Depicting William Shakespeare

It’s William Shakespeare’s Birthday Week! On this milestone 750th episode (!), Nicole Galland discusses the fun and intimidating challenge of making Shakespeare a character in her new novel Master of the Revels, and the chutzpah required to put words in the great poet and playwright’s mouth. Nicole shares which parts of the novel are autobiographical (and to what degree), and how even a genius like Shakespeare had gatekeepers; how Edmund Tilney (Queen Elizabeth I’s master of the revels) was both censor and showman; understanding metrics of success (and then ignoring them); how even the greatest writers — maybe especially the greatest writers — walk around in a daze, lost in thought, figuring out story elements and language choices; and how her novel is, ultimately, a celebration of the countless unsung behind-the-scenes champions of playwrights and artists. PLUS: A special appearance by Gary Andrews, author of Finding Joy, and the artist behind the extraordinary portrait above.

Hamlet’s Prequel Adventure!

Dramaturg Kate Pitt joins us for a deep dive into the creation of the script for Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel), on which she cast her dramaturgical magic (and which we’ll finally get to tour once this stupid pandemic is over). Kate discusses HBA’s intertextual conversation with Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, and its biofictional elements, and reveals the identity of the most confusing Hamlet ever; how a prequel can (and should) reveal insights into Shakespeare’s play; how old Hamlet is; the importance of double confirmation; how both Ophelia and Hamlet have All. The. Feels; the value of deploying random skills; the question of how old Hamlet is, anyway; how the gravedigger is an unreliable narrator; the struggle of theater as a career and what to say about it to your kids about it; and finally, possible spoilers (especially if you know anything at all about the career of UK comedian Tommy Cooper). Plus: jokes for everyone! Poster Art by Lar DeSouza. (Length 32:01)

Remembering George McFly

“Beware the Ides of March…” because March 15 is also the day in 1973 that George McFly was killed by Biff Tannen in one of the series’ darkest timelines of Back to the Future. Jeffrey Weissman, who played George in Back to the Future II and III, talks about playing Marty McFly’s father (and other stories from the film’s set); the unreduced story of how he got the role; lessons learned from roles in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and Twilight Zone: The Movie; the importance of actor diversification; subtle and nuanced performances in The Show Must Go Online; and a return to his Shakespearean and comedy roots. (Length 19:44)

Advice For Writers

Pat Verducci is a screenwriter, writing coach and consultant, and old UC Berkeley classmate and collaborator, and this week offers the encouraging wisdom that most of us are storytellers even if we don’t know it! Pat discusses how training in different disciplines can help a writer; the importance of barfing out that first draft because you can’t edit a blank page; the benefit of a routine; the wearing of different hats and writing like a director (while directing like a writer); the value of images vs. words in different media; the merit of constantly trying new things; life-changing college collaborations (left); and ultimately, the tricks of finding the right voice, both for your characters and you. (Length 20:45)

Something Wonderful Now

Jeffrey Sweet’s Something Wonderful Right Away, an oral history of The Compass Players and Second City was first published in 1978 and it’s arguably still one of the definitive works about the rise of Chicago improvisation and maybe the defining actor training method of the second half of the 20th-century. Jeffrey discusses how the book came to be and talks about his encounters with such greats as Barbara Harris, Sheldon Patinkin, Jules Feiffer, Mike Nichols, Anne Meara, and Elaine May; how specific movies and plays revealed to him a specific style; reveals the joy and wonder of shared realities; what it means to have gotten a B from Martin Scorcese; gives a shout-out to oral history pioneer Studs Terkel; how poverty can be theatre’s friend; how the only two essential elements to theater are actors and audiences (not playwrights!); the devastating truth that playwriting is not literature; and finally, further proof that following your passion can frequently lead you to a career. (Length 20:45)

Truth In Silliness

We tell our RSC actors to always ask themselves, “Yes, it’s silly…but is it Truly Silly?” This week, we talk to the man who taught as that: film editor Doug Purgason (left), an alum of the University of California, Berkeley, Drama Department (along with Reed, Austin, RSC founding member Jess Winfield, and RSC performing alums David Letwin (UK), John Tichenor (US), and Phil Abrams (US, Israel).) Doug explains how he came upon this youthful wisdom and discusses the dangers of short-changing the audience; the importance of spelling and punctuation; committing to the extreme belief and behavior of what you’re saying; how the truly silly “ethos” applies to his current work; the importance of not rejecting absurdity; and finally, the fundamental understanding that, if the actors don’t care enough to invest in the truth of what’s happening, then why should the audience? (Length 20:59) 

Meet Kamilah Long

Kamilah Long is the new managing director of Play On Shakespeare, the company dedicated to exploring the world of Shakespeare by commissioning living playwrights — many of them women, many of them playwrights of color — to create new translations and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Like all of us, Play On Shakes is changing and evolving through the course of this pandemic, and Kamilah discusses how they’re continuing the meet the needs of its audiences, both now and in the future. Featuring the looming presence of Shakespeare’s shadow; biblical comparisons; a commitment to doing no harm; the consequences of the pandemic, both good and bad; the wonder of playwrights getting paid and being in the room; a soon-to-come exciting new podcast; and the unfortunate demise of Shakespearean phrases like “jive turkey.” (Length 17:53)

Quarantine Panto Lives!

