Monthly Archives: September 2009

September 29, 2009
Tempest #49—Two Weeks into the Run

Some moments of relaxation between weekends, though with many costume repairs and small lighting adjustments. There’s very little time for notes, but I manage, after watching videos of each performance, to crank out a mass of notes about once a week. Right now, I feel the actors are assimilating and learning to trust the puppets, to keep the energy up without pushng so hard, especially in the comic scenes, which are flowing much better.

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I feel I’m registering pretty well as Prospero and startng to find the necessary modulatoins. In the long storytelling of the first act, I feel there must be a passionate energy driving him, or else the scenes are flat exposition. Yet a half-hour of blast-furnace energy will destroy all rapport with the audience. Fnding that roller-coaster rhythm is elusive, but starting to happen. Only once in six performances have I played it without line glitches, and that’s a consequence of insecurity in the overall thru-line.

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Some responses. No press reviews—that’s common here—and one radio review is just being transcribed. But these are from audience members:

•••

• The puppet stage itself is a marvelous sight and also very practical, allowing many areas for the 3/4th lifesize puppets to perform within. It is draped with fabric painted in golden clay colors, twisted and turned, creating the framed playing areas. Short familiar quotes and words from Shakespeare are painted on the fabric in large “Olde English” script.

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• My take on Prospero’s gigantic mid-life crisis is that he is functioning at the throat chakra, the crossroads between good and evil. Which path will he choose? The throat chakra is also the area from which speech cometh, and Prospero rages and verbalizes in the best Shakesperian manner. Great stuff, Mooncalf, great stuff!

• Something rare and thrilling happened for me as I viewed this production, something I seek at every puppet show I attend. The puppet Miranda came “alive” for me. Was it a combination of her facial sculpting and exquisite right-on manipulation, or that her love glow threw enchantment over her? All of the above. I occasionally amused myself by trying to see her again as a puppet, not a real woman, but there was no turning her back into a puppet.

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• I attended The Tempest last evening and found it a wonder! I must say that puppet kiss to end the first half was . . . mmmmm! And the soundtrack, beautifully integrated. The set, simple yet extraordinary.

• You seem to be born for Shakespeare, and you and your puppet likeness were totally magical. Thank you so much for bringing such a unique and beautiful production to our humble Sonoma County.

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•Conrad was sensational as Prospero! With the puppets, the arms and especially the hands become huge vehicles of emotional expression, and even the inanimate masks seem to change expression depending on their positions, the angles at which they’re held and the lighting. Many delightful and imaginative uses of shadow-screens, overdubs, and other theatrical resources; and whatever puppets can do than humans can’t, they do, and to our amazement and delight!

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•Fabulous and exciting production! Congratulations!!

• I feel privileged to have such thrilling, innovative, soul-touching theatre right here in our little town!

• Thanks for the amazing work . . . dedication and mastery.

• Fabulous.

• Astonishing/compelling.

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•••

More to come. We’ve started to do nightly talk-backs wth the audience, and response is very good. One woman asked a curious question: “What do you think Shakespeare would have thought of this production?”

Don’t remember what I said, but I’ve thought about that some more. What’s meant, I guess, is how faithful it is to the author’s intentions, and of course that’s unanswerable. My feeling is that the only negative feeling he’d have had—other than all the notes give to the other actors and to myself—is that he wasn’t getting any royalties from it. I think it’s “faithful” on three counts: (1) That character and scene interpretation are based very concretely in the text. One could certainly quarrel with them, but there’s a reason for everything. (2) The elements of “innovation” are really no different in kind than the enormous amalgam of theatrical techniques from multiple traditions that were part of the English stage of 1611. (3) The fullness of gesture and vocal expression that this form of puppetry allows is much closer to the style of the great actors he wrote for than we normally find in Shakespearean productions today.

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Coming up to four more performances this weekend. Dreading the exhaustion, but enormously looking forward to the challenge.

—Conrad

 

Comments
September 20, 2009
Tempest #48—Opening Week Notes

Opened this weekend. Will report on it next week when it’s focused in my mind. Very strong & stunned response to the puppets, no question. Does the force of the play come through? I don’t know yet. It’s Sunday, post-partum. Went to the seashore today, high tide and the most tumultuous I’ve ever seen it—maybe word-of-mouth has spread. Shedding a year’s worth of anxiety, and looking toward the next four weeks of its manifestation.

•••

Here are some photos of the final puppets. I haven’t labeled them; if you know the play, guess.

And a miscellany of the notes I’ve given actors in the final week. Notes to myself are too numerous to begin to log.

•••

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1:1
Bosun: Can you come in faster with the mast?

All: Needs to be more physical reaction every time you hear a big surge. You’re not reacting to what we’re hearing. After the stop on “What, must our mouths be cold,” start the swaying again with a sharper lurch to the left.

All: As the scene is starting to flow and the technical elements, swaying, etc., are getting cleaner, it’s going to be a real stunner. Biggest need now is the flow. It’s a scene about a bunch of people fighting for control, while there’s a force outside them that makes that an absurd struggle. (“We are such stuff”)

Bosun: First ’Hey me hearts“ speech after Ship Master, connect the lines tighter, no pauses there. Needs to launch the scene actively. Can be a tight pause before ”Blow till thou burst” but not before.

Alonso: Your first entrance, you can do a bit more stagger & losing balance before you grasp the mast—that’ll also motivate your delay with your line.

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Swaying was badly coordinated. When the Bosun goes downstage, he needs to first be aware of where the mast is so that he can start by matching it. After that, the people on the mast need to follow him. But also the Bosun was swaying a bit too fast to follow.

Bosun: Take in the topsail, lower lower – no pauses here. He’s throwing out commands before they can conceivably execute them, and that’s ok. He’s businesslike but panicked.

Ant: Even though you’re yelling at the Bosun, your focus has to go totally to Sebastian’s sword when he draws it, till you know he’s not going to use it. You can look back over your shoulder a couple of times at the Bosun, but keep main attention to Seb.

Bosun: Your final exit, not sure what to suggest, but somehow it needs more “character” in its departure; right now just looks like an actor rushing off. Maybe he staggers forward slightly, takes another big swig, and reels off?

Gonz: Watch the video behind you as the lights fade, and make sure you don’t start carrying off the mast until the video is out completely. You have plenty of time there.

