Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Ghostly Encounter

This true encounter shared by, Brenna Brown

The moon was out, I had not heard a clock. 

“Are you sure you will be okay?” Christine asked. She was one of those “mother hen” type of people; her heart of gold would never allow her to leave someone on their own no matter how alluring the thought of going out with the rest of the cast  for food sounded.

“I just have to lock up the restrooms. I’ll be fine.” 

I climbed the stone steps to the restrooms and dressing rooms as Steven and Christine drove away, watching at a particularly large moth throw himself at an unforgiving light. The sickly yellow glow of the seductress light illuminated four doors. Four doors that required the keys in my hand so that the castle could be freed from any living annoyance. 

One. 
I heard a rustling in the bushes to my right. I looking through the leaves hoping to catch a glance at the family of deer who frequented the area around the castle grounds but the only thing looking back at me was the black of the night.

Two.
A clicking from deep inside the dark abyss that was the men's restroom bade me to look inside. “Anyone in here?” I called into the empty space. No reply.

Three.
A cold chill ran down my spine as an autumn wind crawled across the ground, disturbing the fallen leaves as they lay dead on the ground.

Four.
A light was left on inside of the women's dressing room. I quickly went inside, flipped the switch, and bolted out. Taking great caution  to not look in the mirror for fear of seeing the unexplainable. 

As I jabbed the key into the last lock of the four doors a strange feeling came over me. The feeling not of being watched, but observed. As if I were being studied, evaluated, or analyzed. Another rustling in the bushes made my curiosity flee and leave only my fear behind. I sprinted after my courage, hoping to catch it in my car. Relieved to find that I had forgotten to lock my car doors again I threw myself into the driver seat and started the ignition. 
A sigh of relief escaped my lips as I locked myself inside the strawberry scented sanctuary that was my little Mazda 6. I plugged my aux cord into my phone, opened Youtube, and selected my “Rob Starks” playlist. As I pulled out of the upper parking lot Rob sang me a song he wrote when he was seventeen or eighteen.
"In the air, in the air, we won’t have a thought or care abou-"

Buffering. Stupid Youtube.

I glanced at my phone to ensure I was in range of service and upon lifting my eyes to the narrow winding road again my heart stopped.  

I drove passed what appeared to be the mirage of a tall figure walking to the castle but vanished before making it to the other side of the road. The air caught in my throat. My heart began to race. My hands glued to the steering wheel. I slammed on the gas and tore my way down the curving road. My voice screamed only inside my head for my lungs had lost the power to draw air. My mind argued with itself. There is no way- How could I have seen- No. It couldn’t have happened.

But as I sit here now, looking back on that Saturday night, there is no longer doubt in my mind. I saw a ghost. 




Is the castle haunted? Come see MACBETH this Halloween weekend to find out for yourself (if you dare).


. . . make sure to bring a friend. . . 



Monday, October 26, 2015

Unsex Me Here: Finding Lady Macbeth

by Jordan Kramer


One of my favorite original practices the Grassroots Shakespeare Company incorporates into their shows is cross-gender casting. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that Shakespeare’s heroines were originally played by young men and I love the idea that if I had lived in Elizabethan England, I could have had a shot playing Ophelia or Juliet. 

I was fortunate enough to have been involved in Grassroots’ first production of Macbeth back in 2011 where I was cast as one of the three witches (all of whom were played by men). I absolutely relished that role and although I spent a considerable amount time and money trying to create the illusion of femininity for my character, the fact that I was playing other (male) roles meant that I was limited in how far I could take my appearance. 

Since that experience, I’ve always hoped for another chance to play a female role in a Grassroots show, so I was thrilled and slightly terrified when the opportunity to take on the role of Lady Macbeth presented itself. I was determined that I would use what little time and what limited abilities I had to make this an experience that would be satisfying for both myself and the audience. 

