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.
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.
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.
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.
There is a lot to say about this show, and I wish time had allowed me to write while we created it. Two new jobs that immediately decided to increase my hours made an already tight schedule even tighter!
First, I need to thank all the people that made it happen. The nine actors in the cast were phenomenal. Not only did they co-create the show and contribute many ideas that went into it, they brought tons of energy and comedy to a very demanding evening of entertainment.
Loren, Jeff, Patrick, Matt, Matthew, Joanna, Diana, Stephen and Cassie are amazing people. They took this odd little idea I had and ran with it. What’s remarkable to me is that each of them said yes to the project in the beginning without really knowing what it would be! That level of trust is pretty humbling.
I tend to ask a lot of my casts. I push them. With THE LEADER, I pushed them in a lot of different ways. For some, they had to overcome clown phobias. Many of them had to learn a lot of lines very quickly as scripts developed. Loren even had to learn a monologue in French!
Others found the challenge to be improv and devising. Working with no script is a tough task! To take it even further, the core group that performed at SPARKcon had to go through a series of street performing exercises right on Fayetteville St. downtown, without costumes or makeup or any other way to indicate they were performing. There was no script – they had to create on the spot and interact with passerby in a variety of ways that can only be described as insane.
Not only did the cast bring their talents, but they also served as their own set and running crew. Almost every night they performed at Visual Art Exchange, they had to convert an art gallery into a theatre – and then convert it back.
I want to commend Emily, who performed the role of stage manager for the first time in her life. None of us could tell she hadn’t done it before, she was so good! Despite a rather deep clown phobia, she stayed with us even though THE LEADER was chocked full of clowns. She was also the person I knew I could count on when I couldn’t be at the shows because of day jobs. I am tremendously grateful to her for all her hard work and dedication.
The creative team also included some very important individuals. Chuck Keith is a great friend and a hilarious writer, and I love his contributions to this show. I knew I wanted to include “Cult Layoff” – the only piece that existed in addition to Ionesco’s “The Leader” when we started. The pieces Chuck wrote for the show, “Lemmings” and “Excuse Me” in particular absolutely killed us in rehearsal from laughing so hard.
The climax of the show was the big fight in the end. All along I knew I wanted to end with a game of “king of the mountain” that spins out of control and gets horribly violent. I knew that Heather was going to bring her excellent fight choreography as she always does, but I think she topped herself this time. She also gave me some really valuable feedback on some of the short plays and bits that made up the rest of the show. I wish she hadn’t had a real campaign going on to get a leader re-elected – otherwise I would have picked her brain more!
I also want to mention Olivia and Jason for their valuable ideas and feedback early on in the process. When you create a show from scratch, it’s hard to tell which concepts and bits are going to be good in the end, but they helped me shape the overall show and get some perspective on certain bits. In addition, Jason singlehandedly shot THE LEADER video trailer and video of our security clowns at SPARKcon 2012, both of which look fantastic. I’m always impressed with his camera work.
Also want to give a shout out to Mollie, who did not shy away from the challenge of creating sperm tails for “Excuse Me!” Her artistry and ideas are always very exciting.
I have to give Katie a big thanks for stepping in as part of the cast that went to SPARKcon – she also overcame a deep clown phobia and even donned the makeup herself to join us in the streets downtown! She did this on top of having a new teaching gig, two young children, a rock band touring its new album, and weekends away doing Nickel Shakespeare Girls at the Carolina Renaissance Festival (still two more weekends, if you haven’t been yet)!
As with every show, I need to thank my parents for indulging me and helping me do completely silly things. This time around, they helped me build a fake metal detector, lemming ears and a weasel tail, cult uniforms, and they created the look of The Leader himself, in all his headless glory.
We absolutely must thank Common Ground Theatre and Visual Art Exchange for having us and giving us such great places to play! Also, I want to thank the Universalist Unitarian Fellowship of Raleigh for allowing us to rehearse there for this show and several others. THE LEADER was our final show to rehearsal there, and we cannot thank them enough for the time and space they have given us.
