Thursday, October 30, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: AJ Taysom "My Grassroots experience has been educational to say the least"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast member AJ Taysom:

“I don’t understand Shakespeare.” According to local legend, every time someone utters this phrase a thespian drops down dead. I just made that up. Of course if I do inexplicably die someday soon, it goes without saying that I will be suspicious. It also goes without saying that Shakespeare’s language can in fact be difficult; even for actors. Telling yourself you won’t understand what the actors onstage are talking about is a good excuse not to see a show, and may even be your excuse to skip out on ours.
My Grassroots experience has been educational to say the least; I have learned more about staging, costuming, and dramatic structure these past few weeks than I have in an entire semester of school. My experience has also been very humbling. Allow me to explain.

During the rehearsal process, I was terrified for opening night. My main concern was that audiences weren’t going to understand anything that was happening onstage. I had essentially started to make up my mind about everyone who was going to see the show before they even saw it. I assumed that people would simply leave not having understood Shakespeare. Think about how many second hand thespian deaths I must have caused. Opening night came and went, and I was shocked to discover that audiences understood completely what was happening. The applause and laughter came at all of the exactly right moments. In fact, at times I think they understood more than I did.

The give-and-take nature of a Grassroots performance allows for a unique transparency in the storytelling. As the audience reacts to what happens onstage, it builds an interactive narrative with a logical flow that everyone contributes to. It really is magical.

Overall, I have learned two things. You will understand the show; not a single person I have spoken to hasn’t. The nature of the production is catered towards your understanding, and we all have faith in you.

Even if at the end of the day we struggle with Shakespeare and his language, we can rest assured that Shakespeare undoubtedly understood us; and there’s something to that. It’s what makes this work so beautifully well.

About AJ Taysom:
AJ is playing Chiron in Titus Andronicus

This is AJ Taysom's first ever show performing with the Grassroots Shakespeare Company, and he is thrilled to be doing so. He was recently seen as Lucentio in UVUs production of The Taming of The Shrew. His favorite Shakespeare play is Henry IV Part 1.  His other non-acting hobbies include puppetry and film history. 

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Titus Andronicus 2014: Shawn Saunders "Dear Diary"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast member Shawn Saunders:

Dear Diary,
Plastic wax face
glass eyes
they are machines
no hearts
no passion
it's evident
that they are devils
they’re being
is cheerless
but detached somewhere
tucked under
sliced concrete
I am the flower
that blossoms
in the grooves
from the turbulance
I am vibrant
flourishing colors
unnoticed against
the grey
rigid backdrop of society
I survived
can you?
that chilly oozing substance
dripping down
the corner of your mouth
that’s me
you wonder
if you could wipe me clean away
you can’t
I’ll ask what’s for dinner
and you’ll eat
what I give you
I wonder who tastes better?
Titus or Saturnine?
Love Aaron.

About Shawn Saunders:
Shawn is playing Aaron in Titus Andronicus  

Shawn Francis Saunders is an avid reader of Spider-Man comics and enjoys the theatre in moderation. Most recently Shawn co-wrote Hamlet and Ophelia Go Swimming and took the show to the fringe festival in Edinburgh Scotland. Shawn is a vegetarian and pacifist but in this show he will murder you if you look at him wrong.

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mark Oram: His Evolving Relationship with 'Titus Andronicus'

Post written by 'Titus Andronicus' cast member, and Grassroots Co-Founder Mark Oram:

Ten years ago, as a little Theatre student at Davis High School, I wanted to compete with a monologue at the Utah Shakespeare Festival competition. I searched through a few plays until I stumbled upon a speech that gripped my attention - a speech in which a revenge-crazed father invites his handless and tongue-less daughter to witness the cold-blooded execution of her rapists. The material was shocking and grotesque and fascinating; arresting in its urgency and violence. It was a delightfully barbaric piece to perform, and I can still vividly remember competing with it down in Cedar City.

Now that I'm a drama teacher, sending students of my own to the competition, I've suddenly landed the opportunity to play the role of Titus in Grassroots Shakespeare Company's Halloween production. Coming back to this material with more experience, a more critical eye, and a more personal understanding of fatherhood, has been simply joyous. Perhaps that sounds strange, but as an actor I've always relished the opportunity to explore the breadth and depth of human emotion and experience that, in our daily lives, we (thankfully) don't often encounter. Finding the hurt, the compulsion for absolute vengeance, the bitterness of having been wronged and violated so deeply, has been an insane amount of fun as an actor.

