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