Candy in the Wardrobe Room: Behind the Scenes of THE VERONA PROJECT

By Stage Management intern Julia Van Broek

 

 

Stage management intern Julia Van Broek. Julia studies theater, with a concentration in lighting and scenic design, at UC Santa Barbara

“It’s like American Idiot the Musical meets Alice in Wonderland . . . oh yeah . . . and Shakespeare.”  This is how I described The Verona Project to my mother after the first few days of working as a stage management intern  for the show. A few days later I changed my description to “If the Princess Bride were a rock concert . . .” It didn’t take me much longer to realize that The Verona Project can’t be compared to anything because it is entirely original.

As an intern and a member of the run crew, I have seen the show countless times (or at least listened to it from backstage). It seems that no matter how many times I see it, I never tire of the whimsical atmosphere, hilarious comedic elements, and the music . . . the MUSIC!

Arwen Anderson singing "Julia's Story." Photo by Kevin Berne.

Since I began my involvement with the Project, neither I, nor any of my colleagues, have stopped singing, humming, or whistling the songs from the show. Everyone has his or her favorite.

Mine is “The Quiet” which is a beautiful and haunting song performed primarily by the three infinitely skilled actresses in the show: Marisa Duchowny, Elena Wright, and Arwen Anderson. Quite a few people on the crew say that “Julia’s Story” is their favorite. It is an upbeat rock song with enchanting lyrics that tell the entire back story of “Julia” played by the fabulously talented Arwen Anderson. “The City,” with its charming lyrics and reggae-esque rhythm, is another very popular tune among the crew and is performed by the nicest guy on Earth, Nate Trinrud (who knows every crew member’s name and always has a smile on his face).

Production Assistant Christina Hogan and Wardrobe Associate Courtney Flores often chuckle when they find me with my face pressed up against the wall that separates the offstage-left area from the house. I always try to peek through a hole in the wood or a crack of space between the wall and the weapons cabinet that is used as set dressing (and extends the sightline for those of us who are short enough to hide behind it). I am a true fan of the entire production, but I have a few favorite parts that I try to watch from backstage every night. Most of these are moments that are ad-libbed and therefore change every night. There are also a few lines that were improvised by Harold Pierce for one show, but were so good that they were unofficially added to the script. All the actors have added their own signature touches to the show that was largely written after they were cast. (The show was written by playwright-composer-director Amanda Dehnert).

Harold Pierce, Dan Clegg, Arwen Anderson, and Elena Wright jam during a performance. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Now that I have talked your ears off (or actually, your eyes out?) about how much I love The Verona Project, here are some things that go on behind the scenes while the show is happening. Once the performance begins,  I head downstairs to the undercroft to pick up a very special prop that is kept in the fridge. It is a glass jar filled with real peaches that “magically” lights up with a golden glow that looks enchanting in the misty darkness of the Bruns Ampitheater. Some serious recognition is owed to the two spectacularly brilliant ladies who built all the whimsical and clever properties that appear onstage: Prop Master Seren Helday and Prop Artisan Sarah Spero. My favorite job is the big shift we do at the end of “The City” when we transition into The Poetry and Fiction Shop in which the character Valentine works. A lot of things happen at once, and therefore a lot of things can go wrong. When I hear my cue in the song, I cross behind the set to stage right and wait with Deck Manager Sam Schwemberger and fellow Stage Management Intern Katy Adcox. When Sam hears his cue on his headset he says, “Shift . . . go!”  and I jog onstage. Christina sends a writing desk on casters rolling towards me; I catch it and roll it backwards to its spot onstage. At the same time, Sam and Katy roll on a doorframe and Sam tosses a can at me, which I catch and place on the writing desk before jogging offstage.

Adam Yazbeck ("the Duke") and Dan Clegg ("Proteus") in The Poetry and Fiction Shop. Photo by Kevin Berne.

1. “Julia’s Story” is the best time for crew to head to the bathroom

2. The cast goes through over thirty Ricola cough drops per show. (It helps their voices, especially in cold weather.)

3. There is usually candy in the wardrobe room if you look hard enough

4. Although they don’t have a lot of super funny moments on stage, Phil Mills (who plays Sylvio) and Adam Yazbeck (who plays the Duke) are extremely hilarious offstage, and often improvise their own renditions of songs from the show by adding silly lyrics that they think of on the spot (most of these cannot be repeated).

5.  Working on The Verona Project has been and will continue to be a wonderful learning experience for me, but most of all it is just a great show that I am lucky enough to see almost every night!


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The Verona Project Grove Talk Podcast

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly offers dramaturgical insight into our world premiere of The Verona Project. Podcast produced by Will McCandless.

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Getting to Know Cal Shakes

By Anna Kritikos, marketing intern

As marketing intern here at the California Shakespeare Theater, I spend most all of my time in the “bullpen” doing various jobs pertaining to the marketing department. Although I am very interested in learning about the administrative side of theater, I still love the performance aspect (I am currently studying both at UC Davis). When I accepted the offer for the Marketing Internship, I didn’t realize that I would be given the opportunity to continue learning about both of these interests, but indeed I have been! One of the many things I really appreciate about Cal Shakes is the size and general feeling of the Heinz office- specifically, how close the administrative employees of Cal Shakes are to the art that is produced by Cal Shakes. The rehearsal hall is less than 50 feet away from the financial office. We see the actors walking down the hall, and sometimes we can hear them as they create the songs that will be featured in The Verona Project.  The rehearsals are even open to all Cal Shakes employees, so we all have the opportunity to watch the rehearsal process.

The Verona Project is an original play written and directed by Amanda Dehnert. Based on Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the play is written almost entirely in modern speech, with the exception of about 70 lines of straight Shakespeare. Music also plays a huge role in the play, as the story is told via a rock band that is also called The Verona Project. Dehnert describes the play as a “play with music” –as opposed to a musical- because she says that the songs featured in the play do not drive the plot forward as songs often do in musicals, but rather, they  are the vehicles used to set the emotional tone.  It was very interesting to read the script, because it was basically like reading a play with poems placed intermittently throughout- there was no music written to accompany the lyrics. At the Inside Scoop event that was held at the Orinda Public Library last Monday, Dehnert discussed the process of creating the original work and she said that she wrote the lyrics, but the actors all came together to write the music. There are 8 young actors who comprise the cast, all of whom play multiple instruments in the play. As Dehnert put it, she created the body, and the actors crafted the clothes.

I stayed a bit late at the office on Friday evening to catch some of the last Verona Project rehearsal before they commence tech week up at the Bruns Amphitheater. Watching a few of the actors rehearse a scene was fascinating and really set my excitement about the show over the edge. It was so cool to see people who are so serious about theater have so much fun with their work. It was fun to see the actors and the director discovering new things and implementing them. They laughed a lot, as did the stage managers and understudies who were also at the rehearsal. Such an awesome balance was struck- fun but serious, crazy but also grounded. It has been a really interesting experience to have observed the creation of this work from afar- reading the script, seeing a bit of the rehearsals, hearing the director and some of the actors talk about the piece- and now I am very much so looking forward to seeing what the final product will be.  I am also very excited to be here at Cal Shakes, where the passion and zest for the creation of really exciting theater is abundant.

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Ask Philippa: THE VERONA PROJECT

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.

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