Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Actor's Dream: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bard

It's the classic actor's nightmare--the performance is about to start, you've never been to a rehearsal, and you don't know your lines. Most actors I know have had it. I certainly have. Last night I lived it.

I showed up at the Castle to watch Romeo and Juliet, and, roughly thirty seconds after setting foot in the amphitheater, Alex asked me if I wanted to play Lord Montague. This is what I love about Grassroots. I said yes. Of course I did.

Ten minutes to the scheduled performance--Robbie, still dizzy from blacking out and vomiting during the last show (but still sticking it stalwartly through to curtain call), walks me through his blocking. My blocking. I write all my lines down on a little piece of paper, strategically folding it up into segments arranged by scene. And I laugh at how ridiculous this all is. And awesome.

Robbie gives me a hat, a belt, and a little strip of red cloth that acts as a tie for my costume--I put this on over my street clothes. A hammer is my weapon. A hammer. OK, I'm starting to get a feel for this Montague guy. "I play him kind of like a viking," says Robbie. OK. A viking. Great.

I'm still backstage--scribbling my lines as fast as I can while Robbie dictates--when the rest of the troupe starts playing music, doing dances, juggling, singing the alphabet, anything to give us the couple minutes more we need before the play starts. Prolonging the inevitable. Bless them.

And, before I know it, I'm onstage, in front of an audience, performing Shakespeare.

When you do a bit of performing, it's easy to lose that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling--that sense of nervous, giddy anticipation, just before walking out on stage, like the moment when you reach the top of a roller coaster and realize just what it is you've gotten yourself into, and maybe wonder what you were thinking. But it's that excitement--that hope, that prayer that you're going to make someone smile or laugh or cry or simply feel something, that you're not going to make a complete imbecile out of yourself--for me, that's what performing is all about. The hope that tonight, somehow, is going to be magical.

Well, that feeling's here right now. In droves. I hope I don't look too ridiculous. But if I do--well, at least I won't go down without a fight.

Onstage, I try to be in the moment. I watch the other actors, I listen, I respond. They're the only clues I've got, and I'm desperate. Offstage, I read the lines on my paper, over and over again, trying to split my attention between not missing a cue and drilling these words into my head--there aren't too many of them, but the clock's ticking. Little snippets of dialogue drift through. "Palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss." "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" "Holy St. Francis!" It's a little surreal.

And I've never experienced anything like it. Memorizing all my lines, trying to create a character, and performing it for an audience, all within the space of an hour and a half, the time chopped up into entrances and exits--and, of course, the moments between. It was an entire rehearsal and run--a process that normally takes months--in less than two hours. To say it was exhilarating would be an understatement. To say it was daunting would be self-explanatory. To say it was one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had as an actor would be pointless. Well duh it was.

It's hours later, and I still can't sleep from the adrenaline. I love all the members of this cast that I got to be a part of, even if it was only for a night. I was able to work with people I both respect adore, in a show I didn't think I'd be able to be a part of, reciting some of the most immortal words ever committed to paper, taking part in one of the craziest and most imediate performative processes imaginable.

Nightmare? It was a dream.

And I guarantee that it's the sort of dream that could only happen with Grassroots.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What You Won't get at a Grassroots Show

