The behind-scenes-blog of Bare Theatre and its affiliates.

behind-the-scenes

Out of the Gates in 2014!

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With a powerfully transformative year behind us, we launch into this Year of the Horse at full gallop.  An original Bare Theatre production begins to tour, three other productions explore oft-overlooked plays by William Shakespeare, and we begin to delve into some of the other noted Jacobean writers.

Five full productions are on tap for this year, three to finish out our ninth season and two in our our tenth.  We will return to some of our favorite places to play as well as discover new spaces.  Here’s a quick rundown of things to come:

February 21 – March 16: Let Them Be Heard (In Winter)

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The original slave quarters cabins at Horton Grove, Historic Stagville.

The critically-acclaimed original drama based on real slave narratives returns to Historic Stagville in Durham, this time with new characters and stories from North Carolina history.  The program is a walking tour that moves in and out of the original slave quarters at Horton Grove, stopping by the bonfire pit outside.  Narratives detail life during slavery and The Civil War, and they give insight into life during Reconstruction and beyond.

After a two-week run at Historic Stagville, Let Them Be Heard moves to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro for our first-ever performance there.  ArtsCenter Stage Director Jeri Lynn Schulke will take over directing to adapt the show to the theater space and the show will expand to 75 minutes with more narratives.  Let Them Be Heard runs at The ArtsCenter March 7 – 16.

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The ArtsCenter in Carrboro.

Later in the year, in June and July, we will also begin to tour Let Them Be Heard to other historic plantation sites, including Hope Plantation and Historic Somerset Place.

March 27 – April 12: Cymbeline

At the end of March, we take on an oft-overlooked gem from William Shakespeare.  Cymbeline is a true favorite of some of our company members, and has been referred to by some as “Shakespeare’s greatest hits.”  The play is epic, spanning locations and genres, and thus it is difficult to categorize.  As such, scholars have listed it among Shakespeare’s comedies or tragedies.

We place it among the comedies because it fits the original sense of the term “comedy” – meaning that the protagonists succeed and there is a happy ending.  There is still plenty of humor, however, often provided by the villains of the play.  There is betrayal and sadness as well, and the play culminates with a huge battle.  There’s romance, laughs, tears, even a beheading…This is a play well worth taking in!

Laura Bess Jernigan, who performed in the very first Bare Theatre production ever, directs Cymbeline with a cast of nine who will double and triple-up roles.  She is very interested in the recurring theme of rebellion found in the text, and is taking this production “underground.”  We will be performing for our first time in the Cordoba Arts Center at Golden Belt in Durham.

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The cavernous Cordoba Arts Center space.

May 23 – 31: Two Noble Kinsmen: Fire & Shadows

This Spring we return to Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre for the third time with a play not usually included in Shakespeare’s canon.  The Two Noble Kinsmen is attributed to both Shakespeare and John Fletcher, another renowned writer of the era who took over as house playwright for The King’s Men after Shakespeare.

“Kinsmen” is a re-telling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales, and the story centers around two cousins of nobility who both fall madly in love with the same woman and are eventually forced to fight each other to the death.

The theme of this production, “fire and shadows,” reunites Bare Theatre with fire and pyrotechnics artists from Cirque de Vol Studios and Mesmerizing Arts, and will also include shadow play mixed in with live action.  The mix of light and dark, fire and shadow, along with a gripping script will captivate audiences in the beautiful outdoor setting.

Mundi Broda with fire fans in last year's "The Comedy of Errors."
Mundi Broda with fire fans in last year’s The Comedy of Errors.

Season X

Our tenth full season kicks into high gear with another lesser-known work by Shakespeare: Coriolanus.  This time Bare Theatre will team up with parkour/freerunning athletes from the newly-opened Enso Movement to perform an unforgettable outdoor experience.  Inspired by the Moral Monday protests at Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh (which tie in remarkably well with the political climate in the play), we will turn the government complex into our stage and lead audiences on a thoroughly modern take of this gripping tragedy.

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We then turn to the pool of other Jacobean playwrights that get overlooked because of Shakespeare’s prominence.  Veteran actor Matt Schedler, who last directed The Merchant of Venice for Bare Theatre, directs a bloody tale called The Revenger’s Tragedy.  The play, originally published anonymously in 1607, was performed by The King’s Men and attributed later in the century to Cyril Tourneur, although modern scholars believe it more likely to have been written by Thomas Middleton.  Nonetheless, fans of violent revenge dramas will enjoy this show next October.

