Romeo and Juliet – The Rehearsal Blogs Pt. II

Live theatre is never static. From its early rehearsal days to its grand opening and subsequent run of performances, the life of a show evolves. How do the actors keep each performance fresh, while honouring the director’s vision? The Education Department has asked some actors from this season’s production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Tim Carroll, to share with us their experiences and discoveries while rehearsing and performing the play.

Skye Brandon plays Benvolio in this season’s production. He shares with us some of his behind-the-scenes experiences during the run of Romeo and Juliet.
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by Skye Brandon

We are now nearing the end of the 2013 season and I’m finding it hard to believe how far our Romeo and Juliet has come since we started rehearsals back in late February. I don’t know that I’ve ever been part of a show that has remained as faithful to the director’s vision, while at the same time grown in leaps and bounds.

From Left: Daniel Briere as Romeo, Skye Brandon as Benvolio, and Tyrone Savage as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by David Hou.

From Left: Daniel Briere as Romeo, Skye Brandon as Benvolio, and Tyrone Savage as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by David Hou.

One of the biggest changes we had to deal with was the loss of our Lord Capulet. The very talented Scott Wentworth ended up taking on the role of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice when Brian Bedford had to step out for health reasons. For a number of weeks Scott was getting his Shylock ready while still playing Capulet as well as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. You could see the fatigue wearing him down. So eventually the decision was made to release Scott from Romeo and Juliet, which meant Wayne Best took over as Capulet, Robert King became Montague and André Morin became Abraham. There is no doubt in my mind that we were able to make that transition so easily because of the rehearsal process we had with our director, Tim Carroll. He told us, and reminded us throughout the season, that although he gave us specific guidelines in how to approach the text, he still wants us to keep exploring and ultimately have fun while we do it. That approach has prepared the ensemble for anything.

And we have been having fun performing this show, despite the fact that it is a tragedy. No two shows are exactly the same. For me personally, I’ve had a couple of performances where I changed my entrance (when I knew it wouldn’t affect the previous scene); and I had the realization just over halfway through our run that during Capulet’s feast we could ask any lady to dance. We all learned the same choreography, so what was to stop us from asking someone different to dance each show? Something as simple as changing dance partners has prevented that large group scene from becoming automatic. We honestly don’t know how the dance is going to end up.

And there has been nothing automatic about the scenes either. It may not seem different to audience members who have seen the show more than once, but actors are continually exploring the text and trying slightly different approaches to the delivery. All while honouring Tim’s direction.

This production has been an absolute pleasure to be in. It could be a very long time until I get another chance to be a part of a true ensemble.

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Want to read more?

Daniel Briere plays Romeo in this season’s production of Romeo and Juliet. He shares with us his first-day experience of being on the “Tanya Stage,” and the various exercises involved in understanding the power of the narrative and the importance of connecting with the audience and his fellow actors. Click here to read his full blog.

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Stratford Festival Job Fair

Would you like to play a meaningful role with North America’s leading classical repertory theatre? At the Stratford Festival, we attract the world’s finest talent, offering a unique experience for staff, artists and actors alike. We are currently seeking individuals to work as members in the Front of House as:

Call Centre Representatives

If you:

• are a person that has an enthusiastic, professional attitude
• can work flexible hours, including weekends and evenings
• possess superior telephone communication skills
• have good keyboarding skills
• enjoy working in an exciting team environment
• are a person with a passion for the arts

These seasonal positions will begin immediately and provide employment up to 25 hours per week.

Ushers

If you:

• love meeting and greeting new people
• are able to climb multiple stairs
• can work flexible hours, including weekdays, evenings and weekends
• have a strong knowledge of our current plays
• able to be trained and act on possible First Aid emergencies
• available to work until October 20th, 2013

These seasonal positions will begin immediately and you must be able to work until October 20th, 2013

Food and Beverage Customer Service

If you:

• possess a pleasant and outgoing personality
• enjoy working with multiple people
• are able to work in a fast paced environment
• have the understanding of kitchen cleanliness and safety procedures
• have kitchen experience that would be considered an asset

These season positions require the candidates to work most evenings and weekends until October 20th, 2013.