And not only have I found a stronger connection to Titus as a character, I think I've finally come to really respect the brilliance of this play. It's often demeaned as mere blood sport, but I think there's quite a bit beneath its gory surface that rewards the thoughtful viewer. Its vivid depiction of the downward spiral that is 'revenge' is so sadly applicable to our current national and international conflicts. Its depictions of racism and misogyny are disturbing, but by the end of the play you begin to realize that Shakespeare has undermined those ideas by showing 'a wilderness of tigers' beneath even the pious, orderly, and culturally privileged. Vengeance corrupts, regardless of the moral justification used to excuse or hide it.

But beyond personal musings and new insights into the play, perhaps the best part of this process has been working with such a brilliantly talented and dedicated cast. I wonder sometimes how we manage to find these people. All our returning Grassrooters are of course wonderful to work with - Nick Grossaint, Jessamyn Svensson, Andy Hansen, Jessica Jean Myer, Shawn Saunders, Addison Radle, Eric Geels, and of course the incomparable Alex Ungerman. And then these newbies! AJ Taysom, Nick Gledhill, Landon Kraczek, and freakin' Claire Inette Wilson. Unreal amounts of talent! These actors have been so willing and open-hearted and honest and focused... and the performances they've brought have simply blown me away. I couldn't be prouder of a cast. 

Titus Andronicus is often laughed off as Shakespeare's amoral, meaningless gore-fest. But in its own time, the eminent theatre critic Ben Johnson claimed it was one of the two greatest plays of Shakespeare's era! For real! I think if you come see it, you may not ultimately agree with that sentiment, but you will certainly be swept along on a harrowing, disturbing, frightening, and ultimately cathartic experience like no other. If nothing else, this play is visceral, immediate, and raw. Those qualities that drew me to it in high school have only become more compelling and nuanced over time. I can't recommend this piece highly enough - if you think you can stomach the content, I promise you will have an unforgettable night of theatre.

It's certainly been an unforgettable ride for this actor.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: Landon Kraczek "We can simply enjoy the experience we have together"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast member Landon Kraczek:

I had the interesting perspective of being in a Grassroots show before I got to see what one is like. This means I had no idea what an intense, thrilling, and fun experience I was getting into. We have so little time to get things done, yet we manage to collaborate and be sure things are done the way they would have been done in Shakespeare's day. I love how the company strives to bring original practices into the shows. On the first day of rehearsal we gathered together to talk about what original practice was and as we talked I saw how passionate people are about making things as authentic as possible. At first I didn't understand why people cared, but now I see. It feels like we are creating a new kind of theater (except it has been around for hundreds of years). One that gives us all more power to create while helping to seamlessly put together a uniform piece. It's awesome!

Still, I didn't fully grasp what we were doing until opening night. We stepped on stage and the audience knew just what to do. They cheered and interacted more then any audience I have ever seen. It was just like I have heard Shakespeare's audiences were. They made the show feel like a rock concert, a play, a stand-up show and a social gathering all wrapped up into one. Just before I die in the show I reach out my hand as if to say “help me, I don’t want to die in this pit”. As I reached out, a few men in the audience reached back, grabbed me, and pretended to pull. The audience was willing to go along with anything we asked them to!

For the past few years I have been discovering that I want to be in shows that are at their core, entirely different from film in the way they affect the audience. In the Grassroots format I have found a means where I can do that. The audience can have a totally different experience from the ones they have every day in their homes. There are no social norms to keep us apart. We can simply enjoy the experience we have together.

Landon Kraczek

Landon is ecstatic to be working with Grassroots this fall. He has a great love of performing Shakespeare. This will be his 5th Shakespeare play. His favorite roles were Caliban in The Tempest, Dromio in Comedy of Errors, and Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew.

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Friday, October 24, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: Jessica Myer "This show has had me thinking a lot about evil"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast member Jessica Myer:

“I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs, a very endearing sight, I'm sure you'll agree. And even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”
― Terry Pratchett

This show has had me thinking a lot about evil.

For those of you not familiar with Titus already, Tamora is not a nice person. Personally, I love playing the antagonist. It's a unique treat for an actor and I've really really been enjoying the experience.

