Taming of the Shrew Blog

The fourth year play this year is The Taming of the Shrew. This is a blog following the progress of the play and its cast.

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Understanding the Lines

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Repetition, repetition, repetition. Reading lines and reading them again. That’s the key to learning, but more importantly understanding the lines. Deciphering Shakespeare’s intention is the first challenge but it is far easier than it first appears. Shakespeare’s language bears little resemblance to English now,but the meaning becomes clear once you’ve read out the scene carefully just because the characters and stories are so human. Cutting lines and rewriting them is part of the reading process. It is slow and tedious, but gratifying once it is finished.

Renaming characters and rewriting lines to change it to fit the not only the style of the era but the style of the actors is an amazing experience. It really personailises the story and adds a sentimental attachment to it for both Clara and the cast. Small details really add up to creating a realistic and funny story. Even names can be used as a joke (or a dig…). Taking out words like “Sirrah” and “Signior” doesn’t even need to be thought about. While Clara occasionally gets cut-happy, the cuts are (almost) always for the best, and if anyone ever disagrees, they’ll be sure to point it out.

Hearing the scene for the first time, being read painstakingly and slowly (through no fault of the actors, it can’t be expected to be perfect off the bat), is worth it solely for the experience of hearing the scene at the end. It’s hard to believe that it is the same lines that were read at the start when the actors are running around, throwing chairs, shouting, fighting and generally causing commotion (much to the dismay of Joe and the cleaners). So much life and intention is transferred into the lines once the appropriate actions are given to them. It really brings the play to life.

Trust

 

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Clara always describes the cast of the play as a family. She says that they will look after each other and always have each others back. Whenever someone forgets a line, someone will be there to remind you. This kind of trust isn’t there instantly or easily. Exercises that help with this are valuable but can be daunting at first.On the day we developed this bond, we split ourselves into pairs and looked on at Clara with curiousity as she told us what we’d be doing.

It’s something I think we’ve all seen on television, seeing friends or couples do at travelling fairs. Having to close your eyes and fall backwards, trusting that your partner will catch you. It’s a weird feeling knowing that the person behind you is the only one that decides whether you smack the ground, or are caught. It does develop a trust that is needed for a cast. An extension of this was standing on one of the cafeteria tables and falling backwards, having 7 people catch you. Luckily only a few people did this. Not that I was frightened of trying it…

Falling forward and trusting that you will catch yourself before you smack the ground was the second exercise. Pushing yourself to get closer and closer to the ground before putting your hands out is a massive challenge. It’s different from the other exercise because you have to trust yourself.It’s one thing trusting that everyone else’s job will be done well, but it’s a completely other thing to believe in yourself. You have to have complete confidence in yourself and it’s hard to silence that niggling voice that tells you that you’re just going to get a bloody nose. It’s a kind of reckless confidence that has a charm about it. I think it’s the same kind that all entertainers need. It’s a trust in your own skill that convinces you it will be fine. As daft as it sounds, it proves you can trust yourself.

The day finished with us making a big circle, blindfolding poor victims, spinning them in circles and telling them to find keys that were placed on the ground. They had no idea where the keys were and had no idea where they were. If they were going to bump into the circle, they would be guided back. This led to confusion for the victims and hilarity tinged with frustration for the onlookers. Seeing hands are over the keys, legs beside the key, so close to the keys. Having Connor search for the mysterious keys above him was cringe-worthy but it shows how disorientating the experience was. That didn’t make it any less funny or frustrating for those watching though

 

Auditions

Seeing the actors-to-be of Portmarnock Community School audition was a fascinating experience. The students came into the room in groups of twos, threes and in some cases a lot more. Most were nervous, some were relaxed but all were eager to show Clara what they had to bring to the table. And they certainly delivered. The variety of talent shown was incredible. Whether it was the ability to pronounce a language that sometimes only vaguely resembles our own with confidence and enthusiasm, or managing to adapt and imitate a character that they have only read about once or twice, I was blown away over and over again by the way in which the same scene could be interpreted in so many different ways when acted by different actors.

