KILGORE — Imagine the chance to see four different professional theatrical productions in four days. Imagine if you got a 30-minute explanation of each production by the play’s director prior to the performance. Now imagine sitting down with the director, cast members and technical directors the morning after the show for a 90-minute talkback over breakfast.
Sounds like theater nerd heaven to me.
The Texas Shakespeare Festival’s annual “Bard & Breakfast” workshop offers all this and much more. I have been to the festival on several occasions in the past and have always found the productions to be top rate, but this is the first time I have got an inside look at how the festival comes together. The workshop is for drama teachers, but there were a few of us English and theater types as well among the small group of 20.
The festival is in its 32nd year and has had internship and high school camps for many of those years (I first learned of the festival when my daughter attended the high school event some 18 years ago). They perform four plays in repertory — two Shakespeares, one classic, and a musical. This year’s shows included “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “King John,” Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” and the musical “110 in the Shade.”
The first thing that struck me was how incredibly open the members of the company were about the process and the productions, and they were willing to discuss not only what worked, but also what didn’t work quite the way they wanted. OK, here’s a disclaimer: for the most part, the plays all worked terrifically. But anyone who has ever done theater knows that things are never perfect, that there are things that happen or didn’t go quite as envisioned — things that the audience never know about or notice. The fact that everyone was willing to talk frankly made me feel respected and valued.
Maybe it was a director saying that he wished he had spent less time or more time on table work. Maybe it was last-minute costume adjustments because it didn’t quite work — and all of us who have produced or directed theater have, at one time or another, chunked something in the bin and rushed off to find something better the day before the show opens.
The most amazing thing to me was how they manage to pull of four plays in six weeks of rehearsal, with most of the actors appearing in three of the four plays, some with significant roles in each. Tim Sailer, for example, had a sizeable part as Boyet in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” a key role in “Tartuffe” and the title role in “King John.” I don’t care that that’s their only job, it is an amazing amount of dialogue — and complex dialogue at that.
The company break their rehearsals into three hours a day rotating through the plays, which means that sometimes they may not get back to their scene for several day. As someone who likes to run my lines every day in rehearsal, I am in awe of what they accomplish (and probably why they are professionals and I am just an enthusiastic amateur).
Apart from the talkbacks, we were treated to sessions on lighting design, set design and sound design. While the technical aspects were interesting, finding out about the other professional experience these people had was fascinating. Ethan Hollinger talked about how his lighting can create scenes. Sound designer Anthony Narciso actually composed the music for “King John.” Scenic designer Sam Transleau’s process is fascinating, especially the amount of images she compiles to create a feeling for the play.
A surprise to me was how fascinating Mike Redondo’s “Stage Management for Beginners” was. Mike had shown up a couple of times before in the talkbacks and had a wealth of stories about working in opera and how his knowledge of directing helped his stage management work. The amount of involvement a stage manager has, as well as being a surrogate director for the run after the show opens, gave me an even greater appreciation for the the job — and I had nothing but respect for the stage managers already.
We learned how to make stage food from props master Nick Gardin. There are always good ways to cheat, and making great stage steaks out of watermelon and food coloring was a great tip.
Matthew Simpson’s “Creating a Visual Metaphor” directing workshop was fascinating and I learned a lot to put into practice the next time I direct.
My favorite workshop was “How to Make an Exciting Greek Chorus” with “King John” director James Dean Palmer. He worked us out physically for an hour and a half, teaching us how to build images through movement, letting the “crowd” move the action around, including scene changes. At one point we were moving and saying lines until we were almost exhausted and as we wound down, we each collapsed on the floor around one person who had been given lines. A the end of this “scene,” we had created a tableau. I looked out from my spot and thought, “Damn. I wish I could get a photo of this. I bet it looks great.” Seeing “King John” the next day the things he taught us were clearly evident.
There was so much to learn. These were just a few of the workshops packed into a very busy four days.
Just getting to see the plays and the talkbacks would have made The Bard & Breakfast” great value, but there was so much more. Thank you TSF (or “Texas Shakes” as the company refer to it). For a few days, you made me feel like one of the company.
For more information, visit texasshakespeare.com.