Has the following ever happened to you?
You pay an exorbitant amount of money for a little slip of paper. On this little slip of paper is the written the location of a single seat in which you must sit for several hours. It's sort of like timeout, except you are expected to come dressed up. A man takes the little piece of paper you just paid a lot of money for, and he tears it in half. You go and sit in your timeout seat and they turn off the lights. You sit in the dark and think about what it is you've done to deserve this. Then, a group of people appear in some light at the distant end of the room. Sometimes it's hard to see them because they're so far away. They pretend to be somewhere else. They pretend like you don't exist and will ignore you if you try to speak up. They also expect you to be totally silent and not to cough or shift in your seat because it will distract their delicate pretending. They will also expect you to pretend like you're not there either. (At this point everyone is pretending they're not there. Or at least wishing they were somewhere else) Then, the lights will come up again for a bit, and you will be allowed to wait in line to use the restroom and spend four times the normal price for junk food. But you must be quick about it, or they might not let you back into the dark room. Also, if you lose your ripped up paper slip, you might not get back in. But if you do, you'll get to sit quietly in your special seat again, until the people up front are done pretending to be somewhere else and finally choose to acknowledge you. They'll bend at the waist and expect you to show your admiration and gratitude by slapping your palms together like a walrus.  They may run on and off their platform several times, or hide behind some velvet fabric that comes up and down from the ceiling until all the people in the room are done acting like walruses. Then, if you're really lucky, as you're leaving you'll have the opportunity to pay fifty bucks for a t-shirt with the special people's faces on them. The pretenders will pretend the same thing in exactly the same way every night for years on end and will ignore the watchers in exactly the same way. If you pay money to come to timeout again, you will probably see nearly the same thing every time. 
Yes. This is bad theatre. Theatre that is dead. That has lost any semblance of being responsive or sensitive to the audience. Is all modern theatre like this? Of course not! We love theatre of all kinds, shapes, and types! Sometimes we even like the above experience! But at the same time we realize that this sort of an experience is pretty weird when you think about it.
We promise that when you come see a Grassroots show, you'll probably be in for a pleasant surprise as to how something so crappy and low budget can be so entertaining at the same time.
Our idea of the word "Play" might be a little different:
We show up at the park. Or the festival. (where else but the park if you're going out to play?)  We set up a makeshift stage. It looks a little funny, and people walk by and ask us what on earth we're doing. We invite them to stick around and find out. We come out wearing things we found in our closets or bought at DI. We've spent the absolute minimum time we possibly could in rehearsing the show. It appears to be a nightmare. But people like watching a train wreck. Or at least they're fascinated by the potential of one. So they stick around and watch for a minute. Dan is wearing a dress and a wig. He comes out plays the accordion. He teaches everyone a song. We talk to the audience and are sure to let them know that they can actually throw rotten fruit at us if they don't like the show. They laugh, but they're still afraid/intrigued by our yardsale appearance. Things progress from there and the rest is magic. Our shoddily clothed actors are beneath their makeshift trappings master showmen. They are equipped with a lightning fast one-hour cutting of one of Shakespeare's greatest works and they know how to use it. They speak directly to the audience members. They walk in and out of the crowd. The audience speaks back. They listen. They respond! We all laugh. We tell a story together and then we dance a jig. No one has paid a dime because we'd do it whether we had the money or not, but we ask the audience to contribute a dollar or two after the show because with a little padding in our pockets we're able to play a little more. And they do. Our audiences are incredibly generous in support both fiscal and non. We couldn't be happier.
So what are you waiting for!? Come on out and play with us!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review from Utah Theatre Bloggers Association!

Utah's premier online theatre review journal had this to say about our show on Saturday in Kaysville:

 "Romeo and Juliet 
by the Grassroots Shakespeare Company 
isn’t just a play
or a show
it’s an
Check out the full review on their website!

Monday, June 14, 2010

On the Road!

The first four shows of our summer tour have been a blast and we're just getting started!
Here's a quick recap:

Opening Night: Eagle Mountain Summer Fest  6/4
We got lost on the way there. It was cloudy, then sunny and hot, then cloudy again.There was nowhere to park. The rides were noisy and the wind picked-up, blowing our  traveling stage over before the show began! But after a little bit of good, old-fashioned, carnival barking, we drew a small but interested crowd of around 40 or so. After Act I, the wind really started blowing and it our actors backstage had to hold onto the ladders to keep them on the ground. Eventually, we decided to tear down our curtain, which was acting like a giant sail. Pause.
Here's where you ask--how is this in any way a success?
For many reasons.
First off--the show was still great! There was a gaggle of first graders in the front row who sat entranced the whole time. Things were crazy and we had more than a few curveballs to deal with, but that's half of what made things interesting and entertaining! Actors in Shakespeare's day had to deal with just as much, if not more, and there are countless stories of how this made their shows memorable. We left Eagle Mountain confident that we could draw a crowd even in the midst of a hundred competing attractions, and still show the audience a good time even in a wind storm. We're just as much about the adventure as anything else that comes along with it.

BYU Botany Pond 6/7
We invited a few local FHE groups and had about 120 people show up! The weather was perfect and after battling the elements at Eagle Mountain, we felt like we were sprinting after a long jog with weights. Benvolio climbed a lamp post while looking for Romeo, Nurse played the accordion, and several people in the audience shouted suggestions during the scenes--just how we like it! We're all about audience interaction! But aside from the show being an absolute blast to perform, there's not much else of a story to tell you. We're saving the good stuff for the recount of our next show...

Orem Summerfest 6/11
It rained on us for nearly every show last year during our tour for Much Ado. Some of that rain came back to haunt us at Orem Summerfest this year, but we came prepared with a gigantic over-sized tarpaulin to lay down to keep our groundlings dry! Our audience also came prepared  with umbrellas and ponchos--which came quite in handy when the light sprinkle became somewhat of a pour during the 4th act.

