Animals Backstage at Pride and Prejudice Rehearsal

Excerpts from an article by Marvin Payne (appearing as Mr Bennet in BYU’s production of Pride and Prejudice)

Marvin Payne

Marvin Payne

I’m in rehearsals for a production of Pride and Prejudice “down to the BY,” as my wife’s grandfather would have said. I’m Mr Bennet (the British don’t punctuate “Mr”). For rehearsals involving only the Bennet family, I’ve typically been the only guy in the room—totally female family, female director, female production staff, and two female dramaturgs.

A word about dramaturgs: Good luck defining what the heck one is, besides brainy and nice and one of them has a dog that acts (in this very show!). I think the definition of “dramaturg” is something you feel rather than try to articulate. And it takes a certain kind of person to feel it.

On a recent Thursday evening our director, Barta Heiner, gave us an assignment: Carefully research and choose an animal that your character might be if your character was an animal. Don’t tell anybody what it is, but come early on Saturday morning prepared for an “acting exercise.” Everybody else probably had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Not me.

I wasn’t able to think of as many as five animals to choose from, let alone an animal who embodied the essential characteristics of an English country gentleman living in a high estrogen zone. So I asked Mr Google “What kind of animal would my character be?” Instantly I had at my fingertips a few dozen quizzes I could take that would determine the answer scientifically, unanimously, incontrovertibly. So I just started answering the questions the way I knew Mr Bennet would. The first quiz concluded that Mr Bennet was a wolf. I took another. It affirmed that Mr Bennet was an unspecified bird. The third quiz made him a dolphin, the fourth a bear, and the fifth quiz (the first one wherein the questions were composed with conventional grammar) identified Bennet as a mole.

Actually, mole attracted me, because the site said that both Bob Dylan and John Lennon were moles. But I wasn’t confident I could pull it off, so I took a sixth quiz. It said “Cat” and something inside me went “ping” in an affirmative manner. Cats are something this actor can take or leave, but here are the parallels: Mr Bennet is mostly about emotional hiding out. See the cat, when something chaotic is happening, tiptoeing off to somewhere the heck else.  Also, cats have retractable claws which are mostly retracted but can, in a crisis, un-retract them.

And fundamental to cats is this totally unearned sense of dignity. Carrying themselves erect, landing on their feet, moving among lesser creatures as though they, the cats, never doubted for a moment their absolute superiority—a superiority born, not out of accomplishment or even aspiration, but merely out of being cats. The hereditary aristocracy of early nineteenth-century England is just like this (without whiskers).

Here’s how it went down that Saturday morning. We all lay on tumbling mats on the floor with the lights dimmed. The company, who seemed to know innately exactly what to do, had arranged big black blocks of varying proportions in almost random patterns, some forming little walls, some tunnels, some leaning on others in diagonal ways. In the silence, with our eyes closed, we followed Barta’s instructions to breathe in energy and breathe out tension. We were allowed to endow these gasses with colors, if we thought it might help. This was not general, lung-centric breathing, but was dispensed to every part of our persons from toenails to the hair follicles upon our heads.

Once we had reached a meditative state that would have made the Beatles jealous, we were invited to contemplate our chosen animals. I thought, “How could I possibly be more ready for the acting exercise?” Still on the mats, after some contemplation of our critters, we were invited to admit them into our bodies and allow them to take over.

That’s when the fur hit the fan. Instantly I was surrounded by a frighteningly authentic menagerie. All my Bennet daughters and my Bennet wife were flying things, warbling and tweeting and quacking. Only Elizabeth, Mr Bennet’s favorite, the one with whom he has an emotional and intellectual bond, was not a flying thing. She was—get this—a lioness. A cat just like dad, but bigger and better! Remember we didn’t tell anybody what we were gonna be? Slam dunk!

The other lioness was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Imagine what happened when those two met up! Lady Catherine’s sickly daughter was a fawn, cowering next to a controlling mother who might at any moment devour her. Darcy and Bingley, as wolf and dog respectively, rough-housed so authentically that Bingley emerged with bleeding knees.

Mr Collins’s meerkat was astounding, snaking about underground and then poking up, glassy-eyed, into the risky world like a, well, a meerkat. There wasn’t a trace of human in the whole guy. It was at once beautiful and deeply scary.

