Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Mr. Shakespeare!

Today we celebrate Mr. Shakespeare's 447th birthday!
Also, as of today, The Grassroots Shakespeare Company is an officially recognized and legally qualified non-profit organization!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 Summer Touring Shows

This Summer we aim to be more ambitious than ever before.

We're going to assemble two shows in May and perform them in Rep throughout June.
On top of that, we'll be attempting a remount of last year's production of Romeo and Juliet.
It's going to be a whirlwind ride and there's always the distinct possibility of epic failure.

Our season isn't determined by an artistic director, a producer, or even a director. Our shows are picked by the company who will perform them. That's our philosophy--get the right people on board first, and it doesn't matter so much what show you end up doing, because you'll already have a talented and committed group of artists ready to tackle just about anything.

Last week we assembled our company in a most unusual manner. We let everyone who attended callbacks vote on who they thought should join the company.

Earlier this week, we met for the first time as an ensemble and voted on which shows we should produce.
There were a lot of great suggestions and even more good arguments:

The Main Show
We've got nine men and five women in the company this year. We decided that the main show should offer ample opportunity for the women to showcase their talents, as the Second Show we're doing will, in the spirit of true original practices, feature an all-male cast.
We threw around a lot of titles, but the main contenders were:
The Winter's Tale
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Twelfth Night
As You Like It
As Hamlet offers few parts for women, it was out of the running almost immediately. We gradually narrowed it down to Winter's Tale, Midsummer, and As You Like It, and after much deliberation on the merits of each work, settled on As You Like It for it's accessibility, broad appeal, numerous female roles, and strong ensemble characters.

The Second Show
This is new territory for Grassroots. We've never done an all-male show before, and carefully weighed the pros and cons of each possible title. Those most in the running were:
Taming of the Shrew
Twelfth Night
Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Hamlet and Macbeth both offered the possibility of strong dramatic female roles. Taming of the Shrew and Merry Wives of Windsor both came with the added bonus of advertising a show with references to women in the title--who would be played by men! Twelfth Night carried the fantastic challenge of a man playing a woman playing an man and the comic confusion that audiences both modern and Elizabethan would have delighted in. After talking things over, the vote came down between Merry Wives and Midsummer: Merry Wives being a strong choice for lovable Falstaff and the intrigue of seeing Mistress Ford and Mistress Quickly being played by men, and Midsummer offering accessibility and stronger name recognition.
In the end we went with Midsummer because it will resonate with audiences who have likely seen it before and will be familiar with the story, but in a new way--as we will wager that few have seen it staged with an all male cast.

The Remount
Of all our plans, this one will likely be the most challenging to pull off. We'll have to work hard to get as many of our former company members together again for a short rehearsal process--perhaps only 2 or 3 evenings. And this will be on top of an already crammed schedule. All the same, we're going to go for it! Hold us to it!

2011 Summer Touring Season:

As You Like It

A Midsummer Night's Dream--All Male Cast

Romeo and Juliet: Encore Presentation

All performances in June. 
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Taking Risks: Open Auditions and Trusting the Crowd

Back in the Day

Actors in Shakespeare's day were able to put on ten or more different plays in the space of two weeks. There are several factors that could have made this possible:

1. They had a large volume of plays in their repertoire--and while they rarely performed the same title on two consecutive days, (Or even in the same week) they did on occasion resurrect a popular popular show for an encore performance.

2. The actors consistently played similar types. We know that Will Kemp played such foolish clowns as Dogberry in Much Ado, Peter in R and J, and Launcelot Gobbo in Merchant, while Richard Burbage was known for playing strong leads such as Othello, Richard III, Hamlet, and Lear. If an actor was accustomed to playing a specific type, it would have required much less time and effort for him to learn and develop the part.

3. The actors worked under a company system, and were used to working closely and cooperatively with one another. They must have had an enormous trust and confidence in one another's abilities in order to produce with the speed they did and under  the rigorous conditions they worked in.

What does this mean for Grassroots?

Well to begin with, we do not have a large repertoire, but we will be attempting to remount last year's production of Romeo and Juliet in the spirit of those early companies.

