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Your passport to life behind the curtain!

The 400 Year-Old Tour

Joseph Marcell as King Lear

Joseph Marcell as King Lear

Shakespeare’s Globe uses Elizabethan customs to stage King Lear

New York City is having a King Lear moment. The production of Shakespeare’s tragedy that runs through October 12 at NYU’s Skirball Center is one of several iterations to play the city this year, following stagings at Shakespeare in the Park, Theatre for a New Audience, and BAM.

For a certain type of Shakespeare fan, however, this latest version may be just the thing. It’s a touring production from Shakespeare’s Globe, and everything about it, from the casting to the design, is meant to replicate the spirit of small troupes that toured in the Bard’s time. “Actors toured out of the Globe 400 years ago, and they didn’t only tour the UK; they also toured all over northern Europe,” says Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s Artistic Director. “Shakespeare didn’t consider his theatre to be a purely English theatre. He considered it to be a collection of plays that would travel and be happy to travel.”

This production will continue to tour the U.S. through December. “We are performing it in the fashion of how we think it would have been performed by a touring company, with a lot of doubling, with very simple storytelling techniques, and with direct communication between the stage and the audience,” Dromgoole says. “I think the concentration on storytelling takes away a lot of the confusion about the cosmological meaning of the play, which can all be forgotten about because it’s simply about what makes the story clean and clear.”

There are only eight actors in the cast, led by Joseph Marcell (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) in the title role. Set and costume designer Jonathan Fensom used illustrations from the period to create his production concept, an Elizabethan-style booth stage. Based on Fensom’s insistence that all materials be authentic or feel authentic, the framework used for the stage is wood, held together by metal brackets and bolts, with a curtain on a rope in the front.

The idea was originally implemented for a touring production of Hamlet. “We discovered we’d created a kind of multi-use classical touring stage that you could do any play on. And so it became interesting for the director of Lear [Bill Buckhurst] to work on the existing stage and he was able to create all sorts of new ideas,” Fensom says. For example, the curtain was used in Hamlet to create a reveal. In this production, it is also used to create a visual element for the storm. “When the audience can see the storm being created, it takes on a journey of imagination,” Fensom says. [Read more →]

October 1, 2014   No Comments

This Is How It Looks Inside His Head

Alex Sharp as Christopher

Alex Sharp as Christopher

Behind the lyrical design of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

There could, of course, be a very literal production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As our teenage hero, Christopher Boone, investigates the death of a neighbor’s dog, he could certainly inhabit a realistic world. As clues lead him on an improbable adventure from suburban England to the busy streets of London, we could see the walls and floor of his actual apartment, hear the sounds of nature as he wanders his neighborhood, and see the lights of a train station in the intimidating city.

But if the design were naturalistic, then we might not understand our hero. Though the word “autism” is never used in Simon Stephens’ script, which is adapted from Mark Haddon’s popular 2003 novel of the same name, Christopher is clearly on the spectrum. His relationship to everything—sound, light, physical touch, emotions—is highly sensitive, but at the same time, he’s a genius with numbers who loves the precision of train schedules and the vastness of outer space. For him, the world is a constant negotiation between chaos and control, where every stimulus can trigger panic or excitement.

It’s a reality like no one else’s. That’s why the National Theatre’s production of the play, which is now on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore, has been designed to show us how it feels. As lighting designer Paule Constable says, “We’re trying to get the audience to imagine what it would be like to be Christopher, to empathize in a way where it’s more experiential than just watching him. We want the audience not to look at him, but to share with him.”

Therefore, the walls of the set look like giant sheets of graph paper, where Christopher can draw maps and where images can be projected as he thinks of them. “He loves technology and computers and space, so we tried to include those in the design,” Constable adds. “There are pixels—dots of light all over the set that light up at various points. We’re trying to create the matrix of what Christopher’s head is like.” [Read more →]

September 30, 2014   No Comments

Three Different Films in One Big Dance

Big Dance Theater's "Alan Smithee..."

Big Dance Theater’s “Alan Smithee…”

For its latest wild opus, Big Dance Theater goes to the movies

It sounds like the line-up for an especially eclectic film festival: Terms of Endearment, Dr. Zhivago, and the 1961 French thriller Le Cercle Rouge. Instead, those movies are the basis of Alan Smithee Directed This Play: Triple Feature,, the latest adventure in the unexpected from Big Dance Theater.