RSC UK member James Percy (William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)) is playing “Silly Billy” in Dick Whittington at the King’s Theatre in Portsmouth, England, from December 8 through (God and COVID willing) January 3rd, 2021. James (left, on the right, with Austin and Joe Maudsley) talks about how they’re doing it, how it’s all going, who he’s playing, and how it feels to be back in a theatre putting on a play again. Featuring the challenge of “playing Tetris in the auditorium” to reduce capacity; rehearsing in the actual hall; how emotional it is to be back onstage again; the danger of contagious luvvies; switching comic roles, depending on the show; a special appearance from Ebenezer Scrooge himself from the Goodman Theatre audio production of A Christmas Carol; and sweet memories of meeting up in bars after live performances. (Length 16:36) 

Anthony Clarvoe’s ‘Living’

Anthony Clarvoe’s play The Living takes place in London during the plague year of 1665, and its echoes to our current moment are unmistakable. Anthony discusses how The Living (written in 1990) was inspired by the AIDS crisis of the 1980s; how he discovered his primary play’s sources; how he was galvanized by Daniel Defoe’s 18th-century novel A Journal of the Plague Year; moving descriptions of empty streets; the value of current events; being simultaneously both intimate and epic; loving group protagonists; celebrating the father of population statistics; sharing themes, actors, and a director with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America; how you can order both physical and digital copies; and reference to an ancient and obscure research technology known as “a card catalogue.” (Length 22:06)

Ed And Larry

Peter James Smith and William Duffy played Washington power couple, comedy duo, and the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the White House, Ed and Larry, for seven seasons on Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, plus the special reunion event A West Wing Special now streaming on HBO Max. On this 2020 Election Eve, Duffy and Peter discuss how they got their roles, how the roles evolved, and the adventure of playing them. Featuring good rapport; having a history with Aaron Sorkin (Duffy) and not knowing who he was at first (Peter); the power of fan message boards; how it stayed fun but never got completely comfortable; falling back into rhythms; and the privilege of being involved with a show that’s lasted much longer than just its original seven seasons. (Length 24:37)

Becoming Henry V

Daniel Jose Molina brilliantly played Hal in both parts of Henry IV and the title role of Henry V At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017 & 2018. Now quarantining in the Chicago area with his wife Alejandra Escalante (who fiercely played Hotspur opposite him in Henry IV Part 1), Daniel discusses how the roles came to him, and shares how Hal’s fear of becoming king matches the actor’s fear of playing him; the importance of knowing that Hal belongs in Eastcheap and isn’t just a tourist; how to best fight imposter syndrome; passing the baton to your fellow actors; the challenge of translating Shakespeare back into English; having multiple versions of the same conversation; the value of discovering new dream roles; devising the elevator pitch of Hal’s journey; and the flattering presence of the Reduced Shakespeare Company in his actor origin story. (Length 28:56)

Madhuri Shekar, Storyteller

Award-winning playwright, audio dramatist, and now screenwriter Madhuri Shekar is an alum of Julliard’s playwriting program and has an MFA from USC in Dramatic Writing and a dual Master’s degree in Global Media and Communications from USC and the London School of Economics. Madhuri was awarded the 2020 Lanford Wilson Playwriting Award and her audio drama Evil Eye won the 2020 Audie Award for Best Original Work, and now Evil Eye has been turned into a movie for Amazon Prime. Madhuri talks about how she first started writing stories as a child and discusses our shared Bay Area roots; how she felt seen at a performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged); the gift of parental encouragement; the perfection of a scary movie directed by identical twins; the marvel of accurate trailers; huge love for (and the difficulty of achieving) genre tonal shifts; the challenge of performing in empty space; a time to slow down; and the power of theatre and the importance of artist safety. ALSO FEATURING: Our unabridged joy at being a reduced part of Madhuri’s origin story! (Length 22:06) 

Juliet To Hotspur

Character actor Alejandra Escalante has played ingenues at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (Isabella, Measure For Measure), American Repertory Theatre in Boston (Desdemona, Othello), and for five seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Juliet, Romeo and Juliet; Miranda, The Tempest; Princess of France, Love’s Labor’s Lost) where she also played gallant Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1. Blessed with both the ability and the opportunity to play that kind of range, Alejandra talks about the perils and wonder of being a character actor trapped in an ingenue’s body; her initial reaction to being offered the role of Harry Percy; studying and then copying big ol’ barrel-chested dudes; how some of the most wonderful and successful actors never went to college theatre programs; the desire to revisit certain roles; and the joys of working with your former fiancé/now husband. (Length 18:43) (Pictured: Alejandra Escalante as Juliet and Hotspur in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions of Romeo and Juliet and Henry IV, Part 1. Also pictured: Daniel José Molina as Romeo.)

