A Spy in the Rehearsal Room (Alicia Coombes, Creative Content Manager) reports on the Midsummer casts’ Bouffon character workshop, held during the first week of rehearsals.
Director Tyne Rafaeli would make one hell of a personal trainer. I’m watching the cast run around the rehearsal hall (“Not in circles! I hate circles!), leading with a body part (“Show me the full expression of what it looks like to lead with your elbow! You’re not even in the shape of a person anymore!”) and trying to match their movements to each other so closely that they sound like one person instead of ten (“Pay attention to each other, do better!”)—all in the name of finding their inner Fairy. After a lengthy warm up where she was just as winded and worked as the cast, she said to them, “I forgot to mention to some of you—I grew up being trained in gymnastics by Soviet coaches.” Tyne is pretty open about her past as a serious Olympic-track athlete, and the rigor she brought to the room that Saturday for the actor’s “clown” workshop was no less serious.
During the design presentations for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Costume Designer Ásta Bennie Hostetter told a tale that her mother used to tell her, about The Hidden Ones (Huldufólk in Iceland):
Adam and Eve were having God over for Sunday dinner. Eve had given half of her children a bath when God came up the road and said, “I’d like to meet all of your children.” Eve said, “You can meet these clean children!” But God said, “But what about your other children?” Eve said, “You can meet these clean children!” And God said, “All of the children that have been hidden from me will now be hidden from their brothers and sisters.”
Ásta and Tyne envisioned the Fairies as embodying an aspect of ourselves we keep hidden from the world, the impulses, joy and desire that we feel incapable accessing as “normal” human beings. Beings that had aged for thousands of years far away from civilization’s norms of behavior, gender and sexuality. By drawing on the French clowning tradition of Bouffon, which was popularized in the 1960s by Jacques Lecoq but has roots as a 16th-century street performance by people deemed by society as “undesirable.” These performers, who may have been people with disabilities or mental illness or who did not conform to social norms of sexuality or gender, would create characters that pushed the boundaries of what made . Ásta says that Bouffon “inspired us to find forms that could express the adult humor of physical pleasure in a way that was safe to share with children. ”
The costume team began the day by demonstrating the prop/costumes (prostumes?) that the actors would be playing with that day. There were a variety of hoodies and leggings for them to wear in various ways, and a selection of pool noodles, pillows, small and medium balls, packing peanuts, and squishy koosh balls. The stage managers cranked some silly music while Cal Shakes Costume Administrator, Jessa Dunlap joined Ásta in the silliest and most dynamic fashion show I’ve ever seen.
Tyne then created a space for the actors to play and move, while setting the tone for the day by acknowledging that Bouffon is a rich tradition that some people dedicate their lives to; and that this Midsummer version of Bouffon-Fairy would be inspired by (but not a cheap version of) the original, with full knowledge of the depths they could reach given time and devotion.
Then it was go time. After some light breath and movement work, Tyne got the actors walking, then jogging, then running, all while leading them with different prompts to expand their bodies and intensify their gestures. One by one, she tapped the actors and had them leave the circle to be outfitted with experimental fairy lumps before returning to the fray. As the morning progressed, the air got wilder until it culminated in their full expressions. They worked in drills, varying their intensity from 1 to 10, matching their movements to each other, moving as one, then as ripples outward from Titania (Jerrie Johnson). I ducked out before the end of rehearsal, but I’m sure the second half was even more vigorous!
Over the past few weeks, the actors have been hard at work solidifying their Fairy characters as well as diving into their parts as mechanicals, lovers, and other humans. I can’t wait to see what they’re bringing to the Bruns next week as they start tech rehearsals (where we incorporate costumes, sets, sound, and lights with the full crew backstage and onstage).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins previews May 22. Catch a First Look on Saturday, May 13—come to the Bruns and enjoy a freed Q&A with director Tyne Rafaeli and Artistic Director Eric Ting, then stay to watch some of tech rehearsals. RSVP for First Look here.