Join us to find out more on

Saturday August 17th, 2013
Brunswick Centre
423 Brunswick Street
Stratford, Ontario

Between the hours of 9:00am-1:00pm * Please bring your resume

We recognize that diversity in our workplace, in our audiences and on our stages fosters a rich and creative environment. We are actively engaged in building a more diverse workforce and encourage all qualified applicants to attend.

Two Kinds of Tradition | Jr. Guest Blogger Adam Leung

by Adam Leung

On May 11, I spent the day at the Stratford Festival and I saw the plays Fiddler on the Roof and Romeo and Juliet. The day was quite a long one and I was extremely tired at the end of it, but it was definitely worth it since the plays were great!

Adam Leung (right) with his brother, Josh, and dad outside the Festival Theatre

Adam Leung (right) with his brother, Josh, and dad outside the Festival Theatre

Music has many uses in a play. In Fiddler on the Roof it is used to explain the plot and the characters’ feelings and opinions. For example, Tevye explains in the opening scene with song “Tradition” why he believes tradition to be so important in their lives. He then sings part of this song in the second act to explain why his daughters should not marry men of their own free will but instead should consult the town’s matchmaker.

The song “If I Were a Rich Man” is about what Tevye would do if he owned a fortune. According to Tevye, he would build a big tall house in the middle of the town with plenty of rooms. There would be three staircases in his house, each one more impressive than the last. He also wants to keep several fowl in his yard, to prove that he is extremely rich. While I was listening to “If I Were a Rich Man,” I realized that it is very much like the song “If I Had a Million Dollars” by Barenaked Ladies – right down to the title. Both songs mention what sort of house they would have, what sort of pets they would own, what they would get for their wives and what they would do instead of working all day. So maybe, just maybe, Barenaked Ladies just might owe some credit to Fiddler on the Roof!

Watch Scott Wentworth – Tevye – perform “If I Were a Rich Man”!

The production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford this year is presented in a style that is similar to how it would have been presented at the Globe Theatre in London, in the 1590s, in mid-afternoon in winter. The lights are left on and ever so slightly dimmed, no spotlights are used to follow the actors and no sound system is used to amplify the actors’ voices. Music is used only as background music or as part of a scene since the Globe Theatre did not have an orchestra pit, and the musicians play old-fashioned instruments from Shakespeare’s time.

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye is torn between following the standard marriage tradition and letting his daughters marry men they choose and love. Personally, I believe that the daughters are right in the sense that if they let their parents and the matchmaker choose, then the community is almost a dictatorship since no one has a free choice in marriage. I think the best way would be for Tevye to recommend his daughters to avoid certain husbands instead of making the marriage mandatory.

In Romeo and Juliet, there is a very obvious tradition that both the Montague and the Capulet families follow: you MUST hate the other family. If you don’t follow this tradition, you are shunned by your family for the rest of your life. In Fiddler on the Roof, tradition is changed because the outside world is moving on with time. However, in Romeo and Juliet, tradition is changed because of tradition itself. Romeo and Juliet are fed up with tradition (think Motel and Tzeitel from Fiddler on the Roof) but this tradition results in their deaths. It is not until after their deaths that the two families end the mini-war that they have been waging and call a truce.

In most plays, the props and sets are a vital part of the story, since they help tell where the scene takes place and what the characters are doing. Fiddler on the Roof uses lots of props like the milk cart, suitcases, dishes, cleaning supplies, to show what the characters are doing and where they are. Fiddler on the Roof also uses sets that are made up of objects that are only found in certain obvious places, like a bed in the bedroom or a stove and table in the kitchen.

Romeo and Juliet uses lots of props but is very different to Fiddler on the Roof since the play doesn’t use any major set changes (which is the way plays in the Elizabethan time were presented). Instead, the audience has to watch attentively so that they can see the subtle changes in props and character movement, such as when Paris is searching with the lantern or when Juliet is on the balcony and Romeo is right under her nose.