When playing a villain, the expectation is that your character is always going to be bad and wrong. Most people have a need to make things black or white, right or wrong, good or bad in their minds. We feel the need to identify as being good, respectable human beings. We send out signifiers to the people around us to tell them, "Hey, I'm a decent person." One of those signifiers is to distance ourselves from others who behave in a way that we find unsavory. We make them a different kind of entity. We create a sense of "other-ness." We say things like,"I would never do that," or "How could anyone think that was a good idea?" Some people want so badly to be good that they outsource their morality to others they admire, thinking that they will know better. They think, "If I just do this set of things, I will be good," but there are no shortcuts to goodness.

Actors don't have the luxury of indulging in ideology when it comes to examining our characters' actions. An actor may still judge whether an action was good or evil, but they know that the more valuable question is to ask why their character behaves the way they do.

Before our Grassroots shows, we tell audience members to cheer for the good guys and boo for the bad guys, but in this show, you might have a harder time identifying which camp some of those characters belong in. Someone you liked in the scene before may not be so great in the next one. You might discover someone you hated has some redeeming qualities. So, in this way at least, the characters in this show feel more lifelike and complex.

What I think this show highlights and what I personally get out of it is that evil behavior is not achieved by those in the "other" category - inherently bad entities outside ourselves. Evil behavior is achieved when we fail to recognize ourselves in "others". Evil comes from the idea that our feelings mean more than someone else's because we are the ones experiencing them. Evil is more complex and available to us than we give it credit for.

Over the years, critics of Titus have said that this show is immoral. Yes, this show is sick. It is violent and scary. There are parts that, no matter how many times I see them or rehearse them, put me on edge. But, I don't believe that a story depicting immoral behavior makes that story immoral by default. The Greeks knew that theater could be a powerful tool for creating cathartic experiences. I believe that this show is ripe for opportunities to self examine because of the subject matter, not in spite of it.

About Jessica Myer
Jessica is playing Tamora & the Nurse in Titus Andronicus

Jessica Myer is so grateful to be performing with Grassroots again! She most recently performed in the ensemble of Brecht's The Life of Galileo and and as Rosalind & Fluellen in the 2014 Grassroots Shakespeare Summer tour. Her favorite Shakespeare plays are The Tempest and Winter's Tale. She's so stoked that her mom finally gets to see her onstage after so many years of living in separate states! Enjoy the show, Mom!!!

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: Claire Wilson "I feel like Shakespeare has always been a part of me"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast member Claire Wilson:

I feel like Shakespeare has always been a part of me. From my parents forcing my sisters and I to watch Romeo and Juliet (and pausing it to distract us with brownies while my dad secretly fast forwarded through the shot of Romeo’s naked behind) when I was eight, to actually crying in my AP Lit class when the teacher showed that fantastic Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart (and only being a little embarrassed), I fell in love. At whatever point in my life, those plays started to feel like a hunk of my soul, and my love for them has only grown as the years pass.

I always said I liked Shakespeare because it was so old that you could basically do whatever you wanted with it and it would be valid. I dreamed of pieces loaded high with symbolism and dramatic lighting, the audience filled with people knitting their eyebrows together so that it looked like they understood what was going on. That’s all very good, but I think I was missing out on a lot of the fun.

Enter my friend Tori. “Hey, this cool Shakespeare company is doing a show in the park by your house,” she said to me last summer, “We should totally go see it!” I’ll tell you what I saw: my little sister was actually paying attention! You’ll have to believe me when I tell you what a miracle that is, and I think it comes as a result of the collaborative nature of what Grassroots does. It not only relies on the cast to build the show together, but the audience to make it complete.

By being involved in a show that forces all parties present to give their undivided attention to everything around them, nobody has the chance to get bored. This isn’t the kind of show where the most exciting part is watching the actors try to cover up that missed entrance. It has a life of its own, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve been forced to stop acting like a turtle, and stretch in new ways in order to create a show in a way I would never have thought possible. It’s fabulous and exciting and I still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be a part of it. I think you’ll feel that too, when you see it. Seriously, come. Stand in the front and let yourself get pulled into the story; it’s not one that you’ll want to miss.

