Tuesday, June 23, 2009

spread the grassroots, spread the love!

The following article was printed in the UVU Review on Monday, June 22nd. It appears here without permission, so if it gets taken down, that's why. Enjoy!

The Bard is Back
New Shakespearean company
uses old techniques
to make the story new

Culture Writer

The newly-founded Grassroots Shakespeare Company is a rare treasure of Utah Valley theater. Created and peopled by local college students, Grassroots uses the techniques that acting companies used in Shakespeare's day to create plays that are "fast-paced, funny, intriguing, and simple," according to grassrootsshakespeare.blogspot.com.

Grassroots is currently performing Much Ado About Nothing, one of Shakespeare's most loved comedies. All performances are outdoors in natural light. Check the sidebar for dates and times.

Utah Shakespeare fans have seen the bard's plays at the Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, and among several traditional theater venues in Utah Valley. However, the Grassroots' production of Much Ado About Nothing is the most enjoyable Shakespeare production Utah theatergoers have had the chance to see in at least the last five years.

The actors are unapologetic. Generally, performing without a stage, so close to the audience, and with makeshift costumes and sets is too embarrassing for actors to handle. This embarrassment often comes across as a continual, agonizing apology to the audience for subjecting them to the performance. However, this particular group of young actors have chosen to perform under these conditions, and the jury-rigged, ad hoc design features serve the story surprisingly well.

The play has been shortened to run at a little over an hour. Despite the amputated script, the plot comes across with startling clarity. This simple coherence is thanks to the actors' denial of several theatrical traditions, specifically their rejection of a "fourth wall" between the stage and the audience. Here, the story is told to audience members, rather than at them, as plays that take themselves more seriously are wont to do.

Shakespeare's plays have in general become over-intellectualized and haughty. However, they were originally written to be enjoyed by all classes of society - from the poor and uneducated to Queen Elizabeth. The Grassroots Shakespeare Company has brought Shakespeare back to the common man - you don't have to ge an English major or an intellectual prick to understand and enjoy this story.

To read more reviews, or to write your own, check out the "Reviews" tab on our Facebook fan page!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cast Biographies!

Check out the accomplishments and aspirations of the Grassroots Shakespeare Company! We may look motley, but it turns out that most of us actually know what we're doing...

Alex Ungerman - Benedick
Alex most recently appeared as Jacques in the Hale Center Theater Orem's production of As You Like it, as Orsino in Twelfth Night at UVU, and as the title character in Pericles, Prince of Tyre with BYU Young Company Shakespeare. He is currently pursing a BA in Theater Arts at Utah Valley University where he has been a four time Irene Ryan Nominee.

Becca Ingram - Hero/Watchman Becca hails from the far away land of Connecticut and has now made her way to American Fork, Utah. She is so excited to be living the dream with Grassroots and has been seen most recently as Rosalind in As You Like It (HCTO), Chris in Dancing at Lughnasa (BYU), and Hilda Manney in Room Service (HCTO). She loves her family...a lot.

Cherish Caldwell - Margaret Cherish hails from Sandy Utah where she first began performing and directing. She teaches Middle school and High school Theater at Meridian School as well as Liahona Academy. She has won many awards for directing and choreography at the Utah Shakespearean Festival. She Assistant Directed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland last summer and was nominated this year as a director with Meridian School. She has been the recipient of acting scholarships and two Irene Ryan nominations this year at BYU where she is pursuing a BFA in Acting.

Davey Morrison - Dogberry/Verges Davey has loved Shakespeare for a long time, and is delighted to be working with the Grassroots Shakespeare Company! Davey's most recent credits include lead and supporting roles in As You Like It, Room Service, and Don't Drink the Water, all at the Hale Center Theater Orem. Other favorite roles have been Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, George Spelvin in The Actor's Nightmare, Mr. Martin in The Bald Soprano, Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Dromio of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors. Davey and his lovely fiancee Bianca run a weekly playwriting workshop together at New Play Project (Thursdays from 7-9pm at the Provo Theater Company); he has also had a number of plays he's written produced with NPP. In addition to his work in the theater, Davey is an award-winning filmmaker, poet, artist, and musician; you can see his work at www.daveymorrison.blogspot.com.

