In the Midst of Tech

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Friday night, The Servant of Two Masters entered the newest phase of rehearsal: tech.  Technical Rehearsals (most commonly known as “tech”) is when we leave the classroom we’ve been rehearsing in and move on stage.  One by one, the technical elements of costume, make-up, lights, sound, and props are added, and every night we get a little closer to having the full show on stage.

For this show, the first order of business was spacing.  With the nature of the set, the cast needed time to see how blocking they’ve been practicing worked with the backdrop (with its door and shutters), the fountain, the ropes, and the entrances and exit.

Once the cast felt comfortable with the space, the second element added was props. While the cast had access to “rehearsal props” during the first few weeks (items that resemble or stand in place of the actual props), the transition from rehearsal props to real props can always be a little tricky. Some items don’t work the same way, or are a slightly different size or shape, and so the cast, director, stage manager and prop designer have to work together to make sure that everything is perfect.

Tonight we start to add two more elements: lights and costumes. Since lights and costumes can have a major effect on each other (just imagine what would happen if you had a beautiful red dress put under a dark green light), lights and costumes are being added together to make sure that both designers (as well as the director) are happy with the results.

With each night we are getting one step closer to the final look of the show!

And just to give you an idea, here’s a little sneak peak at one of our publicity photos…

servant pub

 

“Nice customs curtsy to great kings.” Henry 5 Act 5, Scene 2

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Brigham Young University’s Young Company production of Henry 5 will bring with it a different, but perhaps not wholly unusual cast. The title role of King Henry V is being played by Mackenzie Larsen, a pre-acting major. In fact, there are four women in the cast of seven, and only one female role in the script. All the women are playing male roles.

The cast of BYU's Henry 5.

The cast of BYU’s Young Company Production of HENRY 5.

Making a cross-gender casting choice in the title role of Henry 5 may come as a surprise to some theatre goers, but it is not without precedent. From the beginnings of professional English theatre in the 1560s to the closure of the theatres in 1642, boys were the performers of female roles in an age when it was considered unacceptable for women to act. Cross-gender casting (boys playing women) was therefore a familiar and acceptable practice, even an expectation, in Elizabethan theatre. However, women did not begin to appear on the stage in England until 1661, and when they did, they played women.

A lot has changed in the last 350 years. Casting women in male roles while reading the character’s gender as female is becoming a bit of a trend in theatre and film today. Fiona Shaw played the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard II in London in1996. While the production received initial mixed reviews (mostly because of casting Ms. Shaw as Richard), it did open up the idea that a woman could play a woman in a man’s role, rather than attempting to portray a male in the way boys portrayed females in Elizabethan theatre. For example, this idea was carried further when in 2010 Helen Mirren played Prospera in The Tempest, a decidedly female portrayal of the exiled sorcerer.

Mackenzie Larsen plays King Henry V in BYU's HENRY 5.

Mackenzie Larsen plays King Henry V in BYU’s HENRY 5.

The director of BYU’s production of Henry 5, Megan Sanborn Jones, stated that part of her decision to cast a female in the title role lay in the fact that “there are simply not enough great roles for women, particularly in Shakespeare.” She also found that she gained new insights into the role through this casting choice. It prompted a very particular way of adapting Shakespeare’s script into a 50-minute play.

When Mackenzie Larsen learned that the title role would be played by a female, she was excited. “I loved the idea of having a female put in such a position of power.” As she became more familiar with the script she found that some of the lines are about “manning up and being like a King.” Larsen states, “The way these lines read with a woman as Henry gives them new meaning and gives the audience new perspective. The factor of being a woman and trying to prove yourself to a bunch of men makes Henry’s story that much more inspiring.”

Larsen says she has found that one of the challenges in taking on this role has been actually playing Henry as a girl. But she has found that once she stopped worrying so much about making the part fit the way people expect it to be, and just allows herself to be in the moment, she overcomes those concerns. She says, “Being present is powerful enough.”

BYU’s Henry 5 opens February 6th and runs through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

A Run for the Designers

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

For The Servant of Two Masters, the first two weeks back in school have been focused creating the foundation of the show.  Lines have been memorized, characters have started to develop, the overall blocking (movement of the actors) has been set, and the beginning ideas for all the lazzi moments in the show have begun to sprout.  So much creation has been done, that the next step was to do a Designer Run.

A Designer Run is the first moment that the cast performs the show all the way through for the designers.  While still very much in the beginning stages, it gives the designer’s the opportunity to see the world that is being created and to make sure that the ideas that they are developing in their individual shops are still working.  This past weekend, the set, lighting, costume, sound and prop designers all joined with the cast, the director, the assistant directors, the stage manager and myself to watch the cast put the whole show together for the very first time.

