

Before we even had our first read through for Fair Maid, the cast began text analysis workshops with Art Manke, a frequent director at the Pasadena Playhouse and one of the co-founders of A Noise Within, widely recognized as the preeminent classical theater company in Southern California. For this class we used Shakespeare’s text for purposes of analysis. Although Thomas Heywood is no Shakespeare, he uses the same general rules in the blank verse iambic pentameter of Fair Maid. This proved to be a truly amazing class, and vital to my ability to communicate the language.

We started with Hamlet’s speech to the players. First, Art had us look up EVERY word in the speech in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). If you’ve never used the OED before, it’s quite amazing. It lists every word in the English language and all its definitions throughout history. If the word appears in Shakespeare, it is often cited as to the exact meaning in that particular Shakespeare play. Just this step expanded my understanding of the text immensely.

Next we went through and underlined all the operatives (the nouns, verbs and adjectives that make up the meat of the sentence). Art explained that as you read and perform Shakespeare these are the words that you want to stress. Just hearing and reading the text only stressing these words again lead to a greater clarity of meaning.

But we were only two layers deep into this Shakespeare onion, it was time to really start pealing away the layers. We were off to tackle the beast known as METER.

a. The measured arrangement of words in poetry, as by accentual rhythm, syllabic quantity, or the number of syllables in a line.
b. A particular arrangement of words in poetry, such as iambic pentameter, determined by the kind and number of metrical units in a line.
c. The rhythmic pattern of a stanza, determined by the kind and number of lines.

This was no small task since, as Art explained, this was where the true emotional meaning of the text could be found. The verse of Shakespeare is typically in iambic pentameter, meaning the syllables are stressed in a rhythm were the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed (iambic). Then within each line are five feet, or sets of these syllabic pairs (pentameter).

Now for the key to unlock the verse…

Emotion within the iambic pentameter is represented by irregularities in the verse. So, whenever a line is not it typical iambic pentameter there is some sort of emotional reaction going on in the speaker. The more irregularities, the more emotional the speaker is whether it be love, fear, anger or just plain confusion. They key is to find these irregularities and use them.

If you put all this work together and go back to the punctuation of the original folio versions to define the phrasing, it is like getting Shakespeare’s original directing notes. Pretty amazing stuff. But reading this on a page probably does it no justice. If you ever get a chance, take a text analysis class with Art Manke. It will be the best theatre class you’ll ever take. I know it was for me. Thanks, Art. You convinced me that Shakespeare really is a genius. This class truly prepared me to tackle the Fair Maid of the West.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Setting the Stage for The Fair Maid

posted by melissa at 2:59 AM

Fair Maid marks my seventh set design at Furious and my first set partly designed from abroad. Almost three months ago today I moved home to Kuala Lumpur after having made Los Angeles my home for the past eight years. The first four years were spent on acquiring my theatre degree and the next four putting it into good use. For those of you who are foreigners living and working abroad, you will understand that it can be a challenge at times. Little do you know that being a foreigner working in the theatrical world can be twice as challenging. After having a full time job in theatre operations for three years and designing on the side, it became apparent that I really wanted to get back into the artistic side of things. However, the process of trying to get approval to work freelance in the entertainment industry seems almost unfeasible for one who is not a resident here. There are some complex issues in regards to obtaining the appropriate visas, etc... that proved to be quite overwhelming. Hence, the move home became a necessary step to take.

Designing Fair Maid from 14,000 miles away proved to be a challenge the first couple of weeks. Production meetings via conference calls and scanned sketches going back and forth e-mails were a first for us. The production team had met early this summer to talk about concepts and ideas. Cinematic, realistic, classic were some of the key elements to be integrated into our designs. The first couple of weeks were spent watching pirate movies, researching pirate history and sketching bits and pieces of the set. The Black Pirate, a silent movie, the making of the Pirates of the Caribbean and the indispensable Angus Konstam books played an essential part in stimulating my thoughts on the set.