Jason Sullivan - Conrade/Friar Francis Jason, from Orem, is a student in the Theater program at Utah Valley University, and an Irene Ryan finalist. He recently performed as Orlando in As You Like It at the Hale, and as Hutter in UVU's Nosferatu. He and Mark Oram rode the same bus to school for a while, but they never spoke, because they didn't know each other. Also, he's a big 24 fan, and allegedly freaked out a lot during season 3.

Joel Petrie - Don John/Sexton From Canada, Joel is a connsumate director, actor, and cinematographer. He recently worked as the technical director of UVU's nationally-acclaimed Nosferatu, and is producing a film project during the run of Much Ado About Nothing. He has also directed a mixed-media version of Romeo & Juliet, and performed as Gonzalo in UVU's The Tempest. He was a semifinalist in the Irene Ryan scholarship competition in 2008, and is excited to be performing with Grassroots!

Jyllian Petrie - Beatrice/Watchman Jyllian didn't want anyone to write her bio for her. I can tell you, though, that she's a very beautiful and talented actress, costume designer, and also a fan of 24.

Kacey Spadafora - Don Pedro Kacey recently performed with BYU's Young Company Shakespeare Troupe in Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and sometimes misses the good old days. He enjoys writing, can quote funny lines from Up, and recently turned 21.

Mark Oram - Claudio From Kaysville, Mark has a BS in English from Utah Valley University, and is moving to England in September to pursue an MFA in Staging Shakespeare at the University of Exeter. His recent credits include Touchstone in As You Like It at the Hale, Knock in UVU's Nosferatu, and Helicanus in BYU's Pericles. He is excited for his return to Sundance Summer Theater as Mortimer in The Fantasticks this August. Mark is also a two-time Irene Ryan nominee, and co-founder of the Grassroots Shakespeare Company. He wishes to thank this astonishingly talented cast, our gracious audiences, and his lovely and talented wife Stephanie.

Tyler Harris - Leonato/Boy A realtively recent graduate of Orem High School, Tyler has been acting for many years. He was most recently seen at the Hale Center Theater Orem as Silvius in As You Like It, in which he also played a pig, a sheep, a goat, and a dead deer.

Wes Tolman - Borachio/Messenger Wes heralds from Grand Haven, MI, where his acting career bloomed into something he would want to do the rest of his life. Shakespeare has always been a favorite playwright of his ever since reading/seeing Hamlet and he is very excited to be a part of Grassroots! He has lived in the Utah Valley for a few years and attends UVU pursuing a Bachelors in Theatre Arts, which he plans to complete next year! He has been in various productions while here, most at UVU, one of the most memorable as playing Bottom in A Midsummer Nights Dream last summer. After he graduates, who knows! "Hollywood here I come!"

Special Thanks:

Christopher Clark - Chris is a mentor/inspiration to each of us. He teaches acting at UVU, choreographed our Elizabethan jigs, and let's face it, gives us all a reason to live.
Kate McPherson - Kate was the Grassroots Shakespeare Company's first donor. She teaches English at UVU, and has been greatly supportive throughout our entire process.
Daniel Whiting - Daniel is the stage manager of our production. His help has been invaluable at every step.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Show Must Go On

Last Saturday night we had the first (and, I hope--and fully expect--only) performance of our run canceled. Here's a brief timetable:

Late Friday Night: Wes sends out a message to everyone informing us that he was feeling ill, and Without Voice.

Saturday Morning: The clouds gather--both literally and figuratively. Several of us debate via Facebook the pros and cons of going on with the show, and feel like Wes should probably make the final decision whether or not he feels up to it.

4:00PM: After an afternoon of uncertainty, a verdict is reached--we'll do the show, with our stage manager, Daniel Whiting, on book as Wes' characters.

