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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
2013 certainly has been a watershed year for this little theatre company that could. Four different productions took us from Common Ground to Historic Stagville to the amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. We collaborated with amazing circus artists from Cirque de Vol Studios and brilliant musicians brought to us by PineCone.
Here’s a look back…
February: WINTER ACTS 2013
Our fourth collection of short works showcased a mix of circus acts and dark theatre, with two original new plays and one piece from the 1960’s. The incredible talent from Cirque de Vol opened the show, featuring a different act each night. The acts included dazzling hoop work by Paige LaWall (“Papyrus”), acrobatics from Liz Bliss and Jewels, sword dancing from Raleigh’s own bearded lady, “Gatita,” and an eye popping juggling act from Adam Dipert. This began the collaborative work that would be featured in The Comedy of Errors in May.
- Mary Forester and Loren Armitage in “Fun House,” part of Winter Acts 2013. Photo by G. Todd Buker.
The first play up was “The Hitler Youth Knife,” written by former Rogue Company member R. Alex Davis. Matt Fields and Justin Smith played college roommates discussing the betrayal of a mutual love – and its consequences. Heather Strickland directed “Fun House” by Tarboro playwright Jordan Carlson. Mary Forester and Jeff Buckner explored a surreal dark world inhabited by a mysterious Loren Armitage, who brought back a final memory. Closing out the night was “The Tape Recorder” from English-born playwright Pat Flower. The piece, which was featured in the first color broadcast on the BBC, found an innocent young woman (played by Maegan Mercer-Bourne) taking dictation from author Loren Armitage’s reel-to-reel tape recorder – only to discover a diabolical plan waiting for her.
May: The Comedy of Errors
- The set of “The Comedy of Errors” at Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. Photo by Paul Cory.
Our first production in the Stephenson Amphitheatre had us going big. Working with the incredible Sara Phoenix and Cirque de Vol studios, the play was set in an antique circus environment, complete with “nimble jugglers,” belly dancers, acrobats, and aerial artists who performed high above the stage on the huge aerial silk and trapeze rig we constructed and dismantled every night. Pyrotechnics and fire spinning/juggling lit up the nights, and we even made a couple of new friends with the albino pythons that took the stage with us!
I’m proud of every production we take on, but I will always have a special fondness for this one. The company tackled a lot and conquered several fears along the way – of heights, fire, blades, snakes – and got the audiences rolling with laughter along the way at one of William Shakespeare’s earlier works.
- Mora Harris, Rebecca Blum, Brian Fisher and Chuck Keith in “The Comedy of Errors.” Photo by Paul Cory.
The Comedy of Errors brought in audiences numbering almost 2,000 over four evenings. Our previously most-attended production, Much Ado About Nothing (2011), saw about 480 over the course of ten performances. Getting this many people out to see one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays is an achievement in itself, and one I hope all involved are very proud of.
June: Let Them Be Heard returns to Historic Stagville
Hot on the heels of Errors was the remount of our 2012 original production based on North Carolina slave narratives. This time, however, the cast powered through three times as many performances, completing 11 shows in all.
The show had already made INDYweek’s “Best of Triangle Theatre” list for 2012 in the categories of Best Ensemble, Best Direction, Best Production, and Special Achievement in the Humanities. 2013 brought new honors, including a 5-star review of the show, and additional recognition for Best Costumes in the 2013 “Best of” list (congratulations to David Serxner and Phillip B. Smith for that honor!).
Barbette, Phillip, Kyma, Warren, Gil (the new kid!) and Justin even deeper into the characters that gave us these important narratives, and they continue to make this show an overwhelming success.
August: As You Like It
We opened our ninth – yes, ninth – full season with one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. Heather directed her personal favorite Shakespeare play on the very stage on which she played Rosalind back in 2005 – right before Bare Theatre returned to Triangle stages. This time we worked with PineCone: The Piedmont Council for Traditional Music, who taught us a lot about live music and bluegrass, and introduced us to some truly excellent musicians.