Another interesting aspect of the auditions was how quickly the actors were able to adapt to reading Shakespearean language. At first, most had no idea what any of the lines were supposed to sound like, or even what they meant. And who can blame them? The English language has changed dramatically in the 400 years since Shakespeare was writing. However, over the course of the auditions, their ability to not only pronounce the lines, but deliver the feeling and intent with which the lines were written, improved unbelievably . As the auditions went on, people who were meek and cautious in reading the language spoke with precision and confidence. Scenes that started off making little sense at the start of the auditions became interesting, exciting and – most importantly – funny.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the auditions for me however was seeing how different actors were around different people. I’m sure anyone doing the auditions noticed how some pairings and groups worked very well, while others lacked a natural flow to them. This had nothing to do with friendship, or who was comfortable around who. While these may have contributed, it seemed to come down to something more hidden and basic than that. Different people would adopt different mannerisms and traits when playing a character, and it often seemed that their pattern would match those of the character in question and play off other characters with ease and flow.


The biggest surprise from the auditions was seeing how casting worked. Before this, I had always imagine casting as a process where you would try out various people for the same role, and the “best” person would get the role. I thought of it as finding the right person for the role, when in fact it is about finding the right role for the person. No matter how good a Romeo may be, he is useless if he doesn’t work well with Juliet. Seeing how different people would shine when they found someone they have chemistry with was an extremely gratifying experience. Unfortunately, there was only so much time to see what worked. I didn’t envy Clara in her job of assigning roles, not because there wasn’t anyone who fit the roles that were needed, but because too many people did.

Meet Clara

 

It’s a humid, rainy Thursday afternoon. I’m sitting in the school hall with the director of the fourth year play, Clara Burke. She sits across from me, with previous student of Clara’s (Killian O’Driscoll) beside her. It’s the 12th of September, the day after the Junior Cert results and everyone is still tired after the big day, Clara included. She sits smiling, slightly nervous about the interview. Killian is the only one completely relaxed, eager for a chance to poke fun at Clara. [Killian’s interjections appear in italics beIow.] I reassure her the questions won’t get too difficult, and we begin.

What’s your full name?

Clara ”Belle” Burke.

What’s your job?

Oh now that’s a really hard question. I work lots of jobs. I’m a qualified nurse, so I would do night shifts. I am a youth theatre director so I would teach Portmarnock Youth Theatre. I work in a marketing capacity in Smock Alley Theatre, and I’m a director of a festival called “Collaborations” that happens once a year in February and March, and then I teach here. Which I really enjoy. That’s one of my favourites.

How did you get into marketing?

Through the festival. Because I’m the festival director and I would sell thirty shows in the two week period.

Where did you go to school?

Portmarnock Community School!

What subjects did you enjoy?

English, Music, Home Economics, French. The rest were all a bit pants. My play was my highlight.

Which play did you do?

We were the only year to put on a modern play, and then it went back to doing classical. There were a few swear words in it.Very bold! It was called “Can You Keep a Secret?” It was about two gangs and my boyfriend died in it. But it’s okay because I get with the other guy! My grandad came and was totally shocked because I kissed two boys in my play, he was like “What is she doing?!”

Do you have any teachers who still teach?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Mr O’Mahony actually. I still find it really weird to call him by his first name. Mr O Cearra, Mr McCarthy, Ms Richardson, Ms O’Toole, Ms Maguire, Ms Deeney, Mr Westbrookes. Mr Maher was my maths teacher. I was awful at Maths, God love him. He tried, he really tried, But yeah, lots of teachers are still here.

Do you remember the first professional production you attended?

That I ever went to see? My first one… I know my first movie, what was my first play? See, I’ve done this since I was four , so I was probably in a show before I even saw a show…

Do you remember the first one you were in?

First one would have been a ballet show in the Olympia Theatre, where I vomited everywhere backstage.I had a chaperone and I was in a little purple tutu, and my parents were out watching me, and after the piece I was like I’d like to see my mother now, and she was like “No no no” and I was like “No, I would like to go see my mother now I dont feel well” and she was like “You can’t, you have to stay backstage, this is what happens” and I was like “I don’t feel well, I’m going to get sick if you don’t let me see my mum” and she was like “You’re going to have to sit down” and I was like “Fine” and puked all over her

What age were you?

Six. Puked all over her…But yeah, the first one I saw. That’s really annoying that I don’t know. I’ve been brought to theatre my whole life. I don’t know what it was. It was probably a panto to be honest.

