Poor Shadows of Elysium is nominated for Company of the Year, and our first production, Richard II, is nominated for several awards. Please take the time to vote for us. Thank you for your wonderful support throughout our first year!
Artistic Director, Kevin Gates, and Production Manager, Bridget Farias, attended the 2013 Blackfriars Conference. It was glorious. We cannot wait to share some of the great things we learned with our fellow artists, as well as trying out some of the staging techniques with our next production, Gallathea.
Poor Shadows announces AUDITIONS FOR Gallathea:
After a very successful inaugural production of RICHARD II, Poor Shadows of Elysium is happy to announce that they are soon to hold auditions for their next production, Gallathea by John Lyly. Gallathea will be directed by Kevin Gates and runs January 3rd-19th at the Trinity Street Players studio theatre.
Auditions will be held on November 4th (Monday) and November 5th (Tuesday) from 6-9pm at the Dougherty Arts Center. Please email email@example.com to set up an audition. Come prepared to perform an early modern monologue (no longer than two minutes) of your choice.
There are so many amazing roles in this show, and MANY FOR WOMEN! Here is a summary from Wikipedia (Kevin will be posting more specific information about our production soon). You’ll see several familiar plot devices here that were later used by Shakespeare.
“A small village somewhere in Lincolnshire is forced by Neptune to sacrifice their most beautiful virgin to him every five years, or he will drown them all. The chosen virgin must be tied to a certain tree to await her fate at the hands of the Agar, a terrible monster. The fathers of the two most beautiful virgins of the village, Gallathea and Phillida, decide to disguise their daughters as boys until after the sacrifice. Both girls are then sent off into the woods. Meanwhile, in an almost completely unrelated subplot, three brothers, Rafe, Robin, and Dick, set off to seek their fortune. At the same time, the god Cupid is wandering through the forest when he happens upon a nymph of Diana. After a rebuff of his amorous advances, he resolves to trick all of the nymphs into falling in love, despite their vows of chastity. Predictably, all three of the nymphs who appear fall in love with either Gallathea or Phillida, whom Diana has forced to assist in her hunt. The rest of the plot revolves around the relationship between Gallathea and Phillida, who, each believing the other to be a boy, fall in love with each other. Cupid’s punishment, substitute sacrifices of inferior virgins, brotherly reunions, divine reconciliations, a surprise ending, and the triumph of true love ensue.”
Thanks to everyone who helped make Richard II a success. We’re already looking ahead to the next show. Since R2 is so male dominated, we’re looking for a show with a very strong female presence, preferably a play by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. If you want to weigh in or suggest a show, please visit our Facebook page.
Christina Gutierrez is THIS CLOSE to being Dr. Gutierrez. Her next show (with her own company, 7 Towers) will be Martin Macdonah’s The Pillowman, which will feature three actors who are in Richard II: Aaron Black, Travis Bedard, and Stephen Price.
Q. You’re a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas. What is the subject of your dissertation?
A: My dissertation is about representations of the Middle Ages in 20th/21st century performance. I look at the various ways in which we construct the Middle Ages in our own image–i.e. the ways in which we create versions of the medieval that can house our own values, politics, and aesthetics. Shakespeare’s Henry V is a really good example. It’s a play about medieval history, which Shakespeare used to subtly (or not so subtly) comment on the political situation in 1599 (when the play was written). Contemporary productions of the play can similarly use it to make specific statements. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1994 Henry V, for example, focused on the play’s nationalism, creating a nostalgia for the Middle Ages that celebrated the glory of Henry’s war (and, through some clever costuming tricks, linked that war with WWI, which we are also made to feel nostalgia for). The National Theatre’s 2003 version, however, happened just after the joint British/American invasion of Iraq, and had quite a bit to say about the violence (and ultimately the futility) of war.
Q. What about Richard II made you want to direct the show?
A: I’ve always loved Richard II. Not only does it contain some of the most beautiful language in the canon, but it’s got this amazing sense that the events it dramatizes, although they may feel small, have HUGE consequences. I keep talking about it as Episode 1 or The Hobbit. It’s the prequel to the War of the Roses, but (perhaps unlike Episode 1), it’s got this amazing story of its own to tell. I’m fascinated by the relationships between Richard and Bolingbroke, York and Gaunt, and Richard and Isabel. I love the foreboding of speeches like Gaunt’s and Carlisle’s, and the general feeling that we’re on the precipice of massive change throughout the whole play.