One of the biggest challenges the Grassroots experience presents to me is the lack of a director. I can be pretty insecure as an actor and I tend to depend heavily on a director to answer questions that I have about my character and whether or not my choices are being read properly on stage. However, having so many women in the cast has been a tremendous help to my process because I can ask any or all of them at any time for feedback about my character, especially in regards to the female illusion I have tried to create. I wanted to make sure my vocal patterns, posture, gestures, and every bit of my behavior was lending itself to that illusion and my castmates were an invaluable resource in that process; correcting and giving advice about things that never would have occurred to me.

Something I have noticed is that getting into costume really helps to push me into a pseudo-female headspace. The clothing that I wear in the show is not very comfortable or familiar to me and I constantly have to worry about tripping over my skirt or whether my wig is going to fall off or if touching my face will smear my makeup. While this limits the ways I move and carry my body, it also helps to redirect my physical choices into things that are more typically feminine. Additionally, simply looking at my altered appearance in the mirror as I put on each article of women’s clothing forces me to see myself as a different person. It becomes easier to shed my identity and assume the role of Lady Macbeth as it becomes more difficult to see Jordan in my reflection. 

Tapping into the psyche of Lady Macbeth was especially complicated in comparison with other Shakespearian women because the character chooses to specifically shun everything that is traditionally associated with the feminine. She literally calls upon supernatural forces to remove her womanhood in order to better accomplish her desire of obtaining the kingdom. In scenes where Lady Macbeth is especially harsh and domineering, it was difficult for me to maintain a feminine physicality and vocal pattern while making choices that would appear physically and verbally abusive. While women can definitely possess those traits, my mind would automatically conjure up masculine images to support those choices and I had to worker harder to figure out feminine examples of that behavior. One actress I drew inspiration from for these moments was Cate Blanchett in her portrayal of Lady Tremaine in Disney’s latest adaptation of Cinderella (a film which, some would say, I harbor a mild obsession for). Blanchett’s performance exquisitely embodied the cruel, domineering, power-hungry woman who could be simultaneously charming and extremely feminine that I wanted to see in Lady Macbeth. 


More than anything else I have wondered whether or not I possess something worth bringing to the character of Lady Macbeth. The role has been played by so many fantastic actresses over the years that it’s been easy for me, especially as a man, to feel inadequate, but this loving and talented cast has been an amazing source of support and reassurance to me. They’re the best reason to be a part of this show and I can’t wait to share all our hard work with you.








***Only three more chances to catch Jordan's Lady Macbeth. Please don't miss it: http://www.grassrootsshakespeare.com/tickets.html


Need more encouragement? Here's what audiences have to say:


"Jordan Kramer's performance of Lady-M is worth the price of admission alone!" 

 "Don't miss Jordan Kramer's fantastically spooky, extremely well drawn Lady Macbeth." 





Thursday, October 22, 2015

Queen Elizabeth's make up--A Frightening History in beauty

by Emma Robinson

The cosmetics that were worn by women in the time of Queen Elizabeth are drastically different from those we wear today. Not only were the materials they used very different but the look they were trying to achieve was very different as well. Standards of beauty change all the time. To understand the cosmetics worn by Elizabethan women, it’s important to understand the effect they were trying to achieve—that “ideal” beauty they wanted to imitate. 

The ideal Elizabethan female had bright wide-set eyes, snow white skin, rosie cheeks, red lips and fair hair. Pale skin was a sign of nobility, wealth and delicacy was sought after by many. In a time where sunscreen was unheard of, skin problems and pox was a common thing smooth, unblemished skin was a rarity. 

Queen Elizabeth

The pale skin women (and men) wanted was achieved by a number of ways. The most popular being Venetian Ceruse (also known as Spirits of Saturn), a mixture of white lead and vinegar. This white foundation was applied to the face, neck and bosom. Naturally, smearing lead all over one’s skin caused some serious skin damage not only did it make the skin look “grey and shriveled” there was lead poisoning, hair loss and if used over an extended period of time could cause death.
They lined their eyes with black kohl to make them look darker and belladonna eyedrops (used to dilate women's pupils, an effect considered to be attractive and seductive). Fashion required eyebrows to be thin and arched which would create a high forehead it was considered to be a sign of aristocracy. Rouged cheeks and red lips were very popular. This was obtained with plants and animal dyes. 