Playing through October 4 at BAM, Alan Smithee is intriguingly difficult to categorize, and that’s long been a hallmark of BDT’s work. Founders Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar have specialized in shows that draw on literary—and more recently, cinematic—sources, incorporating an often wild mix of elements to generate works that gleam with their own inner logic and often chaotic beauty. (New Yorkers might know Parson’s work as the choreographer of the Public Theater’s Here Lies Love, while Lazar, a busy actor who performs in Alan Smithee, is currently in rehearsals for the upcoming Theater for a New Audience production of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine.)

To that end, traditional narrative, or even specific characters, are not the focus of Alan Smithee, which was initially conceived as a theatrical triptych incorporating the film scripts. But once she, Lazar, and the performers began to work, Parson says, elements of the films “just started speaking to each other. I would say it was more an exercise in collage. This piece has taken a really long time to make. It’s sprawling.”

“Alan Smithee” is the pseudonym used by directors who are unhappy with the final outcome of a film. As Parson notes, though, she and Lazar consider a degree of creative chaos a necessity. (They’re co-directors here, and Parson is also choreographer.) For them “the title is like a wry joke,” she says. “The work starts to get out of control creatively, in a good sense. In terms of what we’re doing, we want it to do that—to have its own life. We want it to be something that we never ever imagined when we started.” [Read more →]

September 29, 2014   No Comments

An Actor Channels His Inner Journalist to Play a Marine

Jonny Orsini in Almost Home

Jonny Orsini in Almost Home

Jonny Orsini’s passionate preparation for his latest role

“I wanted to become a journalist before I became an actor,” says Jonny Orsini. “I think I approach roles the way a journalist approaches stories.”

That means he does a serious amount of research for every part he plays. Take his work in Almost Home, a new drama by Walter Anderson that’s now at Theatre Row in a production from The Directors Company. Orsini plays Johnny Barnett, a Marine going back to the Bronx after serving in Vietnam. The character not only confronts his own guilt at being called a hero, but also grapples with the expectations of his family and mentors, some of whom have shady ulterior motives.

For Orsini, who’s too young to remember what Vietnam veterans faced when they came back to America, books and films have been essential to his preparation. Even more importantly, he’s had long conversations with Anderson, who fought in Vietnam himself. “Walter didn’t necessarily experience everything in the play, but a lot of it draws from his life,” the actor says. “So to have him in the room was incredible. And he had the best suggestions about what to read and what to watch.”

The research, though, is only part of Orsini’s journalistic impulse. “I was always interested in learning about people and things that weren’t necessarily widely known and then bringing the story to light,” he says. “If you’ve gone through something and you feel alone, then seeing it in a respectfully told story can make you feel less isolated. Anything I can do to make people feel less alone is very much what I want to do with my life.” [Read more →]

September 26, 2014   No Comments

The Secret to Surviving a Terrible Family

Eric Lange in The Country House

Eric Lange in The Country House

Eric Lange adds texture to Broadway’s The Country House

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

The ghost of Konstantin, the tortured young playwright whose diva mother withholds her love in Chekhov’s The Seagull, seems to haunt Donald Margulies’ The Country House, now on Broadway from Manhattan Theatre Club.

In the new play, the broken artist shuffling through the living room is Elliot Cooper, a failed American actor-playwright whose unrealized career is partly due to the selfishness of his famous actress mother, Anna. There’s also a hint of the disappointed Uncle Vanya in Elliot, a depressed alcoholic who might’ve been something if only he’d been bolstered by his extended showbiz clan.

Given all this, you might assume rehearsals for The Country House were guided by lengthy discussions about Russians, but according to Eric Lange, who makes his Broadway debut as Elliot, there were none.

“It was mentioned early on, in our first meeting, that the play is inspired by characters in Chekhov and there are themes inherent throughout,” he says. “It was a jumping off point for Donald. [Director] Dan Sullivan said, ‘I want you to throw all that away. This is not a Chekhov play. Let’s just make this about a family.’ We never gave Chekhov any real attention.”

Lange—known for recurring roles on TV series like Lost, The Bridge, and Weeds—resisted the urge to re-read The Seagull or Uncle Vanya. He also sought to avoid “the trap of the role”—overplaying Elliot’s “pity-me” quality.

“Elliot is someone who is deeply wounded, from childhood on,” the actor says. “So to get through life, you adopt these shields, these protective devices. His mind, his sense of humor, his caustic wit.” [Read more →]

September 25, 2014   No Comments