the transformative power of live theater


Unmasking The Malcontent: V. III

“Well, this disguise doth yet afford me
That which kings do seldom hear, or great men use —

Free speech.” –Malevole, THE MALCONTENT, Act I, Scene III

Staging rehearsals for The Malcontent are now well underway. We jumpstarted the process through an exercise Liz calls The Circle Game: the entire cast (both actors of each role included) would gather in a circle onstage and act out the entire play, jumping into the playing area when they are called and using the circle as audience, co-conspirators, scenery, offstage noises, etc. One scene (I’ll give you an example) involves Duke Pietro (Bill Brochtrup and Mark Doerr) hunting in the forest with his entourage of lackeys and yesmen, so the rest of us supplied the sounds of offstage huntsmen and barking dogs.

Swain and Cast playing The Circle Game

In another scene, JD Cullum (who shares the title role, Malevole, with the equally lovely Bo Foxworth) tried playing a speech to Pietro like a sermon from a revival preacher, and in dutiful turn we became his congregation. I gotta say, it’s a deliciously fun way of and getting everyone working off of each other’s energy every moment of the play, whether you’re in the scene or not. However, it’s also serving another, perhaps more practical purpose (I hope I’m not divulging some great secret here, but I’m almost too geekily excited to care if I am):

It’s important we get used to having an audience on every side at every moment, since Liz and our scenic designer, Tom Buderwitz, are putting audience members on the stage with us. There will be one or two rows of spectators stage right and stage left throughout the entire play. I KNOW.

According to Liz, the common hypothesis is that a lot Jacobean drama played directly with the audience all the time. Certain stages, such as the Blackfriars Theater, are constructed that way, and furthermore the text of the plays of the era (including this one) totally supports that idea. Why fight that when you can embrace it? It’s so much more fun when you think of each speech (of which, hallelujah, there are so many) as an opportunity for the character to step out of his disguise for a moment, to get the audience on his side, to make an argument he will not make aloud for the rest of the play, or to ask for help.

We played the Circle Game one act at a time (there are five in this play) through the entire play, two times per act, and are now in the process of returning to each scene and re-exploring and refining those primary impulses into repeatable and sensible staging, and blending the impulses of two completely different actors into each character. I’m not going to lie; it can get a little tricky integrating individual styles and techniques in this particular way while remaining respectful of everyone’s time and creative input, but it does seem to me that the balancing act has been managed miraculously thus far by all concerned, and momentum is starting to build as we all continue to get the hang of each other.

With those wheels respectably in motion, today we start staging the dance sequences, officially put down the scripts and pick up the props, and we ladies are getting laced up into rehearsal skirts and corsetry, and yes indeed, I am most excited.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, will be sharing her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the third installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org

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