In Romeo and Juliet, one of the most confusing characters is Friar Laurence, since you don’t learn much about him except that he is a monk who knows everything there is to know about plants and their properties, both poisonous and helpful. I believe that Friar Laurence is a “good guy” since he helps Romeo and Juliet by marrying them in hopes of ceasing the quarrel that has been going on between their families. Plus, he never tells anybody about their marriage since if he was to mention it, it would cause disaster and make the fight between the Capulet and the Montague families even worse.

Fiddler on the Roof and Romeo and Juliet are about two completely different stories which take place in very different times, but they both have similar themes: love, change, tradition and tragedy. If I had to choose a favourite play, I would say neither, since they’re both amazing plays. I hope you get to see them as well!

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Like what you read? 12-year-old guest blogger and theatre enthusiast, Adam Leung, is a regular contributor to the Stratford Festival’s blog. Read his other entries here and here!

Romeo and Juliet – The Rehearsal Blogs Pt. I

The rehearsal process is often mystifying to the general audience. What exactly goes on in preparation for a performance? How do the actors make sense of and breathe life into the words on the page? The Education Department has asked three actors from this season’s production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Tim Carroll, to share with us their experiences and discoveries while rehearsing the play.

Daniel Briere plays Romeo in this season’s production. He shares with us his first-day experience of being on the “Tanya Stage,” and the various exercises involved in understanding the power of the narrative and the importance of connecting with the audience and his fellow actors.

Keep your eye out for further blogs on this site from Tyrone Savage, who plays Tybalt, and Skye Brandon, who plays Benvolio!
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by Daniel Briere 

Walking for the first time out onto the Festival Theatre stage, complete with the newly restored Tanya Moiseiwitsch floor plan, I am immediately struck by how small the room feels. I remember when I was a wide-eyed theatre student—on my school’s yearly trip to the Stratford Festival—sitting at the back of the balcony before the show, imagining that home plate in a baseball stadium was closer to me in that moment than this stage. I recall how when the actors took the stage, their warmth and energy soared across an ocean of heads, bodies and attentive ears. I think of how monumental this room felt, like an Olympus peopled with the demi-gods of Canadian stage. And yet, here I am today, standing centre stage, acutely aware that it is only 66 feet from centre stage to the very back of the balcony.

Daniel Briere Blog photo FestivalStagefromUC

This is my first season with the Stratford Festival, and I will be spending a lot of time upon this stage. In fact, all three of the shows in which I will appear will be on the Festival stage. Today is the first day “on deck” for the cast of Romeo and Juliet, and we have a lot to do. I am not the only rookie in the room, and while we test the space with all sorts of strange vocal sounds and exercises that actors do, many of the veterans experiment with the extra steps and playing spaces provided by the “Tanya” configuration. There are fights to work through, dances to space out and all kinds of entrances and exits to discover. Later on, we’re scheduled to do something called a Rope Theory Test, which raises more than a few hairs and much confusion throughout the company.

After a quick group warm-up, Tim Carroll, our director, teaches us a simple song, which we sing in a round. This being the third week of rehearsal with TC, we have become very familiar with his method of launching us into exercises before we have a chance to think about them—thereby allowing us to make unexpected discoveries. So with little explanation or pause, we are moving single file between aisles in the audience, up to the balcony, around backstage and through the underground passageway, sweetly harmonizing a round of In My Lady’s Garden. When we land back on the deck, the space newly christened with our voices and energy, the air seems thick. “Now spread out and find a seat somewhere in the house,” instructs TC. “Who knows a bit of their text? Daniel. You shall be our first victim. Give us ‘But soft…’”

I have managed to blend in with the crowd somewhat effectively in the first part of this rehearsal process, mostly as a side effect of Tim’s democratic rehearsal process—where no one was allowed to read his or her own character’s lines in the first week, as we worked on the structure and sound of Shakespeare’s verse lines. As I mentioned, this is my first season with the Festival, and starting with a role portrayed by such greats as William Shatner, Christopher Walken, Paul Gross and Stratford’s current Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino, I certainly feel pressure to perform. I have to prove that I deserve to be here, after all. So, about to speak Romeo’s lines for the first time, on this historic stage, in front of the entire cast, I forget to breathe.

