A glass of wine and a tale of suicide, romance Shakespeare style

Kathleen Rowe

Shakespeare Kelowna’s production of Romeo & Juliet at Okanagan Villa Estate Winery was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

It was a beautiful July evening and we enjoyed wine from the Vibrant Vine which made it even better. The Villa is set in the hills above Kelowna and the view is amazing as well as the magnificent gardens.

Now that's a locale to check out the Bard. - Okanagan Villa Estate Winery.
Now that’s a locale to check out the Bard. – Okanagan Villa Estate Winery.

One of the best-known love stories ever written (is it a love story though?), this play has been translated into dozens of languages and has inspired art, song, ballet, opera and film. The challenge in presenting Romeo & Juliet is to breathe new life, freshness and relevance into the production.

“These violent delights have violent ends

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”
  – Friar Lawrence, II,vi

Neal Facey, long time theatre instructor, director and producer has done just that. In his own words, “This production is set in a fictional modern Verona where the Montagues and Capulets are the heads of rival fashion houses. The vibrant looks of haute couture thinly mask the corporate covert wars and rivalry of the fashion world.”

Matt Brown as Romeo brings a strong brooding presence to the character and Sarah Goddard as Juliet brings passion and life to every scene she is in.

“Ah me! How sweet is love itself possessed

When but love’s shadows are so rich in joy!”
  – Romeo, V,i

Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Justin Gaudio) and his loyal friend Mercutio (Alyosha Pushak) display their true devotion to him and also add some comic relief with Mercutio’s pink socks and loud outbursts of devotion.

Fred Way, formerly of MBSS teaching fame, and Bard Brawl co-captain Daniel J. Rowe’s high school drama teacher, was the set designer.

William Shakespeare would have loved this production of Romeo & Juliet, and the story of love, grief and loss, hatred and violence, loyalty and counsel are as fresh today as they were over 400 years ago.

*EDITOR’S NOTE FROM DANIEL: Right on Mr. Way. Right on. Mr. Way was obsessed with Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, and did a production in tribute of it once. Funny story. Facey didn’t watch it telling me, “film is film and theatre is theatre.” Classic drama teacher line.


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Othello, a tale from the American Civil War

Kathleen Rowe

Having never seen or read Othello, and only using Iago as a crossword answer for ‘villain’ I was intrigued to find out just what this Shakespeare play, written when he was at the top of his form, was all about.

The Bard on the Beach production of Othello is set in 1864, towards the end of the American Civil War and it fits perfectly with the underlying theme of racism which is evident throughout the play.

Even though Othello has been promoted to Union Army General, he is treated with suspicion and has to wed Desdemona secretly has her father, Brabantio would not approve.

“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is tupping your white ewe,”
  – Iago

In the 1600s people with dark non-white skin were put in cages an displayed in the town square as curiosities. Even though the Union Army were fighting for emancipation in the Civil War there was still an acceptance of slavery and racism throughout the north and south.

Kayvon Kelly as Iago, in his fourth season of Bard, was very compelling, and a strong presence on stage. Indeed the play lagged a little when he wasn’t on stage. You could always feel his loathing for Othello.Photo 3_0

Othello was an imposing character but easily duped by the cruel Iago.

Why does he “Hate Othello?” It was stated with great vehemence more than once. Iago’s racism is at times very overt and other times subtle and poisonous.

Was it because Othello is black, or is he truly jealous?

It’s part of what makes the play so fascinating, Iago so delightfully evil, and Othello so utterly tragic.

Iago was both jealous and racist and felt passed over as Othello had chosen Cassio as his lieutenant

Even the handkerchief that Iago uses to spur jealousy in Othello was said to have special powers instilled from Othello, as if there was ‘black magic’ involved.

The death scene was a little weak and some members of the audience were even laughing although I could not see the humour in it. It kind of showed that Othello’s character, played by Luc Roderique, was not as strong as Iago although his physical presence on stage was imposing (tall and dark).

Director Bob Frazer says “by setting Othello during the American Civil War, we are shining a light on what many suspect to be the beginning of the new, deep-seated and subtle racism in North America.”

Frazer has been at Bard on the Beach since playing Hamlet in 2005. Since graduating from Studio 58 he has amassed almost 100 theatrical credits both as a director and actor.