4:30PM: We congregate at Wes' place for our pre-show barbecue, as planned. Wes decides he'll play Borachio, while Daniel will read The Messenger. The skies clear figuratively, if not literally.

7:00PM: It's time to ship out, and, two-and-a-half hours later, we still haven't generated enough of a flame for any of the hamburgers to cook (except for one lone, medium-well-done burger right in the middle of the grill, which may or may not have actually ever been eaten by anyone). We load everything up (including the grill) in the back of the truck and head over to the park by Springville High School where the Art City Days events are going on, to appease the Muse with our theatrical passions and our unfilled bellies.

7:15PM: Joel and I arrive first. We head on in to the festivities, and, after scouring the premises for twenty minutes or so, conclude that this thing is contained within practically a square foot--there's absolutely no place to set up and do the show, except, perhaps, on the perimeter by some parents enjoying a peaceful chat on a bench by the playground as their wee ones frolicked. That, or on the edge of a parking lot, with our audience sitting in the street, a chain link fence between us, and competing with a classic rock cover band.

7:30PM: We return to the Springville High parking lot, and report the bleak news to our comrades-in-arms. The more enthusiastic rally us round and convince us that the show must indeed go on.

8:00PM: After lugging my 40 lb. accordion for what seems like (and could possibly have been) a half a mile, we set up in the field just outside the festival, where our stage may or may not be invaded by either, a) some kids playing soccer, or b) some kids in a Shetland pony-drawn carriage. We struggle to find a spot that isn't either overshadowed by the giant glowing rollercoastery circle-of-wonder, or made up entirely of mud (since we also have an audience to consider--we hope), all while trying to make as much use as possible of the limited foot traffic we have.

8:15PM: Against all odds, the show begins.

8:30PM: Cue torrential downpour.

8:45PM: Our audience of ten-or-so stalwart souls cowered under umbrellas, the guitar getting soaked, the accordion having fled into its plastic case, those of us wearing glasses now rendered blind either with or without them (covered in obscuring droplets of water as they are), all of us freezing and those in dresses ultra-freezing, the tambourine incapable of producing a decent jangle because the head is so saturated from the moisture, we have, after a hard day's night of fighting the good fight against the anti-Shakespearean gods, finally been defeated. We gather behind the scenes and discuss the best plan-of-attack, and, at the conclusion of Wes and Joel's evil conspiracy scene, step out and thank the audience for their gracious weather-enduring--as we struggle to laugh in spite of the buckets of water being poured down our lungs--then let them know about our next show and where they can find our schedule online (i.e., here).

9:00PM: We retire to the parking lot, bruised, battered, beaten--and, by golly, very beautifully bonded by the shared experience of doing our darndest, by gum. Never has the phrase, "The show must go on" meant so much; and, oddly enough, never have I felt closer to all those in our wonderful little cast.

9:02PM: I search my drenched pockets frantically for five minutes, thinking I've lost my keys.

9:07PM: Phew. I drive home.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Help us advertise for the BIG SHOW!

Do you love the Grassroots Shakespeare Company? Well, we're flattered, and we love you too. If you would like to show your love, enlarge this image:and then print a million copies of it to distribute - anywhere and everywhere! Do it this week, and let's see how many people we can entertain on the 22nd!

Thanks, friends! And as always, check our fan page and facebook event for more info!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hamlet: One Night Only!

That's right, friends. We're tired of having all the fun. We want you to get up on stage with us and try this! The Grassroots Shakespeare Company invites you to try original practices by helping us stage a 1-hour production of Hamlet in ONE NIGHT!

Here's the skinny:

1) If you'd like to participate, email grassrootsshakespeare@gmail.com immediately. If the workshop fills before you sign up, you are invited to come observe the process, but you might not be on stage.

2) If you sign up before Sunday June 14th, you'll receive an email with your very own cue script, taken from a particular scene in Hamlet. Memorize it. I can't stress this enough. In order for original practices to work, you've got to be memorized before our first and only rehearsal.

