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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

Bringing People Together With “Errors.”

I’ll start this entry with a disclaimer.  I love Netflix, watch it all the time.  I hardly ever go to the movie theater anymore, and I don’t see nearly as many live shows as I want to.  There, I said it.  I don’t get out enough.

However, I don’t think I’m alone in this respect, and that is a little sad to me.  I think live entertainment used to bring people together more.

Obviously back in Shakespeare’s time people had to see entertainment live because they couldn’t get it any other way.  I think it’s kind of neat to imagine the crowds that gathered at The Globe – up to 3,000 people attending one show.  People from all walks of life, rich and poor, all gathered to see plays that are still being performed today.

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The reconstructed Globe theatre in London.

The actors and the audience members who could afford better admission got sheltered seats with a roof over them.  Those who couldn’t, “the groundlings,” had to stand at the bottom.  If it was raining, they stood watching for about four hours…in the rain.

Not many people would watch a play in the rain today (although Heather did – at The Globe!).  Sure, we don’t have to, but the shift in attitude towards live theatre is pretty striking.

This got me thinking: what events bring people together like this nowadays?  Pop music concerts and sporting events, right?  I once stood in pouring rain with thousands of other people at Raleigh Amphitheater to see Fleet Foxes (totally worth it!), but that’s a pretty rare thing these days.

Could drama bring members of the community in Raleigh and the Triangle together?  I’d like to think so, especially after seeing the crowds at Shakespeare productions at Koka Booth Amphitheatre the last three years.

The folks who built the outdoor stage at Raleigh Little Theatre back in the late 1930’s must have been dreamers.  The formation of RLT and its construction during the depths of the Depression are testaments to the power of people whose imaginations conquered harsh financial and practical realities.  They succeeded in building an amphitheater at one end of the old State Fairgrounds race track – and now that space stands ready for our imaginations.

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Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre when it was first constructed in the late 1930’s. Photo on http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org

My goal is pretty simple.  I want people to give Shakespeare a try because I think many of them will like it, just like we do.  Errors is the shortest play we have from Shakespeare (a mere 1,787 lines compared with Hamlet’s 3,800+ lines).  It is not a heady play by any stretch.  It’s a broad farce with a ridiculous premise (what are the odds of two sets of twins both having the same  name?).  It’s accessible.

Does this mean it’s not worthwhile to perform?  I say no, because it’s still a fun play.  It’s funny today because we all understand the humor.  Errors is a situation comedy and we can all enjoy watching the chaos that unfolds.

With circus added in, I’m hoping to make this more than a play.  I’ll defend spectacle in addition to broad comedy because I think it does have its place.  From what I’ve seen of Cirque de Vol and their surrounding circus collective, these performers are artists and they spend a lot of time working on their craft. What we will create with them over the next two months will hopefully be a fresh and rollicking rendition of this early Shakespeare text.

I’m taking for granted that it will rain at least a couple of the performance nights.  If we can get a night or two without rain, the North Carolina weather in late May should be warm and inviting.  People can bring their children to this show, pack a picnic or grab some concessions or food truck treats.

There will be comedy and there will be spectacle.  Hopefully, this will be a dream that we can share together.

– GTB

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Tent.

We are constantly looking for and inviting people to join the ride that is Bare Theatre.

It’s been quite a ride.  In the last seven years, we’ve performed 15 of Shakespeare’s plays, four collections of one-acts, and 2 SPARKcons.  We’ve performed in at least eight different venues around the Triangle, in Durham, Raleigh, Cary and Holly Springs.  We’ve performed outdoors, in an art gallery, and in an original slave quarters cabin.  There has been a lot of stage blood and no less than two inflatable, um…creatures.

This past year, we took a break from Shakespeare, which we used to perform almost exclusively.  I think this was necessary – it was time to get out of what was becoming a comfort zone.  That’s not to say we had mastered his work by any means, but we were getting very familiar with it and in such cases it can be easy to form habits.

We embarked on a series of projects that took us from Christopher Durang to Eugene Ionesco, from “Hot Greek Porn” to “Hitler Youth Knife.” We also delved into the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narrative Project with Let Them Be Heard – a project for that appears to just now be beginning (more on that to come)!

These have been incredible experiences that had us exploring clowning in the streets of downtown Raleigh and digging down deep into the roots of racism in America.  I know I personally have learned a lot about theatre, and audiences, and about putting on a show in general.

This year, we want to go big.

For our return to the works of Master Shakespeare, we will be performing two comedies that Bare Theatre has not done before.  The first – coming this May – is The Comedy of Errors, an early screwball comedy of mistaken identities.  The second – slated for September – will be As You Like It, an epic love romp through the forest of Arden.

For these two shows, we knew we wanted to experiment with a different venue and we wanted somewhere in Raleigh, where most of us live.  We had an incredible time doing The Winter’s Tale at Sertoma Amphitheater in Bond Park a few years back, and it seemed like booking shows in Spring and Fall would be great times for outdoor theatre.

And we’ve wanted to perform at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheatre for a while, too – ever since a group of folks who would later form much of the core of Bare Theatre performed As You Like It on that very stage in 2005.

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“As You Like It” on the Stephenson Amphitheatre stage in 2005. Bare Theatre would begin producing full seasons with many of these folks months later.

This is a big venue.  Research tells us this place holds somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 audience members – a far cry from the intimate black box of Common Ground Theatre, a space we love and call home.  The stone walls and raked wooden stage are perfect for Shakespeare but the question becomes, how do we fill it?

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Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. Photo from http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org

Collaboration is the answer we came up with.  Many months ago I conceived Errors as a circus show, but I knew that to really pull it off we would need actual jugglers, hoop dancers, acrobats, and the like.  Luckily, sharing the streets of SPARKcon with circus artists has introduced us to the amazing talent involved with Cirque de Vol Studios.  Enter Sara Phoenix and the crew at Cirque de Vol.

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Aerial silks at Cirque de Vol Studios. Photo by Cirque de Vol Studios

How to fill a huge stage?  Take an already big cast and add circus.  We’re now exploring having a silk aerial rig onstage, as well as lyra and possibly a slack rope.  Throw in a few fireballs.  Make the city of Ephesus, the sole location of Errors, a circus town with a marketplace filled with tricks, stunts and artistry.

This is an ambitious project.  Certainly it’s the biggest show I’ve ever attempted.  I already need to thank Sara and Cirque de Vol as well as Charles Phaneuf and Raleigh Little Theatre.  Without their help this wouldn’t be happening.

It is happening, and it’s going to be one crazy show.  Stay tuned!

– 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.