Tag Archive | "Macbeth"

There’s Daggers in Men’s Smiles: Shelter Island Shakespeare Continues with “Macbeth”

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A performance of "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Sylvester Manor in the summer of 2013.

An outdoor performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Sylvester Manor in the summer of 2013. Photo courtesy of the Sylvester Manor.

By Tessa Raebeck

Bloodlust, revenge and sin will fill the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church this weekend, as Sylvester Manor presents “Macbeth,” one of Shakespeare’s most harrowing plays.

Sylvester Manor, with a history of arts programming that goes back to the late 19th century when members of the Sylvester family hosted “summer salons” entertaining artists and writers with poetry readings, music performances and plays, is returning to its creative roots through Shakespeare at the Manor. “Macbeth” marks the fifth production in the series.

And the Shelter Island community is part of Shakespeare at the Manor productions, with residents hosting members of the company at their homes during the length of the production, playing small roles in the show and even cooking meals for the cast.

“This engages the community beyond being members of an audience and provides everyone with the opportunity to feel connected to the excitement of the weekend. We’ve had a tremendous response from both the companies and the volunteers who have participated,” said Samara Levenstein, the co-chair of the Manor’s arts and education committee, who calls the island’s engagement in the production “community-supported theater.”

It is the fruition of Ms. Levenstein’s “pet project” to bring outdoor and site-specific theater performance to Shelter Island, in the model of Shakespeare in the Park. It started in 2011 with “As You Like It,” performed in a field surrounded by the property’s organic farm. Last summer, “Much Ado About Nothing” brought audience members to the theater, the Manor’s front lawn, by way of canoes.

Drew Foster, the director of “Much Ado About Nothing,” returns to Shelter Island for “Macbeth.” Since graduating from Julliard, Mr. Foster has been directing in Chicago and New York City. “It’s really exciting to have found a gem in Shelter Island and it has a really rich performance history,” Mr. Foster. “It’s fun to carry on the tradition that’s pretty rich within the manor already.”

Director Drew Foster.

Director Drew Foster.

For “Macbeth,” Mr. Foster chose the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, which will highlight the religious undertones of the play and the dilemmas characters face as they grapple with murder, power and vengeance against a daunting moral backdrop.

“The question of the play is do I kill Duncan or do I not kill Duncan,” said Mr. Foster. “So when Macbeth is wrestling with these questions, he’s literally standing underneath a giant cross, so he has to use that and when someone does something sacrilegious, they’re actually doing it in a church. When the witches come and defame it, they’re literally turning the church on its head—it becomes more immediate.”

“It’s not necessarily a traditional stage or theater experience where you go into a theater and the theater is manipulated to fit the show. We actually chose the show to fit the space,” the director added. “We try to do the whole show around everyone.”

Scenes will be performed in the choir loft, behind the audience, up and down the aisles, on the altar and in the hallway, where the characters are invisible but their voices audible.

With lines as familiar as “blood will have blood,” directors can struggle with how to keep the classic Shakespeare production fresh, but rather than shy away from the challenge, Mr. Foster embraces it, happy to expand on the work of those before him.

“When you’re doing a new play, I find that much more difficult because you’re trying to create something out of nothing,” he said. “These plays have rich histories of performance, so you sort of get to borrow and learn from brilliant people who have tried it out before you.”

Mr. Foster solicited the help of his peers at Julliard and in the New York City theater world in forming the company. “Luckily, I have very talented friends,” he said of his cast. “They’re all amazing. About half of them have been on Broadway and they’re all terrific.”

Actors who attended Julliard with Mr. Foster are portraying both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Robert Eli, who plays Macbeth, has done several shows on Broadway and has a small part on the acclaimed political drama “House of Cards.” Phoebe Dunn will play his bloodthirsty wife, Lady Macbeth. “She’s just out of school,” said Mr. Foster, “very young, but very talented.”