So theatre has always been a part of you then.

Absolutely. Always…

I feel bad about this one but if you were on a desert island, you can choose one book, one movie and one cd to bring. What do you bring?

Oh okay. One book, one CD and one movie. The book I do know. “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”. It’s a really wise book in my opinion and a book I carry with me most days. There are lots of quotes that are great. It’s brilliant. The CD….. It would probably be something like Motown. That’s so sad! “No!! Motowns amazing” Killian argues. I love Motown music. I would listen to it a lot when I was growing up. So yeah, something maybe best of Motown that I can just dance to on the beach with my book on my own. I’m really cool. And a movie…That’s really hard. Really hard. “Something inspirational” Killian chimes in. No, because I’m not like that, I just like silly things. “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” is enough as a book for inspiration. Lots of stuff to be thinking about. A movie…Has to be a movie that you can watch again and again and again and not get tired of. Can I go eighties on it like “Back to the Future”? I’m really cheesy.

One other item you would bring?

Item? What about a person?

No, no people.

Aww, I’d have to be on my own. A notepad and pen.

Any guilty pleasures?

Guilty pleasures.. My eighties movies. My Motown. There’s loads, so many. Naff music, Westlife, Backstreet Boys.

Most famous person you’ve met?

Maybe Michael Fassbender? I had an argument with Gabriel Byrne once. I didn’t realise who it was at the time and he said something about Portmarnock and I corrected him and he was like “No” and I was like “No, I am right”. I went to dinner later that night with my family at Captain America’s and he was on the wall and I asked my mum “Who’s that? I met him today”. He came into my youth theatre when I was younger. No one thought to tell me!  Michael Fassbender though. I think he’s a really good guy, and I was one of the girls that was like “I don’t fancy Michael Fassbender at all” and then he came into my class and smiled at me.

Are there any artists in the public eye that inspire you?

Hmm. Anything? Performance art, Marina Abramović is someone I really admire, I think she’s got a lot of strength and character. Some of the stuff she’s done in the past is crazy and some is brilliant but that’s kind of what I like. Irish artists…. Trying to think of any Irish ones. Art is a really hard word to talk about because I include music in that, I include writing in that, I include theatre in that, I include movies in that.

Which would you draw your inspiration from?

Oh everything. Everything. I’d go to an art gallery. One of my favourite things is to go to an art gallery. I never really did art in school but I actually ended up going to NCAD and studying Art for 2 years for my master’s. That was crazy because Jen is my best friend and she’s the one who introduced me the world of art to me and we’d go to exhibitions together and I’d find the stuff that I’d note down compared to the stuff she’d note down is totally different. Like I would draw inspiration from the tiny thing in the corner where she would know how that sweeps this way and it’s really interesting to compare notes to that. I’d listen to music on the radio and think “Oh there’s something in that”. There was a song I was listening to, a Lauryn Hill song, cause I’m cool and the end of it, is these teenagers talking about what it is to love someone and what that word means. There was something about that that connected to  The Taming of the Shrew for me. Maybe there’s an angle that we could make a viral out of. Everything everyday really. Even people you meet. You draw so much from so many things.

What makes you laugh?

Lots. If you’re not laughing, don’t do it.

Any pastimes other than drama?

I can knit… I love baking and cooking. Cooking and baking. I will bake you guys cake. Especially you. Bloggers deserve the most cake. Really they deserve all the cake.

I agree. Favourite thing to cook?

Recently I learned how to make croissants and that’s kind of become my favourite thing. I love my biscuit cake if I’m going cake wise. Dinner wise, chicken curry. I made it on a beach. I made chicken curry from scratch, as in I made the sauce from scratch. They dug me a hole, gave me a stove. It’s impressive. I’ve pictures, I’ll prove it!

What’s your favourite country that you’ve been to?

France is my mistress.

Southern or Northern?

Southern. I’m going there this weekend. France is my second home. I’m going to stick with France. Berlin is also really, really cool. London is also one of my favourites. “New York as well” New York I like but for some reason it doesn’t get up there. It’s incredible and I really, really love it but Berlin, Paris and London. I love Europe, I really love Europe and there’s so much history to it and I think sometimes people are in such a hurry to get to the other side of the world that it’s like, “Hey, look what’s here”. Like St. Petersburg is somewhere that I have to go, I can’t wait. And I have to go in Winter, because it will be best in Winter. And Copenhagen. I love to travel. There’s another hobby.