For the first half of the morning, Barta thought I was an orangutan. Mr Bennet’s second youngest daughter, Kitty, never did let go of the impression that I was a penguin. But I’m taking comfort in the fact that nobody thought I was a dramaturg.

I was so astounded by the talent and abandon and commitment of these players that I could hardly remember to purr, and mostly forgot that cats walk on all fours. I felt like somebody had tossed me a paper helmet and shoved me out onto the grass in LaVell Edwards Stadium, with Cougars bearing down on me from one direction and screaming Utes from another. More than once I reflected with relief that I’d chosen an animal who hides. Which I did. A lot.

At the end, we all lay down again and Barta gently talked us back into humanity. She

Misty, appearing in BYU's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

Misty, appearing in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

finally directed our attention to our departing animal, which turned back at a distance to give us a last look. And here was the big surprise. What I felt in that moment was gratitude to the cat, for visiting me and teaching me so well about the tender and tormented Mr Bennet. Didn’t anticipate that.

Now I know what an acting exercise is.

By the way, the dog that can act? She wasn’t there. Barta didn’t think she needed it.

[To read the entire article, use this link: http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/13940]

BYU’S PRIDE and PREJUDICE goes #BYUPandP

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

The cast of BYU’s Pride and Prejudice has been in rehearsals for over a month, working together four nights a week and Saturdays. With that much time together, friendships are developing on social media as well as on the rehearsal floor.

Here is a sampling of Facebook posts from the cast, staff and fans. [Names in bold are the names of the people who made the posts.]

 

Laurie Koralewski Payne: Tra-la!! Marvin Payne will be playing Mr. Bennett in the fabulous Melissa Leilani Larson’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice directed by the also fabulous Barta Lee Heiner at BYU this season! What could possibly be more awesome than that?

 

Misty Flinders: I started rehearsals today! I’m playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s dog Pippa in BYU’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

Melissa Leilani Larson: It’s Pippa Wentworth. For the record.

Misty: Pippa Wentworth Fitzwilliam de Bourgh. 😉

Misty Flinders (Pippa Wentworth Fitzwilliam de Bourgh) and Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh)

Misty Flinders (Pippa Wentworth Fitzwilliam de Bourgh) and Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh)

Hillary Andrus Straga: I amused myself on the drive home by reciting my Lady Catherine lines in my best Jennifer Tilly impersonation. I was “charmed, charmed, charmed.”

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: Meet the Bennets.

Back row: Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Laura Wardle (Mrs. Bennet), Marvin Payne (Mr. Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet). Front row: Pearl Corry (Mary Bennet), Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet), Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

Back row: Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Laura Wardle (Mrs. Bennet), Marvin Payne (Mr. Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet). Front row: Pearl Corry (Mary Bennet), Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet), Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

Lindsay Clark: “Humidity is a refreshing trait in a gentleman.” #misreadlines

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: Laughter in this rehearsal room always seems to melt into coughing. New title: BYU presents PRIDE AND THE PLAGUE.

 

Many cast members shared a version of this post:  In the rehearsal room: a chalkboard character map of Pride and Prejudice:

PnP Chalk art 2

 

A picture of the playwright’s “Command Center” as Melissa Leilani Larson revises during rehearsal…

PnP Mel revising

 

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: If Lydia Bennet were here today, I would admire two things about her: 1) her tenacity and 2) her Pinterest page.

Lindsay Clark: She’d have a board devoted entirely to bonnets.

 

Becky Maskell:  When you show up to rehearsal in coordinating colors it only means one thing…family portrait!

Becky Maskell (Anne de Bourgh), Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy) and Hillary Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh).

Becky Maskell (Anne de Bourgh), Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy) and Hillary Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh).

 

Melissa Leilani Larson: The regiment is leaving for Brighton. Sad day.

Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet) and Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

Lindsay Clark (Lydia Bennet) and Cosette Hatch (Kitty Bennet)

 

Ted Bushman: Purple was the order of the day for the cast of Pride and Prejudice. That’s my aunt, and that girl I dig, and her sister.

 Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy).

Hillary Andrus Straga (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet), Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Ted Bushman (Mr. Darcy).

 

Becky Maskell: I’m scheduled for another costume fitting next week! Real silk…custom made dress…just for me! This is so exciting guys!!!!!!!!!!