About Claire Wilson
Claire is playing Lavinia in Titus Andronicus

Claire is thrilled to be a part of her first production with Grassroots. She recently graduated from the Salt Lake School for Performing Arts, where she was most recently seen in Under Construction, and some of her favorite roles include Second Maggie in The Mill on the Floss, Lysistrata in George Bernard Shaw’s The Apple Cart, and Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. She probably likes Shakespeare more than she likes herself, has serious popcorn-making skills, and wants to be a dinosaur when she grows up.

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Monday, October 20, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: Eric Geels " We turn actors into directors"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast member Eric Geels:

My first few days of my first grassroots experience were rough to say the least. We were still a fairly new company trying to figure out the best way to cast shows and we still hadn't figured out the proper vernacular to explain what we were trying to do; many times just saying, well that's just grassroots. It was frustrating coming into that situation. I was an actor that loved to perform Shakespeare and had only done so with a director I could turn to when I was unsure of anything I was doing. I felt as though I would be lost and fail without that safety net.

Something happened though during that Halloween show 3 years ago. I became not only an actor but a director as well. Not only that but I had 11 other directors who had the same goal as me. To tell the best story of macbeth possible. As the 2 weeks of rehearsals flew by (I still think it's crazy we put a show together in that amount of time) I learned to trust in myself and to lean on the collective knowledge of the company. The result of that was an incredibly rewarding and beautifully told story I got to be a part of.

Fast forward 3 years and 6 grassroots shows later and I feel more so than ever that grassroots collaborative nature is still one of the best ways to tell a story. I like to think of the process as a democratic monarchy. We vote as a cast on nearly every decision but in the end you are the king or queen of your performance. We've nearly perfected that vernacular we lacked in the beginning. We tell amazing stories. We turn actors into directors.

I learn daily from this amazingly cohesive cast of Titus Andronicus. I love the responsibility we feel to tell this story in its clearest form. I hope people come to see this show more than any show I've been a part of because of the performances and the love we have for each other.
Stump bump!

About Eric Geels:
Eric is playing Demetrius in Titus Andronicus

Eric is happy to be rejoining Grassroots again. He loves the original practise approach that GSC performs with, 
and is obsessed with their Halloween performances. This will be his 6th show with GSC.

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: Nick Grossaint "I think I get it now"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast Member Nick Grossaint:

I think I get it now.

 My first Shakespeare show was in elementary and we did Hamlet. I had no idea what was going on in our play something about a ghost at the beginning and then everybody died at the end. Bam! Shakespeare!

Years later my comprehension level was about the same. Macbeth, yeah it’s got some witches and stuff. Caesar, dude totally gets stabbed. Romeo & Juliet, Leonardo DiCaprio was in that right? Anytime I’d gone to the theater to see Shakespeare I was bored to tears and I didn’t get what was going on. Why is Shakespeare still being produced? What is there to gain?

Then I was in my first Grassroots show. I got to play Old Adam and Audrey in As You Like It. I had no clue what I was doing. I could barely remember any of my lines and I didn’t know what any of them meant. I had convinced myself that I could understand what was going on. To be honest, after two shows in a Summer Tour I was still just doing the doggy paddle in what seemed to be an ocean of text and story. But I was having the time of my life.

So I did another Grassroots show, and another…. and another….. and another. I would say that I’m comfortable in the water now but each show is still a challenge. A challenge that I take on willing to create something fun, fresh, and inspiring. I have been a part of Grassroots Shakespeare for 5 years and I think I get it now.

The Shakespeare I had grown up with was performed with such reverence that I never imagined that I would be where I am today. These stories for me are best told in front of a lively crowd ready for some action and I hope that people will come out to see Titus Andronicus and experience something unforgettable.

About Nick Grossaint
Nick Grossaint will be playing Saturninus in 'Titus Andronicus'

Nick Grossaint is back and ready to rock with Grassroots! Nicks favorite roles include Dromio in the Comedy of Errors, Banquo in Macbeth, and Autolycus in The Winter's Tale.

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: Mark Oram "Wait, WHAT!?"

Post by Titus Andronicus cast Member Mark Oram:

Wait, WHAT!?

Wait, it’s outside!?

Yes, in the tradition of our Grassroots Halloween shows, Titus Andronicus is being rehearsed and performed at the Castle Amphitheatre, a stony open-air venue nestled creepily into the hillside behind the Utah State Hospital.  Sometimes it gets cold, and yes, sometimes it snows.  But unless we get lightning, the show will go on, so dress warmly and bring a waterproof layer in case of precipitation!

