Inside their approach to Shakespeare’s fairies
As she was preparing to direct her production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is currently inaugurating the new Brooklyn home of Theatre for a New Audience, Julie Taymor had to decide what to make of the magic.
“I felt if I was going to do this play, there were two nuts that had to be cracked,” she says. “One was, ‘How do you approach the fairies?’ and the other was, really, ‘Who is Puck?’”
Her answers give the production its wild energy. Naturally, the show still features the human characters—including four Athenians who flee to the forest on various romantic pursuits and a group of “rude mechanicals” who are rehearsing a play they’ll present to the court—but there’s no question that fairies control the stage. As Oberon and Titania, the fairy king and queen, try to get the upper hand on each other, and as Puck, Oberon’s jester, darts around making havoc, we’re constantly confronted by magic. Actors descend from the ceiling, giant pieces of fabric suggest everything from trees to the sky, and the light turns inky blue, as though sleep itself were taking over the room.
And with the exception of Puck, Oberon, and Titania, all the fairies are played by children. For Taymor, these young people are a key to her production. “When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the fairy world, I told Jeffrey [Horowitz, TFANA's artistic director] that I’d come to the idea of having a hundred children,” she says. “And he laughed. Obviously we couldn’t even fit a hundred children on that stage. But I think what he understood was this notion of utter anarchy that you create with children—the buzzing, fecund nature world.”
That energy creates tension that resonates with Shakespeare’s plot: Just as we try to control the wildness of children, society tries to control the play’s lovers by telling them whom to marry. When they escape to the forest—the realm of the fairies —they are free to act on impulse, the way children do.
Which leads to Taymor’s second question: If Oberon (David Harewood) and Titania (Tina Benko) are essentially the parents in the forest, then who is Puck? [Read more →]
December 5, 2013 No Comments
Lincoln Center’s revival enhances the power of evil
In Lincoln Center Theater’s current Broadway revival of Macbeth, there’s no doubt that terrible magic is afoot. In scene after scene, the witches stand in for minor characters, observing and just maybe controlling Macbeth’s murderous ascent to power and eventual descent into ruin. And even though no one on stage notices that a witch has, say, replaced a soldier on the battlefield, we’re always aware of the interloping.
“It’s their world that this play happens in,” says actress Francesca Faridany. “It’s not in Macbeth’s world. It’s their world, and he tips over to it in the very beginning. And I think that changes everything. It makes it a dark, freaky, paranoid place to be.”
It matters, too, that Faridany is even in the cast. The three famous witches, who give Macbeth riddling oracles about his destiny to become king of Scotland, are all played by men: Malcolm Gets, John Glover, and Byron Jennings. Faridany plays the goddess Hecate, the queen of the witches and a devotee of chaos.
Typically, Hecate is cut from contemporary productions. By keeping her in, director Jack O’Brien lets us hear the fascinating speech where she chides the witches for talking to Macbeth without her, then correctly predicts that his foolish belief in his own immortality will lead to his doom. Since it’s the witches themselves who subtly convince Macbeth he can’t be killed, Hecate’s declaration is even more vicious.
But that’s not to say that she and her minions force Macbeth (Ethan Hawke) and Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) to murder King Duncan or rule like tyrants. Arguably, a righteous soul will never give in to temptation. “I almost think it’s an animal thing of smelling out somebody who’s just susceptible enough to want to follow through on his impulses,” says Faridany. “Along the way, there are various decisions we can make about what we’re doing—about, ‘Did I make this happen?’” [Read more →]
November 19, 2013 No Comments
From time to time, TDF Stages will highlight exciting Off and Off-Off Broadway theatre companies with exclusive “getting to know you” videos. Today, we’re featuring The Pearl Theatre Company, where a resident company of actors mines the riches in classic plays.
Currently, however, the Pearl is stepping away from the classics to present the world premiere of Terrence McNally’s And Away We Go, which is now in previews.
In this video, you’ll meet the actors Rachel Botchan, Dominic Cuskern, Sean McNall, and Carol Schultz, as well as interim artistic director Kate Farrington.