3) Arrive at Scera Park at 6:00pm on Thursday, memorized and wearing whatever costume you'd like. You'll then participate in the most invigorating and collaborative rehearsal ever. With the others in your scene, you'll figure out your relationships, your place in the play, your blocking, and everything else about your performance. It's fun, fast-paced, and so 400 years ago!

4) At 9:00pm, we will run the entire 1-hour show, from beginning to end. Your scene will fall somewhere in there, so you'll need to be listening for your cue line!

5) Casting is gender-blind, just as it was in Shakespeare's day (because only men were allowed to perform), and you are encouraged to invite friends/family/lovers/bosses to come see your show!

We hope to see you there! Even if you don't want to perform, it's incredibly entertaining and enlightening to watch this process unfold. Theater without a director is quite a sight. And Shakespeare in the park is certainly worth the price of admission: Free.

As usual, we will be accepting donations, and encouraging you to invite, invite, invite!

See who else is going to be there on our facebook event.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mr. Shakespeare, or how we learned to stop worrying and love the cue scripts.

There were a couple things about this project that were a bit of a tough sell. I mean, granted, I was asking a bunch of actors to completely abandon just about every notion they had about theater. No director, no design team, no full copy of the script, and no money... That's a lot to swallow, I get it. But I was still pretty surprised when the "cue scripts," one of the most exciting parts of "original practice" in my mind, was met with more skepticism than anything else.

But, in fairness, cue scripts can be really confusing at first. See, a cue script is nothing more or less than a) an actor's cue lines, b) an actor's own lines, and c) an actor's exits and entrances.

Here's an example from my script:


Why, how now, count! wherefore are you sad?

Not sad, my lord.

How then? sick?

Neither, my lord.


Speak, count, 'tis your cue.

Silence is the perfectest herald of joy: I were
but little happy, if I could say how much.


County Claudio, when mean you to go to church?

To-morrow, my lord: time goes on crutches till love
have all his rites.


My lord, I am for you,

And I, my lord.


So, as you noticed, there are portions of text missing, in which Claudio says nothing, and therefore has nothing written in his cue script. As a result, there's no Act/Scene breakdown, and no overall sense of when lines occur in the play. Everyone's script is only as long as their part, so Beatrice and Benedick have about 20 pages, while someone like Antonio or Margaret has closer to 5. So, when an actor first picks up a cue script, it can be kind of jarring. Like, we're doing a 20-minute play, and I have every other line!?

The other hurdle was the actual creation of these cue scripts. Imagine taking all 22 characters from the play, one by one, and combing through the script to find their cues, lines, entrances and exits, then compiling them into individual cue scripts. All while distilling these 22 characters into 12 roles, and making sure that nobody ends up talking to another version of themselves on stage. It took a long time to do this. Luckily, I have one of those absurdly laid back day jobs, so in one 9-hour day, the cue scripts went from start to finish.

By the time I handed these out to the group, I was pretty attached to them. So when confusion began to set in amongst the actors, I assured them that it would all make sense during our first read-through. Then I prayed that such would be the case. Turns out, they work.

In fact, they're every bit as awesome as I hoped they would be. See, the idea here is that these plays were actually written with the whole "cue script" thing in mind, making it possible for the actors to perform the play with next to no rehearsal! All the relationships, all the entrances and exits, all the action and setting and time of day, are embedded within the lines of the play. So, as long as the actors showed up with their cues and lines memorized, the play could be performed on the spot! It just required heinous memorization skills, and intense listening from everyone. The result, of course, is an immediacy and freshness that helps make original practice so refreshing and energetic.

Our production, because we're good but not that good, was put up in 8 rehearsals. But in spite of all that preparation, the fact that we used cue scripts is pretty evident, at least to us, because they've given us a unique sense of the play's construction. For example, almost all of my entrances are cued by a line similar to "here comes Claudio!" Also, notice the blatant obviousness of the cue lines in the section of script above: "speak count, 'tis your cue!"