He feels Shakespeare’s Othello is a “timeless story that moves audiences on a personal level, all while creating some of the most memorable characters in his canon.”

Luc Roderique (Othello) & Kayla Deorksen (Desdemona) OTHELLO, 2016 Bard on the Beach Photo: David Blue
Luc Roderique (Othello) & Kayla Deorksen (Desdemona)
OTHELLO, 2016
Bard on the Beach
Photo: David Blue

The folk and instrumental music used throughout the play captured the patriotic fervor of the Civil War and the mournful ballads brought the themes of slavery, loyalty and love to life. Costumes were authentic to the period as well.

A well done and timely Shakespeare experience!

As always, we have to ask ourselves: would the bard approve of this production?

Yes! Forsooth he would!


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Shakespeare in Pop Culture

Roslyn Willson contacted the Bard Brawl promoting a infographic that shows how much influence the bard has had on popular culture. Without further ado…


 
Shakespeare in Pop Culture
Source: SuperScholar.org


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The Comedy of Errors with a Steampunk Twist, a Bard on the Beach miracle

With Bard on the Beach in full swing during a sweltering Vancouver summer, Director Scott Bellis has taken Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and given it the gears and gadgets of the Steampunk genre.
 I know what you’re thinking, “Steampunk? Was that not a thing a decade ago? I mean, how can you add to the genre when Will Smith’s Wild Wild West filled the cup full?”
Well said and I did think the same going into the main stage on Vancouver’s beautiful Vanier Park looking out over English Bay. How many times have we seen a kind of kitschy genre played out once too many much to the audience’s chagrin?
Comedy of Errors3
Photo credits – David Blue

Yet Scott Bellis and the Bard on the Beach cast delivered a delightfully entertaining performance using the Steampunk back drop to add colourful characters behind the scenes and flashy special effects right in the audience’s faces.

The widgets, levers and wire-rimmed glasses worked in and around Shakespearean forms of love, hate, jealousy, misdirection and slap stick found in his comedies.  The stage lighting tricks and quirky use of the monstrous Nurse, did nothing to take away from the fun of the mistaken identities and the foibles the followed.  It was not a nauseating ride through the planet’s core filled with distracting gooberfish  and the bigger fish that eat the gooberfish. It was a laugh fest coloured with smoke and lightening thanks to the design team including Pam Johnson (Scenery), Gerald King (Lighting), Malcolm Dow (Sound).
Comedy of Errors
Antipholus and Dromio take centre stage.

The play begins with the aging Egeon (Scott Bellis) from Syracuse thrown before the Duke of Ephesus and sentenced to death simply for being a Syracusian.  Sounds about right. Pleading for his life, Egeon tells his tragic tale of loss and how he came to be in Ephesus.  Many years ago on a voyage at sea a terrible storm separated Egeon from his wife and son leaving him with his other twin son and twin servant. Yep. All believable so far. Both children were called Antipholus and the servants Dromio and when Egeon’s remaining son left for Ephesus and failed to return, he has been on a decade long search for him.  The ever so generous Duke is moved by Egeon’s tale and grants a stay of execution granting him one day to come up with money for bail proving that all politicians are motivated by the promise of monetary reward (how can one not be cynical in these electoral times).

Comedy of Errors2
Antipholus berates his servant Dromio

Meanwhile across town, Antipholus of Syracuse (Ben Elliott) and his servant Dromio (Luisa Jojic) have come ashore unaware that they have stumbled upon the home town of their twin brothers Antipholus of Ephesus (Jay Hindle) and Dromio (Dawn Petten). In the ensuing confusion created by mistaken identity schtick that Shakespeare does so well, the antics of the Dromios and Antipholi drives the energy and comedy of the play right to the closing curtain.  Hats off to Elliott and Hindle as they are thrown this way and that and even more so to Jojic and Petten who were spectacular in making the horrors of slave ownership and abuse quite funny as they were slap sticked around the stage. Hmmm. Feels wrong.

Costume designer Mara Gottler deserves kudos for capturing the feel of Steampunk especially with the minor characters nefarious Dr. Pinch, the mysterious Abbess and the monstrous Nurse Poppy. The iron gears and twisting metal made for a darker backdrop to the play and added a mysterious element juxtaposing the comedic performances in the foreground. Gottler does well by taking the darker science fiction/fantasy look and decorating the characters with horned rimmed glasses, old aviator helmets and trench coats.
When mixed with the sights and sounds of the stage crew, Bard on the Beach delivers a production of The Comedy of Errors that is a unique and wild and fun and a show that demonstrates how this company continues to keep Shakespeare alive in Vancouver.