1:2
Mir: “Had I been any god of power”— need a strong change of focus here—maybe back to him? It’s a new beat, but she’s not changing physically right now. Suggest too that you not weaken that statement with going pleading/teary on “the ship & souls within her”—carry the strength all the way through the end of the line.

Mir: “Heavens thank you for it” is sincere, but wants to come in very fast and automatic, to get to your real question. “Mine enemies brought to this shore”—need sharper reaction at this: it’s huge news.

Ariel: “Is there more toil?” Don’t use an emotional color of complaint – wants to have more the feeling that he’s going to resist, telling Prospero not to push on this: steelier. Good on “My liberty.”

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Ariel: Need a real convulsion on “malignant thing”—suddenly he’s bound, and it’s intolerable. Sharp struggle. Then when I go away from you, the binding stays, but you can have sudden bursts of struggles against it.

Sycorax: Movement can be about half the tempo you’re doing—it’s much too fast now.

Ariel: Whenever you’re behind Prospero, be just over one shoulder or the other. If you get further out, it’s not as concentrated. When you’re doing the large movements on stage, move from one place to another even faster, if possible. And when you arrive, there’s a pulse of arrival. Stronger pulses of hand & head on “promised” and “liberty” and other key words.

Ariel: Not sure if this will work, but try it: When with Prospero, each time Prospero speaks, come to an absolute freeze; then move on your own. You can have physical reactions within his speech on specific beats, but don’t sustain any movement. When he’s entrapped you, you can quiver and twitch, but not other times. Let’s see what that does. Looking for a sense of near-absolute unity between Prospero & Ariel, not as if they’re entirely separate beings.

Caliban: Try more contrast between “I must eat my dinner” and the sharp attack on “This island’s mine.” Dinner is more a throwaway, dismissing the threat.

Caliban: Much better on the head movement, but need still more. For example, on “Cursed be I that did so,” you have a strong vocal emphasis on “cursed” and a gesture, and you jump the whole puppet upward—but the head itself doesn’t move.

Caliban: A strong moment on “Thou didst prevent me.” It really wants a longer beat after it for us to assimilate that. Try taking a full breath to recover before “I had peopled else.”

Mir: Her rant at Cal can use stronger head movement. I think gesturing at him doesn’t work very well with that hand—maybe once or twice, but probably you’re better to play it mostly out front and use gesture accordingly.

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Caliban: When Miranda rushes away after looking at you, try turning away also—you’re as strongly affected by the look as she is.

Ferd: You take a total stop on “allaying” before going on with “their fury”—sounds weird. You can do something like this with a catch-breath if you inflect the word so that we know something’s coming after, or do the same sort of emphasis by extending its vowel. But often you do breaks like this within lines that sound like end-stops—sounds unnatural.

Ariel: On Ferd’s “It begins again’ let your arm extend out widely, as if to suck him back toward you to begin the swaying. Let your hand then actually caress him. Ferdinand: Sense of body being drawn back to Nymph, more backward pull until you get into her embrace.

Sea Nymph: Your arm is very inactive, always bent at the elbow, just a little movement in the wrist. Think of leading with the arm, that the arm’s part of the movement of seaweed—more stretch in the hand as well, more the musculature of Balinese dance.

Miranda: What is’t, a spirit? Can be even more sense of ”Oh yes, I’ve seen these before, you’ve put on little shows for me, they’re cute.“ You look at it a moment, but you’re not in the mood to be charmed. Then look around again with surprise, a whole new thing. This is coming across, just keep it vivid.

Ferd/Mir: Think of these sharp movements across the stage as breath •in-takes• that come out of the sudden emotion of the characters’ interaction, not as movements done by the spirits. Ferd works ok, Miranda is flung a little too broadly. Make it more spring-action. Yes, it’s real melodramatic, but it’s based in their profound astonishment.

Mir: On ”Why speaks my father…“ go very fast to the audience with this, asking them for urgent counsel. Can’t just muse about it. This will help me, as right now I’m in limbo, Ferd not having answered me.

Ferd/Mir: What’s Ferd’s focus on Prosp ”They are both in either’s powers“? I think you’re looking at Miranda, but it looks like you’re looking at me. Possibly it’d work if Miranda is looking toward Ferd when he says ”I’ll make you queen of Naples,” and then turns away—that would impel him to turn away in response, feeling he’d gone too far. Then I can get my aside in, and you can turn back to me when I address you again.

Ferdinand: Farther left after you’re disarmed—you adjusted a bit toward the center and it crowds the Prospero//Miranda quarrel. Need to be right in the corner.

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Ferdinand: At casting the sword spell, good. It needs a sharper movement into it, so there’s a feeling of being hit by a surge. Also, keep Ferd’s face up more so we see him more focused on the charmed sword, more amazed at what’s happening. Release and follow-thru are very good.

All: Act One is moving very well, I think. Each character is distinct, strong emotion but very concrete. Main thing now is my own modulation of Prospero, strength with less tension. Generally, we should all look for the contrast moments in the characters: where more secondary lines are moved through faster, where the strong ones contrast, where you contrast with a peak, etc.

2:1
Gonz: You can be a bit more overtly angry, more abrupt, at the two gents on “minister occasion to these two gents.”

Alonso: Even more commanding on “further search for my poor son” and “Lead away.” There’s still a kind of hopeless tone about it. We need that surge of energy.

Sebastian: I don’t see Sebastian actually looking at his garment as Gonzalo talks about it. This needs to be very obvious, as Ant is doing.

Sebastian: Nice moment looking up on “crown falling on your head”.

Seb/Ant: Can you draw your swords before “One word”? It’d be a lot more threatening if we actually see them come out then.

Seb/Ant: Then when coming down to them, don’t actually start thrusting: just hold your swords up in position to thrust, but then walk down: you’re going to get close, plant yourselves to give yourself good fotting to plunge it in deeply. If you actually start the thrust, as it seems like Antoinio is doing, you’re not going to be able to stop.

Seb/Ant: You can have a more sudden startle back at Gonzalo’s rise: it’s just that sudden jump at something totally unexpected, as if a car horn blasted behind you.

Seb/Ant: How do you hold your swords during the following dialogue? Not sure what it wants, but somehow they’re hot evidence that you’re conscious of, as if you had a big fish in your hand and you couldn’t explain why.