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It’s going to be an exciting year.

We want to thank everyone who has participated with Bare Theatre in 2013 – the actors, directors, crew members, Kickstarter supporters, and of course, audience members!  Theatre is about community – live, in person, visceral and intimate – and it is about memorable experiences that cannot be duplicated in the same way on film or television.  The community we have found in the Raleigh-Durham area has been wonderful, and we simply could not do any of this without all of you.

2014 stands before us.  Come join us for the fun!


THIS is why I can’t get any sleep…

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Jeff Buckner and Seth Blum in The Comedy of Errors. Rehearsal photo by Brian Fisher.

THIS.  This is why I can’t get any sleep.

No, not the photo.  It’s the month or two before a show opens up.  The first few weeks aren’t so rough, things seem to go very well and very easy.  Everything is clicking along.  There’s always that honeymoon period where it seems like the show will go off without a hitch.

Then you get to that hump.  It’s usually around the time of getting everyone off script.  I dread this from the actor’s perspective – I hate learning lines and I’m terrible at it.  Blocking does not stay in my head.  So I feel their pain when it’s time to put the book down, but it has to happen.

I get frustrated for them just as I get frustrated myself when I have to get off book.  As director I start to feel it pile up because there’s twenty people trying to remember their lines and their blocking, and did we add them to that scene?  The pace of rehearsals slows.  We simply can’t get through as much as when everyone was reading from their scripts.  Only now they have to start grabbing each other, smacking each other, and fighting with weapons.

It’s at this point in the process that Time turns against us.  Rehearsals fly by, and sometimes we don’t get as far as I’d like.  Sometimes we don’t get to people’s scenes, and they wonder why they were called that night.  With an outdoor show that rehearses outdoors, you lose time when you have to go inside – your building closes a half hour before your outdoor rehearsal would have.

All of that is normal.  This time, we’re adding Circus to the mix.

Don’t get me wrong – I live for rehearsal.  Rehearsal is therapy.  Rehearsal is social time.  Rehearsal is time for honesty with people who won’t judge.  Rehearsal is tradition, it’s ritual, it’s sacrifice (of time and energy), and it cleanses the soul.  I am fully aware of how pompous all of that sounds, but it’s true.

Even during the rough period of getting off book, rehearsal makes me feel whole because I can see the final piece coming together.  Whether it’s by small steps or big steps on a given night, there is always some progress toward showtime.

So even with a thousand details and things I want to work with 20-some actors, I live for it.  But I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about it.  Planning, strategizing, trying to figure out how weather works and if I can predict it or not.  Trying to figure out what certain actors understand and what other don’t based on different backgrounds and experiences.  Trying to remember to email someone about tiny hats, or flags, or what is that shirt made out of, or when can we work that one fight scene?

Last night I really couldn’t sleep because the Circus was coming.

I have to admit that knowing that we would have our first rehearsal actually working circus artists into scenes kept me up.  They have a different process.  They train alone or with tight partnered units usually.  They’re not used to a long rehearsal process because they’re always performing and training.  Would they have patience for our process?  Would they understand what the hell we were saying?  Would they think it was funny?  Would they be bored?  Would they care?

Would it be distracting to have people performing circus stunts onstage while actors are performing the play?

It was the not knowing.  The first-timedness of it all.  The part that excited me so much about undertaking Errors, and the part that I’ve secretly feared this whole time.  We built it up quite a bit, after all!  We’ve almost raised $3,000 in two weeks.  If this didn’t work, where would we be?

Tonight we got our first glimpse.  We got to run a full scene with a snake dancer, a poi spinner, and a fan-dancing bearded lady.  And it exceeded my expectations massively.  We got to talk with aerialists and plan, and imagine.

I now know that it will work.

Circus actually adds to the comedy and the story.  The concept crystalizes.  Ideas that the actors and I would not have had presented themselves easily once circus artists took the stage with us.

The fear is now entirely gone.  But now I’m going to lose sleep because of all the new ideas that are presenting themselves.

– GTB


A Grand Collaboration.

"The Comedy of Errors" Goes Circus! Check out our Kickstarter here!

Click above to check out our Kickstarter page for this exciting project!