Bard on the Beach


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A lesson on bard basics courtesy of Muse of Fire

Daniel J. Rowe

Two dudes self-fund a documentary to discover one thing:

Why are people scared of Shakespeare?

“Because it’s hard to read,” says one girl in that sing songy teenage voice we all love so much. Yes. Shakespeare’s hard.

Muse of Fire stars actors Dan Poole and Giles Terera, who really, really want you to know that they’re a) actors and b) like Shakespeare. I think. At least they’re interested in Shakespeare.

The two grew up in the 80s “watching Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Batman and Robin.” Wait a second. Batman and Robin? The only Batman I can think of from the 80s was Michael Keaton’s in 1989, and there was sure as shit no Robin in that one. Oh well. I get what they’re saying.

Muse of Fire is pretty good. Kind of like a poor man’s Looking for Richard. It’s funny and explores why Shakespeare is so unapproachable and taught so horribly so often. It also gives a nice glimpse of why the bard is so great. I.E. when Gandalf reads Romeo and Juliet. Now that’s a pleasure to any of the senses.

It’s a perfect for secondary school students. Find a copy, show it and sit back and enjoy teachers of English. The show will do your work for you.

*If you click this link, you can watch the full interviews with those found in the film.

The two actors start with “the good, the bard and the ugly,” and trot around asking actors of varying levels of prestige why the language is so difficult. Almost all of them from Ewan McGregor to the guy who plays Gareth in the Office to Gandalf, errr, I mean Magneto, sorry, I mean Sir Ian McKellan say that Shakespearean language is hard, but you just have to do it; more or less.

Almost all the interviewees recall horror stories of being taught Shakespeare in school and hating it, but, later in life when they’re all grown up, can appreciate it. I think most people can appreciate that sentiment.

Then there are these kids at Shakespeare camp (where the Hamlet was Shakespeare camp when I was a kid?!) who are acting it out, and seem to be having real fun. See. Even kids like it.

The best part of Muse of Fire are the interviewees and there are a lot of them. Dame Judi Dench is a particularly incredible interview, as are the ones mentioned above.

The two dudes then set off for Denmark to catch Jude Law in Hamlet.

Hamlet, in Denmark with Jude Law?! Very jealous.

Law’s interview is predictably great, and he says one line that touched this brawler’s heart very fondly.

“In the end, you just have to say it,” says Law.

Yes you do. Welcome to the Bard Brawl Mr. Law. We’ll see you next week.

“It’s so rich. You have no chance to think that you can get everything every night in the language, but what you can get is a sense of journey emotionally through that scale of writing,” he goes on.

Law talks about Hamlet shifting depending on the actor, time, audience and any other number of variables. Amazing. This is why those, ‘this is how Shakespeare wanted it’ types are a tad bothersome and always produce the show in “period” English. Oh, and those types are always a treat to have in class with you.

“Your responsibility is to that audience and to that production, not 400 years of incredible actors who have played him before,” Law says.

Well said.

Much like Pacino’s documentary, the filmmakers take a jaunt into the wonderful world of the iambic pentameter that, if you didn’t know what it was already, probably skipped a few classes in high school or were at the back of the class working on your fantasy football team. It’s just one of those things you should all know.

iambic pentameter

noun

a common meter in poetry consisting of an unrhymed line with five feet oraccents, each foot containing an unaccented syllable and an accentedsyllable

Word Origin

French iambique ‘of a foot or verse’ and Greek pentameter ‘measure offive’

Oh, and just like in Pacino’s film, they put a team of actors together to go through some of the language.

And, just like Pacino, the people on the film give the Duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum explanation of the term.

Hmmm, seems like they might want to have mentioned the Pacino film maybe once. I’ll help you out boys: Looking for Richard.

Throughout the documentary, the two actors love shooting themselves doing their “everyday things,” which is less interesting that the subject at hand.

No one cares how struggling actors spend their days boys. Move it along.