As I've rehearsed and performed this way, I've come to really appreciate just how flooded with cue lines and stage direction Shakespeare's text really is. They're everywhere! And they had to be, because in the absence of a director, the actors relied implicitly on the text to tell them what to do.

So, if you're looking for a unique and challenging way to enliven a Shakespeare play, try cue scripts. They're time-intensive, and a bit scary, but in the end they serve to galvanize the actors and enrich the overall experience immensely.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Opening Night

Tonight's performance at the Riverton Arts Festival marked the beginning of an exciting and unpredictable month for our troupe. In less than two weeks, we have gone from the first read-through of our cue scripts, to the first performance of our show. And what a performance it was...

The biggest foe we faced tonight was the weather. Luckily, we avoided rain, but the wind was strong, loud, and constant. Worried that our audience would be unable to hear us, we essentially had to yell through the entire performance. It was an hour and ten minute fight with the elements, but the crowd definitely came along for the ride.

In spite of the stiff breeze, the performance was energetic, quick, and accessible, and the feedback we received from audience members and from the Riverton Arts Festival staff was overwhelmingly positive. Kids and adults alike were enchanted and surprised by our little show, and we had an absolute blast performing it!

So, here's to a few more weeks of successful shows! If you'd like to schedule us for your event, email us at grassrootsshakespeare@gmail.com, or contact us via our facebook fan page. And if you have pictures or video of our performances, feel free to send them our way too!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Down to the Wire: A Sneak Peek into the Company's rehearsal process

It is both thrilling and daunting to think that after just nine short rehearsals the Grassroots Shakespeare Company will be premiering our first production this Friday.
The past week has been one of the most enjoyable and demanding of my life, and I can't wait to see what new discoveries our last three rehearsals will bring--The process has been richly rewarding.
Here's a sneak peek, in a nutshell, of what we have attempted so far:

1-Last Monday, we assembled our cast for a read-through to determine our estimated runtime and check the continuity of the cue scripts. Mark did a beautiful job assembling them and they read with barely a hitch. Our time came in at about one hour twenty minutes. Perfect.

2-On Tuesday we blocked the first third of the play.

3-Wednesday produced the middle third.

4-On Thursday we built a few set pieces. We replaced a cast member. We also got nearly through to the end of the play.

5-On Friday we trained a replacement, filled Wes in on the things he had missed on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and finished blocking the play.

6-Saturday was a long haul. We papier mached each other's faces to make masks for the doubled roles, had our first full run, enjoyed a barbeque dinner, began exploring orchestration, and cleaned the first third of the show.

7-Monday we were rained out and had to move from the park to the gym at Meridian School (many thanks to Cherish for procuring the space) where we cleaned the rest of Wes's scenes--we will lose him again until Thursday.

We are hoping to be totally ready before Thursday night. We have invited Chris Clark, John Graham, Kate McPherson, and Rosanna Ungerman--all local Directors, Professors, and Shakepearean Scholars to give us some feedback before we open on Friday.

I am amazed at how well our troupe has bonded and also at the level of trust and co-ordination this has produced. I had serious concerns going into this experiment about what sort of hang-ups could result from having anywhere between zero and eleven directors at any given moment--but the results have been marvelous and I think you'll see that our work will speak for itself. Our process has been similar for both blocking and cleaning scenes and has played out as follows:
--We run the scene once for sense, to get an idea of what we're looking at and what needs to happen. The actors follow impulses, explore, feel it out.
--Those who are offstage give feedback on what they saw, what they liked, and what could be toyed with. The scene is then run again from moment to moment until all of the pieces come together and everyone is satisfied with the agreed upon directions.
--The scene is then run a final time to "lock it in" and help the actors remember what was agreed upon.
There is surprisingly little disagreement in all of this. Everyone is respectful and patient. Ideas are freely shared and explored. The actors are trusting and open to direction. It's nothing short of magical, and so much more than gratifying.
When it comes down to it, I may miss this cast and our rehearsal process more than anything else. Our performances will just be icing on the cake.