It was a good time.

Here were some of my favorite moments:

Our first intro to the characters

Our first intro to the characters

Our lovers are introduced

Our lovers are introduced

Rivalry? Or alliance?

Rivalry? Or alliance?

The servant girls come out to play

The servant girls come out to play

Chaos starts to ensue

Chaos starts to ensue

Things start to heat up

Things start to heat up

And we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what this show is to become!

The Power of Spectacle in BYU’s Phantom

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

As The Phantom of the Opera continues to show strong at BYU I began to reflect a little on the power of the spectacle, due in part to my love for works by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Other musicals by Webber, besides The Phantom of the Opera, are also very popular: Jesus Christ, Superstar; Cats; Starlight Express; Love Never Dies (the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; and Evita. As the pictures show, there is a lot of eye candy in each of these shows, whether through costumes, musical numbers, scenery, lighting, or even directorial choices. Wherever a Webber musical arises, there are sure to be “wow” moments that send the audience on a roller coaster of fun.

Starlight Express's rollerskating set

Starlight Express’s rollerskating set

 

Love Never Die's Coney Island Spectacle

Love Never Die’s Coney Island Spectacle

 

Cats-the costumes are absolutely incredible

Cats-the costumes are absolutely incredible

Now let’s return to BYU’s production of The Phantom of the Opera and take a closer look at what Tim Threlfall’s directorial decisions are to make this show a spectacle like the one on Broadway. Let’s begin at the beginning. We have combined both the orchestra and sound bytes to help portray the show in a manner that envelopes the audience. This isn’t like Oklahoma, where all the music comes from the microphones and orchestra pit. This show has pre-recorded music, such as frog croaks and Phantom voices. Also, Doug, our student sound designer, has the voices moving across the speakers, so it appears the Phantom is moving as well. This is all to create a more spectacular experience as you view the show.

Also, when the Phantom decides to rain on the Masquerade parade, he enters with a very menacing costume. I was very tempted to add this to my display outside of the DeJong Concert Hall, but I want this costume to be a moment of surprise for those who will attend, and hopefully it was for those who already attended. Deanne DeWitt did an amazing job constructing this costume.

What would this production be without fog and a boat? Well, pretty much nothing according to our standards. So, we have fog and a boat. This is a remote controlled car that navigates among the fog during the iconic Phantom song. Once parked on the side of the stage, it is very easy to take it off stage left. To see an up-close picture of this sequence, go to the HFAC display on the south stairwell.

Our director had some issues to clear up before we could fully present this musical. For instance, how do we make the Phantom disappear during the scenes where he is supposed to drop through a trap door? The answer comes twofold: fog and flying. First, we have used a lot of fog to help eradicate the audience’s view of the Phantom. This also serves as a neat effect that fills the stage with an ominous feeling of obscurity. The flying is a neat addition that helps the Phantom appear as a master magician, as Madame Giry informs us. Many hours of practice have passed so all those who are hung/flown in the musical would do so in a safe manner.

These are only a few ways in which this musical has kept its spectacle at BYU. For those who have already seen this musical at BYU, why don’t you let everyone else know your favorite parts that really stood out to you as a spectacle within the show. This could be costumes, dance routines, lighting, sound, etc. Be careful of spoilers though!

Making the Media: “Stars”

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

The last song in Gone Missing, “Stars,” discusses how when you lose something all that you have left is the memory of what once was, like that thing never existed.

Last semester, our media team broke down the script, choosing moments to mediate in both Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief. “Stars” is one of these chosen moments. As a group, they decided to project a video in the background of a table crowded with objects. As the song, progressed the objects would disappear, leaving only the memory behind.

Simple right? It would seem so, but it is incredible how much work goes into one little clip.

The first thing that must be done is to set the specifics. What is the setting? Where should the table be in that setting? What kind of table is it? How big should it be? Will it look good on camera? What kind of objects do we want/need? How many? How crowded should it look?

The day before shooting the director, production designer, props mistress, and film crew met in the prop shop to check out some of the options for table and objects.

Production Team discussing what they want the table to look like.

Production Team discussing what they want the table to look like.

We decided we wanted the table to be in a nondescript location. We’d accomplish this by focusing on the table top itself.

Deciding on the focus we wanted for the shot of the table.

Deciding on the focus we wanted for the shot of the table.

We also decided we wanted the table littered with objects with no space separating one from the other, like an ISPY book.

I Spy

We decided we wanted the objects to be a mix of things that our characters talk about and random things that could be lost.

Some of the objects someone might lose: candlesticks, curlers, a mirror, decorative knick-knacks...