My first challenge was to figure out the stage setting. Fair Maid consists of ten or more locations and the idea is to unfold the creation of some of these locations in front of the audience in the least amount of time. We wanted the stage to bear some resemblance to a ship and an old movie theatre. Another important component is the projection screen. This is our first production in which multimedia plays a major role in both set and lighting designs. It will be the combined efforts of Christie, our lighting designer, Dámaso and I to put this design together with Nick as our projection consultant. Stage space is limited and with all the complicated swordfights, the set has got to be minimal. In conclusion, the creation of an illusion of a ship and theatre together with the other various locales became the focal point of the design.

I decided to frame the set to look like the tail end of a vessel, with two sets of decks on both sides, and a frame that doubles as the back of a ship and a header for the projection screen. Fake door panels, complete with three dimensional detailing, railings, ladders, etc…will be added to enhance the authenticity of the set. The stage has been extended in a form of a thrust to create a deeper, lengthier space and has been planked with some two hundred precisely cut strips of oak wood.

Construction began before my return to Los Angeles three weeks ago whereby a major part of the stage floor was completed. This production is very time and labor intensive in comparison to most others we’ve done in the past. Though the design appears simple, each section requires precise construction. A lot of set pieces are to be custom made for our space, there are refurbishing of props and set pieces to do, and most importantly the arduous task of figuring out the mechanics of rigging certain functional pieces that Shawn and Brad have taken on. The big push for all technical aspects including the completion of the set began on Friday evening. With the help of Jethro and Brian and the rest of the ensemble, the set is about seventy percent complete to date. There is still much to do, and tech rehearsals, a.k.a. the time when all the magic happens, begins tonight.

I had asked Eric for ideas on what to include in this blog and he replied with a few suggestions including one that read “where you hope to be in the next week or two”. The answer – sitting in the back of the theatre with my favourite Jamba Juice smoothie in hand, watching the audience having a good time at the show. Regardless of how much we still have left to do, it is always comforting to know that we have a group of highly motivated, dedicated and talented peers who constantly strive to encourage and push each other to exceed our limits. It is a fundamental ingredient of an ensemble and in the process of creating a professional production.

I am very much looking forward to the rest of the week in which all the details will slowly be added onstage to create the desirable aesthetics we want in the space. At this point, my inspiration and motivation stems from watching other aspects of the production come together. Watching the actors at rehearsals, listening to bits of the music and Doug’s sound effects, looking at Rachel’s costume sketches and watching the trailer for the video blog put together by the Pargac brothers really generate a sense of excitement and anticipation to see this production take off. I hope that the audience will truly enjoy being a part of our Fair Maid journey!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Fair Maid of the West Parts I & II

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 8:20 AM

I was asked to write this first blog entry for our production of The Fair Maid of the West Parts I & II ("Fair Maid") well over 6 weeks ago by marketing director (and fellow co-founder), Eric Pargac. Finally, 3 weeks before our first performance I'm getting to it. Here we go.

Fair Maid is Furious Theatre's 10th production, and arguably our most complicated. It's certainly the most challenging project I've worked on as a director, and my first as a co-adaptor. James C. Leary (a member of our ensemble) and I began the process of turning the two original Fair Maid plays by Elizabethan playwright Thomas Heywood into one single play while retaining the "Parts I & II" in the title to reflect the old Hollywood film serials which inspire the production's design as well as the adaptation. I must acknowledge that we can't take credit for the idea of combining these two plays. Trevor Nunn at the Royal Shakespeare Company did it first in the 80s, and there was a successful 90s production as well. Still, the show has been performed few times in the last 400 years and our adaptation is (we hope) very different from its predecessors. Aside from the challenges of creating the adaptation, the production features a cast of 13, five distinct dialects, over 40 costumes, and numerous set locations including pirate ships, English taverns, and a mysterious pirate island of our own invention. There are fog effects, light projections, an original score and 11 complex swordfights featuring up to 11 armed actors trained by a team of six choreographers. We had these swords built specifically for this production and designed for each character. All this, plus the thing is written largely in iambic pentameter. The cast has undergone training together in textual analysis, voice, speech, dialect, and swordplay.

It's a huge production for a small theatre with limited resources. It's been extremely rewarding to work with this phenomenal cast and production team, many of whom I've worked with for years. Hopefully, audiences will come and have as much fun seeing it as we've had over the past few months putting it all together.