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.

 

 

Share

Behind the Seams: An Interview with “The Comedy of Errors” Costume Designer Beaver Bauer

By Aliya Charney

As Antipholus of Syracuse remarks in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the town of Ephesus “is full of cozenage / As nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, / Dark-working  sorcerers that change the mind [and] Disguised cheaters.” For costume designer Beaver Bauer, Cal Shakes’ production of The Comedy of Errors is a welcomed challenge. The magic present in Errors differs greatly from other examples of Shakespearean sorcery because the illusions seen on stage are rooted in farce, not enchantment. Thus, the costume design plays a pivotal role in the audience’s involvement and comprehension of the baffling events that transpire on stage.

Ephesus, an ancient port city in Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea, serves as the setting for The Comedy of Errors. On the edge of Asia Minor, Ephesus, at the turn of the last century, was equally influenced by Eastern and Western styles. Therefore, costuming the play, Bauer combines various inspirations to create a unique “East-Meets-West” look. “Ephesus is a place of wonder. The Ephesian world is fun, surprising and different,” she says. Director Aaron Posner described one aspect of the look and feel of Comedy as a “Croatian circus.” To Bauer, this does not mean bright colors and extravagance, but rather, a subtle exotic and quirkiness. According to Bauer, Ephesus is a “nucleus where people pass through”; therefore, the challenge was to create a style that creates a sense of “the familiar within the unfamiliar.” For example, for the twin Antipholi, Bauer dresses them with vests over their robes, what she describes as a “more western, quirky way of styling.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display during The Comedy of Errors rehearsal. Pictured: Nemuna Ceesay (Adriana) and Tristan Cunningham (Luciana). Photo by Jay Yamada.

For the women of The Comedy of Errors, especially the sisters Adriana and Luciana, Bauer cites the upper and royal classes of Asia Minor in the 1920’s. Bauer notes that, during this time period, the men were wearing traditional vestments, but the women were more likely to wear western-styled gowns (i.e. “flapper dresses.”) Bauer incorporates this aspect into her design because, although The Comedy of Errors is “not rooted to a specific time period” it is, very clearly, “rooted in a specific place.” This mix of Eastern and Western fashion perfectly encapsulates Posner’s vision of not interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Another major factor that went into Bauer’s costume design was the notion of currency and economic status, which proves a major theme in The Comedy of Errors. The frequent transfer of money and goods throughout the play allowed Bauer and her team to think creatively about how each character would carry valuable goods and funds, such as in an Eastern money pouch or in a Westernized cummerbund. These small yet significant costume pieces also grant Bauer the opportunity to add dynamic colors and patterns to the existing pallet.

Bauer has worked with all of The Comedy of Errors cast members previously, so she felt like she could predict what the actors would want, and need, from their costumes before rehearsals began. “I held a preconception of what the actors might do with their characters [and] I created looks to accommodate that,” she says. And accommodate she did: “The trick is, you must make sure that the costume does not dictate the actors, but supports them.”

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Beaver Bauer's costume design on display, pictured on actor Liam Vincent (Duke, Balthasar) during rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Jay Yamada.

Bauer reveals that the greatest challenge in the costume design was adjusting the styles to support “quick changes.” With many actors playing multiple roles on stage, costume changes have to be fast and efficient, especially when an actor switches characters within a single scene. But Bauer embraces these challenges. “We take it as a puzzle—embrace it and nail it. That’s the most fun we have. There are practical considerations that affect our designs, but challenges like these ultimately spark the greatest ideas and most creativity.”

You can see Beaver Bauer’s costumes in The Comedy of Errors, which is playing at the Bruns till July 20th. Get your tickets here!

Share

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.

Share

Inside the Rehearsal Hall for “The Comedy of Errors”

“The play’s the thing.”

—Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

Hello!

This is dramaturgy intern Aliya Charney blogging from inside the rehearsal room for Cal Shakes’ upcoming production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, directed by Aaron Posner. We started off running (and tumbling!) this past Wednesday at the Meet and Greet, where cast members, artistic staff, production crew, the entire Cal Shakes team, and donors had the opportunity to listen to Posner discuss his vision for the play, which centers around the idea of “play.”

