The Comedy of Errors Production Spotlight: Assistant Director Leah Gardner

Assistant Director Leah Gardner in full clown regalia.

By Aliya Charney

The Comedy of Errors Assistant Director, Leah Gardner, found herself at Cal Shakes this season through none other than our very own Danny Scheie (Dromio of Ephesus and Syracuse) and Patty Gallagher (Merchant, Officer, Courtesan, Abbess). At UC Santa Cruz, Gardner was a student of both Scheie and Gallagher. Gardner served as Assistant Director for many of Scheie’s productions as well as founded a student theater group at Santa Cruz, BarnStorm, through Scheie’s guidance. As a student in Gallagher’s clown class at UCSC, Gardner tapped into her true talent. “Patty pulled me aside one day after class and told me that I was a natural clown. That was truly one of those life-changing moments where everything makes sense.”

Since then, Gardner has been clowning her way through life. Upon moving to Seattle, Gardner joined Pi, a physical clowning troupe, which eventually relocated to San Francisco. Once in the Bay Area, Gardner joined the San Francisco Clown Conservatory to hone her craft, learning more about juggling, acrobatics and clown technique.

This is the first time that Gardner is working with The Comedy of Errors director, Aaron Posner, but she has seen some examples of his work at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, what Gardner describes as a “remarkable” production of As You Like It. “With Aaron, the story is paramount,” she says. “Each choice is made to tell the story in a clear way.” On the topic of clowning, which is prevalent throughout Posner’s version of Shakespeare’s earliest comedy, Gardner jokes that “[Posner] says he doesn’t know what clowning is,” yet he has produced “a very physical, real, simple, clear, honest rendition of the play that works perfectly with the clowning style.”

Gardner admits that “clown” is a loaded word. “Lots of people have different ideas of what it is. But [to me] it’s a very simplistic joy at the very heart of it and at its core. In terms of Aaron’s vision, he talked to us about ‘simple joy’ and I feel like we are seeing that vision.”

On the topic of “dark” comedies, such as The Comedy of Errors, Gardner insightfully reasons that, “there is, in good comedy, a darkness to it [and] looking at this play through the clown perspective is a brilliant way of working through it because all good comedy is rooted in tragedy. Laughter is a way to deal with the darker side of life in a constructive, positive way. The heart of all comedy is tragedy.”

Before beginning rehearsals for The Comedy of Errors in May, Gardner had “very high expectations for the cast…and they have exceeded that. This is…the most fun…I’ve ever had in a rehearsal hall.”

You can join the fun till July 20th! Tickets for The Comedy of Errors are on sale now. Get your tickets here!

For more information about Leah’s clown troupe, Pi, visit: www.piclowns.com.

 

 

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Ask Philippa: “Comedy of Errors” Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about The Comedy of Errors, which runs June 25–July 20. Tickets on sale now.

The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, is a beautiful, festive comic treat about losing yourself and then finding yourself again. The play is Shakespeare’s shortest, first staged at the Inns of Court as part of an evening’s entertainment. Two sets of identical twins, both lost—one pair (twin plus master) settled prosperously in the city of Ephesus, the other pair alighting on Epheus after seven years of wandering. Add to this a wife, a suitor, and a long-lost set of parents—and here, in all its perverse comic confusions, we have a comedy: one that would set a template for Shakespeare’s future capacity to enchant, entertain, and philosophically provoke.

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

Headshot of Philippa Kelly

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

Dr Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at pkelly@calshakes.org, or post below to ask her a question.

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Gathering strong forces to blow the wind in our direction.

The very latest in an ongoing series of dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, written by the show’s director (and Cal Shakes’ Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.

Thursday July 30, 2009

Sorry I’ve not been blogging the last couple of days, but we’ve had some real change of currents over here. Due to personal reasons, Marsha Mason left our show, which is both sad and disappointing. But I respect her decision. It threw us into a bit of whirlwind, as I’m sure you can imagine, everyone at the Theater. First thing, find a replacement. Two weeks into rehearsal (out of four weeks total—yikes, oh my frikkin’ yikes).

But we were blessed with an actress who has stepped into the role, starting yesterday. Her name is Patty Gallagher (pictured at right), and many or most of you don’t know who she is, but she is heaven-sent. Having performed the role of Winnie already (which she will again next year in India), Patty knows the bulk of the lines, which believe me, are brutal to learn (see previous blogs). But even more of a blessing is her spirit—she is ready to go, jumping into that mound with the entirety of her energy, her talent, her mind, her heart, everything. She is simply astounding, and I am not saying this to put a positive spin on all this. We’ve lost serious time, to be sure, and just because Patty knows a lot of the script does not mean we are just putting her in. We are creating a Winnie around her, one that comes from her unique spirit and perspective as an actor and as a woman. And with half the time. But she is open to everything we explore. She makes bold choices and has discovered so much already, and on top of all that, has inspired my connection to the piece. She’s done the same for dear Dan Hiatt, the great Willie, who has changed relationships to his Winnie with serious aplomb. And grace.

Another blessing: The fabulous Joan Mankin (pictured at right), one of our Associate Artists and a treasure, is understudying the role of Winnie and will be performing the role at certain performances later in the run. (Check our website for more details on that.) So we have two great actresses assaying this role, shoring each other up, and proving that not only does the show go on, but that crisis can actually mean opportunity. I am not rosy about this—that is, I am not seeing this through rose-colored glasses. Marsha will be missed. And we are behind. But we’ve gathered strong forces to blow the wind in our direction. With the full staff at my side, we made it through this, and I might venture to say that we’re stronger because of it.

Change is inevitable. Things will happen. Stuff out of our control. It’s how we handle it that makes us who we are. And my belief in the spirit that guides the theater, and ours in particular, is fortified, if not restored.

Tomorrow I will talk more about how the process is unearthing new truths about this play—how funny it really is, and how heartbreaking it is. Patty is teaching me that. Marsha did, too. We are going to work every day, every night, through opening, to make this piece come alive. I am daunted—a little—but I am ready to go. We all are.

Ruby Keeler would be proud.

Jon

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