Then there’s the Wizard of Baz part…

Now, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is a lot of fun, and a great gateway production to get kids into the bard, but the weird scene of Poole and Terara fawning over the DVD copy in the bookstore is kind of odd. They interview Luhrmann which is fine, but we already saw interviews with Gandalf, Jude Law, Judi Dench, Obi-Wan Kenobi and a bunch of other amazing people, so the director of Strictly Ballroom is less than it could be. Does he really have more to add than Alan Cumming (an interview the filmmakers barely used by the way)?

I shouldn’t be harsh though. Muse of Fire is fun, and nice at moments, and, like stated, is perfect for a classroom.

It’s always fun to see the greats talk about what the bard means to them, and even better when they read the words.

That, and the Bard Brawl would gladly welcome the budding actors into our ranks should they choose to join and give their thoughts.


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Act I, scene iii; Mad King.
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Waving the boat of gender constructs goodbye courtesy of Shakespeare

Troy Clements

So I grew up in a very rural area of Prince Edward Island, Canada. And when I say rural I mean friggin rural! With a population of 75 people in my village (well it’s actually defined as an unincorporated area, but village is just easier to say), it gives you an idea of what I mean when I say small.

Not like… “Hey I’m from a rural place too” “oh yah, where’s that” I ask…”oh just outside of Kingston, Ontario.” Yah buddy that’s not what I mean by small…small like, shooting rats at the dump with your dad’s 22cal riffle. Or waking up at the crack of dawn to head to the wharf on setting day, sending the lobster fisherman off with a friendly wave…

There ain’t nothing like waving at boats!

I made the big move in 2010. Not the one where you go to Alberta and make lotsa money in the oil biz so you can buy a big truck, the one where you move to Montreal and make no money but yet discover a bit more of yourself.

When I arrived I realized Montreal has lotsa boats leaving the harbour, but nobody really finds waving at them as fun for some reason. And there are rats but they won’t let ya shoot em’….even if your gun is registered…go figure eh?  So as you can imagin’ my horizons were broadening quickly. One example would be Bard Brawl.

Back home you would never have an opportunity to join a group that got together once a week, had a couple of beers and read Shakespeare…and out loud, like in front of people, not just by yourself hiding in your room in fear of being seen as something different. I mean we would brawl back home, but it usually involved more than a couple of beers and few broken noses in the end.   So yah, Montreal…here I am, discovering something new everyday.

So now that you have an idea of where I came from and who I am, I will get to the point…I found an episode of CBC Ideas, “Not With the Eyes,” that struck a chord with me. It was about gender identity as it is in our contemporary culture compared to how it was when Shakespeare was observing and writing about his time.

Being from where I’m from I was always pushed to be male, to be a man. Like be a man…suck it up, you shouldn’t respond that way to a given situation, you should respond this way because…”you’re a man!” And I mean I followed that. I didn’t push back or anything, I really thought that’s how it was.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite where I grew up, I was a little bit more open-minded than others in the community. I accepted anyone who identified as gay or transgendered for example, but I never thought about where I was in that spectrum, and this episode of Ideas really allowed room for me to question my gender. Not my sexual identity but my gender.

You know like…what is gender really?

I mean physically there is a difference but how one perceives oneself is not so obvious. For example, as mentioned in the episode, race was a created construct. Sure we have similarities to a certain group in comparison to others but nowadays, for the most part, race is slowly ceasing to exist.

We don’t see one race compared to another as much any more. There are still differences but we are realizing more and more that we are all just Homo sapiens, and we are getting away from separation of people because their skin is a different colour or because they cook with different spices. And so like race, gender (when looked at in a certain light) was a created construct as well… and one that is slowly moving away from a “you’re a man” and “you’re a woman” type thing.

When we truly ask ourselves who we are, it’s not easy to say. Like personally, I have been questioning if I am male or female…or if either really exist. And I tell you what…it feels so liberating to question that.

Especially coming from rural PEI. Let’s talk about washer tossing some time.

So does gender exist and how did it exist when ole Shakespeare was writing? I mean when you read between the lines Shakespeare was writing about what he seen among the population, usually the upper class of citizens, and poking fun or at least making a comment about how people perceived themselves and the world around them. And so, as mentioned in the broadcast…in his plays he had men playing women roles/parts and these women would then dress up as a young boys. In turn you would have male characters in the play attracted to these ‘young boys’ who were actually women who just looked like young boys. So you have a sort of taboo issue being discussed through a form entertainment.