I love this show. I love what this group created together and I had a great time with these people. I hope we were able to present our audiences with something different and enjoyable, and I think we all needed a break from the election!
Now, just repeat after me and keep chanting, “Father is all, all is father…”
It came to me one night after a post-show hurrah during Durang/Durang.
The plan had been to do Shakespeare this fall – The Comedy of Errors at Raleigh Little Theatre’s amphitheater. Shakespeare and amphitheater go together like brie and bacon, and I was getting pretty fired up about the show. However, there was a problem.
The trouble was threefold:
- Hopscotch is at the beginning of September and SPARKcon is mid-September.
- Actor’s Comedy Lab is doing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at RLT at the end of September, and there is not enough parking for two shows.
- It’s cold at night in October.
So September was not possible and RLT was only available during October. No sweat, right? Find another venue. We’ve made a firm commitment to performing in Raleigh from now on – it’s where most of us live, and there is a relatively large theatre crowd here.
The only problem is that finding performance space in Raleigh is one of the most difficult challenges I face as a managing director, especially after the closure of Raleigh Ensemble Players.
Being a vagabond theatre company is a lot of fun, but also at times like this a royal pain in the arse.
Theatres in Raleigh in the fall are busy with their own seasons, and most don’t really want to squeeze another show in when they’re trying to rehearse and get ready for their next opening. Trying to book consecutive weeks in Raleigh and Durham makes it even trickier.
So it was time to do something different. I had already been wrestling with the idea of using non-theatre spaces, and the next best thing I could come up with was art galleries. Sure, they don’t have raked floors or lighting plots, but they understand the challenges of finding spaces and getting work seen.
I figured if we weren’t going to go big with a grand amphitheater show, we should do exactly the opposite. It was time to think of an intimate, funky show that wouldn’t need a lot of space, but that would make an impact.
That’s what occurred to me that Saturday night after Durang. Then I realized we shouldn’t do Shakespeare this fall. There’s at least four other productions of Shakespeare plays going on in the Triangle, anyway.
I thought about a show I had seen 17 years ago, one that I still remember because it made such an impact. It was an original adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Leader,” an absurdist comedy about people excitedly (and blindly) following a mysterious leader figure.
“The Leader” is only about 10 pages long, but the production I saw had sliced up the script and inserted several original sketches and movement pieces, making a full length play.
Immediately I knew we needed to do this piece in the fall – right in time for the 2012 election.
Expanding the play will be a challenge, and it’s not what we normally do, but I think it will be a great experience. I’ve already got some ideas for clown pieces and vignettes that we can try out. We’ll spend the next few weeks playing theater games and work-shopping, and the ensemble will devise the show together.
I went to two of the fine ladies at ground zero of SPARKcon – the two Sarahs at Visual Art Exchange – and they turned out to be as wonderfully supportive as I thought they’d be. We have ourselves a show.
The Leader goes up October 25-28 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham and November 3-11 at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh.
See you then,
Reflections on the Age-Old Question, “What Next?” and the Troublesome Questions of Identity and Purpose That Ensue, Part 2
I’ve really made an effort in the past year or two to see as much theatre as I can. It’s always difficult when running a season of our own, because when we have a show up it’s pretty much impossible to see anything else. However, I think it’s really important to see other shows and other companies in order to grow.
Art thrives off of other art. Whether you are inspired, you “borrow” or steal outright, or you see something that you don’t like – you walk away with something. You have an idea. You saw a technique you hadn’t seen before. Perhaps you find an actor or actress who you want to work with.
With that in mind, I’ve been studying the other companies in the Triangle lately. Looking at what they do, considering what works and what doesn’t work on the business side as well as the artistic side. I’ve come to a few conclusions:
- You have to differentiate yourself. If you’re doing the same shows as other companies, and stylistically they’re not very different, the hardcore theatre-goers are going to be less interested (and let’s face it, they are the base).