We knew we were in luck when The Zinc Kings contacted us about doing the show. Not only did they rehearse and play live throughout the performances – they wrote all original music for Shakespeare’s songs and recorded a new album! Mark, Christen, and Dan were so much fun to work with, and we hope we cross artistic paths with them again some day. Incidentally, they picked up a “Best of” honor from INDYweek in the category of Best Original Music!
I have to say that for me personally, this was one of the most fun shows we’ve ever done. The cast was so positive and the energy was absolutely contagious. This production, like Errors, brought in almost 2,000 audience and we couldn’t be more pleased to see such enthusiasm for these plays.
September: SPARKcon 2013
Our third appearance at “the creative explosion of the South” was a bit different this year. Since we were on early break and were not promoting any show specifically, we decided to have a dance party in the street. Actors from at least nine different productions over the past nine years dressed up as their favorite characters and danced like no one was watching. Not only were people watching, but many of them joined in with us! If you missed it, the video is here.
November: Company Meeting
- Heather J. Strickland being distracted from directing “Fun House.” Photos by G. Todd Buker.
The first company-wide meeting was held on Nov. 7, and we shared some sad news. Heather J. Strickland, who had served as Managing Director from 2005 – 2009 and had been serving as Artistic Director ever since, had decided to step out of that role to give her growing family more of her time and energy, and she had just started a new day job as well.
Though I will really miss having Heather in a strategic and artistic decision-making role, I am very pleased that she will continue to be an important member of the company, acting and doing fight choreography in our upcoming Cymbeline, and working on fights in Two Noble Kinsmen.
A great deal of positive ideas came out of this meeting, which was just a first step as we chart new territory with Bare Theatre. We will continue to seek input from company members moving forward, and we will always strive to make this company a safe, fun, and welcoming environment for artists to create and explore.
What a year. As amazing as 2013 was, 2014 looks to go even further, with Let Them Be Heard returning to Stagville in winter before touring to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and later in the year to Hope Plantation and Somerset Place near the NC coast. Veteran director, actor, and writer Laura Bess Jernigan – who was in the very first Bare Theatre production – directs Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at the Cordoba Arts Center at Golden Belt in Durham. We close out Season IX with Two Noble Kinsmen: Fire & Shadows, which will reunite us with Cirque de Vol performers in the amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre.
More great things to come! We hope you will be there with us. Happy New Year!
It’s always interesting to me to see how productions handle the music of William Shakespeare. It’s how I got started with Bare Theatre, back in 2005 when we did Titus Andronicus. The text of those 37 plays is so universal/versatile that it can be played in any genre, and that versatility translates directly into the songs within the text.
Lyrics have always been difficult to me. I pick out melodies and harmonies, and I’m no poet. So it’s always a relief to have the words to a song done for me. I always find it easier to write music to words that are already laid out, because the lyrics usually have at least some rhythm built into them. The surrounding dialogue usually gives good indication of the mood and direction for the music.
For As You Like It, I’ve been able to sit back and let someone else write the music. It’s been a great experience watching The Zinc Kings and seeing what they’ve come up with. I love their arrangements, and I think they do a wonderful job of picking up the rhythm and spirit of each song.
I thought it would be fun to compare some different takes on the most famous song from As You Like It, “Under the Greenwood Tree.” The following versions couldn’t be more different from each other, and I think it only speaks to the power of the text that so much can be done with it.
Here’s The Zinc Kings’ version in our production. This is the music video / web trailer shot by Altercation Pictures:
Catchy, right? I love how upbeat it is, and also that it really does sound like a traditional American tune (maybe except for the “Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame…” line). I think it’s a fantastic version, and even after hearing it and singing it for weeks, I’m not getting sick of it – the opposite, really! I love it more and more.
A lot of versions are more traditional in the Renaissance sense. This one is an interesting comparison by Ray Leslee, performed by New York’s Antara Ensemble with Nathan Lee Graham and Harold Jones, conducted by Ariel Rudiakov:
The musicianship here is pretty amazing, and obviously this is a very classical, operatic rendering of the song. The quality is obviously there, but this isn’t the kind of “everybody join in” song The Zinc Kings created. That wasn’t the point of this version nor is it typical of this type of music. It’s meant to be listened to, respectfully. I think this is what a lot of people would imagine a song from Shakespeare should sound like.