Here Are Frangela

Frances Callier and Angela V. Shelton, better known as Frangela, host the essential funny political podcast The Final Word and this Saturday night September 26, 2020, are performing as part of Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Virtual Tour, appearing right in your living room (on your computer)! Frances and Angela talk about how they joined comedy forces and share tips about the importance of using your voices; bringing the funny to the people; mutual Second City origins; memories of the TBS pilot The Week Reduced; the myth of world hunger; finding comic angles; possible spoilers to Star Trek: Discovery, the valuable bond of having opinions about everything; the importance of remembering that we have options and things don’t need to be this way; and the cathartic release of breaking crockery. (Length 22:04)

Play On Shakespeare

Lue Douthit is the creator and Executive director of Play On Shakespeare, a series of translations and adaptations of the entire Shakespeare canon written by some of the most interesting and talented playwrights working today. Lue talks about the program’s origins and aims, and underscores how these adaptations are not meant to replace Shakespeare’s originals, even though they frequently offer insight into them. Featuring the ability to treat Shakespeare as a living playwright and his works as “new plays;” the importance of putting the playwright in the room; the dangers of editing Shakespeare; how flexible these texts are; establishing rules and then bending them; the importance of contrast in Shakespeare; the genius of Shakespeare’s dramaturgy and structure; how 90% of current Shakespeare productions are already adaptations; and the bold and radical idea of giving living playwrights living wages. Recorded in February, 2020. (Length 27:39)

That Shakespeare Voice

Samuel Taylor (author of My Life with the Shakespeare Cult, Blueprints for a Shakespeare Cult, and co-founder of the Back Room Shakespeare Project) and Jasmine Bracey (actor, teacher, and stakeholder in Back Room Shakes) talk about their new online class, “Spitting Out the ‘Shakespeare Voice'”, which breaks down the racist and colonizing ways in which speaking Shakespeare’s language is taught — and gives students and actors new ways of finding and utilizing their authentic voices. Featuring a breakdown (in every sense) of the teachings of Edith Skinner; delighting in Shakespeare’s language like jazz; the danger of asserting the dominance of a certain culture; the frustration of overcoming barriers to authenticity in a world of pretend; showing multiple facets of an actor’s diamond; possible textual evidence for the only two characters in the canon who can legitimately use a “mid-Atlantic” accent; the importance of not being complicit; the beauty of experiencing and speaking Shakespeare’s words authentically, especially if he’s the greatest playwright in the English-speaking western canon; the distinction of holding the mirror up to nature but not telling you what to see in it; and breaking down the idea that there’s only one correct way to speak the speech. Speak YOUR speech! (Length 33:46)

West Side Story

Remember live theatre? Remember when the big story back in late February was the controversial Ivo Van Hove production of West Side Story on Broadway? Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a professor of Shakespeare, English, and Gender Studies at Linfield College in Oregon, and a contributing writer to the New York Times and Atlantic magazine, wrote an article for the latter entitled, “Why West Side Story Abandoned Its Queer Narrative,” and, in this interview recorded on March 3, 2020, discusses the merits of the van Hove production and his insights into the original narrative. Featuring the peril of picking one’s prepositional poison; how a dorky 50s musical speaks to modern concerns about racism and police violence against communities of color; the struggle for Tony’s body; the problems with “I Feel Pretty;” Jerome Robbins’ lost play; expressing Jewish identity in the 1950s through ethnic minstrelsy; how Arthur Laurents “improved” on Shakespeare in particularly troubling ways; the rightness of questioning problematic aesthetics; the casting controversy in the recent Broadway production; and, most importantly, the feeling that when you love something you want to know and discuss everything about it. (Length 34:51)

Lawrence O’Donnell’s ‘Sterling’

Before he started hosting The Last Word on MSNBC in 2010, Lawrence O’Donnell was an executive producer, writer, and actor on The West Wing, and the creator, writer, and executive producer of his own show, Mister Sterling, which starred Josh Brolin and Audra McDonald in the story of an idealistic young senator who has to learn how to navigate the ins and outs of Washington DC while also conducting his personal life in the public eye. Cancelled after ten episodes, Mister Sterling featured storylines and conflicts that would find fuller expression in later seasons of The West Wing, and Lawrence talks about how the show was created and shares some fundamental Perry Mason precedents; revelations about Zoey Bartlet’s weird taste in birthday entertainment; the difficulty of writing drama set in Washington where there are now no consequences for terrible behavior; how Aaron Sorkin taught us about what drama is (or can be); what political TV zone opened up and which show filled it beautifully (and hilariously); and how he was able to pay tribute to a deep Washington legacy in Hollywood. PART ONE OF TWO. (Length 29:21)

Joining The Cirkestra

The first thing you hear in our production of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) was composed by Peter Bufano, a graduate of Clown College, a former Ringling Brothers Circus Clown, and now an assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Peter talks about his journey from Clown to Composer and shares some of his secrets; his comic and musical inspirations; the difficulty of hitting moving targets; finding the music in a gag; how relationship and function is most important in finding the funny; and the importance of finding and maintaining community in music, in clowning, and in life. (Length 23:39)

Crafting Colbert’s Comedy

Comedy writer Tom Purcell has been working with Stephen Colbert a long time, first as the executive producer of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central and now as the executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. (Pictured above and left, he also appears in sketches.) Tom discusses how he got started in the comedy business and what lessons if first taught him; shares boring origin stories; talks about the joy of vibing comedically; the importance of (and tips for) detaching one’s self; the value of mouth-feel; how fear is a mind-killer; how he misses the grease of unexpected interaction; and most heroically, how he eps turns today’s news — all of it, even when it’s unpleasant — into comedy. (Length 20:57)