Do you feel your nursing has contributed to your directing in any way?

Absolutely. To be a nurse you’ve got to be really acutely aware of people. Behaviors. Like you need to know that if someone’s sitting in a chair a certain way, they’re slightly uncomfortable.

Very conscious of how I’m sitting now…

Haha, yeah. but it’s about reading body language which I think is really important in directing, being able to be conscious of how your cast or your crew are feeling as well as how a character sitting a certain way, wearing certain shoes, in a certain dress will
affect them. So it’s just kind of observations that helps. Life experience as well. If you work ten years, you’re going to know more than ten years prior. Nursing gives you a lot of real life experience. Like if that man is dying, can you push his chest and make sure he doesn’t die. Push his chest, a technical term…

What has been your favourite role that you’ve ever played?

I don’t know if I could pick. One of my proper first theatrical that didn’t involve music and dancing was when I played the role of Marlene Dietrich who was an actress and that was really influential because she did a very brave thing. During the war, she was German and she was being taught French by a tutor and she had loads of admiration for her tutor and when the war broke out she basically went into the barracks and handed a white rose across to the French, which she could’ve gotten shot for. She’s a pretty impressive lady. Then I did a play with my best friend, Jen, and that was called “She’s Got Love” and that was to do with us, and growing up in the eighties, and my father. That was one of my favourite things that I’ve done.

How did you deal with forgetting lines?

My fourth year play, I forgot my first line. “Your first line?! Noo….” The song was coming to an end and I couldn’t remember it. I remember looking out and I could see my dad and I was like and it just came to me. If you just breathe, you’ll always remember. It’s always relaxing. “There’s no such thing as forgetting a line” Yeah “That’s what Ms. Molamphy will tell you. You just need to find it.” But even you guys, if someone sometimes skipped a line or skipped ahead, you guys never let each other down. Never. It just never happened because they had each others back. There’s always going to be another actor with you to support you.

A really well known actor, I won’t say who, but a really well known actor was in the Gate theatre one time, and he had a monologue, and the whole show started with this monologue. And he just blanked. And this is a guy that has been acting for thirty years. And he just decided to say, “I’m really sorry”, and just said “Can I have a line”, and the guy gave him his line and he said “Cool” and started again. And the audience forgave everything because he was so open about it, so instead of him panicking, he just admitted, “I’m totally lost, I’m gonna fix it” and just shared with the audience and that became really special for anyone at the show that night. People are human, they make mistakes.

Do you use understudies in your play?

We don’t, which is such a risky business!

Any reason you choose not to?

Generally speaking, people are committed to it. You kind of know they’ll be there. Last year we had someone where one of the guys had to step out for a few days because of personal reasons. One of the other guys stepped up to the plate to learn all of the lines. What was really nice was as a group, the guys decided to leave out one of the songs, because that was his. They were like, “We don’t want to do it without him”. He managed to get back in time to do the play, and the guy who had learned all his lines graciously said “No, that’s his part, I’m okay with not doing it”. A lot of it is to do with the group you’re working with. You guys, it becomes a little family and everyone looks after each other. We kind of know if something goes wrong, we’ll have someone to cover. Everyone steps up to the plate.

No pressure.

Haha, no pressure. No, you’re a good year.

You mentioned that your plays never have pauses.

No, they never have blackouts. I find blackouts really fumbly and awkward If there’s a scene that needs a blackout because it happens in the darkness, cool. But rather than taking those two minutes to go black, then back and forth. It takes a lot of time, and there’s no need for a set change. If you can build a set that represents enough of what the play is about, you shouldn’t need it, and it means the whole story stays in a thread and you never break out of it. For example, last year, we’re doing the end of a drunken scene and the guys and tables and next thing two actors are on stage as this is dying down and they start to talk and it becomes more like a movie. It’s seamless. I dunno, there’s better continuity which is really important, that you keep an audience with you and interested, and probably in blackouts people chat and have a whisper with their friend. It’s about keeping people interested in that world.

What restrictions come into place from never changing the set?