All: I’m thinking about putting a video behind part of the blackout here. Would that cause any backstage problems during the change, if you had 10 seconds beforehand or after it to get across to the side you need to be on?

Antonio: “Temperance” – Sounds like you’re saying this to the general public. I think it’s just to Sebastian, more a comic-throwaway with the sense “Remember we shared Temperance at the brothel—she was hot.”

Ant/Seb: As you’re listening to them, you can have small reactions, small shifts. Mainly you should keep them alive by breathing. Your other movements look fine, but they often don’t come at specific rhythmic points: a stress, a punctuation. Need to do so, or they fall out of the scene.

Sebastian: There should be as much heat in your move away from Alonso after “So is the dearest of the loss” as there is in your verbal attack on him; this time it seemed merely apologetic.

Ant/Seb: These movements aren’t the same as the Spirit swoops in Act 5 – they’re the characters’ reactions just expanded.

Ant/Seb; The melodramatic swoops are good, but now they’re becoming a bit mechanical, and broad swings of the puppets, which doesn’t work. They only work if you prepare them verbally, if they come out of the psychology of it—the rhythm builds it up to the “launch.”

Ant/Seb; You’ve both got a lot of nuance in the scene now, and I don’t want that to go. But it’s losing some of the intensity that it had when your inflection was flatter and more rapid-fire. I think you can get the nuances you’re playing without “crafting” the lines so much.

Alonso: At the alarm, it’s ok for you to delay a moment getting up, but when you do it should be with great energy.

Ant/Seb: When Alonso starts moving C, both of you need to move over toward the L, otherwise it gets jammed in the UC.

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2:2
Caliban: Your dropping the log this time suddenly made it lightweight. Just before you let it go you held it with full eight in one hand.

Trinc: The head is still a bit rigid. Use tilting as well as nodding. He’s getting faster and more colloquial & natural in his speech, and that’s good. He’s the fool who tends to run off at the mouth. When he’s into a lot of expostulation, he’s not so interesting. “Strange fish” isn’t so much astonishment as a confused reaction to having put your hand on Caliban’s groin, which doesn’t somehow feel like a fish’s groin.

Trinc/Cal: As soon as Trinc is getting under, we can hear noises and objects from Caliban. We REALLY need sound under that: that’s the essence of the comedy – nothing funny about seeing a lump move back and forth- it’s about two guys with sharp elbows trying to share a single cot. Play it up.

Trinc/Cal: When you reverse the shoes, that needs to be part of your struggle—this time you did a little struggle on Cal’s line, stopped, put down the shoes, then picked them up. Impression was that for some unknown reason the two characters’ feet fell off.

Caliban: Try to move head a little bit (doesn’t need much) during the under-the-blanket sequence. Otherwise it looks like he’s trying to make a corpse drink.

Cal/Trinc: Right now Trinc is getting settled under the blanket, then you start the pulling back and forth, then we hear some vocal sound—all seems very mechanical. Need to hear something loud from Caliban as soon as Trinc is getting under, and then ad lib grunts & sounds of pain, exasperation, anger, discomfort, complain—two kid brothers fighting over the bedclothes—until the feet come up.

Stephano: Still finding it very hard to pin down his predominant voice. I think it’s because his first entrance is the rollicking song, then fright at the monster, then miscellaneous babble – goes all over the map. I like best the lighter, breathier voice, as it’s so unlike what he aspires to. Your roistering aspect is right for what he’s aspiring to, but he’s not the real pirate, he’s the computer geek wishing he was. There were a few passages last time—“if I could get to Naples with him” “Four legs and two voices”—that had a common element, assertive but breathy, no clogging up the throat or over-projection. From his position in the court household, he’d develop that kind of voice that’s always trying to be hushed even when giving orders to the flunkies, always trying to be calm & ingratiating even when he’s spilled wine in the lap of the Grand Inquisitor.

Stephano: Might also think of that opening as more to yourself: he’s not performing it for us, but to keep up his own spirits, to fill the silence of being utterly alone. Seems that, unlike Trinculo’s, Stephano’s asides are more to himself than to the audience—he’s not a performer. All your instincts on his reactions, emotions, etc. are good, but too often you’re enlarging them way more than needed, and that diminishes the comedy.

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Steph/Cal: At end of leg pull, don’t heave your own body far to the right on the third pull—still looks like you’re pulling off his feet.

All: End of the “scamels” bit. Cal can take his hand away, and that’s the moment they see there’s nothing in their own hands. Try to see the other guy, so you can do your reactions to your hansd simultaneously. If your puppet & hand turn both slightly to the outside it’ll be more clearly visible.

Caliban: Farther to the right before “Farewell master.” You can watch them part of the time, but we need something else from you that’s inwardly directed: something like pounding on your chest as if to say Yes! Yes! Yes!

Trinc: When he hands your horn back, right now you’re just taking it as if you expected a horn full of vomit and starting to shake it out. But the comedy is in your reaction when you see it: you can’t believe he just did that. So take that reaction, and only after that try to do something about it.

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Trinc: You can control the bottle best if you take it by the neck, so when you’re drinking you can put your thumb beside your mouth and not have the bottle wander all over the puppet’s face.

Trinc/Steph: Let it flow faster and more naturally from the time of the vomit recovery to looking over at Caliban—it’s a celebration.

Cal: When you go into the food speech, right now you’re just going on in the same emphasis & rhythm & intensity as the previous speech, so it just seems more of the same. Try grabbing their attention on the first words, and then change into a much more sensual tone—more like “the isle is full of noises.”—it’s the changed tone that’ll really draw them in.

Trinc/Steph: Good goosing.

Cal: On “be my god” not clear where you’re looking. Maybe need to focus on the bottle, because it’s too stunning to look directly at God.

All: On Caliban’s “Hast thou not dropped from heaven?” I literally can’t tell who’s talking. Caliban has very slight head movement; Trinculo and Stephano are both in movement by the middle of his line. More clarity of speech movement needed, and if you move within the other person’s line, it has to be very sparing and clear in reaction.

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Cal/Trinc/Steph: “Let me show thee.” You need to get the attention of both right on the beginning of this speech. Your pleading hesitancy doesn’t work for that—they’re just continuing defocused. Change tone: you’ve got something that you know is immensely valuable. You need to really turn their heads with “Let me show thee.” Both Trinc and Steph can draw over tighter behind him on this.