This conglomerate of makeup would be kept on for at least a week and when they would finally take it off they would use rosewater, lemon juice or a mixture of eggshells, alum, mercury and honey. Many people felt that the mixture left their skin soft and supple. In reality the mixture was actually eating away their skin. 

Learning all this has made me not only grateful for the knowledgable advances in cosmetics that have happened but also has made me question what actually is beauty? And who decides this nonsense. Luckily I will not be doing any Elizabethan makeup for the role of Banquo in MacBeth it’ll mostly be bloody.

Get your tickets to this Halloween's Macbeth: http://www.grassrootsshakespeare.com/tickets.html

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Experience Unlike Any Other

By Zahra Alnasser

Two weeks. Four hours of rehearsal every night. No director. 
To the average thespian, this may sound like a horrendous dream. Not only are you responsible for memorizing pages of Shakespearian dialogue, you also better be prepared with your own costume (or costumes, since you’ll most likely be playing multiple characters), props, makeup, set pieces, and marketing ideas for your show. Okay…but what about the play in itself? Who’s in charge of blocking? Helping actors make character choices? Developing a tone or concept for the play? 
You are, my friend. Yes, you. Welcome to the Grassroots Shakespeare Company. 
My name is Zahra and this is my first production with GSC. Never in my limited theatrical journey have I ever encountered a process such as this, and never again will I find another one like it. Here I will explain to you what it’s like experiencing Grassroots for the first time as a young and na├»ve actress entering the terrifyingly spectacular world of theater. But before we begin, let me give you a run-down of what EXACTLY we do here at Grassroots Shakespeare…

The Process
As mentioned earlier, Grassroots allots about two weeks for rehearsal time dedicated to blocking scenes and then cleaning the tough spots while also incorporating costumes, makeup, set, and music. Two weeks. TWO WEEKS. But it’s possible! How? Lots of dedication. Our actors go into this knowing exactly how much time in and out of rehearsal they will spend on making sure they are up to date on all of their personal deadlines (costumes, props, memorization…) so that rehearsal time is spent purely on working the acting and technical aspects of the production. 
My Experience Are you stressed out yet? Well, you should be! It’s extremely stressful, but it’s also challenging, which is exactly what every actor needs at some point in his/her career. Grassroots teaches you to consider every ingredient in the baking of a production—you’re not JUST an actor, you’re not JUST a designer, you’re not JUST a director. You’re all of these and more. You are a parent, a coach, a mentor. You push your cast just as hard as you push yourself. You come to rehearsal with all of your deadlines met, your lines memorized, and a positive attitude. The cast becomes your family, which means that while you’re constantly surrounded by unconditional love and support, times can get tense… You might be wondering: so how do a bunch of actors manage to successfully direct each other every night without tearing at each other’s throats by some point? Well, it’s easy, really. It’s all in the way you phrase what you say. Instead of using authoritative phrases such as:
“You should…” “Don’t do that…”
“I want you to do this instead…”

I was introduced to using kinder critique, which includes:
“I wonder if you could …” “Could you consider trying such and such…” “Maybe you could explore this rout…”

This is the ideal way we go about directing each other. Of course, as we are humans, every so often feelings can get hurt, which weakens our binding as a team and slows our process. However, the amount of love and reassurance I’ve given and received as a member of this cast has been so overwhelming to the point where petty things like this are incapable of phasing us. This is one of the most tightly-knit casts I’ve ever had the blessing of being a part, and every single thing we’ve done together adds to the beautifully weird production we’ve created. This, what I’m learning, is the spirit of Grassroots. The stress, the dirty jokes, the late nights, the tears, the fake blood, the real blood, and the unity among the cast. This is Grassroots Shakespeare, people. And have we got a show for you.



The show opens FRIDAY! Don't wait to get your tickets: http://www.grassrootsshakespeare.com/tickets.html 


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Shh. . .Don't Say M*cbeth! The History of The Scottish Curse


by Kat Webb

Every actor knows better than to say the name "Macbeth" when in the theater.