There is already a certain electricity I can feel out at the Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre.  The place has atmosphere, and as more than one cast member has already remarked, it feels like a place in which someone should do Shakespeare.  The stonework walls and benches, the raked wooden stage floor that feels like an old ship run aground…it feels like a set even with no actual set pieces in it.

The open air is inviting.  Now that North Carolina Spring is (finally!) in effect, the warm air and cool breeze makes for perfect weather.  There is a serenity to the place, and a strong sense of time.  The amphitheatre has, after all, been there for over seven decades.

Raleigh Little Theatre is the granddaddy of this collaborative effort.  As one of the oldest community theatres in the nation, they have a ton of history.  Formed during the Great Depression, they’ve seen ups and downs – but they have lasted through good and bad and continued to entertain and educate the Raleigh community for a long time.

A long lifespan by no means indicates that RLT has grown tired.  I have to say that this organization, especially with the new leadership of Executive Director Charles Phaneuf, is doing a great job of producing theatre that attracts and engages its audiences.

By contrast, with only eight full seasons under our belt, Bare Theatre is relatively new.  We don’t have anywhere near the resources of RLT.  We don’t even usually use scenery, much less have a scene shop.  Heck, we don’t even have a theater.  RLT has three!

However, the fact that we don’t have much if any overhead allows us some flexibility and agility.  We can sometimes take some risks.  As much as that can sometimes drive me bonkers, it also provides some freedom for us to dream.

Cirque de Vol is the newest entity in our little trifecta, and they’ve generated a lot of interest in their first year of operation.  The high ceilings of the colorful and welcoming studios downtown have become a sort of home base to a community of circus performers in the Triangle.  Not only does the physical space in the Hue building provide these talented artists with a space to congregate and practice, but they are now instructing a new generation of children and adults in trapeze, aerial silks, acrobatics, lyra, hooping, and yoga (just to name a few).

Sara Phoenix and her sister, Sheryl Howell, have created a strong atmosphere of positivity – it washes over you when you walk through the door.  Sara’s sunny can-do attitude is so reassuring when we talk about things that make me somewhat nervous – aerial silk rigs, trapeze hanging from towers, and flamethrowers shooting fireballs off of said towers.

I’d also like to mention Greg Whitt of Drum for Change, who has agreed to head up our percussion ensemble that will accompany the madness.  Sound has always been important to me in theatre (that’s how I got started with Bare), and drums provide energy and pulse to help keep driving the action.

So here we are.  And we now have a complete cast!  After auditioning via Skype from London, Brian Fisher will now be playing the part of Antipholus of Syracuse, and we are glad to have him.

The pace quickens.  The show gets louder.

-GTB


The Trials and Tribulations of Casting.

Let me be clear – our Comedy of Errors cast is incredible.  This is an awesome group to work with, and I can’t wait to add in the circus artists!

It’s the casting process that is always my least favorite part of directing.  Why?  I’m glad I asked for you.

As one of our compatriots recently posted, casting is not about who’s better than who.  It’s about finding the right fit.  As a director you have ideas about who the characters are, what their personalities are like, and maybe even what they look like.

There are three things that inevitably happen in casting, in my experience:

  1. At least one role, sometime several, have a ton of actors/actresses who would be perfect.  Frustrating, because there are not enough roles.
  2. At least one other role, sometimes several, do not seem to have any “fits” with what is in my head.  Not as frustrating, but it does require a shift in thinking and imagining the character differently from the first vision.
  3. There are always several roles that have perfect fits and the actors asked want to do the roles – however, they’re in another show, out of town that weekend, etc.  This one is the most frustrating!

Another thing I don’t like about casting is that I always feel like I’m in Jerry McGuire – wheeling, dealing, trying to coordinate with dozens of people and get just the right team put together.  It’s just not something I feel great with.

However, there is another truth that I experience every time once casting is complete – I always end up with the cast I needed.

It’s so true.  For all the heartache I put myself through in this process, in the end we have exactly the right cast in place, every time.

This time is no different.  Although we are still short one Antipholus…

-GTB


Reflections on WINTER ACTS 2013.

With WINTER ACTS – our fourth annual collection of contemporary one-act plays – under our belt, we’re feeling pretty good. We premiered two original works by North Carolina-raised playwrights, R. Alex Davis (Raleigh) and Jordan Carlson (Tarboro), and presented a little gem from 1967 from Australia’s Pat Flower.

