Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts and answers your questions on our 2011 productions.

The Verona ProjectLoving is losing is living… Everyone knows the saying, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it never was…” Well, the fact is, if we love something, we HAVE to let it go, whether we want to or not. It won’t stay the same; neither will you. Whoever desired someone because they hugged tighter than anyone else? Or because they said, “I need you” more often than anyone else? Love needs freedom, and, at its most basic level, it feeds on unfulfilled desire. Love is based on longing, on the glimpse of cherished memories, on the vision of possibility … and love is, as everyone knows, the most varietal of blossoms. That’s what makes it fun to talk about.

The Verona Project uses as its memory bank The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare’s play about love, friendship, and broken trust. Every love is in its own way new, and yet as ancient as the sun and moon. Denhert and her cast take us on a trip through love and loss, using music as the wings to whisk us to heights of giddyness and delight.

Are you going to see our production of Verona? Do you have questions or comments about the production’s themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.


19 thoughts on “Ask Philippa: THE VERONA PROJECT

    • Yes, Sara, the production will be great for families. It’s fantastically lively, and I think it has that perfect blend of enchantingness with the music and also allowing the kind of “passive education” where kids take in the shapes of ideas that they will process much later. Do come and introduce yourself and your 11 year-old at the grove! I’ll be there all previews, plus first night, and all Sundays.

    • Hi Barbara,
      I’ll try to get your email from our archives – email addresses don’t actually appear on this blog site. The topic is my book, THE KING AND I. I’ll put a little bit about it here. I’d love to see yo there on Aug 3rd! Also, my good friend Sarah Cahill will possibly be doing a short piano recital. She’s wonderful.

      The King and I offers a unique personal meditation on contemporary Australian life, as Kelly tells her own story through the prism of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Outlaws, irreverent humorists, political underdogs, authoritarians…these are the images of Australians as revealed through the lens of Kelly’s take on King Lear. For a very long time there prevailed a generalized view of Australia as a remote outpost ambiguously related to colonial narratives of pioneering hardship.

      However, starting in the 1970s, a flowering of Australian artifacts (particularly cinema), as well as the financial affordability of travel to Australia, has led to a growing curiosity about the country and a wish to understand its ‘narrative’. Because much of this narrative comes of people creating culture and society where no laws were believed to have existed, the idea of authority is fundamental, and King Lear emerges in an astonishing variety of contexts as Kelly considers the play as a filter for the complex question of what it means to be an Australian. ‘The King and I’ moves from 1976 through to 2010, taking moments in a personal history to explore, through the lens of King Lear, themes of authority, indigenous identity, feminism, and political injustice and unrest. Shakespeare Now!, of which The King and I is a part, is a series of short books that engage imaginatively and often provocatively with Shakespeare’s plays. It goes back to the source – the most living language imaginable – and recaptures the excitement, audacity and surprise of Shakespeare. The General Editors write: ‘It will return you to the plays with opened eyes.’

  1. Hi Philippa
    I was at last night’s preview of The Verona Project. What a treat it was! Your grove talk was really helpful in setting the tone for my husband who wasn’t sure if he would like the musical approach of the production. We were both delighted, and he loved it so much he wants to see it again!
    I am so happy we bought season tickets this year!
    See you next time,
    PS: Would you share your actor’s packages for Titus Andronicus and The Verona Project?

  2. Dear Philippa,
    We were at the performance last night and were very disappointed in the second act.
    The first act was delightful. The young actors were charming and energetic and made the stage pulse with music and color. Unfortunately, the second act was wordy and lacking in any real direction. This was the fault of the playwright. She should have come back with the same vibrancy as she initiated and ended the play with a few strong scenes using the wonderful talent of the players.
    Thank you for the wonderful grove talks. We are long term subscribers and we never miss your insightful comments on the play.
    Regards Bill and Kathy

    • Dear Bill and Kathy,

      Thanks for writing. We always appreciate feedback, positive or negative – having an open dialogue with our audiences is a real gift that we feel honored to have.