Caliban: When Steph calls Trinc to him and you counter R, his emotional focus is unclear, just kinda watching them from a distance. Not sure how to express this, but you’ve just asked this man to be your God, and he’s accepted you: you’ve just won the Lottery, fallen in love, been embraced by Jesus Christ, walked out the gate after 12 years in prison. That span of time is your inner preparation for your song of liberation.

3:1
Mir/Ferd: The moment of Ferdinand reaching at “My husband, then?” is different than what we did previously, but I think it works this way. On “my husband,” Ferdinand reaches toward her face. In response to that, Prospero averts her face. For Prospero, it’s his anxiety about the touch—something he wants to see happen but is painful for him. For Miranda, inwardly, it’s about the touch, something she intensely desires but is momentary small panic about. Let me know if you have a problem with that, but in watching it on the video it looks right.

Ferd: Your small laugh after Miranda goes out is wonderful. And I’ve always liked your laughing as you go off, but I’m concerned that to some people that laugh might read as a kind of self-satisfied male-triumph sorta thing—maybe it’s the regularity of its rhythm. Definitely it needs the sound, but I think the key is to keep a kind of “wonder” in it, an “omigod” feeling.

Mir/Ferd: Both have very good feeling & response in this scene. The only thing not quite working is the tempo. You can certainly take the pauses, but when you’re expressing to the other, let it flow more trippingly on the tongue—it’s the •flow• we’re missing—you tend to be wrapped up in your own feelings rather than skiing down the slope, and while that’s the way love sometimes is, it doesn’t work for the suddenness of this bonding. It’s not like you’re dating and gradually becoming aware of strong feelings—after the first tentative talk, you’re finding yourself saying things before you even think of them (and knowing they’re totally true). I mean that just as a matter of degree: I don’t want you to “race” the scene. Just let the language flow as freely as it’s written, and emphasize the linking of the lines.

3:2
Steph: On opening, good playing. Try smaller, breathier voice doing what you’re doing, just not projecting so much. Good moments of a kind of brisk, throwaway feeling: “And so shall ’Trinculo.” “Canst thou bring me to him?” Sense of a person assuming he has authority.

Caliban: It looks as if you never look over at Trinc & Steph. You don’t want to be fixated on them, but it’s strange when they’re arguing and you’re just looking into the air—find times when he has more specific focus, even if it’s inner. Otherwise there’s no sense of intention.

Caliban: With Miranda veil, leave the smelling to Stephano—maybe caress it along your cheek instead. Your getting up after the Miranda sequence is kind of indeterminate. Stay down thru the Trinc/Steph apology till you say “Will you destroy him then?”

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Trio: The comedy here is that they’re just nattering on, brainless. And then it suddenly gets fierce. If you let them stop and think, it reduces the sense of forward momentum.

Cal: Can launch the “As I told you before” even more forcefully. On the “possess his books” speech, you can let your rage move you ahead even faster, till you get to the Miranda section.

All: Really urgent on “within this half hour – will you destroy him then?” He becomes enormously impatient, and this carries directly into his next scene.

Caliban: You’re focused mostly in toward Stephano, and it’s weak somehow—play it more front, so that you can make a point focusing on them.

Steph: When you’re DR with Trinculo, his face is mostly in the dark. Would help to find some times when you tilt up a bit more. I like all your business in this scene, but rubbing the scarf on your groin is a bit too literal.

3:3
All: Very fast commentary after the Shapes serving banquet—the speed is from trying to cope with the wonder and terror of it. All are also sometimes looking around to make sure somebody else isn’t coming.

Seb: He can be tilting on the verge of madness from the time they wake up again, and then suddenly explodes in your exit line—sense that Alonso’s panic releases yours.
All: Clean moment when you all do the big in-draw as you see the Spirits. Then, as Benj & Jessica become Spirits, they can together make a big sound, something like a “Hello” in spirit language, as they start to come down.

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Spirits: The sounds should start as soon as you start moving downstage. Jessica & Benjamin, you can really go louder with the sounds == sort of a parody of experimental performance art.

All: When the spirits return, you need an in-draw exactly like the one you started with. The spirits can best cue this, probably. Faster. You can step on the last person’s word, so there’s a sense of such astonishment that you have to immediately Twitter it.

VIDEO: Take out banquet video at C65. Then bring in new at C66.

Sebastian: “Left their viands behind” You’re gesturing toward it, but give it a broader indication, as if it’s a whole banquet table.

Gonzalo: On “You need not fear, sir,” you could gesture broadly toward the banquet they’ve laid out—you’re saying “go ahead and eat.”

All: When you’re coming down to eat: Alonso, you initiate the reaching out to pick up a piece of food, others take their cue off you—but all of you reach further out and with more a feeling of wonder—is it going to be the most amazing stuff you’ve ever tasted, or will it explode when you touch it? For Alonso, even though he speaks of it casually, it’s reaching out for something to sustain life. It’s not just cheese and crackers.

All: The reaction spots in the Harpy speech are: —belch up you.X —made you mad. X —that’s in my plume. X —against your peace. X A bit more of a convulsion when released out of the spell at Prospero’s exit.

Alonso: Here, you’re very good vocally. But the more powerful he gets vocally, the stranger he seems with almost no head movement. He doesn’t want a lot of small stuff, but he needs at least one very distinct head movement per pentameter, on whatever’s the strongest impulse: one side to the other, tilted, upward, downward—something clear and strong. You’re moving him as you would as an actor, and it’d be effective; but as the puppet, he’s disconnected from the voice.

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4:1
Ferd/Mir: You missed the final reaction on “you shall hate it both.” Mesh with each other closely on these—this is one point where you should watch the other’s puppet, so they start and finish exactly together.

Ferd/Mir: When Prospero wakes you with “Look you be true,” there can be a bit more startle/disorientation before focusing.

Ceres: You can let your hand come up much more slowly, shouldn’t have arm all the way up till “wife of Jupiter.” She’s a plant growing. When you’re going back down, make sure your R hand is slowly reaching back toward the light so it enlarges greatly on the screen.