Second, we will be casting our shows democratically--which tends to favor and encourage the sort of type casting that would have been prevalent in Shakespeare's day. More on that in another post.

Third, while we do our best to work under a company system, our track record thus far has been less than ideal. At the beginning of our second year, we had only two of our original twelve company members return for our second season. This year is a little better: We have six of last year's thirteen coming back for another season.

Our first two companies were hand-picked by the producers. This was done in an attempt to ensure that we were getting actors who were not only talented, but had somewhat of a history working together.

This year, in an effort to be more open and inclusive of all hoping to join the company, we held our first ever open auditions. This is a huge risk for us, as speed of rehearsal and production is of the utmost importance for us.

We've planned just ten short rehearsals for each of our new shows this Summer.
How will we beat the steep learning curve that accompanies the rehearsal process for actors unaccustomed to working with one another?

We've decided to take a bold risk in a gambit to build maximum company solidarity in the shortest possible amount of time.

Open Auditions and Callbacks

We held our open auditions and were pleasantly surprised by the volume of interest from the community. We ended up inviting back about twenty-eight people for callbacks.

Here's where things get interesting:

Many of our former company members were among those who auditioned and were invited to callbacks. No one got a free pass. This year instead of inviting everyone back, we invited back no one. Everyone, including former company members had to prove themselves valuable and committed to the group.

Callbacks were full of great energy and competitive talent right from the start.
We were interested in seeing how well people could work together under limited time, so we randomly divided into groups and gave each one a copy of Sonnet 29 and allotted ten minutes of rehearsal to develop the text into some sort of performance.

Some groups focused on choral reading and movement. Other groups divided up the lines and worked on characterization. Each piece was unique and fascinating to watch. Things were off to a great start.

We then switched gears to give every individual present a chance to show their stuff. 

Each participant got one minute to perform a Shakespearean monologue we had asked them to come prepared with.  Then the entire crowd gave feedback: everyone raised their hands and the person performing was allowed to choose three people to deliver feedback or suggestions. After hearing suggestions, the performer was given thirty seconds to incorporate the suggestions in performance.  It was fast-paced, energetic and full of creative choices on the parts of both performers and crowd. We saw some of the most entertaining and colorful performances I've ever seen in a callback. Everyone was given the chance to shine and most did so in a way that delighted and surprised all present.

The Vote

Then came the hard part.  Everyone had performed and seen every performance. It was all out on the table. There was no director there to impress or perform for, and no committee to make the decisions. At this point, we passed out ballots to all the performers present at callbacks and instructed them to vote for the ten individuals who gave the strongest performances and worked best with the group.

The Talley

As we collected ballots, I thought: "I've been a part of this company for two years now. What if I get voted out?"

And that was both terrifying and exhilarating. All the members of the board had agreed that this was the system we would use to determine the company, and no one would be given special treatment.

It was an agonizing evening as we all waited for the results to be calculated.

Finally, when all the numbers were added, we had some pretty definitive results. Most of our former company members who auditioned made the cut, but we did lose one, and that was painful. But there's also a huge payoff here. Everyone who made the company made it because they were voted in, and there's a sense of gravity to that. There's also an automatic sense of camaraderie because when it comes down to it, I'm here because you voted for me, and you're here because I voted for you. There's no director or producer to owe, only a sense of collective obligation and respect for one another from the responsibility that comes from mutual selection. 

The Payoff

So when does the payoff come? Well we sat down and had our first company meeting this week, and it went better than planned. There's already a great chemistry and excitement in the group that we can only hope will endure and increase.

But at the end of the day, the payoff can only truly be measured by the quality of our product. If our company puts on a good show, then and only then can we know that we're a good company.

Friday, April 8, 2011

2011 Touring Company Announced!

The GSC is pleased to announce the ensemble cast for 2011:

Davey Morrison
Cherie Julander
Daniel Anderson
Leah Williams
Robbie Pierce
Jessamyn Svensson
Kyle Oram
Daniel Whiting
Leviticus Brown
Greg Larsen
Aubrey Bench
Nick Grossaint
Heather Murdock
Alex Ungerman

Thank you to everyone who auditioned!

(If you would like to be notified of future auditions, performances, or workshops, like us on Facebook.)