The cast of The Comedy of Errors in rehearsal.

The various puns on the word “play” (a stage performance, an exercise of amusement, fun and jest, a game, to act the part of a character, and even another word for “pun” itself ) perfectly complement Shakespeare’s earliest comedy. The Comedy of Errors, which is filled with wordplay and jest, is a play about mistaken identity, mystery, doubling, farce, magic, confusion, and love.

The notion of play, which Posner will use to drive The Comedy of Errors forward, will manifest on stage not just through juggling, clowning, and acrobatic tricks performed by the actors, but through the sense of what Posner himself calls “invented Shakespeare”—a term he uses to describe the contemporizing of Shakespeare’s texts through the fluidity of the Bard’s own language. Meaning, Posner, the cast, and artistic staff will create a world that profits from Shakespeare’s enduring language, rather than interpreting the play through a specific historical lens.

Costume Designer Beaver Bauer draws inspiration for her looks from Buster Keaton, 1920s fashion, eastern European clowns, Steampunk, and much more. Her looks coincide with Posner’s vision of play and “invented Shakespeare” because they do not come from one specific place or time period, but rather, are drawn from themes and images that the text itself evokes. Nina Ball, scenic designer for the production, has created a multi-level, colorful, trapdoor-filled, “shutter-cluttered” open stage that provides a canvas for abundant physical humor, allowing the actors to fully embody the sense of play, while simultaneously harmonizing with the beautiful, natural backdrop of the Bruns.

Posner adds to the play’s themes of doubling and confusion with a cast of seven. Both sets of twins (four characters total): Antipholus of Ephesus/Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus/Dromio of Syracuse (played by Adrian Danzig and Danny Scheie, respectively) are performed by two actors, while other cast members play multiple personalities on stage as well. The actors, therefore, rely on quick changes (some of which take place on stage before the audience), accent shifts, and physical humor to tell the story of mistaken identity between two sets of brothers.

Less than one week into rehearsal, The Comedy of Errors is already promising to be a a fun-filled, hilarious, and loving production. Posner began the first rehearsal by requesting the cast to “find the love” in this dark comedy. Indeed, love of all forms flourishes on stage: from romantic love to love between brothers, sisters, and friends, and even unapologetic self-love, The Comedy of Errors balances Shakespeare’s oft-dark text with fruitful moments of tenderness guaranteed to make the audience fall in love with the production, and actors.

The Comedy of Errors begins previews on June 25th and opens on June 28th. With rehearsals now fully underway, I will be updating this blog periodically with production developments and insight into the rehearsal process.

Join in the madness! Buy your tickets for The Comedy of Errors here.

Aliya Charney is a dramaturgy intern for Cal Shakes. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Aliya is a Shakespeare and cat enthusiast from Chicago. Her favorite line in The Comedy of Errors is: “I to the world am like a drop of water / That in the ocean seeks another drop.”

 

Share

Who’s Your Twin?

When Shakespeare penned The Comedy of Errors—one of his shortest, most slapstick plays—the idea of twins (a central theme of the play) fascinated the Elizabethans. Though they didn’t understand the genetics of multiple births—the difference between fraternal and identical twins, for instance—they had many beliefs about twins: that they signified an especially fertile mother, and that the comradely twins would hold hands in the womb, for instance. (Interestingly, Shakespeare’s wife birthed twins—Hamnet and Judith—in 1585, seven years before the publication of The Comedy of Errors.)

Twins fascinate us today just as much as they did in Shakespeare’s time.  When we read stories about long-lost twins finding each other again at age 78, it makes front-page news for the BBC. Twins tell us about ourselves, our genetics and culture and how each makes us similar and/or different.

Even if you don’t have a biological twin, we all joke about having “twins” in a metaphorical sense. Sometimes we spot a celebrity, friend, or a random person on the street who reminds us of someone; my elementary school even had “twin day”—where (non-twin) students would coordinate outfits and mannerisms.