Lockdown Shakespeare Pioneer

Rob Myles, along with his producing partner Sarah Peachey, is the creator of The Show Must Go Online, which, since March 19, 2020, has been creating fully if madly rehearsed productions of Shakespeare’s canon in the order in which they were written, once a week, using actors and fight directors from all over the world. With over 100,000 views on YouTube in just 12 weeks, Rob talks about how this has become huger than he ever imagined, and how he’s learned to work in this new space; how his early studies in psychology led to understanding characters and delivering an actor-driven experience; excellent new opportunities for both audience engagement and audience research; iambic discoveries expressed in actual iambic pentameter; developing his singular obsession; shout-outs to The Barnsley Civic; being leaders in a movement rather than a company; and the realization that our moment cried out for a Rob Myles — and thankfully we have one. (Length 28:16)

Globetrotting Shakespeare’s Tempest

Brave new world, indeed: Globetrotting Shakespeare is presenting a live and virtual performance of The Tempest on Saturday, July 11, 2020, featuring multiple actors in four different countries and at least six time zones from Shakespeare Napa Valley, Shakespeare by the Sea, Prague Shakespeare Company, Atlanta Shakespeare Company at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, and Shakespeare at Notre Dame. Directors Jennifer King (l) and Suzanne Dean (r) discuss how the project came together; how they see challenges as opportunities to create relationships and communities through Shakespeare; how they’re seizing this opportunity to Rethink, Reframe, and Resume; the unfortunate problems with technology; how a disruptive pandemic has its own tempestuous qualities; and how we must continue finding (despite sometimes losing) our humanity in crisis. (Length 19:27)

Directing Sketch Shows

Like many theaters in Chicago, Second City shut down on March 13, 2020, the same day we were scheduled to chat with actor, writer, and improviser Frank Caeti, who was directing their current production. We kept our appointment and recorded this interview with the Second City alum anyway, thinking we’d post it once everything re-opened “in a few weeks”. Ha! Nonetheless, enjoy this fascinating conversation about the process of creating a sketch show out of nothing, and listen as Frank shares Bull Durham analogies; how a director acts as a head writer; the importance of compassion, empathy, and understanding; the value of group ownership; being patient as ideas go from half-baked to more fully-baked; embracing relative autonomy; gives shout-outs to institutional memory; the endurance required for encore late-night sets; the importance of audience feedback and the uncertainty of not knowing when we might get it again; and finally, the challenge of getting used to not touching your face and how philosophers are really the forgotten victims during this pandemic. (Length 23:17) (Pictured: Frank Caeti, left, with Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) in The Second City’s Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Craig Schwartz.)

Amy Acker’s Beatrice

Amy Acker starred as Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s 2012 film version of Much Ado About Nothing, and she discusses her initial trepidation over playing this great role onscreen; how her early training at SMU and experience at American Players Theatre in Wisconsin prepared her for it; how casual play readings lead to leading roles; the value of rehearsing; the fun of doing your own stunts; the joy of working with the Joss Whedon Dancers; the differences between preparing for a play and preparing for a movie; how the Whedonverse is more Shakespearean than the (David E.) Kelleyverse; and the counterintuitive marvel (no pun intended) of how making a movie is more relaxing than taking an actual vacation. (Length 22:10)

Chris Interviews Austin

It’s our 700th episode!! And because it happily coincides with the publication of Christopher Moore’s Shakespeare For Squirrels, the New York Times best-selling author turns the tables and interviews RSC co-artistic director Austin Tichenor in an epic un-reduced unabridged almost one-hour conversation. The two Fauxspeareans celebrate the release of Chris’s book by getting lost in the weeds of craft and discussing the importance of inoculating people against Shakespeareaphobia; the value of learning to keep 5-7 year olds entertained; the difficulties of working with living playwrights; understanding who got Shakespeare’s jokes and who didn’t; writing a Hitchcock adaptation for Disney animation; the dangers of unskilled labor; learning comic timing from stand-ups and Gilbert & Sullivan; using a five-act structure; the value of memorizing Shakespeare; the art of capturing Shakespeare’s exquisite mixture of tones; the perfectly understandable struggle to explain Shakespeare’s greatness; plausible explanations for why Shakespeare left his wife his second-best bed; snappy answers to listener questions; and being members in the small club of authors rewriting Shakespeare. (Length 58:17) 

Shakespeare For Squirrels

Christopher Moore talks about his new comic novel, Shakespeare For Squirrels, which sees his great creation Pocket of Dog Snogging (the Fool from Shakespeare’s King Lear) stranded in the Athenian woods amongst the characters from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s both a breezy entertainment and a tour de force and Chris explains how the research for one novel became the basis for another one; how he satirized lovers and reconceived fairies; the importance of grounding your mechanicals; taking inspiration from both Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; being both fantastical and of the moment; giving important agency to Cobweb; why basing your novel on a comic play is more difficult; the struggle with titles; and the challenge of being affected as much by the world one’s writing in as by the world one’s writing about. (Length 20:08)

Remembering Brian Dennehy

Actor Elizabeth Dennehy (left) remembers her father Brian Dennehy, “a tireless tragedian of the old school” (Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune), who passed away at the age of 81 on April 15, 2020 from cardiac arrest due to sepsis. Elizabeth shares what it was like to grow up as the great actor’s daughter and what lessons she learned about the business from him; how her father did it backwards (family first, carousing second); was inspired by Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, and Oliver Reed; grabbed both roles and audiences by the throat; grew into his looks; loved taking roles that scared him and surprising people at auditions; took command of his physicality; was powered by adrenaline; and was absolutely terrified (in a good way) by the challenge of A Touch of the Poet. (Length 23:44) (Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Dennehy.)