 

Hillary Andrus Straga: Hey, Ted! Where’s that purple picture?

Ted Bushman: Look up.

 

Hillary Andrus Straga: Lizzy and Jane [far left] cuttin’ a rug.

Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet)

Karli Hall (Elizabeth Bennet) and Aubrey Reynolds (Jane Bennet)

 

And Pearl Corry made a Lapse-It video: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=1397855047142036

 

Lindsay Clark: Getting ready to run through Act 2 of Pride and Prejudice tonight. Have we really almost blocked the whole show? #timetostartmemorizing

 

Cast members are posting on media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can follow them at #BYUPandP.

A Wrinkle in Time – Photos from Rehearsal

by Patrick Hayes, dramaturg 

With a little over two weeks till opening night, members of the company gather at rehearsal to work scenes and try on costumes. The following photos were taken over two days comprising an in-costume run of the show and a normal rehearsal of Act 1.

From these photos you can really see how the production is coming together.

The following three photos are from the costume run.  (Photos by Adam White.)

Jenna Hawkins - The Man with Red Eyes
Jenna Hawkins – The Man with Red Eyes
Members of the Company - The Beasts
Members of the Company – The Beasts
Allyson Thaxton Dressed as Aunt Beast
Allyson Thaxton Dressed as Aunt Beast

These three photos were taken during a rehearsal of Act 1.

Director Rodger Sorensen gives advise on reworking a scene.
Director Rodger Sorensen gives advise on reworking a scene.
Scene 3, Act 1
Scene 3, Act 1
Scene 1, Act 1
Scene 1, Act 1

Information on Rehearsals and Devising Pt. 2

By Patrick Hayes, Dramaturg 

In my last blog post I talked about A Wrinkle in Times’s use of performance theories. For this post I wanted to dive a little deeper into the theories and practices of devised theatre, giving you an inside scoop on the two theories that we are incorporating into our show.

Many performances are rooted in the theories and practicum of two individuals. Some would say that these two people are the two most influential theatre directors and theorists in the twentieth century. Here’s a brief look at both the men and the basic ideas behind their theories.

Jerzy Grotowski (11 August 1933 – 14 January 1999) was a Polish theatre director and innovator of experimental theatre concepts, namely the “theatre laboratory” and “poor theatre” concepts.

Growtowski’s Poor Theatre

He asked the great question “What is theatre?” His answers were formed in devising two brand new theatre techniques / practices, Poor Theatre and Theatre Laboratory.

Growtowski said in order for Poor Theatre to exist there only needed to by two essentials:  the audience and the actor. Poor Theatre productions are categorized by stripping down the essence of the performance to two single elements on stage, the audience and actors. Actors trained so nearly every muscle of the body would be under complete control and could be moved at will. This allowed the director to focus on the body, making “it” the theatrical spectacle instead of the traditional spectacle / theatrical elements staged during that time period.

 

Richard Schechner is a professor of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He is considered to be the founder of the Performance Studies discipline.

Schechner’s Six Axioms of Environmental Theatre

Schechner’s theories are based around 6 specific axioms.  They are:

  1. The Theatrical Event is a Set of Related Transactions
  2. All the Space is Used for Performance; All the Space is Used for Audience
  3. The Theatrical Event Can Take Place Either in a Totally Transformed Space or in a “Found Space”
  4. Focus is Flexible and Variable
  5. All Production Elements Speak in Their Own Language
  6. The Text Need Be Neither the Starting Point Nor the Goal of a Production.  There May Be No Text at All.

 

 

 

Information on Rehearsals and Devising Pt. 1

By Patrick Hayes, Dramaturg

Creating a performance from scratch can be a daunting task. Luckily A Wrinkle in Time has a formula for success. AWIT focuses on devised theatre practices to workshop and create the final performance. Unlike stage directions in a script or a director coaching the actors, devised theatre centers on an acting style or technique to help create the final performance. AWIT rehearsals are centered on a model of work shop and rehearsing scenes until the feel, emotion, or context for a given scene is reach. Doing this process insures the integrity of the message the company wants to convey.

Here, in this scene, the actors prepare by warming up.