As part of the manor’s partnership with the Shelter Island School, the cast will direct a workshop for high school students this Friday. Students will act as stagehands and ushers and a few students have small roles in the play.

“Macbeth” will be shown Friday, March 7, and Saturday, March 8, at 7 p.m. at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $7 for students age 8 through college-aged (the play is not recommended for children under 8). Tickets are available at sylvestermanor.org.

Sharing Shakespeare

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Bringing the Bard (and “The Scottish Play”) to the East End

Andrew Botsford as King Duncan, Tristan Vaughan as Malcolm and Vincent Cinque as Donalbain perform a scene from Macbeth during a rehearsal at LTV Studios on Saturday, 12/22/12. (Michael Heller photo)

 

By Annette Hinkle

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

With that oft-quoted line from “As You Like It,” William Shakespeare offers a poignant reminder of the roles we each take on in our variable and changing lives.

But in some ways, it’s a quote that could also easily reflect the Shakespearean aspirations of Tristan and Morgan Vaughan on the East End.

The Vaughans are classically trained actors who met while earning MFA degrees at The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting (ACA) at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Both also studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, the Bard’s home turf, so to speak, which makes it a theatrical form they know well from both sides of the pond.

Now, husband and wife are looking to share their knowledge and passion for Shakespeare with the local community through a new classical theater ensemble. The Round Table Theatre Company & Academy is one in which the couple will not only produce plays, but offer classical training to local actors (and would-be actors) as well.

The new company’s first production will be “Macbeth” (aka “the Scottish play” by superstitious thespians who fear bad luck if its title is uttered within the confines of a theater). That play will run January 11 to 20 at LTV studios in Wainscott, where the Vaughans are not only producing (Tristan is directing while Morgan is the text and voice director) they are also acting — Morgan plays Lady Macbeth and Tristan is taking on the role of Malcolm.

When asked why Macbeth was chosen as the first production for the company, Tristan responds, “The main reason is our familiarity with the script. It’s also one of the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays.”

Tristan notes another reason is the 1979 film version of “Macbeth” starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench which he saw when he was 18. At the time, he was working on a production of the play, but admittedly, didn’t understand what it was all about.

“But I realized I could appreciate it, and worked on it and came to understand it,” he adds. “Macbeth is what brought Shakespeare to life for me — working on the play and seeing that production.”

“It’s a great play,” he says. “So poetic and so tragic — and so arresting. It was no question in my mind the one to start with.”

Producing, directing, acting … though it’s not easy for the Vaughans to wear so many hats in a single production, Tristan explains the reasoning behind this decision.

“We wanted to walk the talk in terms of illuminating the text and raise people up,” says Tristan. “This first time, so we wanted people to know that we know what we’re doing.”

“It’s pragmatic too. I’m not paying two actors,” adds Tristan who admits that directing while acting is quite a challenge. “I’m not planning to do it in the future.”

“We’re feeling very overwhelmed at times,” admits Morgan. “But it’s fun for us at the same time.”

“This is the work of trying to realize a dream — getting something off the ground and feeling the energy out here and seeing what clicks,” says Tristan.

It’s an energy that was born two years ago when the Vaughans relocated to the East End from Los Angeles after a rather unfulfilling experience in the professional world of acting out there.

“We were literally told to take our classical degrees off our resumes,” says Morgan. “No one cared.”

But here on the East End, Morgan (an East Hampton native) and Tristan, who hails from Dallas, found an audience eager to partake of what they had to offer. The Vaughans began teaching Speaking Shakespeare, a class at Guild Hall, and were surprised by how quickly it caught on.

“People came out of the woodwork to do it,” recalls Morgan. “So we thought why not create a company and an academy to train people in the text who are in the nascent stages?”

“A couple people in our show took the class,” she adds. “That’s what we’re really trying to go for. A fully professional company of people who have been trained. That’s going to take a while, but the beginnings are there.”

As a result, for this inaugural production Morgan and Tristan are relying on a number of professional actors as well as those who are just cutting their teeth, so to speak, on the Bard. They believe it’s a combination that works well on stage.