Q. Your rehearsal process focuses on verse but also includes a lot of improv. How do the two work together?
A: I use improv in the rehearsal room to allow actors to explore behavior, relationships, and prior circumstances. So often, we as audience members are expected to accept that, for instance, a couple has been married for decades, or that there’s been this intense case of sibling rivalry between two characters. I allow actors to explore these circumstances, and I’ve found, every time I’ve employed improv, that it’s helped the production tremendously. I also use it to explore scenes that are actually in the play. I ask actors to locate the conflict of a scene and their “need” (or objective) in it. I then ask them to throw out the text and simply play the scene by going after exactly what they want. If they can “win” and end the scene in 30 seconds, then good for them. This helps them raise stakes and explore tactics. Now, with a verse play, I tend to start with pretty intense verse work, then move to improv, then come back to verse. That way, actors make discoveries in the text that they can explore in improv (i.e. are there moments when the verse is highly irregular? That might mean a character is struggling with something). Again, all of this is to deepen the actors’ exploration of their characters.
Q. With the coin toss aspect of this show, how much do you feel like you’re directing two different plays?
A: Yeah, it really does feel like two plays. Kevin and Aaron have come up with two VERY different versions of these characters. That was something I’d hoped would happen, but definitely not something I forced on them. I wanted their versions o Richard and Bolingbroke to come naturally and organically from their own discoveries. Because they’re so different, though, the play itself feels really different depending on who wears the crown at the beginning (and, of course, who has it at the end). I won’t spoil it by talking about specifics, but I’ve really stressed to the rest of the actors that their relationships to Richard and Bolingbroke will change depending on the coin toss. Since I like to let actors find their own way with things like blocking at first, the two shows will even look really different (we also discovered recently that there’s an extra prop in one of the versions). Luckily, I’ve got an amazing cast that’s really been able to roll with it, and to remain really present on stage no matter who they’re acting with.
Q: Didn’t you used to be a dramaturg? How’d you get into this directing thing?
A: I did, in fact. I’d directed a few things in undergrad and in my Master’s program at CU Boulder, but for a while I thought dramaturgy was the way to go. I worked as a production dramaturg at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and then freelanced around Colorado, Los Angeles, and Austin (when I moved here in 2008). I became more and more interested in the creation of worlds on stage, and the process by which that happens. I also found myself frustrated a few times in a rehearsal room when I had these big ideas that weren’t really my job to suggest. I’ve always been interested in storytelling, and in the strategies we use to make audience members invested in the stories we have to tell. When Aaron Black and I started our company, 7 Towers, in 2010, I found myself able to work these things out. I directed our first show (a Tennessee Williams one-act for the Frontera Fest short fringe), and Assistant Directed our first full-length (Lanford Wilson’s Burn This). My first full-length in Austin was the 7 Towers production of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore in 2012. That show was a massive exercise in world-building. I remembered how much I’d loved directing in the past, and I’ve pretty much not looked back. I’m really excited for my next project after Richard II, which is the 7 Towers production of Martin Macdonah’s The Pillowman.
Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened during this process?
A: Man. I kinda can’t stop making West Wing analogies in the rehearsal room. There’s a real “oval office” feel to so many of these scenes, and so many questions about who to trust and how to manage advisors. So that’s been amusing. I’d say the funiest thing has either been my budding West Wing obsession or, possibly, the day we had to use kitchen utensils as rehearsal props. There’s just something about Richard holding a potato masher that’s glorious to watch.
“It’s a virtuoso turn that stretches not only the principals but also the cast.”
Q: How long have you been in Austin, and what brought you here?
A: I’ve been back in Austin since 1998, but I’ve done very little theatre in the interval. I became a dad in 1997, and theatre and parenting are hard to sustain at the same time — both are night jobs and both require full commitment. For the three years previous, I’d been in San Antonio as a co-founding member of the San Antonio Public Theatre, where we did 3 seasons of excellent work, paying our actors and bringing in Equity talent for every production. Before that I’d worked with the Pearl Theatre and a few other companies in NYC, where I relocated after completing my actor training. But over the long haul, Austin has been more home than any other place for me. I did undergrad here at UT and spent several years in the local theatre scene, which has changed immeasurably since. I’m very glad to be back a part of it now.
Q: You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare, including some shows with Colorado Shakes. What was that like?
A: I was lucky enough as an undergrad to have stumbled into the Shakespeare at Winedale program, run through the UT English Department, studying for two summers under program founder Jim Ayres. The intimidating, unapproachable, larger-than-life icon of high culture that Shakespeare has unfortunately become goes right out the window at Winedale. Here are the texts, get to work – make a play. Shakespeare’s genius comes alive through committed, playful, sometimes gritty performances out there, and you come away from it wondering how so many people never “get” Shakespeare. But you realize that you’ve been lucky to have been immersed in his words for several weeks, working with the plays not as pieces of literature on a shelf, but as working scripts for working actors, which is what they are. Working on Richard in the Curtain has been an amazing experience for me as an actor. It has almost all the features that Shakespeare’s playhouses did, and as you work in the space, you begin to see practical evidence that Shakespeare was writing for this particular environment, this building. It’s been fascinating.