Wait, you even rehearse outside!?

YES!  And let me tell you, it’s magical.  Rehearsing openly in the crisp Autumn air, while a vermillion sunset backdrop slowly fades to black, and pale blue moonlight washes the stage in a ghostly glow, one cannot help but feel connected to the forces of nature that lurk in the language of Titus Andronicus.  This show is a wild ride through the wilderness in each of us, and I can’t imagine a better place to bring it to life.  Grab yourself some groundling(Yard) tickets and come immerse yourself in a truly unique experience, created entirely by our company of actors!

Wait, you don’t have a director!?

Correct, we rehearse without a director.  Instead of having a single mind with a single concept of the play, we work collaboratively, an ensemble of equally-invested actors working together to build each moment of the story.  We are a company of multi-disciplinary artists, and we believe that the collision of multiple perspectives can be a crucible for the creation of magic.

Wait, what's the point of producing such a bloody, violent, scary play!?

Yes, Titus Andronicus is gruesome and disturbing.  It’s also funny and engrossing, and deeply moving.  Be prepared for horror and gore, but more importantly, be prepared to talk with your friends after the show about how this play criticizes elements of our own culture, such as misogyny, xenophobia, violence, and the thin veneer of order that veils our collective lust for power, revenge, and dominance.  And if you have any insights you want to share, head over to our Facebook page!  We’d love to know if our production has sparked a thoughtful conversation or two.

About Mark Oram:
Mark will be playing Titus in Titus Andronicus

Mark Oram is an English, Theatre, and Shakespeare teacher at Corner Canyon High School, and Co-Founder of the Grassroots Shakespeare Company. He has an MFA in Staging Shakespeare from the University of Exeter, where he studied voice, movement, text, and directing at the Globe Theatre. Mark has performed with the Seattle Shakespeare Company, Sundance Summer Theatre, BYU Young Company Shakespeare Troupe, Hale Center Theatre Orem, and Grassroots Shakespeare London.

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Titus Andronicus 2014: Nick Gledhill "Mumble"

Post by Titus Andronicus Cast Member Nick Gledhill:


When I was little, I was grumpy to everyone around me. I didn't like being spoken to or even smiled at. Whenever anyone attempted to smile at me, I would mumble crankily, "Don't smile at me."

Part of my ill-tempered attitude stemmed from my insecurities in not being able to speak clearly. From ages 3-6, I struggled with speaking and would often get tongue tied or stammer. When I saw people smirk at my stutter, a devouring rage overcame me. I didn't like talking. I didn't like people. I wasn't confident in myself and I spent the majority of my childhood feeling disdain for others. Then something in me changed.

My very first visit to Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. I remember being old enough to get over my apathy of people, but I didn't care. 6 or 7 maybe. I distinctly remember walking toward my seat in the theater after shooting a nasty glare at the woman who offered me a booster seat so I could see the show and being so angry with everyone. The curtains rose, and Lysander (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) began to speak. He spoke so clearly and confidently with so many difficult words, I was amazed! He spoke all these fancy words that weren't even his, and yet I believed.

After the show, I knew what I had to do: Get a candied apple and use the restroom. But after I accomplished those tasks I decided that I wanted my voice to be heard. My parents bought me the complete works of Shakespeare at a gift shop and I got studying immediately. I didn't have any difficulty speaking while reading and following the rhyme and meter of Shakespeare's works. Not a stammer, stutter, mumble, or stumble in a single word. Soon, my regular everyday speech was as normal as ever, my confidence grew, and I had no problem talking or engaging with people.

Shakespeare's works have inspired me to live by this principle by every day: Don't be afraid to let your voice be heard. Titus Andronicus is a very scary play- mix it with The Grassroots Shakespeare Company's original practice method and its terrifying. Letting your fears control you doesn't make it better, it just makes it worse. So here's to not being scared. Good luck with that.

About Nick Gledhill
Nick will be playing Bassianus & Young Lucius in Titus Andronicus

Nick has been a huge fan of Grassroots and is so excited to be making his debut performance with them in such a powerful play with such a talented cast. Nick's favorite Shakespearean roles include Macbeth in "Macbeth" and Orlando in "As You Like It".

Titus Andronicus performs at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo Utah from Oct 17th-November 1st 2014. Tickets and Details HERE