Juno: When we see the pregnancy, try to emphasize it more with hands & belly & spine. I can put more padding in if necessary, but right now it doesn’t quite register. Your contractions can be even more extreme. It still looks as if you’re just kneeling down; let the 2nd one TAKE you down. Raising Caliban comes out of that same rhythm.

Ferd/Mir: Your father’s in a passion— never saw him so distempered—“ You can both have a faster tempo, more unsettled. Sounds as if you’re contemplating a serious issue, but it’s too contemplative. It really unsettles you.

Ferd/Mir: Out front more on Revels now—can go from looking at each other to comfort each other, then out on ”Like the baseless fabric.“ I wonder if, at the moment Prospero says, ”leave not a wrack behind,” you might embrace/clutch more tightly together. It’s a chilling moment in the midst of your betrothal: you, your kids, all human life will vanish in the wind. It doesn’t want to be a big response, because it’s something they can’t quite conceive; but I think instinctively they come more protectively together.

Ariel: Do you love me, master’ isn’t a flip question; it’s a real question, exploring the strange nature of human beings.

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Caliban: You should start “I pray you, tread softly” the instant you see the lights starting up – right now you don’t start the line till you’re almost center stage. We want to feel that the action is accelerating here.

Trio: The presentation of the weapons is kind of a dead beat. I think you’re finding that it doesn’t mesh with the draggledy-ass state they’re in, so it’s kinda mechanical. Maybe it won’t work, but try this as a way to motivate it:
• For Caliban, he’s tasting the blood, he’s seeing the culmination of all his rage. And so even though he’s warning them about noise, his focus is on that knife, and he presents it as the culmination of his speech.
• For Trinculo and Stephano, they have been dragged thru Hell’s cesspool. But they haven’t totally lost their lust for freedom, for booze, for Miranda’s ass. So that moment of weapon-thrusting is their attempt to get back on track. Then after that they dissolve into complaint and despair, and Caliban has to push them on to their resolve.

Trio: You all need to raise the stakes here. For all of you, you’ve had this tremendous vision of riches, liberation, transcendence; now it’s fading like a dream. It’s serious; they don’t see themselves as “the clowns”—it’s as if every hope you have in your own life was suddenly becoming distant, and you too arthritic, too impotent, too stupid & feeble to grasp it. The comedy is that this intense need and objective can be so instantly distracted, that they’re really incompetent as action-adventure heroes. But the need is absolutely real. Problem right now is that you’re trying to play “comedy,” i.e. a more petulant, trivial upset. But it’s funny only if the intensity of their need is in ironic contrast with their inability to see what’s real. There’s a real urgency here; the complaints come tumbling out, as does Caliban’s replies. Then the big change: the frippery comes up like the Second Coming of Christ. A huge response from Trinc and Stephano to this, and instant panic and rage from Caliban, who sees it for what it is: total illusion. This is a fierce sequence. Right now it’s petty. You don’t need to get louder, just express the emotion through reaction and attach on the cues.
Caliban: “The dropsy drown this fool.” This speech you have great emotion on, but the emotion is squeezing it out very tight and slow, so it doesn’t seem as if you’re really urgent.

Trinc/Steph/Cal: Cue pickups much tighter—right on top of one another—keep the total exhaustion.

Trinc/Steph/Cal: When you see the frippery up, remember your drawing together in a big in-draw of awe—it’s crucial to their suddenly being sucked into this illusion.

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Trinc/Steph: When you come down, you can do broad slo-mo gestures, even though you’re carrying your weapons—sense of moving through thick fog to see the vision of a glorious golden castle—floating in illusion.

Trio: “Pray you tread softly.” can be quiet but fast. Pick up cues fast, one line right over another. They’re all out of control. Enormously impatient with each other.

Trio: Should be a sharp mutual spasm the moment you hear “Hey Mountain hey!”

5:1
Alonso: Don’t anticipate Prospero’s embrace. Let me come to you. His head is dead as you’re talking to Prospero: wants a couple of clearer movements in the first two lines, then you could go front, maybe hand on head, clearing your mind, then focus back on him as you start to kneel.

Seb/Ant: After the first swoop, I think they can both be transfixed by the sight of Prospero. You might have a look or two at each other, but the main focus is either on him or on the depths of your souls. I think what’s happening is that now you’re playing a reaction of guilt or “oh hell, we have a problem,” and looking away or conveying their discomfort. But it’s too soon for that: this is absolutely staggering, a man who’s supposed to be dead, coming right out of your having descended into madness. I’m not sure exactly how this passage should be played by them, but experiment with it—you’re downstage, so very obvious, and it’s vital we get a sense of their thru-line here.

Seb: When you say, “The devil speaks in him” and Prospero says, “No,” it might make you jump a bit, or some sort of fright reaction. Prospero’s vehemence startles you, if nothing else. It’s nice, then, your kinda unruffling your tail feathers and then staying focused down.

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Antonio: The struggle with the Spirit doesn’t quite work: maybe because it’s such a broad movement that we lose Antonio’s presence. I think we need a sharp moment just when the Spirit first appears—a frozen flash, then the struggle, but keeping the puppet’s head very active in response.

Ferd/Mir: We haven’t talked much about their chess game or the tone of it. I’m thinking now that it’s a little cute & coy. What’s needed is the sense that they’re truly exploring one another. The metaphor is the game, but the sense is almost like the discovery of the individuality of erotic response, of the wonder of the other’s body. Those moments of love-making (rare for some people, sadly) when there’s a gentle humor that’s also filled with joy. Then suddenly they’re thrust from this sweet intimacy into the public, but then instantly confronted with another amazement.

Alonso: We need a sharper movement after I take away the chess game when you actually recognize Ferdinand. When Prospero banishes the game, immediately come into the C position sharply: you’ve just seen your son, can’t believe it, and then can take a beat to really take him in before you speak and move forward. Right now your reaction is hidden. Hold your embrace till Prospero has finished “Tis new to thee.” Otherwise your break takes focus right in the middle of this other moment. That means that you move immediately from the embrace to “What is this maid—” An extreme transition, yes, but that’s the nature of this scene—people being plunged into wonder after wonder.

Ferd: “She is mortal.” Let your hand lead your body: the length of the arm conveys the strength of the emotion. Right now you’re waiting to reach for her hand till you’re near her. This is the extraordinary intensification of the moment. We might think of the style as “larger than life,” but to my mind it’s really a giving in to the largeness of life.