For our Comedy of Errors program, we’re asking our patrons and fans to send in pictures of themselves and their twin–whether real, celebrity, or stranger. Who do you look or act like? Who look or acts like you? Further your fame by sending in a picture of you and your twin (real or imagined)—the best ones will appear in our program.

Email your twin pictures to our publications manager and get a chance to be in the Comedy of Errors program!

Learn more about The Comedy of Errors or buy your tickets by clicking here.

Share

Division, Harmony, and “Medical Mistakes”: Twins in Shakespeare

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly muses on twins in Shakespeare’s work and time.

Twins. Frontispiece from "Tales from Shakespeare," McLoughlin Brothers, 1890. Public domain.

Frontispiece from "Tales from Shakespeare," McLoughlin Brothers, 1890. Public domain.

This season Cal Shakes will stage Shakespeare’s two plays—The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night—the plots of which are facilitated by identical twins. In Twelfth Night, directed for us and Intersection for the Arts by Michelle Hensley (Artistic Director and founder of Minneapolis company Ten Thousand Things), there is one set of twins, a boy and a girl, who constitute Shakespeare’s famous medical “mistake.” You can’t have identical twins of different genders—we know that now—but in Shakespeare’s day this wasn’t known. There was, however, a great public interest in twins, due in no small part to the fact that twins were supposed to be engendered by an excessive female response to sperm, and also to the fact that twins were so difficult to give birth to, let alone to raise to maturity. Today twins are very common, partly because of in vitro fertilization and partly because the infant mortality rate has greatly shrunk in the western world. But in Shakespeare’s time this was not the case. Many parents did not name their children until the age of five, so great was the chance that the child would die during its early years. Shakespeare himself was not the oldest of his siblings, but was the first to live past infancy.

Imagine how even higher the stakes were for parents of twins. With twins’ added risk of a great range of nutritional and obstetric problems, as well as low birth weights and increased prematurity, they were widely thought to punish their mothers by adding to the pain borne by every pregnant woman (such pain being referred to in The Comedy of Errors as “The pleasing punishment that women bear”). Shakespeare and his wife had twins, only one of whom survived past childhood.

Perhaps because the survival of identical twins to adulthood was rare in that time, many writers before Shakespeare were intrigued by their value, not least as a plot device. There was an enormous number of twins in folk tales and ballads, court poetry and prose. For Shakespeare in both Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors, identical twins provide the basis for foils, doubles, misprised identity, and gender confusion. The playwright may have been inspired to use them in both plays by the thought of who his sponsors were. The first recorded performances of both plays were at the Inns of Court—The Comedy of Errors  in 1594 and Twelfth Night in 1602—and lawyers were at this time fascinated by identical twins because of the legal implications of mistaken identity. (Interestingly, in this context, we might note that The Comedy of Errorshas three references to “law.”)

Poster for an 1879 production on Broadway, featuring Stuart Robson and William Crane

Poster for an 1879 production on Broadway, featuring Stuart Robson and William Crane.

Twins provide a great plot engine for Shakespeare—they allow him to create complications, mockeries and new inventions. Thematically, moreover, twinning gives him an opportunity to explore the mind-body connection which is still so puzzling today, and which can be reflected in Shakespeare’s own puzzlements about the relation of the mind to the body (“Your face, my Thane, is a book/Where men may read strange matters”; “There’s no art/To find the mind’s construction in the face…”Macbeth). Conversely, twins also allowed him to explore his fascination with the “twinned” juvenile soul of friendship that is, as children mature, gateway to minds and bodies that become fatally divided in adulthood (“Two cherries on one stem,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream; “twinned lambs/That did frisk in the sun,” A Winter’s Tale). But in this season’s two plays about physical twinning, division returns to harmony. In each case, the brutal “splitting” of the ships that have carried identical twins away from each other resolves in the jubilation of togetherness, the celebration and relief that is reclaimed in a single root.

Share