That’s crucial. As long as it is in some form of theatre, poetry, song writing, etc., one is less likely to get his or her head cut off for it. Sorry Patricia Jannuzzi but Facebook doesn’t cut it!

Helena (in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, adds this nerdy editor) says, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind,” and so the question is what are the eyes actually seeing? If you fall in love with the mind, what are the male characters physically seeing in these women who resemble young boys?

When we discuss a similar situation nowadays we see the same thing more or less. We have people who consider themselves sapiosexual.

sapiosexual: (adj) a form of sexual orientation characterized by a strong attraction to intelligence in others, often regardless of gender and/or conventional attractiveness.

So once again falling in love through the mind.

This still leaves the question, what is it that the eyes actually see then?

And so this speaks to the fluidity of gender and sexuality, that nothing is fixed, that there can be many forms of gender and many forms of attractiveness toward that gender and that they are in a constant state of change and flux. And this fluidity is part of a continuum that exists where people exist, that it’s not just fixed to one time or another.

Shakespeare saw it and now we see it. It will evolve but I’m not sure if we will ever know what the eyes actually see.


 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Troy’s essay is in response to the program “Not With The Eyes” produced for the CBC program Ideas. The link is here:

http://www.cbc.ca/i/caffeine/syndicate/?clipId=2648111044

Richard II, Act V

Artwork - Andre Simoneau
Artwork – Andre Simoneau

(Podcast recorded and produced by Daniel J. Rowe, blog written and edited by Eric Jean)

Welcome back Brawlers to the final act of our tenth play, Richard II.

Listen to or download the podcast, or better yet subscribe on iTunes.

Bolingbroke has the crown in hand  and Richard’s been sent to the tower, so it’s all over right? Bring on the hookers and blow and incriminating British tabloid pictures!

Nope. Hank Bolingbroke’s not in the clear yet.

When scene 1 opens, Richard’s wife is waiting for him along the road which leads to the tower to say goodbye before he gets locked up for good. She seems ready to give up but Richard tries to convince her to forget about this whole Queen business and run off to France before things get ugly. And the Northumberland shows up to tell him he’s going to Pomfret instead of the Tower. That can’t be good. Richard accuses Northumberland of helping Henry Bolingbroke to the throne and believes that sooner or later Northumberland will turn on Henry.

Too right, Richard. That one’s called Henry the Fourth but you won’t be around to see it. Your wife might survive but she’ll be long gone to France by then. She wasn’t in the sequel.

Back at the Duke of York’s palace the duchess of York gives us a portrait of Richard and Henry popular appeal: while the people were pumped about Bolingbroke, they threw garbage as Richard as he walked by with his armed escort. Thankfully though, York did okay in the change of leadership and even managed to plead on his son Aumerle’s behalf that he was totally committed, 100% to the new regime. Yup. No traitorous thoughts  or loyalty to Richard at all.

Except there’s this sealed letter poking out of Aumerle’s jacket which says that he, Carlisle and a bunch of other nobles are planning to overthrow the new king. Dad’s pissed but there’s only one thing this NARC can do: run off to the king and rat his son out! Mom’s suggestion: just go tell the new king you’re sorry and that you won’t hang out with those losers if you can just be part of the team, even if that means being Rutland the towel boy.

You’d think you’d try a little harder to hide something like that from your dad. I bet York never found Aumerle’s secret weed stash. (Look for his special snuff-box, the one with the white rose on it and the Latin inscription which translates to: “Death to the Lancastrians.” Joke explained here.)

In scene 3 we learn that Henry’s got a deadbeat son when York busts in demanding to speak to the king. He spills the beans on his son and when Aumerle and his mother get there. York pleads with the king to kill Aumerle for his dishonour and Aumerle swears up and down that he really wasn’t into this whole rebellion thing and that the others pressured him into it. The duchess begs for her son’s life and King Henry forgives him. He doesn’t forgive the others though. They’re still going to die.

Scene 4 is super short but it’s kind of important: Lord Exton decides that because he overheard King Henry talk about how much better things would be if Richard weren’t around, he would probably get a huge reward if he went off and killed him on his own initiative.