You’ve got to be very clear about what it is that you want. From the start, make sure that we pick out what the most important aspects in the story are, the aspects that we’re telling and what’s being told in the script. The words will do a lot of the work, but the set, once you decide on where it’s set, it’s there. It doesn’t need all the little changes because it’s kind of…. We’re usually prop heavy but set simple. Like in the drunkards house last year, Maria’s house, she had loads, she had a chessboard, she had shot glasses, she had bottles of wine. All of these things, but as a set, it was just four chairs and a table. It’s a hard one to answer. “You still give a two minute long answer..” I like to talk…

Are there any pitfalls for new directors that come to mind?

You just to let yourself off the hook and that’s a little motto for life. You’re gonna make mistakes and that’s what we do. I dunno if there are pitfalls. There are things you learn from everything. Maybe some of the best advice I was given was “Hold on tightly but let go lightly”. As a director, you get really stubborn like, “I really want that to pan out that way” until you realise, and if you’re open enough to listen. Like you guys will say to me, “Clara, that doesn’t work”. But I’m like “But I wanted it to”! And you’re like “But it doesn’t”. And I just have to let it go. You’ve gotta learn to let things go. Equally, you’ve got to know when something does work and you’ve got to ask the cast & crew to trust you enough to go with that. Being able to change and work something to a point where you can say that was brilliant at the start but it doesn’t work anymore, and it’s got to change. Just about being really open. Being able to talk openly is important. Sometimes as a new director maybe you’re too protective of it and it gets too intense whereas you learn to just say ”Ah well” and let it go and do something a different way is kind of nice.

“The Taming of the Shrew” has been very controversial due to it’s perceived sexism (the taming of Katherina). Do you feel it’s less relevant because of that to modern audiences?

No!! Less relevant? I think girls would be more angry now than they would’ve been back in the day. Katherina is a great character. I played her in college. I had to make a very clear decision about how I was going to play her. For the actor that takes on Katherina there are a lot of decisions to be made. There’s one monologue that a couple of the girls have already tried at the end where she’s a completely reformed Katherina at the banquet. She’s says “You know girls, this is what you should do, You should lend yourself to him, you should be obedient to him”, and there’s controversy about that about whether she’s playing that honestly or sarcastically. There are a lot of questions about her character.

What do you think about changing Shakespeare’s script? Do you think that changing it is detrimental to the play?

I love working with Shakespeare, because he’s dead, and I can do whatever I want with his words, and he won’t kill me.People are very black and white about him. Like you have to stick to the script and you have to stick to that setting whereas other people are like “No, no; change this and change that”. Both are absolutely grand, whatever way you want to do it. In my opinion, you can’t speak the language of Shakespeare entirely the way he has written it because he has written a three and a half hour play. We don’t have the attention span for a three and half hour play. I did it. I watched Romeo and Juliet in the Globe for three and a half hours with Jen, my best friend. She was like “I’m never talking to you again after you made me do this” and I was like “But did you see how beautiful that moment was with the..” and she was like “I don’t care!” It’s three and a half hours!” You’ve got to change and edit. The great thing is a lot of the language does still make sense, and once you start to look at it and look at the intention of a  bit of text, people get it and once someone gets the intention of something, the language is so easy to understand. For me it’s all about the intention. Then the words will make sense. It’s a gas, one of the guys today read a language today that wasn’t even his own and got it. Even though he doesn’t know… It was excellent. Intention will drive a lot of it.

In what ways do costumes influence the play? You were talking about using the nineties

Yeah, you’ve got to think if you’re going to set it in a time period, I like things to be accurate. You’ve got to think of the sound of it, the look of it, the style of it, the look of the inside of the houses, the style of their clothes. Costumes are really important. That’s something I learned as a director that I don’t know if I had paid enough heed to before. What was quite nice about the play the year before last, there were three definite groups on stage and they were distinguishable because of their costume so the ones who were the actors had checked shirts and had jeans and were hip and cool and the fairies were in this gold and 80s style and they were very much of a world that was different from the actors, and that’s Its important to be able to distinguish between characters visually. It just helps the audience imagine and understand the world and costumes play as big a part as everything else.

Do you change the script to go with the costume at all?