Shakespeare's actors would have been a bit luckier, as the original Globe theatre had an awning which covered the stage--but his audience, as ours, would have to have been prepared to get a little wet if the weather kicked up during a show.
Romeo raised his deathly poison up against the winds, cursed the stars, and died soaking and miserable by Juliet's side. The Montagues and Capulets rushed in to find the ground soaked with blood and rain, and Prince, silhouetted against the darkening clouds, delivered a somber epilogue we'll never forget. Then we joined hands and danced a jig in the rain!
All in all, we had a great time, and our audience did too! (Or at least they led us to believe so with their applause)

Kaysville Tabernacle Park 6/12
Several of our cast members are from Kaysville, so when we were putting together our itinerary this year, we made sure to make Kaysville a prime stop--and what a great crowd they turned out to be!
Eariler in the day, the weather was still dour, and we kept up on the hourly forecast to see if an outdoor show would even be possible. We can handle a fair amount of rain, but we'd rather not deal with the wind again--and we've yet to figure out how to keep our set on the ground in a gale.
But everything worked out better than we could have hoped. The skies cleared and nearly 60 enthusiastic audience members turned up to see the show. They were our smartest and most responsive audience yet--picking up on a  lot of the humor some others had missed. We can't wait to come back to Kaysville next year.

So our tour is off to a great start, and we've still got 9 shows to go!
Later today we'll perform at Canyon Glen Amphitheatre up Provo Canyon--7:15pm. If you haven't seen the show yet, bring a blanket and some friends! You won't regret it!

Photos courtesy Tim Sondrup, Kaysville Show--6/12

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Open Rivals! (Secret Friends)

Shakespeare's London was full of acting companies vying for an audience. The Southbank theatre scene was often the setting for many fierce rivalries between players, writers, and entire companies!
The Grassroots Shakespeare Company is proud to announce that we too have rivals! How exciting is that!?
(We may secretly be friends as well, BUT when the plagues forced theatres in London to close, actors and companies often banded together and did whatever was necessary to survive--so there is a precedent!)
If you're looking for some fun, free, open-air theatre this weekend, we'd like to suggest that you check out two of our favorite rival's productions--both performing this week!
Check out: 

June 10, 11 & 12
Canyon Glen Amphitheatre
Provo Canyon
Pierce Barney
Maggie Boughton
Jamie Denison
Donna Hatch
Brittany Hemsath
Brian Kingery
Eric J. Laflamme
Benjamin Lewis
Taylor Jack Nelson
Bryn Dalton Randall
Lisa Russo
Kacey K. Spadafora
Check Out: Clue! for more info!

Much Ado About Nothing
Utah Shakespeare in the Park
June 11 & 12
Memorial Park
Emily Foster
Peter Layland
Christopher Davis
Bryan Bowerman
Sarah-lucy Hill
Jennifer Chandler
Jackie Johnson
Matt Christensen
Chad Whatcott and
Melanie Adams

Directed by Anne Shakespeare 

Check out: Utah Shakespeare in the Park for more info!

And of course, you really can't miss our show either!
The Grassroots Shakespeare Company
Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays
June 4th-July 5th

Daniel Joseph Anderson
Matthew R Carlin
Erin Crabtree
Becca Ingram
Greg Larsen
Amos Omer
Jack Kyle Oram
Eric Phillips
Robbie X Pierce
Trevor Robertson
Amy Smith
Jessamyn Svensson
Alex Ungerman

Check out the Grassroots Facebook Page for all the latest updates on our summer tour! 
Come see us! Come see our rivals!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


ROMEO & JULIET coming soon to a park or festival near you!

Fri June 4th
Eagle Mountain: Pony Express Days Summer Fest
Nolan Park--7780 Sparrow Hawk Way, Eagle Mountain
Mon June 7th
BYU Duck Pond
800 N 450 E Provo

Fri June 11th
Orem Summerfest
City Center Park 100 N 300 E Orem

Sat June 12th
Kaysville's Barnes Park
Barnes Park--Southeast Lawn

Mon June 14th
Canyon Glen Amphitheatre
Provo Canyon

Fri June 18th
Pleasant Grove Strawberry Days Festival
Downtown Park--200 S Main St. Pleasant Grove

Sat June 19th
Logan Summerfest
Tabernacle Square 100 N. Logan

Mon June 21st
Castle Amphitheatre--Double Header!
1300 E Center St. Provo
7pm + 9pm

Fri June 25th
Southwest Lawn--699 S. State St. Orem

Sat June 26th
Cedar City
Main Street Park

Mon June 28th
Thanksgiving Point Gardens
3900 N. Garden Drive, Lehi

Sat July 3rd
Rock Canyon Park: Pre-Fireworks show
2620 N 1200 E Provo

Mon July 5th
Nielsen's Grove Park
1931 S Sandhill Rd. Orem

Bring a blanket and a friend to this fast-paced, funny, and touching one-hour abridged version of Shakespeare's beloved classic romance tragedy Romeo and Juliet.

The Grassroots Shakespeare Co. performs in open air with free admission and is made possible by the generous patronage of everyday people like yourself. Suggested Donation: $3