So off he goes. He finds Richard in his cell, passing the time by debating with himself whether he’s better off now, in prison, or when he was king and surrounded with sycophants. He’s also pretty pissed that even his horse Barbary has betrayed him: it seemed happy to be carrying King Henry around instead of his sad sack. The jail keeper comes in with his supper so Richard asks him to taste the food first but Exton’s ixnayed that. Richard knows the jig is up so he goes into Hulk mode and snatches the keeper’s axe and offs him. He hacks down another servant before Exton finally runs in and kills him.

Except what seemed like such a good idea before kinda seems like a bad idea all of a sudden.

Henry’s feeling pretty good in the final scene: the conspirators have all been found or killed and things are looking up when Exton comes in with the dead king in tow. Too bad Henry isn’t feeling it. Oh sure, he’s happy that Richard’s gone but why oh why did he have to be murdered! Oh the humanity of it all! How could you, Exton? (Is anybody buying this yet?)

Quick everyone! Look over there: a Crusade in the Holy Land! Looks like fun so let’s join in!

And they lived happily ever after until the first few lines of Henry IV, part 1.

Stay tuned for the Richard II speeches podcast, followed by act I of a play which may have appeared in the pages of the last ‘Zounds!

David Kandestin rejoins the brawl and delivers a magnetic reading of sonnet 49.

And hey! Buy ‘Zounds! You’ll never regret or forget it. Volume II is OUT NOW.brassknucklestshirt1.png

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And hey! Buy ‘Zounds! You’ll never regret or forget it. Volume II is OUT NOW.brassknucklestshirt1.png

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The Bard Brawl is currently accepting submissions to the third edition of ‘Zounds! a Bard Brawl Journal. 

Join us.

Artwork - Stephanie E.M. Coleman
Artwork – Stephanie E.M. Coleman

 

For the third instalment of the greatest English Renaissance themed journal in the history of the universe we have chosen a theme inspired by the halls of power corrupted by ambition, greed, vengeance and sometimes straight up psychological trauma:

madking

“O! let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven;
Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!”
– King Lear, 1.5.51

 

William Shakespeare’s work is littered by the acts of mad kings. The most obvious example to use as inspiration is Lear, but scratch the surface of Richard III, Richard II, Henry IV, John, Leontes and many more and one can always find a little of the crazy.

Be as literal or as abstract as you like, but always be brawly.

As a bonus, ‘Zounds! is running its first ever writing and art contest in this edition.


It is highly recommended that you pick up a past copy of ‘Zounds! to get an idea of the type of material we print. You can order a copy here.


Email your best creative non-fiction, fiction, artwork or poetry submissions to bardbrawl@gmail.com

Use high resolution JPEGs for artwork.


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A conversation with the director, Cymbeline

Daniel J. Rowe

Anita Rochon took on Cymbeline in all its facets from comedy to drama to action to romance and all else in between. Photo Credits: Rachel Cairns as Imogen Photo & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper
Anita Rochon took on Cymbeline in all its facets from comedy to drama to action to romance and all else in between.
Photo Credits: Rachel Cairns as Imogen
Photo & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper

The 2014 Bard on the Beach run included the not done often play Cymbeline. It’s a dramatic and exciting play that bounces between comedy, drama and sometimes shocking plot turns, and is one of the Bard Brawl’s favourites.

Director Anita Rochon discussed the production with the Bard Brawl.

Bard Brawl: Why did you pitch Cymbeline (to Bard on the Beach)?

Anita Rochon: It was a couple of things. It was a play that was really interesting to me and also interesting why it isn’t done very often… The last time it was done at Bard on the Beach was 2002, so I also saw that it wasn’t done in a long time, and with the particular casting breakdown I was working with, which was one women and five men (I asked for a sixth) because we were paired with Equivocation, I had to work within a particular cast breakdown, and I saw that Cymbeline had this women who was at the axis point of all these different narratives, so she really was the centre. That was a play that I could imagine staging with a smaller cast and having a women at the centre of it all.

BB: What was the direction you were trying to lead this play?

AR: One of the motifs and themes that was very strong for me in reading it was the idea that one can change. The idea that you may get forgiveness, that you may get a second chance. So the idea of changing, and changing identity, and not just going in disguise – as happens in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays – but even the idea that you sometimes have to change your idea of who you are in order to keep living in a way that’s satisfying, but also to receive forgiveness is something that I really emphasized, and took it quite literally to this idea of people changing identities right before our eyes.