Once Again: Mr. Brian Dennehy

“The dream is the most important part of our lives.”
Brian Dennehy, 1938-2020

We remember Brian Dennehy, the acclaimed actor who passed away last night, April 15, 2020, with this repost of our podcast interview with him from 2012, recorded during his run of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Brian offers praise for his fellow actors, identifies the weather phenomenon O’Neill’s plays can best be described as, reveals what can happen when you succeed in an O’Neill play, shares who he thinks should be considered the Iron Man of the American theatre (the requirements for which sound strangely familiar), and laments the disturbing lack of 73-year-old vampires in the American cinema. (Length 19:09)

692. J. Nicole Brooks

Actor, director, and playwright J. Nicole Brooks is the author and director of Her Honor Jane Byrne, which looks at the moment in Chicago history when its first woman mayor moved into the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Just three nights after it had its official world premiere opening at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre, the rest of the run was cancelled due to the restrictions being imposed around the world in the midst of this global pandemic. Brooks discusses how the play came together and how love letters to Chicago can be complicated; the value of Shakespearean echoes and wise fools; a fascination with corruption; shining light on haunted communities; getting laughs when you least expect them; decolonizing the space; losing revenue streams; surprising shout-outs to Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure; and the brilliance of writing a dark comedy about kings and queens and guillotines. (Length 22:03)

691. Michael Morrow’s ‘Passage’

Michael Morrow stars in the Lifeline Theatre production of Middle Passage, Charles Johnson’s National Book Award-winning novel (“a novel in the tradition of Billy Budd and Moby-Dick,” according to the New York Times Book Review) adapted by Ilesa Duncan and David Barr III (and directed by Duncan). Michael discusses how he came to be cast in this epic production, and how he’s journeyed from the DePaul University BFA program to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Michigan Shakespeare Festival, and beyond; how he learned to buckle swashes and paint pictures with words; what it means to Choose; the miracle of a deus ex Quackenbush; shout-outs to David Blixt and the late PJ Paparelli; and the incredibly important power of telling stories for those who can’t. (Length 20:08) (Pictured: Michael Morrow and Patrick Blashill in the Lifeline Theatre production of Middle Passage, adapted by Ilesa Duncan and David Barr III from the novel by Charles Johnson. Directed by Ilesa Duncan. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.)

687. Gary Andrews’ #DoodleaDay

Gary Andrews is an animator and single dad whose #DoodleaDay visual diary chronicles his life, particularly how it transformed several years ago with the sudden death of his wife Joy (left). Gary discusses the rules he gives himself and how his daily ritual became a major part of the grieving process and a meaningful balm to an increasing number of followers and fans. Featuring touching chords, the marvel of having both talent and bandwidth, a beautiful film made from his drawings, the power of unpacking the day, the hardest thing one ever has to do, the mystery of laughter continuing through grief, how you can donate to the UK Sepsis Trust, Shakespeare being a constant, shout-outs to Fireman Sam and Horrid Henry, and connections to RSC founding member Adam Long! (Length 18:14)

Appreciating Viola Spolin

Aretha Sills discusses her grandmother, the legendary Viola Spolin, who invented an entire discipline and whose book Improvisation for the Theater is a fundamental text for generations of theatre artists. Viola’s son (and Aretha’s father) Paul Sills took Viola’s teachings “to the world,” where they became the foundation for more than sixty years of American acting and comedy. Aretha discusses Viola’s early training with Neva Boyd at the Jane Addams Hull-House in Chicago and with the Group Theatre in New York; early exposure to opera from her policeman father; how Viola’s work inspired the Playwright’s Theatre, the Compass Players, and Second City; the value of Spolin’s theatre games in de-colonizing authoritarian teaching methods; and the importance of understanding and honoring the origins of this work (play). (Length 22:47) (Photo courtesy of the Estate of Viola Spolin, www.violaspolin.org.)

Comparing Twelfth Nights

To celebrate Twelfth Night, we compare different productions of Shakespeare’s great comedy with Dee Ryan, adjunct professor at Northwestern University and president of the North Shore Shakespeare Society, and actress Elizabeth Dennehy, who recently directed Twelfth Night at the Los Angeles County School for the Arts. Featuring shout-outs to productions at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company; the Stratford Festival (with music by Michael Roth & Des MacAnuff), the South Australian State Theatre with Geoffrey Rush, Chicago’s Writer’s Theatre, and the Amanda Bynes film She’s The Man; how Twelfth Night got its title (and subtitle); how and when to make sure scene transitions flow as well as the play itself; the virtue of outright theft; how the play is NOT the tragedy of Malvolio; inspiration from the musical Once; Lear-like Orsinos; cleansing rains; shout-outs to Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Oklahoma! and San Diego Repertory Theatre’s The Humans; valentine reviews; pairing Antonio and Aguecheek; the benefits of isolating your Olivia; shout-outs to Caitlin McWethy and Abby Lee (pictured above); the food chain of status-climbing; and, as ever, the promise of getting it better…next time. (Length 27:50) (Pictured: Abby Lee as Olivia, Caitlin McWethy as Viola, and cast of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company production of Twelfth Night, directed by Austin Tichenor. Photos by Mikki Schaffner Photography.)