- You don’t necessarily have to do well-recognized shows to have an audience. Manbites Dog has proved this pretty convincingly. They do original work and people come because of the company’s reputation, not necessarily for the playwright or the play.
- Seasons don’t really matter unless you are selling subscriptions (which we are not currently). Even then, a season announcement won’t affect the non-subscription buyers – they’re only going to see what interests them anyway.
As Managing Director, I have to consider the business end as well as the artistic end. We don’t have unlimited funds, so a serious misstep can really muck us up. Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet in my seven-plus years with the company, but I’m not looking to break that streak.
We have to balance those pragmatic business needs with what drives us artistically. It’s not enough for us to do what we are passionate about – other people have to care, too, or else the whole operation is unsustainable.
I believe there is a new model of contemporary American theatre emerging. It operates more like a business and less like a charity. It is a lean operation. There is not a lot of overhead. It is innovative and different. It is highly creative, and it will redefine the experience of going to see a play.
That last paragraph pretty much sums up what Bare Theatre is.
Rather than overexert ourselves trying to make the company something it isn’t, I want to make our focus all about getting creative people together to create experiences that will inspire and educate others.
Which leads me to The Next Show and Where We Go From Here…
Reflections on the Age-Old Question, “What Next?” and the Troublesome Questions of Identity and Purpose That Ensue, Part 1
It has been a banner year for Bare Theatre. Almost twelve months ago we were dusting off “The Shakespeare Zone” for its Raleigh debut at SPARKcon 2011. “The Zone” is a Bare Theatre original collection of comedic sketches mashing up Shakespeare and modern TV and, despite the rains, it was a crowd pleaser. This was especially true at Raleigh Ensemble Players, where we huddled out of the cold and damp with a truly appreciative audience.
Two months later we were back onstage with a steampunk-clad version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. This was a big production for us, with 24 cast members (several of whom had several costume changes); video projections that featured flying airships, fireworks, and characters appearing onscreen; a couple of company dance numbers; and a big fight sequence pitting clowns against drunks.
Much Ado was our biggest box office success since the company began, and we had a fantastic three-week run in Durham and Raleigh.
The winter brought our third annual collection of short plays, One Night of Absolute Dismay. This collection featured three originals and one parody from Christopher Durang, “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls.” This was our best attended one-acts show so far.
Towards the end of spring we were gearing up for the entire collection of shorts that included “Southern Belle,” Durang’s humbly-titled Durang/Durang. The show was supposed to go up in May but had to be postponed at the last minute due to the sudden and very sad closure of Raleigh Ensemble Players’ space on Fayetteville St.
So we ended up following Absolute Dismay with an original adaptation of slave narratives from North Carolina, called Let Them Be Heard. It featured seven monologues performed by African American actors portraying people who had experienced life under slavery and survived to the Great Depression.
We staged these narratives at Historic Stagville in Durham, NC, which had been one of the largest plantations in the South. The show led four sold-out audiences on a lantern-lit tour across the plantation grounds, beginning in an original slave quarters cabin and ending in the huge Great Barn, hand-built by the slaves in 1860.
Let Them Be Heard was not only our first environmental play, but also our first Kickstarter campaign. With Kickstarter we successfully raised over $1,400 to cover production costs, which in turn enabled us to donate 100% of the ticket sales – $1,850 – to Historic Stagville, helping the Stagville Foundation preserve the important historical landmark.
Immediately after Heard, we got right back to work with Durang/Durang. We had a great opening week at Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School in Raleigh, and are finishing out the run in Durham at Common Ground Theatre.
Christopher Durang’s work has been insanely fun, especially after the tragic stories told in Let Them Be Heard. These six shorts are hilarious, ridiculous, silly and satirical, and as we always do – we have a great group of people involved. Not to mention, there are a ton of great photos of us in wigs (courtesy of the magnificent Mario Griego) on Facebook!
We’ve stretched ourselves, pushed the envelope, and had a blast in the process. Now that our eighth full season (yes, eighth full season!) has begun, we are faced with a question of identity.