      As I read your comment, I thought that this is one of the wonderful (and scary) things about staging new works – the production has been built by Amanda and the cast and crew for our stage, and so it has opened itself to the first responses ever to be given to this production anywhere in the world. We’re still in preview, so the show will shift and settle into its final form over the next few nights.

      Also, thank you so much for your comments about the grove talk. I love to do these, and actually I get a little nervous the first night of a new grove talk because I so badly want to do justice to the show – so it was really nice to know that it was useful.

      See you at Candida.

  3. Oh Phillipa, I was so dissappointed – this was a painfully difficult production to sit through. I brought a 16yr old to help foster interest his interest in play and the Bard in particular. How embarassing!
    I appreciate your grove talks- thank you for helping to make the material more accessible to many. The Verona Project is a cool concept but it was dreadful in attempt. Clearly the actor/ musicians are talented- but the songs were poorly written, sound levels were not mixed well, and the music playing was not “tight”. I was astonished the Bruns had this underdeveloped, unpolished offering- not worthy of Cal Shakes. I realize this is a preview, but really think a refund is in order, or- if the production can be rescued, at least comp tickets for when the play is ready for prime time.
    Thanks for your forum.
    KL Dell-Bishop

  4. Hi Philippa,
    We attended last night’s performance, and contrary to Bill and Kathy’s comments above, we felt the first act was weaker than the second since we couldn’t understand a lot of the words of the songs in the first act. We couldn’t decide if it was that the back-up music was too loud or if the microphones weren’t functioning properly. Also, it seemed a bit awkward for the performers to be singing and playing simultaneously for the solos, so at times, they were looking down at the instrument and not singing into the mic. That being said, we really enjoyed the originality of the work and the quality of the performances. I found I enjoyed the production the most after I stopped trying to match it to Shakespeare’s play.
    As always, we very much enjoy your grove talks.
    Loooooong time subscriber,

  5. Dear Melanie,
    Thanks for your feedback. The fact that you have written about your thoughts, and about the things that would have made the show accessible to you, really is invaluable to us. This is particularly a show where the actors will grow into their parts all through the month, and I’d be interested to have you see it at the end of the month. It’s quite amazing, isn’t it, to think that some of them had not played their instruments ever!
    Will I see you at Candida?

  6. Dear KL,

    I have a feeling we chatted for a little after the last grove talk – can you remind me? I am drinking my cup of MADURA tea (I get boxes sent over from Australia) and wondering how to respond to your post. My first response is that one of the things about previews is that the show is still in progress – this is why we discount our preview seats. You’re part of our creative process in attending a preview. My second thought is that we’re trying to help people discover Shakespeare, and this is why we chose to take this risk. The original play is probably Shakespeare’s weakest, so our thought was: how can we help people discover Shakespeare in new and reverberative ways? My third thought is a more tangential one: my husband is a contemporary classical composer, and I remember a good friend asking me once, ‘So do you LIKE your husband’s music? Just curious.’ At first I was offended, but then I realized that one of the things that most attracts me to my husband is this blend of control (he is a very rational person) and unpredictability, which comes out in some sounds which are dissonant, and then I am rewarded by a passage of lyrical beauty. (It’s all under control, but the illusion I have is of a-rhythmic/dissonant material that is tempered, and heightened, by lyrical soaring.) This passage wouldn’t be so beautiful without the dissonance. Does this make sense? I don’t have the musical vocabulary to say it better. I am a Shakespearean and so there is a part of me that is deeply scholarly and, in a sense, formal – but I also find this production exciting in its audacity. I read that you see some of the music-making as incompetent (which was not what my friend was saying about my husband’s music) – and it is true that some of the actors are playing instruments they haven’t played before. This is a kind of controlled risk-taking. It may not be to your taste – but I appreciate the fact that you care enough to write and share your thoughts. I see you as sincerely taking issue with it, and trying to come to grips with what would have inspired us to make this choice, and what would have inspired Amanda to take the executive and aesthetic risks she took. She is taking a risk, trying to see what people can make if they step outside their comfort zone.