Director Robert Falls (Part 2)

This week we continue our conversation with Robert Falls, the Tony-winning artistic director of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. In addition to being well-known for directing classics like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bob has worked on such possibly surprising material as the Elton John and Tim Rice musical Aida, and that’s where we pick up our conversation. Featuring the joy of working with actors; collaborating with Elton John, Tim Rice, and David Henry Hwang; tales of working on John Logan’s Red, and Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure; why and how we’re drawn to certain plays or genres; false distinctions; some terrible phrasing and important corrections; why, for all the comedies Bob directs, he may be more of a tragedian; and the dual pleasures of tearing plays apart — and an audience’s heart out. (Length 18:54) (Pictured: (l-r) Disney Theatrical’s Thomas Schumacher, Elton John, and Robert Falls in rehearsal for Aida, 2000.)

All About Ophelia

The RSC’s 11th stage show, Hamlet’s Big Adventure! (a prequel), is really all about Hamlet’s best friend Ophelia, at least according to Jessica Romero, who originated the role in the workshop production, and Austin Tichenor, who co-wrote the script and will be playing Ophelia this fall in California and Israel. Hear them chat about reconciling the many interpretations of Ophelia, and discuss professional memorization methods, weaponizing feelings, how one person’s comedy can be another’s tragedy, shared inspiration from Taming of the Shrew (both pirate- and commedia-themed), playing bucket-list roles, favorite Shakespeare characters, and the reality of the curse of saying the title of the Scottish Play. (Length 23:09) (Pictured: Jessica Romero as the King (with Peter Downey as Hamlet) and Ophelia (with Chad Yarish as Yorick) in the Shakespeare Napa Valley workshop of Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel). Photos by Julie McClelland.)

The Web Opera

Our friend Michael Roth has composed the music for, and produced the film of, The Web Opera, a form-shattering short film dealing with the unintended consequences of people living life online. Michael talks about his amazing collaborators (librettist Kate Gale; leading performers Reuben Uy, Adam Von Almen, and Stephanie Cecile Yavelow; graphic artists Lisa Glenn Armstrong, Yiyi Shao, and Chris Gaal; all under the amazing direction of Kate Jopson) and discusses the challenge of writing new pieces and the even greater challenge of getting the things produced; the ready availability of the means of production; the wonder of naturalistic, or quotidian, performance; the too-casual and not-aware-enough ways we treat each other; and the danger of how our even benign online behavior can have tragic consequences. (Length 19:30)

Weird Old Man

Charlie Christmas’s new album, Weird Old Man, is your perfect summertime jam! A veteran of many bands over the years (from Urge Overkill to The Mobile Homeboys), “Charlie Christmas” is the nom du rock of music journalist Chuck Chrisafulli, who, amongst his many other credits, created some musical cues for our original production of All The Great Books (abridged). Chuck and Charlie discuss how journalism informs the music, where this particular blend of garage rock was actually recorded, important musical debuts, the constant need for good bassists, unfortunate reviews from service pigs, tales of Billy Idol, creating a fair but critical ear, and outstanding inspirations ranging from Pink Floyd and T-Rex to Brian Wilson and Curtis Mayfield (plus some Ramones & Frank Zappa). Buy Weird Old Man here! (Length 20:13)

Dueling Chicago Hamlets

Chicago is lousy with Hamlets this spring/summer of 2019! Friend of the pod Samuel Taylor was involved with two of them – at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and with the Back Room Shakespeare Project, the latter of which Sam co-founded – and he discusses how all this activity supports and complements both companies and the Chicago theatre community. Featuring the beauty of electricity, fruitful studies in contrasts, asserting control over the laughs, being invested in turtle races, celebrating America’s Mike Nussbaum as the First Gravedigger, hearing about Hamlet being put on trial and Quicksilver Shakespeare actors pulling Hamlet’s characters out of a hat, continuing work on Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel), the best possible scheduling of Titus Andronicus, the fascination of watching somebody doing something very difficult, and the wonder of understanding both the history of Shakespeare in Chicago and of Chicago Shakespeare. (Length 24:24) (Pictured: Mike Nussbaum as the First Gravedigger, in the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre production of Hamlet, directed by Barbara Gaines. Photo by Liz Lauren. Old Style Hamlet logo courtesy of the Back Room Shakespeare Project.)

Fighting Writers Block

Mya Gosling is the creator and artist behind GoodTickleBrain, the world’s greatest (and possibly only) three-panel stick-figure Shakespeare web comic. The issue of writers block is something we all deal with, and Mya shares with us how she wrestles with it, and frequently utilizes it as a theme in her comics. Featuring getting over speed bumps, the futility of changing one’s digital nibs, determining the distinctions between so-called “classic” writers block (and its related forms: “new” writers block and “cherry vanilla” writers block), the struggle of getting the marble elephant out of the marble block, making use of and exorcising your own struggle, the dilemma of having to create the thing itself before you can see what the problem is, and finally realizing the necessity of letting go of perfect. (Length 19:59)