Here is perhaps the most well-known version today, popularized by Donovan in 1967. Call it the hippie version:
It’s got a generous helping of “Mellow Yellow” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” overtones to it. Personally, I love a lot of Donovan’s music, he’s one of the seminal sounds of the sixties. In my opinion, he had a little trouble fitting the words to the meter – it just feels slightly forced. What I think is really interesting though, is how much this version sounds like it’s about sex (is that just me?). Maybe it’s all the “Will you, won’t you…” at the end – which Donovan added, it’s not in the script.
There’s many more versions out there, but I thought this was an interesting cross section. If you have any notable versions of this or any other Shakespeare songs – post in the comments below! I’d love to hear them.
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.
This is somewhat of a detour, but it’ll be a fun one…
William Shakespeare probably never actually set foot in many of the locations where his plays are set. Neither did most of his audience. People of that time didn’t have access to photos or video, and they may not have even seen illustrations or paintings of them. They simply wouldn’t have much idea what those settings were like because there was no way for them to know.
Even though he probably had not explored the Mediterranean, Shakespeare seems to have been fascinated with it. Many of his plays are set in Italy or Greece. The Comedy of Errors takes place entirely within the city of Ephesus, in what is now Turkey.
I won’t get into ALL the details, but this ancient city has a fascinating history. The area was inhabited as far back as the 10th century BC, during the Neolithic Age. It was colonized by Ionian migrants around the 10th century BC, and during the Bronze Age, the settlement was known as Abasa. According to legend, an Athenian prince named Androklos founded the city at the site where the oracle of Delphi prophesied he would.
Ephesus became the site of the Greek Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was at the time said by some to be the largest structure in the world, and it was destroyed and rebuilt three times before its final destruction in the third century AD.
It may be worth noting that Artemis was regarded as the goddess of childbirth and virginity – two topics that play into Errors. Artemis was also the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, the wilderness, and the moon. The many-breasted figurines and sculptures of Artemis represent fertility.
During the Archaic Period (750-460 BC), Ephesus was conquered, razed, rebuilt, and ruled by a series of tyrants. This era ended with the city under the rule of the Persians. In 498 BC, the Ionians rose up in revolt against their Persian governors for continuously raising taxes, which set off the Greco-Persian Wars. After many years of fighting they were able to drive the Persians out.
In 356 BC, the Temple of Artemis was burned down, according to local lore, by a lunatic named Herostratus. Shortly thereafter, Alexander the Great arrived in triumph from the war against the Persians. He offered to rebuild the temple with his own money, but the Ephesians refused, saying it would be unseemly for one god to build a temple to another.
When the Romans took over, they were not popular in this traditionally Greek city. Ephesus was one among many cities involved in the Asiatic Vespers in 88 BC, in which some 80,000 Romans and Roman sympathizers were murdered.
Emperor Augustus made Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia in 27 BC, and the city prospered. Its population swelled to almost half a million, and Ephesus was said by Strabo to be second in size and import only to the city of Rome. The huge Library of Celsus was built during this time, as well as public bath complexes and the most advanced aqueduct of its time.
A great amphitheater simply known as The Theater was constructed. With a seating capacity of about 25,000, this theater is the largest outdoor theater known in the ancient world. Originally used only for plays, its stage eventually showed gladiatorial combats, and there is now archaeological evidence of a gladiators’ graveyard near the site.
The city remained important during the Byzantine era, but began a long, slow decline after being sacked by the Goths in 263 AD. By the time the Turks conquered in 1090, Ephesus was little more than a village. The Byzantines resumed control for a little over two centuries, but the Turks took it back in the early 1300’s. The town briefly flourished under these newest rulers, but then was taken over by the Anatolian Beys.
By Shakespeare’s time, Ephesus had lost all of its former glory and was completely abandoned. Its Roman ruins – the largest collection in the eastern Mediterranean – are now part of the modern town of Selçuk, Turkey.
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.
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:
- At least one role, sometime several, have a ton of actors/actresses who would be perfect. Frustrating, because there are not enough roles.
- 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.
- 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…