Alonso: “—must ask my child’s forgiveness.” “There sir, stop—” We haven’t really explored this moment. I think you sound a little too pro forma—kinda formally penitent, but not feeling the intensity of the moment, suddenly understanding that you were responsible for almost destroying this lovely creature. And for Prospero: I think this needs to be the strongest moment of intimacy between them, sharing the “heaviness that’s gone.” Not sure how to play this myself, but somehow very close and personal.

Ship Master: Stay faced pretty much front during this report—he’s still dazed.

SM/Bosun: Maybe needs a final little punctuation on it: at end of Bosun’s line, look at one another, with a laugh of triumph & thanksgiving. Not a big thing, just a kind of little “wow.”

Gonz: You’re rushing your final speech. Nice quality, but it really wants to change tempo here. He’s an old man, and after these many, many years, something absolute stunning has happened: he’s seen a miracle.

Alonso: Response to Bosun sounds now like you’re not really impressed by the strangeness of the business. On the contrary: the news of the ship is maybe the most astonishing thing of all—it’s concrete, not psychological, not accidental like Ferdinand’s survival. Through this scene, you’re always hovering on the brink of falling back into madness—otherwise Prospero has no motive for saying “Do not infect your mind—” He might have a really strong physical response to the Bosun’s news: the fact that it’s good news, fabulous news, makes the response all the greater.
Alonso: When Prospero speaks to Ariel (“Set Caliban and his companions free”) – you might be in a state of trying to recover your senses—hand to forehead or something like that.

Trinc: Faster on first lines when you come in. Need to reach for Stephano immediately at “fly-blowing”, otherwise he can’t come in with his “do not touch me.” What’s your emotional response to Alonso’s question? Seems to me you’d be scared shitless.

Alonso: During the conversation between Caliban and Prospero, best if you turn Alonso’s face R—otherwise he becomes psychologically part of the scene. He doesn’t really want to spend time looking at Caliban.

Caliban: When he lands from the entrance, try going instantly into a protective posture. Don’t move back and forth, but center it all in his breathing, which can be very heavy. Keep him very flat and at the point of exhaustion during his apology. I want to feel that Prospero and Caliban here are both at the furthest point of hopelessness, and it’s at that point where they genuinely connect. At last they see each other. Don’t ever look up at Prospero until the very last moment, and then tilt the face upward a bit more to catch better light.

•••

That’s the launch of it. Four more weeks to grow, and then after that, we dunno.

Peace & joy—
Conrad

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September 10, 2009
Tempest #47—Prospero’s Inner Life

Eight days before opening. Working through the show, sometimes going back to run a full act, then lots of time spent on little stuff. Tedious, frustrating moments, and then suddenly things come alive.

Monday we loaded into the theatre, did a lot of refurbishment on hangings, refocus of lights, etc., and have now had two rehearsals in the theatre. It looks very, very good on that stage, though form some angles there are sight-line problems and lighting instruments to rehang because they’re angling into the audience’s eyes. And we have to cope with an intermittent air conditioning whoosh, not really bad unless it decides to start huffing as Caliban says “The isle is full of noises.”

Personally exhausted, but trying to pace myself. This morning I worked at home, gluing hats onto the nobles and reengineering one that wouldn’t fit. Then to the theatre, working about a third of the way through revising lighting cues, rehearsing Prospero for an hour, and stopping by the costumer’s house to pick up a piece of felt for the back of Stephano’s hat. Evening rehearsal, and now sitting down to write this frail excuse of a blog entry. Tomorrow more or less the same.

Some parts going well, some very rocky, but steady progress forward. Very limited rehearsal time, and it’s always a difficult choice whether to work in large swathes, so the actors get a feel for the whole span of it, or to stop and fix every pothole. Eventually all he potholes need to get filled

In this sort of production, I sometimes feel we should sell special tickets to the backstage action. All the actors except myself are playing three to five characters and sometimes changing puppets very rapidly, and these puppets aren’t designed for quick changes: you pull off the head, extract your hand from the fingerless glove, readjust it so you can get your hand into it quickly next time, hang the costume on a rack by its loop and stick the head on a stake above it, then worm your way into the next one. Meantime another actor stands by to put a sword belt around the puppeteer, then move a prop across backstage before the projector starts up, or grab one of the Ariels to appear for two lines in shadow. And then rush out and play your love scene.

•••

Finding a peculiar thing with Prospero. An actor is often faced with creating his own back-story for a character, and I’ve written in this blog about my own constructed history of Prospero, his absent wife, his reasons for immersion in magic, his encounter with Caliban, etc. These aren’t facts that will be conveyed to an audience, but they allow me to make choices that feel unified and motivated, and I think that inner coherence will be sensed.

But there’s another kind of backgrounding I’m discovering in rehearsal—equally coherent but totally irrational. That is, it’s not part of a realistic story-line, but very much a part of his inner emotional life. On that plane of experience, Caliban is his son, engendered with Sycorax, the dark female who’s supplanted his now-dead wife. And Caliban is the extension of his own lust for his daughter Miranda, or for any female; and Prospero’s chaining of Caliban is in a sense his own self-castration.

And, well, I could go on with this imaginative absurdity. As I said, this has no rational basis in the text, and I’d be rather appalled if the audience picked that up as part of the story. But I’m talking here about emotional coherence. What I feel, for example, when I rail so vehemently about Sycorax, who (in realistic plot terms) I’ve only known by Ariel’s report; and yet I speak of her as if I’ve known her intimately. What I feel when I repeatedly insist on my good will toward Caliban, my sense of his betrayal and my bottomless rage—the one character who receives only my provisional forgiveness. A mere parole violator or sad degenerate doesn’t rate that kind of obsession.

And I’m finding that, more and more, I’m locating Ariel within my head, the energy rising from my crown chakra, seeking release. Gielgud played Prospero four times, and in all productions never looked at Ariel, his idea being that this would make Ariel merely a fellow actor rather than a magical being. I’m finding the same, but for a different reason. For me, Ariel is the power and the freedom I seek, an unchained, polymorphous Elemental, who is indeed freed from me at the end, as I surrender my power.