I was shocked when I looked back to realize that this is the first Shakespeare I’ve done in nearly 20 years (not counting my comic Macbeth from last year, currently filmed and in the can — not sure what I’m going to do with it yet). But I’d done tons of Shakespeare before — around Austin and New York, and the Wisconsin, San Antonio, Austin, and Colorado festivals. Boulder was a sweet couple of summers — beautiful weather in the foothills of the Rockies. Shakespeare by day, poker parties by night. Great trout fishing. I even had the marvelously surreal of experience of exchanging greetings with Allen Ginsberg as he lugged a huge pile of clothes out of the apartment laundry room in a dingy t-shirt and shorts. I’ve done over half the plays in the canon, but this is the first chance I’ve had at Richard II, so that’s especially exciting. I love this play.
Q: You play York and the Gardener in Richard II. Do you feel those two characters are the moral centers of the play?
A: Maybe they are, but with caveats. The Gardener is the blunt honesty of the common people, loyal and sincere, but practical. York begins as the moral voice of the old generation, that of unswerving loyalty to the king anointed by God. But as the politics and morals of the realm change with the ascendency of a new generation, his integrity and faith are put to the test, and he has to make a choice. Call it a spoiler alert, but almost nobody gets out of this story clean.
Q: How has it been to essentially prepare two different Yorks?
A: I think of him being the same York, but in alternate parallel universes. I based my work on simply reacting and playing with whatever Kevin and Aaron give me in the different roles, and that’s where the divergences in my Yorks come. Some fundamental things about him remain the same, but since he’s so close to both kings, in kinship and government service, the way that Kevin’s and Aaron’s characters have developed have led to some very different realities for my twin Yorkies. This has been a marvelous exercise in that directive that every acting teacher gives you — stay in the moment. I had to be sure I didn’t go off too far with my own ideas about York – I worked to pay attention to what K&A were doing, react, and also try to affect their journeys as well. It’s been a really rich experience.
Our Music Director, Cindy Weaver Schaufenbuel, talks about the role of music in early modern plays and her approach to the music for this show. The background of the picture is Kilkenny Castle.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your musical background?
A: I’ve been playing music and acting since I was a child, but I do have paper credentials, too: a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I really got interested in early music through the harp, an instrument I started exploring only about 15 years ago. Nowadays, I usually play and sing music written before around 1700, and I play it on copies of extant Medieval and Renaissance-era instruments. Opportunities like this one are a perfect fit for my rather esoteric interests!
Q: What was your approach to selecting the music for this show? Was anything particularly challenging?
A: Elizabethan plays used music as a routine and expected part of the entertainment, but in a history play like Richard II, it’s not obvious how music might be worked in. There are no dances, or songs written into the dialogue, as there are in many other Shakespeare plays. Richard’s prison scene in Act V provides the one moment where “the music plays.”
Director Christina Gutierrez chose some places in the script where transition music might enhance the action, and I set out to find music to suit these moments. The music was drawn from Elizabethan or Medieval sources, and each piece was chosen because it directly reflects the action of the play, gives voice to the emotions of the characters, or in one case, foreshadows the fates of the characters. This fits with Poor Shadows’ goal that every element of the production should support the text. You’ll hear a lot of melancholy-sounding music, for example, which reflects the gravity of the times the characters find themselves in.
But finding transition music wasn’t the most challenging part for me. Shakespeare’s Richard is a king who values and expects the royal trappings, so a lot of brass/drum fanfares are called for. Finding written period fanfare music was a dead end: it turns out that while many Elizabethan plays require them, fanfares were traditional, possibly proprietary, and were apparently passed down within the guild system without being noted down for posterity. In the end, I excerpted short passages from period works, like dances and motets, and even tried my hand at writing fanfare music myself. I have to thank Jimmie and Katy, our brass players, for their patience and advice while I figured out how to arrange and write music for instruments that I have no familiarity with.
Q: Who are the other musicians?
A: We are fortunate to feature the musical talents of Jimmie Bragdon (trumpet), Chris Casey (guitar and vocals), Bridget Farias (flute), Mike Osborn (percussion), Andreas Stein (vocals), and Katy Thompson (trombone.) All are players in more than one sense of the word: they have each trod the boards of The Curtain and other theaters in acting roles.
Actors in Shakespeare’s day also played musical instruments. Even though the functions of actor and musician are separate in this production, it’s a great advantage to have musicians with stage experience playing these transitions and fanfares. We’ve rewarded them with the best seats in the house!
Q: So will we see you, harp in hand, in the second gallery box?
A: Unfortunately, no! Life circumstances made it impossible to participate in the final, crucial, rehearsals. But I will be attending several performances, helping in the box office, and orienting new patrons to The Curtain. Productions such as this are truly a team effort, and have been since Elizabethan times. I do hope audience members who enjoy Richard II will come to future productions at The Curtain, where I am often to be found singing or plucking at strings.