Each night kicked off with a different circus act from Raleigh’s amazing Cirque de Vol Studios, so we want to thank Sara Phoenix for all her help in coordinating those acts.  Lots of thanks and praise go to Paige LaWall (aka “Papyrus”), Liz Bliss Roberts & Julia Hartsell Crews (Jewels) of Carrboro’s Flowjo, Betty Adorno (Lady Gatita), and Adam Dipert.  They truly displayed some awesome talent, and we are looking forward to collaborating with these and other artists on our upcoming show, the circus-themed Comedy of Errors at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre.

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Paige LaWall (aka “Papyrus”), Liz Bliss Roberts & Julia “Jewels” Hartsell Crews, and Adam Dipert perform at WINTER ACTS 2013. Photos by Heather J. Strickland and G. Todd Buker.

We also want to thank our wonderful stage manager, Emily Huffman – it is hard to believe this was only the second show she’s ever stage managed!  Our running crew of one, the fabulous Tim Randall, is an absolute champ and somehow managed to perform major surgery on magnetic tape!

Of course, our three casts deserve much love and respect.

Justin Smith and Matt Fields are two of the nicest guys we know, not to mention talented actors.  Asking them to be absolutely terrible people onstage is asking a lot, but they went with it and found their dark sides somehow!

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Matt Fields and Justin Smith in R. Alex Davis’ “The Hitler Youth Knife.” Photo by Jason Bailey.

Mary Forester, Jeff Buckner, and Loren Armitage tackled the strange and wonderful story of Fun House head on. This was a very collaborative process with everyone weighing in on where we had all been, where we were, and where we were going. There is not a better, more supportive team to be stuck in a fun house with.

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Loren Armitage in Jordan Carlson’s “Fun House.” Photo by G. Todd Buker.

“The Tape Recorder” was a really unique process, and I am very thankful for the talent and adaptability of Maegan Mercer-Bourne and Loren Armitage.  It wasn’t an easy play to do, especially for Maegan having to carry a half hour piece without speaking!

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Maegan Mercer-Bourne in Pat Flower’s “The Tape Recorder.” Photo by Jeff Buckner.

One of the highlights of the production was the addition of audience discussions with the playwrights and actors. We learned a lot about each artist’s individual work, the process, and ourselves in sharing those behind-the-scenes pieces with our audiences. We are also grateful for those that stayed after curtain to ask thoughtful, insightful questions.

This show reminded us how good it is to look at new material.  We want to thank all of the playwrights who submitted their work and thank them for the fresh perspectives and new ideas they brought to the table.

Looking forward to next year’s collection!

– GTB & HJS


Behind the Scenes of “The Tape Recorder.”

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The title character in “The Tape Recorder” at WINTER ACTS 2013. Photo by Stephen Wall.

We began rehearsals by having Loren read The Writer’s part and let Maegan walk through her wordless performance so that Loren could see how she acted and what she did.  Once he had an idea of how she would react, we recorded his voice digitally and then burned it to a CD so Maegan could practice with the recording now instead of his live performance.  We re-recorded some of Loren’s voice for timing or delivery reasons, and updated Maegan with new versions.

Finally, the tape recorder arrived.  I have to say, it exceeded my wildest expectations.  I never thought in a million years we would find an actual reel-to-reel tape recorder, and when this thing showed up I got really excited.  Multiply that excitement times 10 when I found out it worked.  And…it had one reel of tape that didn’t have someone’s family memories recorded onto it – so we could record Loren’s voice onto analog tape!  It got real creepy after that.

It also got pretty intense working with that tape.  We discovered in dress rehearsal that fast forward was evil and it would snap the tape.  It wouldn’t just snap it, either – it would get caught and twisted in the reels.  This was bad.

Running Crew-master Tim kept his cool with this.  We just wouldn’t fast forward.  We had now split our one reel into two pieces, but we only had one empty take-up reel.  I took the tape recorder home late one night after dress and attempted to record Loren’s part onto the larger of the two pieces.  It fit.

On the other piece, I recorded our pre-show music.  It almost fit, so we would just open house late each night.  No big deal.  And…I went ahead and ordered the one reel of tape I could find that could be delivered in time for the show, just in case anything else bad happened to the tape.

Two days later, the order for the tape was cancelled.  No real reason given – just that the order had been cancelled and our money had been refunded.  So.  We had no backup.