AWIT Rehearsals - Warm Up

AWIT Rehearsals – Warm Up

A group of Actors rehears scene 1, A Dark and Stormy Night, Meg is in the attic. The weather sounds are created by the company.

2013-04-03 15.43.33Part 2 to come shortly. Stay Tuned!

Adventures in LA

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

kcactf_bannerFor the last week, a majority of the cast and production team for The Servant of Two Masters traveled with a group from the BYU theatre department to Los Angeles for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF). Though out the year, colleges and universities from around the country are judged on the different shows they produce – everything from the acting to the design to the dramaturgy to the stage management.  Students have the possibility to be nominated for different awards and then every year they come together at KCACTF to compete.  KCACTF starts as a regional competition (Utah is in Region 8, along with Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and parts of California), and the winners from each category travel to Washington DC to compete at the national level.

The week in LA was a great opportunity to see the cast and production team in a new light.  Not only were they competing in their nominated categories, but many were involved in different workshops and opportunities throughout the week.

Now that we’ve returned to Utah, its time to kick rehearsal into a whole new gear.  We have about a week and a half before we start technical rehearsals, where we will add costumes, lights, make-ups, wigs, sound and the set to the world that is being created. Until then, the time will be spent polishing and refining the work that was done before KCACTF. In other words, this is where the fun really begins.

“All things are ready, if our mind be so.” Henry 5 Act 4, Scene 3

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

January 27th through February 2nd was final dress rehearsal week for Brigham Young University’s production of Henry 5. Last Tuesday was what is called a designers’ rehearsal, when the designers come to watch the play and make notes for their final tweaks and preparations for opening night. The costume, sound, and prop designers were in attendance and will make sure in the next few days that their work is ready to accompany the cast into performances, which begin February 5th on tour and February 6th in the Nelke Theatre. Lighting will be added when the production moves from its rehearsal space to the Nelke.

John Valdez in BYU's Young Company production of HENRY 5.

John Valdez in BYU’s Young Company production of HENRY 5.

Unique to this particular designers’ rehearsal was that a class of sixth grade students from Wasatch Elementary also joined in as an audience for the play. This allowed the cast to rehearse their interactions and engagement with students, just as they will be doing in actual performances. Following the rehearsal/performance, director Megan Sanborn Jones asked the students to give the cast and crew some feedback about their experience with the play. From their comments it was clear that some of the favorite elements of this play for them were the rock music, the dancing, and the “serious Ninja skills”.

Thursday was a full dress rehearsal, with costumes and makeup added. The inclusion of these elements added a new dimension to the performances the actors were able to create, informing and enhancing their choices, and giving greater definition to the multiple characters each actor portrays.

Saturday was a complete run-through with a workshop rehearsal as well as another full dress. A few of BYU’s theatre students were invited to attend, as well as faculty members, who brought their children to the rehearsal to once again give the cast members an opportunity to practice interacting with students. The cast practiced leading children in playing the games and guiding the discussions which constitute the workshops that will precede the school tour performances.

BYU’s Young Company production of Henry 5 begins touring elementary schools on February 5th. The play opens in the Nelke Theatre at BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center on February 6th and runs through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

“Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep.” Henry 5 Act 4, Scene 1

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

Henry 5 Rehearsal. L to R: Kristen Leinbach as Montjoy and Mackenzie Larsen as King Henry V.

Rehearsal, Henry 5 . L to R: Kristen Leinbach as Montjoy and Mackenzie Larsen as King Henry V.

Last week the Henry 5 cast held three more rehearsals. Rehearsal days are exhausting; a typical rehearsal for this play begins at 8:00 a.m. with a physical warm-up and an overview of the day’s work.  This is followed by dance and fight choreography, blocking more of the stage action, and some scene polishing. The cast is generally allowed a half-hour break for lunch, after which they return to the rehearsal space to run and polish scenes until 2:00 p.m.

Rehearsal, Henry 5. Matthew Fife as Fluellen.

Rehearsal, Henry 5. Matthew Fife as Fluellen.