Tim quickly and efficiently distracts me from my self-doubt, though, asking me to give each verse line to a specific person in the audience, and then say their name aloud. Even with all the lights up, this proves very difficult as I can’t clearly see some spots of the audience, so I spend most of the time trying to determine who I’m looking at and speaking to. I am starting to get a feel for actually speaking to the audience though, asking real questions, making real points. Then, to take it one step further, I work the final tomb speech—line by line to a specific person in the audience, saying their name aloud—and the listener has to repeat the verse line back to me word for word. If they don’t repeat it correctly, I haven’t communicated the idea/thought/image clearly enough, and I have to give them the line again until they receive it. Great: I sense some development there. Then we break quickly for coffee.

The scheduled Rope Theory Test turns out to be an opportunity to try out the corded ladder which I will use to descend from the balcony in Act III. The theory (I think) is that they will need fewer rungs on the ladder than originally thought, due to my long legs. Trying out the ladder myself, I find that I take most of my weight in my arms anyway, and my feet easily get tangled in the ropes. So the theory seems to be correct, and more experimentation is required.

At the end of the day, I’m still here, breathing, still standing, and still with the support of my director. We clearly have more work to do before we’ll be able to play our games in secret in front of an audience, but isn’t that the fun? Today was like a first date—somewhat sweaty, pretty self-conscious and full of questions. “But he that hath the steerage of my course / Direct my sail.”
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Read more in Pt. II of our rehearsal blogs as company member Skye Brandon, currently playing Benvolio, shares with us some of his behind-the-scenes experiences during the run of Romeo and Juliet.

Stratford Festival Design Showcase! | Jr. Guest Blogger Adam Leung

12-year-old guest blogger and theatre enthusiast, Adam Leung, joined us this past March to attend our annual staff and volunteer Design Showcase. Enjoy his reflection on the event as well as some sneak peeks into this season’s set and costume designs. Stay tuned for Adam’s reviews of Romeo and Juliet and Fiddler on the Roof this May, as well as his adventures at our upcoming Pinballapolooza in Toronto!

Adam Leung Education Blogger

by Adam Leung

On March 18, I was invited to go to the Design Showcase for the upcoming Stratford season. The purpose of the showcase was to give friends and staff of the Stratford Festival a sneak peek at the sets and costumes for the various shows.

Going into the Design Showcase, I had no idea about what was going to happen in the next three hours; everything was new to me. I learned that a designer’s job is vital to the production of a show, and that a lot of planning is involved in preparing the sets. The set designers must think about not only how the set will look, but also how it will move and how it can be stored in the massive backstage area. Even with all of this space, they still need a small fleet of storage trucks. The only question is how do you get everything inside the trailer and figure out what comes out next without damaging the other props and sets?

I learned that lighting design is also important; a good example is The Three Musketeers. The designers have really put a lot of thought into lighting. There’s a cage-like structure around the walls on top of the stage that will cast some interesting shadows on the set. They have also minimized the movement of the scenery and sets by using shadows and lighting to make the stage look different for various scenes. Also the audience doesn’t have to wait long between scenes, as the set changes happen “like lightning” so the play can keep a fast pace with the characters and action of the story.

The Showcase also demonstrated that the colour of the costumes is just as important as the costumes themselves. For example, in The Three Musketeers, the Cardinal’s men all wear bright red, while the musketeers wear lots of darker earthy colors. It is a simple yet effective way to clearly show who the hero is and who the bad guys are. The costume designers also use the look and fit of the costume to show what sort of person the character is. In The Merchant of Venice, the costume designer uses different colours and the fit of the costumes to show what class each person is from. For example, the main character has a well-tailored suit, implying that he is well-off and wealthy.

Out of all of the set designs, my favourite was Blithe Spirit, since for this production the director and set designer use a number of illusions and secret tricks to make the ghost truly invisible while she haunts her husband (eg. plates fly off the shelves without anyone near them and the grand piano mysteriously plays without anyone at the keyboard). I always thought that special effects like these were reserved for the movies!