We’ve done a lot of Shakespeare – almost half the canon at this point. We’ve done plays by Miller, Pinter, Stoppard and Durang. We’ve done a slew of original works from playwrights around the country. The question for me lately is: does the work define us or do we define the work?
I keep coming back to the latter answer. What makes us “Bare” is not necessarily what we do – it’s how we do it.
We are “Bare” because we tell stories with intensity and passion using little more than a room, some actors, and the text. Everything that happens between those elements is what hopefully makes our work worth watching.
It’s not an option for us to rely on production values. This limitation is actually what I find the most liberating about Bare Theatre. When you don’t have money, or set, or a ton of crew members, you have to get creative. You have to use your imagination.
We are constantly challenged by the fact that we do not have a performance space of our own. Common Ground has been a great home to us in Durham, but it has always been difficult to find suitable venues in Wake County and Raleigh.
That ongoing search has led me to a conclusion: that we embrace the challenge of finding venues that fit the pieces, and make that a central part of what we do. The experience at Stagville proved that we could create a one-of-a-kind experience with nothing more than actors, text, a location, and lanterns.
It doesn’t get any more Bare than that.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about The Next Show and Where We Go From Here…
I was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. I went to Durham Academy in elementary school, and later moved and went to public school. I went to Bulls games as a kid, loved seeing movies at the Carolina Theatre, and I graduated from Northern High School. I thought I knew pretty much everything there is to know about Durham.
Two years ago I was shocked to learn that Durham has a plantation.
Not only does Durham have a plantation, but it was one of the largest plantations in the South. At its peak, Stagville had over 900 slaves living and working on site, and it stretched out for miles over most of the area that is now known as Treyburn.
I found out about Stagville because my father became a volunteer at the state historic site two years ago. When he told me about it, I couldn’t believe it. He told me about the structures that were still standing, and about the significance Stagville had in the 1800’s.
He gave me a tour of the place and I was amazed. Not only does the owner’s house remain (it was built in the late 1700’s, pre-Revolution, but there is a family cemetery plot, slave quarters, and a huge handmade barn. This is a remarkable piece of history that I had no idea existed.
I was surprised and troubled by that.
Here is this incredible cultural resource that can give us insight into what life was like before and during the Civil War, and no one knows about it. Every Durham native or long-time resident I have talked to about Stagville had the same reaction – no one knew the place existed.
What concerns me is that much of the land that used to be part of the plantation is now divided among many different owners. There are many cabins and buildings that would have supported such a huge slave population, and these structures are literally disintegrating. Without care and upkeep, these artifacts are being reclaimed by nature. They are collapsing and rotting.
I wanted to increase awareness. If the public knows about Stagville and recognizes its historical significance, we can generate more support and funding to preserve its history.
The obvious choice for me was to create a piece of theatre. With a live event, we could bring a new audience to Stagville.
I didn’t want to do a story on the slaveowners, however. While the Bennehans and Camerons who owned the place no doubt have interesting stories, I was more interested in the overwhelming majority of people who lived there – the enslaved community.
My father gave me the idea to create a piece based on the Slave Narrative Project, a collection of thousands of interviews the WPA conducted in the 1930’s with men and women who were old enough to remember what life was like under slavery. I began reading the interviews, and I realized this was a story about slavery and its aftermath that I had never seen or heard before.
Many of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking in their descriptions of cruelty and disregard for humanity. Some of the stories are touching in the optimism maintained by individuals who faced bleak circumstances. The Slave Narratives also raise interesting questions about race and the role of government in our lives.
Next Saturday (4/28/12) we hold auditions for this piece, LET THEM BE HEARD. We are looking for African-American actors who will tell these stories as monologues to be presented in the buildings of Stagville on a lantern-lit evening in June.
AUDITION INFO IS HERE: http://bit.ly/BeHeardAuditions
Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you or anyone you know is interested, and I will get you more information.