“Do you love me, master, no?” “Truly.” “Well.” Difficult lines, and I’ve gone various ways with them. But more and more I think they’re a key. Ariel is St. Paul’s epiphany. He’s my life obsession with theatre. He’s the blaze in the new mother’s first sight of her child. He’s the fierce adrenalin in the Navy pilot’s surge off the carrier’s catapult. He’s the most ecstatic moment in your life. And when you release him, you’ll never, ever have him again. You’ll never taste it, feel it, smell it again. You’ll go back to Milan, read your daughter’s occasional letters, and meet with the Planning Commission to work out problems with the aging sewage system.

So for me as actor, these strange fantasy plots, while they make no rational or scholarly sense, help to inform the moment, to link moment to moment. Likely they produce resonances that may mystify the audience, and as in a love affair, mystification is a tricky business. Yet a love affair without a trace of the mystic/mythic is hardly worth the effort.

•••

Well, next week I’ll take good photos of all the puppets—we have a better digital camera coming, if it ever gets here—and probably do some more bitching & moaning about sleepless nights. But after 50 years of the weeks leading up to opening night, I think I begin to understand the woman who, in an interview for our Nativity audio-doc, spoke of her moment in giving birth when she thought, no, I am getting up off this bed and going home. And then realizing, no, this is going to happen.

And it will.

Peace & joy—
Conrad

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September 1, 2009
Tempest #46—More Cast Notes

I was going to write more about Prospero and Ariel, but instead am including some cast notes for the next rehearsal of Part 1 (up through Act 3 Scene 1). Some may not be entirely comprehensible, but any inquiries will be answered. A bit more than two weeks till opening.

Using 14 video clips for rear projection, often with live shadow figures within them. They’re all where “magical” elements occur: Ariel’s first scene, the shadow of Sycorax, Ariel’s songs to Ferdinand, the banquet, the dogs, the Harpy, the masque, etc. Mostly abstract, expressing a general feeling through movement and color, often with several moving images superimposed and with digital filters making them fairly unrecognizable. Will it work or just seem “experimental”? We’ll soon see.

•••

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Boatswain/Gonzalo/Alonso—Much better on the hand-offs of the swaying mast in 1:1 so that we don’t have sudden direction changes. Remember always to sight where it’s going as you’re coming toward it. And that’s realistic, after all: these characters are grabbing it for safety, so they’d damned well better look which way it’s going.

Sebastian: Would it be possible (might be more effective) to wear Sebastian’s sword on the right hip and draw across the body? Ok if he has some trouble finding it—just play that.
After he’s calmed down, I think it might be better just to keep it in your hand, rather than trying to sheathe it again—if it’s down at your side he won’t look threatening. He’s distracted enough that he may be too irrational to remember to sheathe it. Or are you doing something else that you need to?

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Miranda: In 1:2, you might try focusing her downward more when she & Prospero are talking close at hand. Seems that would be a kind of habitual manner, not looking at him directly very often—don’t mean never, but just when it’s particularly significant. A very close relationship, but never quite comfortable.

Ariel: In 1:2, you can play even more broadly in the large movements. And in telling your deeds with the ship, go as far as you can with illustrative gestures: flaming, dividing, burning, cracks, roars, weaves, shake, mad, plung’d, a-fire, dispersed, etc. etc. He’s highly verbal, but we need the sense that his physicality is equal to this, that the words flow from his action, not the other way around.

Ariel: Not sure how this manifests, but think about it. When Ariel starts objecting to “more toil” in this scene, it’s very different than Caliban’s objection to work. Once Ariel is launched into a task, there’s enormous delight in the doing of it, as we’ve just seen in the storm narration. What’s objectionable about the work is its impinging on his freedom. The pain that he felt imprisoned in the tree wasn’t the pain of being pinched; it was being constrained when your whole being IS movement. Maybe it’s in his physical response, starting at “more toil,” as if he’s starting to feel the bonds again, trying to shake them off. And it builds through the Sycorax scene, where he’s actually experiencing the binding again.

Caliban: Caliban’s neck and shoulders turned out much longer and narrower than I’d planned, and at first I was going to try to correct this. But in watching, I rather like it: gets away from the cliche of Caliban as “earth creature.” The skinniness makes him more vulnerable and in fact somehow more dangerous; also hungrier. So be conscious of that: I think you can keep his arms longer in gestures (though can be a contrast when he’s wrapping his arm around his head, etc.), and experiment with how he stands, maybe with shoulders always on a tilt, like an adolescent who doesn’t know what to do with this longer body.

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Caliban: Don’t make “Oh ho, Oh ho” an amorphous laugh. It can have a laugh quality, but I think these are exclamations, almost as if they’re coming out of the spasm of trying to fuck. And then on “Thou didst prevent me,” try bringing your hand sharply to your groin.

Ferdinand: Try letting your verbal responses to the songs at your entrance come more rapidly. The songs themselves are slow, and so I think they build up an energy in you that needs to be let out: what is this? What is this?

Ferdinand: It’s not clear right now, when Prospero speaks to you, whether you really respond to him or not. I think you need to have a clearer physical response when he first speaks, and likewise when he addresses you again on “A word, good sir.” Of course your attention goes immediately back to Miranda, but it’ll be a stronger reconnect if these reactions break it.

Miranda: All your language to Prospero objecting to his treatment of Ferdinand is conciliatory—“dear Father” “beseech you, Father” “Sir, have pity” But I think her subtext is a demand. This might not work, but try it & see how it feels: Rather than trying to soften my own anger, match it.

Ferdinand: You can take a pause before “My spirits, as in a dream” You’ve just been be-spelled, you’ve seen this furious exchange, you’ve heard her defend you—it takes a moment for you to take a breath & take this all in.

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2:1
Gonzalo, your “Beseech you, Sir, be merry” wants to come as a direct response to Alonso’s opening sigh: you see this powerful man suddenly on the point of collapse. Right now it’s not clear what impels you to start speaking.

Antonio & Sebastian: I think you’re still “styling” your witticisms too much. You both tend to drawl them a bit, What amuses you & each other is the quickness, the dead-pan, inserting something every time Gonzalo takes the slightest breath. If they also try to “sound witty” it’s overkill, and it also forces Gonzalo to pause longer than he would, given his urgent objective of comforting the King.

Sebastian: When you cut loose at the King, it can be with the same genuine anger that you have toward the Boatswain—except that he’d never address the King in a loud voice, he’d never risk that. But you’re angry and scared and it’s all his fault.