Episode 611. Burbage to Burbage

Kevin Kenerly is a 22-year veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is currently playing Richard Burbage in Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will (after having played Burbage in Shakespeare in Love in 2017). Kevin talks with Austin Tichenor (who played Burbage in the Northlight Theatre production in 2017 and blogged about it for the Folger Shakespeare Library) about his approach to playing Shakespeare’s leading man, how he first came to Shakespeare, how the role of Burbage resembles Cyrano de Bergerac, inspirational teacher shoutouts, impressive instruments, the magic of different interpretations, a love for language, the pleasure of needing no clue, Michael Caine aphorisms, how theatre sleeps when we do, and ultimately how Shakespeare and microbrew prove to be an unbeatable combination. Featuring a special appearance from Lauren Gunderson herself! (Pictured: David Kelly as Henry Condell, Kevin Kenerly as Richard Burbage, and Jeffrey King as John Heminges. From the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will, directed by Christopher Liam Moore.) (Length 22:56)

Episode 607. Getting To Edinburgh

How do you get to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? What’s involved with producing yourself at the largest theatre festival in the world? Jamie Gower, the creator and star (sorry, operator) of Denny O’Hare: I Feel Fuzzy, takes us step by step through the process of creating a show, picking a venue, developing a budget, making peace with the idea that this will most likely be a money-losing operation, and most importantly, understanding the danger of not going. Featuring nuts and bolts, waived visas, the value of pre-planning and starting early, the advantage of not being a good puppeteer, learning how to create good press releases and posters and flyers, the importance of location location location, and the supreme importance of not waiting for permission. (Length 24:53)

Episode 606. Composer Michael Roth

Composer and arranger Michael Roth has had a big summer, scoring not only the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV starring Tom Hanks, and Pamplona, the one-man play about Ernest Hemingway, starring Stacy Keach, currently having its world premiere production at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Michael has worked with such notable theatre artists as directors Robert Falls, Des McAnuff, and Daniel Sullivan, actors Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy, and songwriter Randy Newman, and he joins us to talk about with working with all these artists in a variety of media. Featuring the importance of first rehearsals, making sure Shakespeare’s songs are not perfunctory; small worlds; the challenges of writing a musical; and Shakespeare’s weird ability to be early-modern and post-modern at the same time. (Length 22:21)

Episode 605. The Actors Gymnasium

Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi is the artistic director and co-founder of The Actors Gymnasium, a physical theatre school with a huge emphasis on circus and telling stories through movement. A longtime collaborator with Chicago’s Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre, Sylvia created the underwater choreography for Lookingglass’ current production of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and talks about how she creates her work and the value of her collaborators, the invaluable nature of literally growing up in the circus, questioning the value of not taking a risk, learning the language of physicality, getting actors to a different level, and the joy of watching a performer discover new skills and manners of expression. (Length 19:20)

Episode 603. Value Of Limitations

The script for William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) has now been published in the US (after having been published in the UK earlier this year) and this week we talk about how the various limitations we’ve encountered — physical, institutional, and personal — have all required we make changes to the script, many of which improved the script and we decided to keep. Featuring the challenges of retraining muscle memory, the differences between a two-hour performance and an hour-long one, the possibly counterintuitive value of sanitizing for your comedic pleasure, the dangers of swearing even in Pig Latin, the joy of turning limitations into gold, the surprising distinction between crotches and nipples, the futility of coming up with a Timon of Athens joke, and the dismay of thinking that something’s terribly moving and discovering you’re only half right. (Length 20:12)

Episode 602. Broadway’s Fight Guy

Friend of the podcast Tom Schall talks about how he’s become Broadway’s Fight Guy (or, truthfully, one of them), the go-to person to design fight choreography and tell a story using actors’ physical language. Featuring how to develop and agree on physical vocabulary; how work leads to work; switching between the past and present tense; nuts and bolts; torn rotator cuffs; working with directors; a great description of working at the Folger Theatre; tales of working on Hamlet with Oscar Isaac and Keegan-Michael Key; and the joys and dangers of teaching James Bond and Martin Luther King, Jr. how to fight. (Length 20:17) Photograph of David Oyelowo as Othello and Daniel Craig as Iago by Charlie Gray for Vanity Fair.

Episode 601. More Lauren Gunderson

Playwright Lauren Gunderson continues the conversation we began with her last November 2017, talking about her amazing play The Book of Will, a valentine about the creation of the First Folio, the first collection of all (most) of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623. WARNING: This is a slightly spoiler-y conversation (our first spoiler-free conversation can be found here) but in it Lauren reveals the process of research, dramaturgy, and creation; and also discusses the value of preparing for loss; being present; the wonder of ephemera; Shakespeare’s amazing women (both onstage and off); practicing memory as an active thing; favorite brilliant actors; and the absolute magic of double-casting. Featuring a special appearance by Oregon Shakespeare Festival Executive Director Cynthia Rider. (Length 17:23) (Pictured: Cristofer Jean in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of The Book of Will. Photo by Jenny Graham)

Episode 599. Coming And Going

Five RSC actors — Reed Martin, Dan Saski, Teddy Spencer, Austin Tichenor, and Chad Yarish — performed at Pittsburgh Public Theatre this opening preview weekend. Over beer, wings, and fried pickles, Dan, Teddy, Chad, and Austin discuss what’s involved with creating smooth transitions during performances; jokes that also come and go; the important similarities between Shakespeare and martial arts; adjusting blocking for a thrust configuration; the vast quantity of variety of theatre in the north Bay Area; working with John Douglas Thompson in Hamlet at American Conservatory Theatre; aspiring to Bob Cratchit; amazing musical scores; possible dueling Pucks; the difficulties of matching your own type; and the tricky nature of jokes that also come and go. (Length 20:17)