BB: The one thing that I was surprised with was in the first half of the play, it was a lot lighter. Cloten and his mother, there were a lot of laughs where you or they pushed the humour. Was the difficult to rectify seeing as how dark it (the play) gets at the end?

The ensemble guides the performance of Cymbeline.  Photo credit - David Blue
The ensemble guides the performance of Cymbeline.
Photo credit – David Blue

AR: I think what every director does is just try and do what the playwrite is telling us to do, and so that’s what I was trying to do. I didn’t feel like I was attempting to push any humour. Shakespeare has written those weird scenes between Cloten and the lords where you get such a clear dynamic of how the whole kingdom thinks of Cloten, and the queen has those fantastic asides to the audience. She’s really written like an evil stepmother in fairytale tradition.

So many speak about how it’s such a crazy play, and has so many things: comedy, romance, drama, tragedy. The only way that I could understand dealing with that was just playing everything for what it’s worth. Just playing everything for how it’s written. We can’t squeeze the whole thing into being a comedy; why would we try?

I think there is a precedent for that now, we’re used to that now with shows like Game of Thrones or probably better example would be Breaking Bad where sometimes you have these scenes that are almost clown-like and then you have high drama, and then you have a stylized scene. A show like Breaking Bad has all of those things, and so I just tried to commit to each scene from what I understood from each scene and put them all together with a container of this ensemble telling us this story.

We see the ensemble coming out presenting themselves, presenting the narrative they’re about to tell us, and then, at the end, with that little button where Rachel Cairns (Imogen) takes centre stage again and finishes up the play, and then throughout with the ensemble sometimes sitting upstage, I just had to believe that the ensemble telling us the story that contained comedy, contained tragedy, contained drama, that if I played each scene for what it’s worth and asked the actors to do the same that we’d be okay.

BB: Everything in the production is almost monotone, greys and beiges, as far as the design goes, but the tempo is very fast. They move quickly. How did you get all of these elements to work together.

AR: I think I took it similar to how I was saying I took the scenes scene-by-scene. I probably took all the elements element-by-element. The costumes for instance, we based them off of fencing uniforms, for three reasons. I wanted the ensemble to feel like a team. I wanted them to feel athletic. I wanted the production from the very beginning to feel athletic and muscular and fast-paced, and sometimes masculine, but with a feminine presence in there. Certainly the Rome scenes I wanted them to feel masculine, so that kind of athletic, nimble feeling was a priority for me. I began to think, we need a base costume because they’re switching between all of these different characters, so what can I have as a base costume? The worst idea would be a black turtleneck and black pants.

I was scouring all these books, and I came across this amazing image of a fencing uniform from 100 years ago, and I thought, ‘this is really interesting’ because we immediately associate it with a particular time. It feels a little bit old timey without it feeling specifically old timey. It references a period without it saying, ‘this takes place in 1409.’ Yet it encapsulates a little bit of that team feeling, that play fighting feeling, that we’re going to play at something in front of you. Of course, fencing is in preparation for a real fight. Like this play is a representation of a reality or a true story.

In terms of colour, we just wanted a fairly neutral palate, so that those other costumes could live off of there, but also be complimented by it, and of course, fencing uniforms are in those light grey tones.

In terms of the set, I was really interested in highlighting the theatre in its raw form, so the stage really nice and bare, and we used similar material…

I kind of just went element-by-element, and then try to keep the look of it all similar. Keep it all clean and always ask myself, what is the essential here. Let’s try and boil everything down to its essential and not have a lot of extra props and extra props and extra sets.

Anita Rochon artistic co-directs The Chop in Vancouver with Emelia Symington Fedy, which has produced numerous new works including KISMET one to one hundred and How to Disappear Completely which continues to tour internationally. She frequently collaborates with some of the city’s most celebrated companies including Theatre Replacement, Théâtre la Seizième, Vancouver Opera and Electric Company Theatre. She is a graduate of Studio 58 (Acting) and the National Theatre School of Canada (Directing). Anita is the recipient of a Siminovitch Protégé Prize and a Mayor’s Arts Award.

 

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