Some of the objects someone might lose: candlesticks, curlers, a mirror, decorative knick-knacks…

The next day the crew met in Studio A to film. They started setting up at 3pm, began shooting at 5, and finished at around 7. Not bad for a 3 minute moment!

 

The Study Guide Process at BYU, à la Phantom

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

Here at BYU we produce playbills for each of the shows. When you arrive, one of the ushers hands you a playbill so you may learn a little bit about the actors and the world of the play. Here are some examples of previous performances’ study guide covers.

                              

As dramaturgs we are responsable for the study guide found in each of the playbills for our shows.There’s a lot of work that goes into each of these study guides. As an example, I would love to illustrate our process for Phantom of the Opera.

Each year advertisers buy ad space to help pay for the costs of producing each show’s playbills. The playbill is the program we pass out at the beginning of each show. Inside we have a director’s note, a dramaturg’s note, the cast for that particular show, a list of our donors, and advertisements. The BYU dramaturgs are mainly concerned with the pages found in the middle fold-out of the playbill.

The process for the Phantom study guide began a few weeks ago when co-dramaturg Dr. Tanner and I met to discuss content. After speaking with the director, Tim Threlfall, we were able to decide on a few articles that would help our audiences with some interesting facts and sometimes confusing information about the musical. For example, how did the Paris Opera house come to be? (Which is one of the articles I am writing for our study guide.)

After we wrote our articles, we sat down in our dramaturgy class to, well, dramaturg our articles. We spoke about the positive aspects of our articles and some opportunities that could help them be more accessible. Our ultimate goal is to help the audience have a more meaningful experience with our production. Through that discussion we were able to garner some helpful tools to rework our writing.

Here’s an example of Bianca Morrison Dillard’s study guide for our current production of Holiday.

For Phantom, Dr. Tanner and I are currently in the process of reworking our articles and working with our graphic designer to set up how they will ultimately look. However, one of the difficulties for putting together a study guide is finding pictures. There are millions of pictures found on the internet. Easy to collect pictures then? Wrong! Boy, have I found out that finding the right quality of picture can be difficult sometimes. Our restrictions for pictures are that they should be at least a few megabytes in size, as well as .TIF format.  In other words, there’s a specific format for us to follow for us to bring high quality to pictures to go with our articles.

(Photo courtesy of Richy 19 at facepunch.com)

I hope this has been a neat glimpse into part of the job of our dramaturgs here at BYU. The next time you attend one of our productions, feel free to peruse through the middle section of the playbill to see the work of your local dramaturg.

Commedia Bootcamp

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Before we headed off for the Thanksgiving holiday, Director Stephanie Breinholt and myself put our Servant of Two Masters’ cast through a “commedia bootcamp” – a day dedicated to learning the history, characters, physicality and movement styles of commedia dell’arte.  This bootcamp will serve as the foundation for the style and physical world of our eventual production.

It was a hilarious day.

Here are some of our favorite moments:

 

Moment Work and the Henry 5 Project

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

The development of BYU’s Young Company production of Henry 5 is growing out of a series of workshop-style classes that are part of the course TMA 401 Contemporary Theatre Practices.  Last week the students began blocking some of the segments of the play. Blocking is the process of planning where, when, and how actors will move about the stage during a performance. Normally in blocking a show, the director determines where the actors will stand or cross and position themselves in the course of the play. For Henry 5, however, blocking is being determined by the cast, the crew and the class of TMA 401 using a process called moment work.

Tectonic Theatre Group

Moment work is a technique developed by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project (The Laramie Project, 33 Variations). It focuses on the importance of theatrical exploration in the creation of new work, especially in the early stages of new play development. Describing what moment work is the Tectonic Theater Project’s web site states: “Using a laboratory setting, the technique encourages the participants to create work that is uniquely theatrical. It pushes writers, actors, designers and directors to collaborate in the making of work that focuses on using all theatrical elements. The technique breaks apart the traditional roles of theater artists, enfranchising artists of all disciplines to move out of their defined roles and become theater-makers: true investigators of the possibilities of the medium.”

In the TMA 401 class, members of the Henry 5 project selected a single line, a primary action, or a minute circumstance that arises somewhere in the script of Henry 5, and developed that bit into a moment of the play, an articulated moment of movement and meaning that encapsulated either the concept or the progression of the play as a whole. These moments developed by the students may later find themselves becoming part of the BYU production of Henry 5, which will then travel with the Young Company touring group to elementary schools up and down the Wasatch Front next semester.

Works Cited

Causey, Trish. “blocking – A definition of the theater term blocking.” Welcome to the Official Theatre Site on About.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. http://theater.about.com/od/glossary/g/blocking.htm.

“Tectonic Training Lab.” Tectonic Theater Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. <http://www.tectonictheaterproject.org/Tectonic_Training_Lab.html>.


