Dispatch #4 from Inside the R&J Rehearsal Hall: On Quick Changes and Indispensability

The fourth peek inside the Romeo & Juliet rehearsal room from Cal Shakes Blogging Fellow Peter Selawsky.

In my last post, I wrote about watching the cast of Shana Cooper’s Romeo and Juliet perform their initial run-through of the first half of the play on June 14. Since then, rehearsals have focused entirely on blocking and practicing scenes from the second half; on June 20 I was able to see the first run-through of these scenes in order. Just as before, the speed with which the actors assimilate direction and blocking was remarkable, but I was especially impressed by the emotional depth and fluidity to cast was able to achieve in such a short time.

Condensed to suit a cast of seven, the script brings on the calamities of the second half with a merciless suddenness, creating a strong contrast with the good humor and relative expansiveness of the play until Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths. At the beginning of the play, Romeo has all the time in the world, and doesn’t seem to take the conflicts around him seriously. In its early stages, the play allows for pleasurable digressions and spectacles such as Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech or the Capulets’ party. By contrast, the second half is nightmarish, sped up and out of control with confrontations and miscommunications escalating in rapid succession. After the brief final moments between the lovers near the beginning of the second half, circumstances force them apart and then unite them in death.

As in the first run-through, the pace and logistics of the production require actors to make instantaneous costume changes in front of the audience. Arwen Anderson wears a stocking cap when appearing as Benvolio; we in the audience see her become Lady Capulet by putting on a coat and eyeglasses several times during the play. Perhaps most notably, Dan Hiatt becomes Lord Capulet after a scene talking to Romeo as the Friar; later, Hiatt has two consecutive scenes with Juliet, one as the Friar, one as Capulet. I’ll be writing more about these quick costume changes, and about the costumes in general, in my next post.

At least in this first run, Hiatt’s performance as Capulet was less tempestuous than one familiar with the play might expect. Rather than merely ranting, Capulet reacts with a mixture of controlled rage and exasperated confusion upon discovering that his daughter does not share his wishes for her future. In general, Hiatt’s Capulet gives the sense of a man who is not used to being out of control, and now, therefore, doesn’t know what to do. At the same time, his genuine care for his daughter is apparent, and seems to be confirmed by his anger. All this is re-emphasized in the scene in which the Nurse and parents believe they have found Juliet dead in her bed, as Capulet’s orders—“All things that we ordained festival/Turn from their office to black funeral:/… And all things change them to the contrary”—sound like his determination to take control of the tragedy before even possessing the ability to process it.

With such a small ensemble, each member is indispensable, and all have memorable moments in the second half. Dan Clegg is a highly likeable Romeo and Rebekah Brockman brings a quiet maturity to the role of Juliet; the leads have excellent chemistry together and their shared scenes are delightful. Domenique Lozano (the Nurse, Prince) has a memorable discovery of Juliet’s apparently lifeless body. Nick Gabriel, Tybalt in Act 1, returns to play another foil for Romeo, Juliet’s intended husband Paris; Joseph J. Parks, Mercutio in Act 1, returns as the Apothecary.

Romeo and Juliet begins previews at the Bruns Amphitheater on July 3, opens July 6, and runs through July 28. Tickets are available at the Cal Shakes website.

Big thanks go to Jay Yamada for making this blogging fellowship possible.

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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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