I don’t know. Am I allowed say that? I don’t know yet. A lot of it happens in the room. My favourite word in theatre is “play”. It’s a play. Play. It’s a game. If you’re not having fun, don’t do it. It is hard work, but the hard work makes it worth it.  “The hard work is the fun part” Yeah, but you guys love working though “As long as it’s not school work” I think anything’s easier when you love it, That’s the key. Find a job that you love and it’s easy to do it.

You assume when you come to a production that you have certain hopes and expectations as a director. Have there been times in the past where your hopes were exceeded and what has exceeded your hopes?

Every year. Every year has exceeded my hopes and I always think, “They were phenomenal” and I come back the next year and they come back and they wow me again.“They’re good, but not as good as the year before..” Ha, but yeah, my favourite thing about directing shows here is it is the most special because it means the most. You guys have no idea how intelligent and how sound and how creative you guys are. Each year the more I ask, the more expectations I put on you, if I give you a project, like the set design I gave last week. Some of the amazing things I got back. That is so exciting for me. Every time an opening night happens, I’m down the end of the hall going “Okay you guys, you just go and do this professionally.” There are always a few people who are really naturally talented and if they don’t become actors I’ll beat them.

 

The Taming of the Shrew Blog- 4/9/13

One of the best ways to develop character is to jump into new experiences. For some in fourth year, the play is a taste of a possible future career. For others, it is a chance to be in the spotlight, but I think for most it is purely a chance at a new experience and a bit of fun. Today was a great example of this. We played various games, ranging from an odd game resembling tag with a ‘Doctor Who’ theme, to a game involving silently unravelling a giant human knot, to moving chairs across a room without stepping on the ground. At first glance, this may seem like they have little or no relevance to the play, but what does that matter? If it’s a bit of craic, why not?

        Part of the ingenuity of these games was their hidden relevance. When we were running around the room, desperately trying to think of one of the other survivors’ names before the Dalek catches us, (Don’t ask,it would take too long to explain, and even if I did, it wouldn’t make much sense) we were learning to deal with that sudden panic that takes hold when you forget a line. Not only that, but we were getting to know each other. With over one hundred and fifty students in our year, most of us know each other’s names, but I think I speak for almost everyone when I say that not everyone is comfortable around each other (yet), purely from a lack of familiarity.

        These exercises aren’t aimed purely at the actors of the group either. Having to unravel yourself from a big tangle of students silently and quickly was a great way of showing the difficulty that lies ahead of the backstage team. Being able to harness the inner ninja and move quietly around while the production is on is a skill. To deal with any and all issues that arise isn’t an easy job, and this lighthearted game illustrated that.

        We finished the day by being split into groups and assigned a creative exercise. Four of the eight groups had to act out a story with a set of five pictures, and the other four groups had to act out an event of our choice occurring in a setting of our choice. We were given this information, and set on our way to do whatever we wanted. As an example, my group did an imitation of a ‘Jaws-esque’ shark attack on a beach. We quickly learned that trying to flesh out a story using only sounds is challenging, but extremely rewarding when you find the perfect noise (the imitation of a heart beating was definitely the highlight of our act in my opinion.). After a frantic debate about whether or not to have the terrified protagonist of our story die by shark bite or not, we were ready to hear and watch the other groups. Seeing the range of creativity that the groups brought to the table from a simple task of being told we had to tell a story through noises or pictures was incredible (even if Lee Byrne’s imitation of a car may have left something to be desired).

        Even though three of the four visual groups chose to do Cinderella, this actually emphasised the point that the same story can be told in a variety of ways. All three of these groups had a completely different approach and chose to emphasise different parts. We could see how even though there have been thousands of productions of any of Shakespeare’s plays, we could still make ours unique. From the groups tasked with sounds, we could see the importance of audio in telling a story. The fact we could tell a story through sounds alone shows how these can be used to great effect. All of the (mini) play (things) were fun to watch, and were a promising example of the different possibilities for the play. Even people who have never watched theatre before, let alone tried to produce one, myself included, could see the natural born actors of the play. People with fantastic little mannerisms that just contribute to their character. Whether this is a conscious effort, or just a natural skill seems mostly irrelevant – the main thing is that it’s just great to watch. It was an extremely promising and fun start to a long road but with the talent of the students and guidance from Clara, it will be a unique, interesting and hilarious production.