Fireworks, New Year’s Tradition, and Artistic Decision

by Bianca Morrison Dillard, dramaturg

Fireworks have been a New Year’s tradition in this country since I’ve been alive; we see them particularly on New Year’s and the 4th of July. They connote celebration, excitement, awe, the new year, love of country, and that excited feeling you get during a really great kiss! As a visual symbol, they are pretty packed when it comes to meaning.

Holiday is a play that rings in the new year on stage. Our director, Barta Heiner, was toying with the idea of “fireworks” being seen through a window on stage as the play clocks in the new year, so she asked me if the characters would have been able to see fireworks through their window in 1928.

Here’s what I discovered.

The text suggests that the family lives on 5th avenue in New York City. A Google search tells me they would certainly have been able to see the Times Square fireworks from their house, had there been any that year.

So the question remained: Would there have been fireworks in Times Square or elsewhere in New York City in 1928?

Here’s a little about what I discovered about the history of New Year’s Eve in New York City.

Before the New Year’s celebration was held at Time Square, it was hosted in lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church. In 1903, as a marketing strategy, Time magazine decided to host the celebration in their new building on Times Square. (This came as a great relief to the church, as the parties could get quite raucous–there was not only drunken, disorderly conduct, but one account I found reported that people would throw bricks in the air as part of the celebration.)

A fireworks display rang in the new year until 1906, when it was outlawed, as it posed a hazard for the spectators below. (Funny, there was no mention of outlawing the throwing of bricks–but then who am I to question tradition?) In 1907 the fireworks were replaced by the famous “ball drop.” When did the fireworks become legal again for commercial displays, and when did they re-enter the New Year’s scene at Times Square?

I found a source that suggested there may have been fireworks over Yankee Stadium on the 4th of July in 1927 and again in 1928 when the Yankees won the the World Series, though both of the sources I found were never quite clear as to whether the “fireworks” were the symbolic kind, made when something really exciting and magical happens, or the literal sort, where an explosion is intentionally set off for visual effect.

As Barta and I discussed my findings it seemed to me that the decision (fireworks or no fireworks on stage) was ultimately up to her–she should feel free to make this decision based on her artistic sense of the moment. I asked, “Is it a symbol that effectively communicates to our audience today what you want to communicate?”

This experience left me wondering, what if a historical answer was definitive? Would that decision, or the decision-making process have looked different? Would Barta still have felt empowered to make the artistic decision she felt worked best for a modern audience, or should she have felt constrained by historical findings? Should historical research constrain us in this way? What should be the most important considerations as we work to communicate an older text to a contemporary audience? Who ultimately has the final say, historical research or artistic choice?

These questions don’t have to be rhetorical. What’s your take? For those of you who have actually seen the production, does the choice she made work for you? What experience have you had with contemporary anachronism effectively or ineffectively communicating to you as an audience member or as a member of a production team? Have you seen contemporary anachronisms effectively communicate historical situations in a way that was easier for you to understand as a contemporary audience member?

For more reading on the History of New Year’s at Time Square click here.

To watch a fun video overview of the History of New Years at Time Square
click here.

To discuss click below.

Auditions for Henry 5 Part One: Choosing an Acting Team

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

In March of 2012, auditions for Young Company’s upcoming productions of Sleepy Hollow and Henry 5 were announced. Hopeful BYU students attending the initial auditions did not really knowing what to prepare themselves for. They were asked not to deliver a monologue as in a traditional audition setting, or to give a cold reading from a script. Instead, they were broken into pairs and asked to recreate a telling of a fairy tale. Auditioners who were invited to callbacks were asked to be prepared to spend the entire two hours of the scheduled audition with the staff, and to wear comfortable clothes they could move in.

Professor Megan Sanborn Jones

At callbacks the auditioners were broken into groups and led by Professor Megan Sanborn Jones, the director of Henry 5, through a series of movement-based exercises. This included exaggerated marching/stomping steps (a Sazuki theatre exercise), frozen and fluid poses, and other motions and actions that challenged and demonstrated the physical skills of the auditioners. Groups were rearranged several times in order to allow the auditioners to work with nearly all the people who were participating. Auditioners were given improvisation scenarios to create in these groups. Finally, some of the auditioners were asked to read a few lines from segments of Shakespeare’s Henry 5, and to perform these readings in a variety of voices and physicalities.

Through these exercises, seven students were selected to form the acting team of BYU’s Young Company production of William Shakespeare’s Henry 5. These students were not assigned to specific roles in the play at this point. In Part II, we will share with you the next step in the audition process: how viewpointing, an acting technique based on movement and gesture, was used to select which actors would be matched the roles of the play.