Six hours is a long rehearsal for a student, particularly when many in the cast go to classes immediately after, but this week’s Thursday rehearsal was especially challenging. The cast arrived at 7:00 a.m. and learned new choreography for some segments of the opening and closing dance numbers. They blocked and choreographed another fight sequence for one of the historic battle scenes, after which they ran the entire play. Following the run-through, the cast was trained by the hair and make-up designers. As Henry 5 will be a touring show, the cast members need to be able to do their own hair and make-up on the road.   After an hour break, the cast returned in costume and make-up to meet with a photographer for a publicity photo shoot. (Great action-packed shots were taken which will be released soon.) Following the photo shoot, a camera crew arrived and a video shoot was taped that will be released as advertisement for the play. The shoot wrapped at 6:00 p.m, ending a successful day of rehearsal for this hard-working cast.

Rehearsal, Henry 5. L to R: Sarah Flinders as the Boy and Mackenzie Larsen as King Henry V.

Rehearsal, Henry 5. L to R: Sarah Flinders as the Boy and Mackenzie Larsen as King Henry V.

This marathon Thursday was followed by an extra rehearsal that was called on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. The cast was joined by two BYU Young Company alumni, Sarah Kron (The Hundred Dresses, 2011) and Jenna Hawkins (The Merchant of Venice, 2012), who trained them in how to run workshops for the elementary students who the play will be performed for. The cast chose games and activities to enrich the experience the children will have with this Shakespeare play. After a brief break, the cast worked for an hour on polishing transitions between scenes, dances, and battles. Then the play was given another full run with props incorporated.

The last week of January will also mark the last week of rehearsals for the cast of Henry 5. The show opens its elementary school tour on the 5th of February, and the play opens in the Nelke Theatre at BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center on February 6th at 7:00 p.m. The show runs through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

“Let us…on your imaginary forces work.” Henry 5 Prologue, Act I

By Anne Flinders, dramaturg

The second week of rehearsals for BYU’s Henry 5 is completed, and the show is taking shape with an exciting look and sound that is unlike most Shakespeare plays.

The cast, directed by Megan Sanborn Jones, worked this week on incorporating movement from last semester’s Contemporary Performance Studies class into the play. The opening scene was developed on Thursday using viewpointing for blocking the cast’s interactions with each other and the audience as they present the prologue of the first act.  It will be a highly theatrical opening Shakespeare scene!

Henry 5 Movement rehearsal led by Dr. Jones

Henry 5 Movement rehearsal led by Dr. Jones

Another major element of the play is the sparseness of the set and props. This play will be a touring show, and from February through April the cast will travel to elementary schools twice a week across the Wasatch Front. The play is designed to be easily portable and able to be accommodated by a variety of school settings. Dr. Jones led the cast in exploring ways of using simple prop pieces of various sizes to represent all kinds of war implements and courtly decor. Four large square blocks serve as the only set pieces, and are being moved, stacked, and restacked by the cast in a variety of ways to create the many settings in which the play takes place.

The underscoring of the play is being designed by Michelle Ohumukini, who is bringing the sounds of rock bands, string quartets, indie-pop singers, and symphony orchestras to the play’s soundscape. The music of the play is an integral ingredient to the energy of the plot and its audience appeal. This is Shakespeare like you haven’t heard it before.

The on-BYU-campus performance of Henry 5 runs from February 6th through February 16th. Tickets are on sale now.

 

“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.” Henry 5, 3.1

by Anne Flinders, dramaturg

For more than 30,000 students at Brigham Young University, the last class lectures of the semester have been given, the last papers handed in, and the final exams completed. Everyone is settling in for a restful Christmas break. Everyone, that is, but seven young men and women who make up the cast of BYU’s Young Company production of Henry 5.

During finals week, rather than take a test for TMA 401, the cast from that class and some of the staff of Henry 5 met with director Megan Sanborn Jones to read through the script. During the reading such things were discussed as characterizations; meanings of particular words, lines, or segments; historical setting and implications; and music selections.

The cast was given the exciting but daunting task of being completely memorized when they return to classes next January. The requirement assigned by the director is that the cast be “book out of hand”, meaning the members of the cast will not have their scripts available to them when they begin rehearsals next month. Since there will be only four weeks of two to three rehearsals a week, this is a necessary requirement.

During the second half of this meeting, the cast put their scripts aside and got on their feet. Dr. Jones directed them in creating a movement piece that will be used in the play to depict King Henry and his army crossing the English Channel to the war with France. The cast left the rehearsal anxious to put their lines to memory, and excited to return in January to the rehearsal process.