Gonzalo, on “No, I warrant you” might start with a deep breath, containing his anger, but also feeling the first flush of sudden weariness. Right now the sleepiness comes out of nothing, and indeed it does come up suddenly, but it might be more credible if there’s an early breath, and a sense of letting go of the current business.

Sebastian/Antonio: That same rapidity & cue pickup & flatness need to continue into your conspiracy scene. There can be some pauses, some innuendo, but a very small amount of that suggestive, plotting tone goes a long way. They don’t know when the others will wake, and there’s lots of ground to cover in a short span of opportunity. Antonio bears the brunt of the speaking here: look at the essential lines & phrases in his discourse, and what’s just leading up to them, and get through the secondary stuff as distinctly but as quickly as you can, so you can hit the major points strongly.

Alonso: At the end of 2:1, Alonso is energized—“Lead off this ground and let’s make further search/For my poor son.” This is totally a change from the “No, no, he’s dead,” of the beginning of the scene. What makes the difference is that the sudden waking, the immediate danger, has cast him back into his usual character, the man of action, the commander. By the next scene he’s back in the doldrums, but here he’s revived. So I think that from the moment of waking, after the first moment of confusion, he gets his bearings and is intensely alert, aware in all directions, and ready for action—not a hint of the depressive.

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2:2
Trinculo: Use your breath a lot more. He’s had a lot of physical exertion, he’s scared, so I think his breath informs his movement and his manner. Audible intakes when he’s surprised or noticing something, audible out-breaths when he’s despairing, audible inhales when he’s about to launch on a new point or a new action. That can help sharpen his responses and also anchor his emotions more strongly. The manipulation is good, but you have a tendency to rely too much on vocal inflection of individual lines for expression, and so we lose the thru-line of what’s driving him. Yes, he makes a whole lot of disparate points, but underneath it all, he’s terrified, he’s exhausted, he’s cold, he’s hungry, and you can’t convey that all through vocal inflection, you need to find how it makes him breathe. He needs those deep breaths to cope with it all.

Stephano is best when he’s sorta off-balance tipsy, when he’s responding to what’s immediately before him, and otherwise pretty straight. Right now, the voice often goes into a super-petulant or posturing tone that’s over-kill: not that those elements aren’t in his character, but it needs to manifest more in his actions, gestures, postures than in his voice, otherwise it seems too cartoony.

Stephano/Trinculo: Keep your lines very tightly cued. Not just for the sake of the scene’s tempo, but to get the sense that they’ve been married for 20 years and are ready to reply to the other before the other is finished speaking. Unless there’s a really specific thing that makes you pause, you should bring your line in right on the period of the other guy’s. As well as sensing how your rhythm and inflection “answers” or plays off his, not just in the meaning of your line but in its music.

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Caliban/Stephano/Trinculo: We need to explore how the “aside” functions for you all. For Stephano & Trinculo, both in your monologs and in the scenes, there are times when you can do the kinda realistic talking-to-yourself that’s the usual style these days in Shakespeare, but at times, as with Trinculo’s “were I in England now” or “Misery acquaints a man”, or with Stephano’s exploration of the monster, I think it works better to make these directly to the audience. Seems odd to think of Caliban having asides to the audience, yet it might be functional: for him, when something is so painful or so amazing that he can’t help but share it. The “aside” isn’t conveying information to the audience: it’s sharing intimate experience with the stranger sitting next to you at the bar. That stranger isn’t a real person to you exactly, though maybe you have to look up at him to make sure he’s not passing judgment on you, but he allows you a fuller expression of your thought & feeling than if you were stuck with saying it to yourself. For Caliban, this might include some sequences in his monolog, while others are to himself, and it might include “These be fine things” (parallel moment to Miranda’s “How many goodly creatures”

Trinculo: When Stephano vomits into your horn, make a much more elaborate process of cleaning it out. Go on with the dialogue, but probably keep your focus on this job till he actually offers you the liquor.

Three: Caliban goes on at great length with “I’ll shew thee the best Springs” “Let me bring the where Crabapples grow” etc. So he must not be getting the response he wants from Stephano, so he’s impelled to go on. Possibly Stephano is ignoring him and drinking instead, but it could be that, while drinking, Stephano is gesturing Caliban to keep it up, “What else can you do for me? What else?”—really relishing the slot machine’s pay-off.

Three: At the climax of the Freedom song, the last note and gesture wants to be a strong punch, and I think we should black out on a frenzied freeze, rather than let them stagger around for the beats of the light fade. There needs to be the sense that something’s really launched here.

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3:1
Ferdinand & Miranda are developing very well. My one concern in this scene is that right now not much really happens between them except getting through the small talk to say what they intend to say. It’s all one tone, and the fact that you do it really well makes it hard to find exactly what’s missing. I’m thinking that the scene has three stages of development, and I’m not sure how these manifest, but look at it in this way:

1) Even though he’s calling her “precious Creature” and she’s clearly concerned for him, there wants to be more concealment of their emotional tone from each. They’re both too vulnerable to risk revealing, through their emotional tone, how deeply they’re smitten. They’re not declaring themselves, they’re just haggling over the job at hand.

2) With “You look wearily,” it changes, and it all comes flooding out. You’re perfect; you’re perfect—and this culminates in the question “Do you love me?” and his response to it, and her (weeping) response to that. It’s a glorious flood of feeling.

3) Her weeping takes it to a new realm: this is dead serious. It’s all or nothing. I will be your wife; I will be your husband. Meaning not our current notion of marriage, but for life. There’s emotion in it, but none of the complimentary gushing: it’s too serious, too real for that.

•••

Enough. Back to video editing.

Peace & joy—
Conrad

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The Tempest
Produced in collaboration with Sonoma County Repertory Theater, Sebastopol, CA

Shakespeare’s classic comedy/drama of redemption, newly envisioned as a live theatrical animation with puppets, masks, live actors, and a rich audio score. Directed and designed by Conrad Bishop, music by Elizabeth Fuller. Featuring Bishop, Anthony Abate, Jessica Bauman, Benjamin Stowe, and Jan Freifeld as the actor/animators of Shakespeare’s unforgettable panoply of magician, spirits, slaves, courtiers and lovers.

The full production from 2009 is now available on DVD! See Media for details. Here’s a 10-minute preview:

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