It's a tradition, one I first learned in high school. While the reasoning was unclear, all that I knew was that when the name "Macbeth" was spoken during a  rehearsal of Guys and Dolls, we had a fifty pound sand bag fall from the catwalk and nearly take out our Adelaide. Such incidents are not isolated. Every actor I've met has a story about awful accidents happening after the uttering of "Macbeth." There's some discrepancy between actors as to the absolute nature of the curse--stronger incidence of misfortune seems prevalent in performance of The Scottish Play itself, while some are superstitious enough to believe that simply saying the name "Macbeth" while in a theater is cursed.

7 of the most famous tales of woe associated with performance include:


1. It is rumored that the inaugural performance of Macbeth in 1606  nearly fell through when the actor playing Lady Macbeth got incredibly sick and died. Shakespeare himself is said to have stepped into the role. Rumor suggests that the King at the time (a distant relative of Banquo) disliked the play so much that it was hardly performed in the century that followed.

2. The actor playing King Duncan was accidentally killed in a performance in 1672, when the actor playing Macbeth accidentally used a real knife instead of a prop to kill the king.

3. President Lincoln is said to have brought a copy of Macbeth along a trip down the Potomac River in 1865,  and read some passages that follow the scene where Duncan is assassinated. He was killed a week later within the theater. 

4. Laurence Olivier nearly died in a 1937 production of Macbeth, when a weight fell from the ceiling and just barely missed him. And, while he made it out all right, the unfortunate actress playing Lady Macbeth and their director were severely injured in a car crash on the way to the theater. 



5. In 1942, one particular production suffered a total five deaths: Duncan and two of the Weird Sisters, along with the suicides of the costume and set designer.

6. A 1970 production of Macbeth saw the lead get hit in the eye with a sword, and a Lady Macbeth with the flu that spread to the entire cast. Five understudies were needed.

7. Alec Baldwin, in 1998, managed to slice open the hand of his MacDuff during their Off-Broadway run. Ouch.


But why all the mishap and misfortune associated with this play? Some believe that the spells cast by the Weird Sisters contain magic enough to summon dark airs to the theater, that inviting magic on stage is enough to tempt fate. Inclusion of the character Hecate-- Greek goddess of witchcraft, ghosts, and magic--only seems to intensify the effects of this curse. The witches from whom Shakespeare borrowed the lines are reported to have seen the show and were so offended at their rituals being portrayed on stage that they cursed the show. Others believe that simple hazing among actors is what "curses" this play. Veteran actors, trying to spook newbies to the theater, make up stories of woe and tragedy. Others still believe that Macbeth was such a crowd pleaser, guaranteed to bring in an audience, that only a theater on the brink of financial ruin would pull out this show. As it was so popular, failing playhouses were guaranteed revenue from patrons--but only as a last resort. 

Whatever the origin and whatever the direct nature of the curse, actors are almost all aware of the curse surrounding Macbeth. I've been in many a production, and there's always that one person that insists on shouting "Macbeth" the second we're in the theater--and those who are just as quick to hush them. A few remedies exist to counteract the curse, though whether or not it's enough to combat the fated nature of this play remains to be seen. What can you do to counteract the ill effects of Macbeth? Precedent suggests that making the offender leave, perform a cleansing ritual, and then be invited back into the theater are enough to combat tragedy. This cleaning may include spinning around three times, spitting over one's left shoulder, pouring salt over the shoulder, or quoting lines from Hamlet--"angels and ministers of grace defend us!"--to oust any present demons. 


Whether or not the curse is real, I tend to veer on the side of precaution. I've seen enough happen to actors that I prefer not to risk it, though, given that we're in performance of the play itself, that may be unavoidable. Our own cast has already dealt with a hair coloring mishap and a rock cutting the leg of a board member and we're only two days into rehearsal. What else may follow remains to be seen. Let's cross our fingers something more dire doesn't befall this cast . . . or the audience. 


If you dare tempt fate, tickets can be found at http://www.grassrootsshakespeare.com/macbeth.html

. . . Maybe bring a pinch of salt with you just in case . . .