“It brings the inexperienced actor up and tends to elevate them,” explains Morgan. “People rise to the occasion really amazingly. As an actress, if I’m working with someone who’s not there, it brings me down. If someone is there it brings me up.”

Taking the title role of “Macbeth” will be Jeff Keogh, an Australian native now living in Washington, D.C. Like the Vaughans, he also studied at ACA and came highly recommended by the school’s director.

“Jeff is a good example of the way we were trained,” explains Morgan. “He’s a natural actor. It’s not about this typical way of doing Shakespeare. He’s doing heightened text and you understand it because of how he delivers it. It’s very conversational and not what people expect.”

Making sure that audiences understand what Shakespeare is getting at in the text is an important goal for Tristan and Morgan. They understand that many people — Americans in particular — are intimidated by Shakespearean plays and often feel as if they don’t get it. As a result, the couple explains it’s their job to make sure it comes across in a way audiences can grasp.

“If people come to this and don’t understand, it doesn’t have to do with their level of intelligence, the actors have to convey it,” says Tristan.

“In Britain, it’s about text and technique,” explains Morgan. “In America, it’s ‘how do you feel about this?’ and bringing your own experience. We’re trying to bring both together and you can’t have one without other. With Shakespeare, the British are a little technical and Americans tend to be emotive. Our idea is to go right between that.”

“We want to break down the barriers between Americans and Shakespeare,” adds Tristan. “It belongs to us, we’re native English speakers, just like in England.”

The Vaughans are also looking to bring back some of the sensibility that dictated how plays in Shakespeare’s day were perceived by the masses.

“The difference between Elizabethan Shakespeare and our own modern version is people back then didn’t go to ‘see’ a play — they went to ‘hear’ a play,” stresses Tristan. “Our culture is so visual now, but words were mysterious then. They were onomatopoeic, the sounds were what people relished. It was an audio culture and we’re trying to change people from gazing at a computer screen to replicating that sound.”

But the Vaughans aren’t completely rejecting the modern age with this production either. With the possibilities that abound at the LTV studio space, Tristan and Morgan are capitalizing on the unconventional.

“Because of where we’re doing it, it’s not just a proscenium stage,” explains Morgan. “We’ll be doing it on a thrust stage. Macbeth will be right there. I think it’s more exciting and that’s different than the audience watching from a safe place. It isn’t just going to be people walking out and saying things. We’ll be using the whole space.”

There will also be an opportunity for multi-media visuals on stage. Original artwork by Brian Leaver, for example will be offered on screen behind the action during “Macbeth.” Highlighting the work of other artists is something the Vaughans would like to do in future productions as well.

“We want to cultivate a community of visual artists as well as actors, and give them a showing,” says Tristan.

After this initial production of “Macbeth,” the Vaughans will continue to offer classes to help bring the words and works of Shakespeare to life for residents of the East End. Whether these are people who have wider theatrical aspirations or not, Morgan and Tristan are looking forward to bringing the community into the Shakespearean fold (including teens) because experience has shown, it’s definitely an idea whose time has come.

“We wouldn’t have started this if Speaking Shakespeare hadn’t been so successful,” says Morgan. “I think we realize there’s a market for it.”

 

Round Table Theatre Company & Academy’s inaugural production of “Macbeth” will run at LTV Studios (75 Industrial Road, Wainscott) from January 11 to 20. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 ($15 students/seniors). Visit www.tveh.org or www.roundtabletheatrecompany.org for details. The production is a fundraiser for both LTV and Round Table’s season as well as its acting classes and reading workshops at Guild Hall. Yuka Silvera is costume designer, Sebastian Paczynski is the lighting designer and Jennifer Brondo is stage manager.

Below: IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING: Andrew Botsford (King Duncan), Tristan Vaughan (Malcolm) and Vincent Cinque (Donalbain) rehearse “Macbeth” at LTV Studios. (Michael Heller photo)