  7. To Philippa Kelly – how do you process the fact that some actors and directors, whose work you admire, sign a petition to exonerate a pedophile even tho the act happened over 30 yrs. ago? – One has to conclude that the signers had raised no 13 yr. old girls. When you answer a questioner about the appropriateness of an 11 yr. old attending the verona project by saying that it’s a great idea, one has to wonder how many 11 yr. olds you’ve raised to maturity. And one must also ask if you’re aware that many people’s objections to the openness of a gay oriented social agenda have less to do with themselves as adults and everything to do with 11 yr. olds- shaking my head in consternation – Andrew Johns

  8. Dear Andrew,
    I received your post and I am sorry that the gay relationship upset you on behalf of your child. Yes, I am a parent, and my recommendation was drawn from my own experience. I do feel that to “warn” you about a gay relationship would be itself prejudicial. If there is any kind of overt sexual behavior involved, straight or gay, we would always issue a spoiler. But while I can say that I am sorry that you are outraged, I can’t apologize for theater that challenges your beliefs.

  9. Hi Philippa,
    Lorraine, Edith and I were delighted with the show—it was as socially signiificant as West Side Story, as whimsical and poignant as The Fantastics and as timely as Hair. I hope this young attractive and so talented cast takes the show to New York; it more than deserves this kind of exposure. Please convey my admiration to Amanda Dehnert for a delightful, thoughtful and musically rewarding experience. I have six grandchildren aged seven to twenty and would recommend the show to each of them. Please advise plans for future showings so I can alert all I know.

    dianne sweer

  10. Dianne, this is such a wonderful response. We’ve sent it on to Amanda Denhert. Thank you so much for your generous response. And we’ll let you know of any future plans.

  11. This post is in response to GARY DOWNING, WHO WROTE:

    Wow, we caught the final performance of Verona Project yesterday and were blown away! I love that one of the performers explained that they hope to continue performing in his backyard…

    During intermission, several in the audience were agreeing that this was better than what we’re seeing nowadays on Broadway. Our group of 5 consensus is that the creative energy and music were “off the chart” and felt like we were watching something special which deserves not only to live on, but to flourish!

    How can we reach out to Amanda Dehnert to let her know how strongly resonated with her audience?

    Hi Gary, Your post went onto the Titus blogsite and so I cut and pasted it on this one. Thanks for your post, and we sent the email version on to Amanda. What’s not to love about that response? Thanks so much for your generous appreciation. It was lovely to see you and Doe and Corey and the family/friends there on Sunday.

  12. Dear Phillipa,

    My grandmother took me to see the show during it’s 2nd performance week, needless to say I had no idea what I was in for. Nana, taking me to a rock play…this would be interesting…

    …and powerful, and amazing, and…

    Once the opening act finished I couldn’t pull myself from my seat! I was so mesmerized! My Nana (who to say the least isn’t a rock fan) turned to me, her a eyes soft and sparkling and said, “That was beautiful.” The second half of the show proved just as powerful as the first. On the BART ride home we could barely find enough words to fully sum up the experience.

    I took my sister to see the VP during it’s last week, and was just as impressed (if not more so) by the production. The love story is timeless (“how can you call a veggie burger a real burger?”) the music spectacular (“see the bird flying over the beach…”), and the cast captivating. What more could you ask for!? My sister and I couldn’t stop talking about it (she said she enjoyed it more than WICKED) and to this day can’t. What we want to know is, will there be a soundtrack?

    Thanks again for your blog Philipa!

  13. Dear Laurel,
    What a wonderful post to have received from you – I could not have asked for more if I’d scripted it for you myself!!! Sometimes I think of what actors and directors go through – the anxiety of casting, the pressure of creating and embodying roles, the risk you take every time you step on the stage (will they get it? Will they like me?) – and I know that it takes a lot of courage. it is heartfelt responses like yours that give a shot in the arm. Thank you for sharing your appreciation in this way. Cole say hi at the grove – I’m doing all previews and first night and Sunday mats.

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