Our “backup” was Emily.  The plan was that she would play and stop the digital version of Loren’s voice on her computer with the sound muted through the house speakers.  If anything were to happen during the show, she would simply un-mute the track and continue with Loren’s voice coming through the speakers instead of the tape recorder onstage.

Not ideal, but at least it would have kept broken tape from being a show-stopper.

After tech week and four performances, we managed to break a wooden chair and a mirror, but miraculously the tape did not break.  I am supremely thankful for this, and I love the effect created by the creepy-looking old tape recorder slowly turning as the writer laid out his terrifying plans to the unsuspecting Miss Collins.

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A study in making children look creepy, with Aurora Strickland and The Tape Recorder. Photo by G. Todd Buker.

– GTB


“The Tape Recorder.”

The Aiwa TP 1001 becomes an instrument of psychological terror in “The Tape Recorder.”

Loren Armitage has just concluded his performance, but the show doesn’t open until five days from now.  Maegan Mercer-Bourne is now doing all of the heavy lifting in this play, although she doesn’t actually say anything.

What is most immediately striking about Pat Flower’s 1967 play, “The Tape Recorder,” is that no one has to memorize any lines.

There are two characters. Miss Collins, played by Maegan, is onstage the entire time but has no lines. The Writer – Loren – is heard via the show’s namesake, but is not seen (or will he be?).

Loren Armitage records the voice of The Writer in Pat Flower's "The Tape Recorder." Photo by G. Todd Buker.

Loren Armitage records the voice of The Writer in Pat Flower’s “The Tape Recorder.” Photo by G. Todd Buker.

“The Tape Recorder” was originally written as a teleplay, and it has the distinction of being the BBC’s very first color broadcast. Flower’s career was actually more involved in television than theatre, and it was only after her editor persuaded her that she wrote the stage version we will be performing.

Because the piece began as a teleplay, there are a set of challenges when producing it live. Simple cutaways and common editing techniques can create surprise effects that we cannot replicate onstage. A prop cannot just appear or disappear onstage without some sort of cover. So we had to take a few liberties with the suggested set design (Flower’s was pretty involved for a one-act play!). We’ve simplified the set design quite a bit, but I think it will still give us a perfect setting for terror.

Maegan Mercer-Bourne in "The Tape Recorder" rehearsal.  Photo by G. Todd Buker.

Maegan Mercer-Bourne in “The Tape Recorder” rehearsal. Photo by G. Todd Buker.

This play is creepy. There is a menace that slowly sinks in as the play moves forward.  It’s one of the big draws of doing this play for me. I love it when theatre or film makes everyday objects scary, and in this case we have a real relic…the tape recorder.

It’s the most important prop in the play. It becomes another character, serving as a physical proxy for the writer. Early on in our rehearsal process I knew I wanted to use a working tape recorder. I wanted the prop to be practical, so that the writer’s voice coming from the tape was authentic and not cued from house speakers by Emily, our wonderful stage manager.

I thought we’d be lucky to find a functional cassette recorder. It would have been somewhat anachronistic, because the play feels more 1960’s, but no matter because we were able to borrow a genuine reel-to-reel…and it is beautiful.

This is hands-down my favorite prop I’ve ever handled. Not only does this baby work, but the slowly turning reels are the perfect visual as the writer weaves a web of terror and suspense around the unsuspecting Miss Collins.

I just hope it continues to work for one week.

The machine itself is almost 50 years old. The speakers kind of come and go, which might be great for the creep factor or they might just crap out altogether. The reels of magnetic tape are an even bigger concern for me. Will they hold signal? We’ve already discovered the hard way that the tape can easily break when trying to stop it after a fast forward.

If it works, the tape recorder adds a dimension to this play that I have not seen before. Sure, I’ve seen and worked on many plays that use pre-recorded material, but it’s all been in the digital age. A stage manager can stop and start tracks from CD or playlist easily and quickly.

With this tape recorder, everything is laid out ahead of time. Timing is everything. Maegan will work a tightly choreographed sequence throughout the play, and it must line up with the entire reel of tape.

One week. It just has to hold out one week!

– GTB

A 2011 iMac computer hooked up to a 1960's-era Aiwa tape recorder.

Old meets new: a 2011 iMac computer hooked up to a 1960’s-era Aiwa tape recorder.