This video was directed by Mark Blankenship, TDF’s online content editor, and shot and edited by Nicholas Guldner.
November 15, 2013 No Comments
Inside 35 seasons of TDF’s accessibility programs
“It’s one thing to say, ‘You have a right to go to the theatre.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘The theatre belongs to you.’” So says Victoria Bailey, Theatre Development Fund’s Executive Director, as she discusses TDF Accessibility Programs (TAP).
That sentiment defines the department, which is now in its 35th season. TAP’s most obvious goal, of course, is making sure that people with disabilities and special needs are able to attend the theatre, but underneath the practical work of getting tickets into people’s hands, there’s an urgent desire to advocate for those whom society can overlook.
“In all these years, we’ve always remained advocates, and we will continue to be advocates” says Lisa Carling, TAP’s director. “We will continue to say, ‘What can we do? How can we work together to help you have a meaningful experience at the theatre?’”
Of course, a casual observer might wonder if TAP needs to exist in 2013. After all, theatres are often legally required to offer options like listening devices or wheelchair-accessible seating. Following the letter of the law, however, is not always the same as making the theatre an inviting place for someone with a disability. As Bailey says, “”The law says that when someone asks, you have to provide accommodations. But we want to make sure people ask. We want to develop their desire to go.”
To that end, TAP’s programming is designed to create a rich artistic experience, not simply put tickets in someone’s hands. And since the department was founded, this work has grown enormously. “In 1980 we had a mailing list of 400 people,” Carling notes. “We’ve grown to a mailing list of over 12,000 people, and we have eight programs within the department.”
Those programs provide distinct experiences for the populations they serve. On the most basic level, TAP members have access to discounted, accessible seating, and since membership is free to anyone with a disability, the underlying suggestion is that everyone with special needs should feel empowered to see a show. [Read more →]
November 7, 2013 7 Comments
A cultural district finds new life
Welcome to Borough Play, our exclusive series on theatre in Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond.
It’s like a curtain being lifted. In the last few weeks, several major cultural institutions in downtown Brooklyn have opened new facilities that replace stone and concrete with enormous glass walls. Suddenly, we see art and artists everywhere.
And the walls are a reflection of everything else that’s happening in the area: As it expands its role as an artistic hub in New York, the downtown Brooklyn cultural district is ready to be seen in a new way.
Granted, it was hardly a wasteland before. BAM is a major presence in the area around Fulton and Lafayette, for instance, and organizations like Mark Morris Dance Group, Urban Glass (a center for glass-based art) and BRIC (a home for live performance, art installations, and community-created television) have been nearby for years. However, many of their buildings were imposing piles of cinder blocks, and their entrances were tucked away on side streets. Unless you were looking for them, you might never have known there were cultural institutions on every corner.
Now, however, when you turn down Fulton, you see directly from the street into BRIC’s main gallery. You might spot an electronic art installation or a slam poetry event, or you might get enticed by the massive mural behind the counter of the coffee shop.
Meanwhile, a few feet down the block, you’ll see the work on display at Urban Glass, and just like at BRIC, you’ll be free to go inside, roam around, and study the art that beckons through the windows.
And if you turn around, you’ll spot the newly built Polonksy Shakespeare Center, the permanent home of Theatre for a New Audience. Sitting in the nearby park, you can gaze into the theatre’s lobby, where fascinating images of Shakespeare suggest a fresh take on the Bard. (Currently, TFANA is inaugurating its new space with Julie Taymor’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
Leslie G. Schultz, BRIC’s president, has already experienced the district’s new energy. “People can walk into our place and say, ‘Oh, I get this. This is a welcoming arts and media organization,’” she says. “One night, we were about to close our gallery, and we realized that a show over at BAM was about to let out, so we stayed open an extra 45 minutes. We had an extra 75 people come to the show at our gallery space. A few nights later, I went to see a preview of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I was able to pop over after to an evening of jazz that was happening here.” [Read more →]
November 5, 2013 1 Comment