Episode 597. Lady Macbeth Herself

Chaon Cross plays Lady Macbeth in the exciting and literally magical production of the Scottish play directed by Aaron Posner and Teller in the current production at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and discusses the challenges of finding the balance between the textual and theatrical and between character and razzmatazz; the difficulties of acting while performing magic; the art of creating a useful backstory; the pitfalls of human desires: the glory of creating a world; the relative usefulness of politics; and the surprising delight of speaking with Lady She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. (Length 21:16)

Episode 596. Nicole Galland’s D.O.D.O.

Friend of the podcast, novelist Nicole Galland (I, Iago), has co-authored (with Neal Stephenson) a wonderful sci-fi time-travel thriller-comedy called The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., which the San Francisco Chronicle calls “a high-stakes techno-farce with brains and heart!” D.O.D.O. is now out in paperback so Nicole returns to talk about the book’s creation, the difficulties of describing your characters, how she met Neal Stephenson, the burden of having too many interests in too many places, the rarity of authorial rebranding, rewriting during the editing stage, how the authors’ writing partnership informed the relationship between the two main characters, some tantalizing clues about the sequel, and how one transitions from an historical to a sci-fi novelist. (Length 18:53)

Episode 594. ‘Caged’ World Premiere

We’ve talked on this podcast about theatre and Shakespeare in prisons, but we’ve never heard about theatre created by the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated outside prisons. Director and teaching artist Jerrell L. Henderson directs the world premiere of Caged at Passage Theatre in New Jersey, and discusses the challenge of finding the narrative, radical love, predatory systems, the trick of navigating the demands of thirty living playwrights, mourning alone, and how to avoid the dangers of directorial slather and getting art on you. (Length 18:52)

Episode 590. Serious Actor Clown

Philip Earl Johnson stars in Enemy of the People at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and talks about the creation of his role in this new adaptation, and how he divides his time between theatre work and his other life as the RenFaire clown MooNiE. Featuring the fundamental virtues of conviction and truth, brushes with rockstar greatness, travels with Angels in America, the value of getting through 200 shows, the art of combining Ibsen with Charlie Chaplin, the magic of whistling, the inspiration of junkyard dogs, and the glory of scoring a leading role the old-fashioned way — by auditioning. (Length 24:17)

Episode 588. Resurrecting The Bible

We resurrected The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) for its first American performance in almost four years and this cast’s first performance in more than eight. After the raucous standing ovation, Dominic Conti (center), Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor talk about what it’s like returning to a show after such a long absence, and what it means, personally, to perform this particular show. Featuring testaments old and new, civilized rehearsing, born-again favorites, missing trunks, Catholic raves, recreating a fourth dummy, consoling the ignorant, remembering kerfuffles, begging Michael Faulkner (right), and happiest of all, celebrating the Bible through joy and laughter. (Length 17:47) (Also pictured: Tiger Reel. Photo by Eric Vizents)

Episode 584. The Comedy “Plantation!”

Kevin Douglas’ new play Plantation! is having its world premiere right now at the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, in a production directed by Lookingglass founding member David Schwimmer and starring eight phenomenal actresses. It’s a family comedy that deals with race and legacy and family and atonement, and in addition to its many laughs, some of which are definitely uncomfortable, its ending takes audiences absolutely by surprise and bring them to tears. Kevin discusses his creative process, explaining why he decided to create a comedy in the first place, and features the danger of clinging, the benefit of listening to actors, the value of a spoonful of sugar, and how Kevin’s next play will solve all the world’s problems. (Length 25:05)

Episode 583. Short Rehearsal Process

Jim Ortlieb and Gregory Linington, who played John Hemings and Henry Condell in the midwest premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s The Book of Will last fall of 2017, return to the RSC Podcast to discuss the challenges and rewards of a “reduced” rehearsal period. Over pizza and beer at Chicago’s Candelite restaurant, Jim and Gregory chat about being prepared but also staying open, similar-but-different approaches to the work, the liberating importance of “pre-hearsal”, the artistic value of pub time, the time-honored dilemma of religion vs entertainment, the subleties of defining character, the beauty of playing against the text, the gift of intimacy, and the values that constitute true “Chicago theatre.” (Pictured (left to right): Austin Tichenor, Jim Ortlieb, and Gregory Linington recording this podcast live at the Candlelite in Chicago, while Dana Black hovers.) (Length 27:32) 

Episode 581. Reagan And Gorbachev

The Goodman Theatre in Chicago’s latest production, a world premiere by Rogelio Martinez called Blind Date, chronicles the courtship and ultimate conference in Geneva between American president Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Chicago actors Rob Riley and William Dick play Reagan and Gorbachev and talk about the challenges and rewards of playing two such seemingly familiar historical figures. Featuring the wonders of YouTube, the dangers of sketch comedy, massive and mostly-read biographies, reboot opportunities, gifts for character actors, the challenges of rewrites, and best-selling Broadway Play Publishing playwrights. (Length 24:08)