One of the most interesting parts of the Showcase was the explanation of the costumes from Tommy. I don’t know much about the story, but I do know that the play bounces through the decades between the 1940 to the 1970s. The costumes also change dramatically with time. This caught my eye as the costumes literally go from black-and-white to bright red, orange, and blue … not to mention that they are also based on the original production’s costume designs!

By far, the most interesting set was that for Fiddler on the Roof, since several items take their inspiration from paintings by the Russian artist Marc Chagall, who we studied at school. The set includes a group of sculptures on the roof that are attached to a blue dome as well as a doll-sized community of plywood houses that were made to resemble a house in a Chagall painting.

Having seen all of the presentations and advertisements on the Stratford website, the play I am most looking forward to seeing is The Three Musketeers, and I am going to see it with my family! This play appeals to all, with swordfights, mystery, and even a bit of romance … not to mention that the set and costumes look very interesting!

Beyond the Stage: The Shakespeare School | Stratford’s Rising Stars

by Madeleine Brown

In Curnock Hall in the Discovery Centre (the tall brick building opposite the Festival Theatre) a group of eager parents and relatives are crammed around a temporary thrust stage. Screams of excitement emanate from the company in the neighbouring room.

The highly anticipated performance is by The Queen’s Company of the Shakespeare School, a program run by the Education Department. The young thespians are only in their early teens and their training sessions are just eight days long – but they are one tough act to follow.

The lights dim, the students stride in, and their rendition of Henry V commences. In the first scene I’m transported to a dark dance club with a raging beat and flashing neon lights. A naïve Prince Hal leads his clan in a fast, fun dance routine. The party ends with the death of the king and the prospect of an invasion of France.

I’m jealous how easily the students adopt Shakespeare’s words as their own, and intrigued by how comfortably they navigate the thrust stage. The entire company is strong and works together as a true ensemble (although an endearing King of France, a rather manly Alice with a sweet Lady Katherine and the seven students who share role of Henry in particular win over my heart).

Each part rings clear and the timing is exact. The company executes the major battle scene with tight fight choreography and follow with a beautiful choral song. After a traditional Elizabethan dance, Henry snaps his fingers and the lights go out.

The audience erupts, and it’s clear the performers had an equally good time. High fives and hugs are shared all around.

I grew up attending drama camps and workshops and we never pulled off as impressive a piece as the Shakespeare School students did. We certainly never dared take on Shakespearean speech, Elizabethan dance and choral song. It’s clear from the students’ pride and enjoyment show that the Shakespeare School is an enriching experience overall.

Although registration is finished for the remaining summer sessions, there’s always next year!

If only they accepted applicants over 18 years old…

The Shakespeare School offers one-, two-, and three- week day and residential camps for Shakespeare and musical theatre enthusiasts every year from July to August. The program is open to students in Grades 5 to 12. There is also a March Break Camp for 10- to 12-year-olds. Visit the Festival’s website for registration details and application deadlines.

If you’re looking for other activities for young theatre lovers, check out Theatre Explorer, Festival Tours and Shakespeare After School.

Training Artists to Teach in Schools: The Richard Rooney and Laura Dinner Artist Training Program

By: Edward Daranyi, Resident Teaching Artist

Last Sunday, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Education Department, in collaboration with Destination Arts and the Faculty of Education at York University, began the fourth session of the Richard Rooney and Laura Dinner Artist Training Program. The course teaches professional actors – mostly Festival company members, with a few Festival alumni in this year’s class – everything they need to know to work as visiting artists in Ontario schools.

After introductions by the instructors from York, Kathleen Gould Lundy and Belarie Zatzman, and a welcome on behalf of the Festival from General Director Antoni Cimolino and Director of Education Andrea Jackson, we spent a wonderful day getting to know each other and finding out more about what the next four days would hold.

On Monday we dove into an exploration of the artist’s role in the classroom, strategies and effective teaching tools for Macbeth. Tuesday the instructors from York held a practical demonstration class with Grade 7 students from Stratford Northwestern Public School. Kathy put the artists and students through an engaging workshop on Romeo and Juliet. It was an exhausting morning for everyone, but it was wonderful to watch a master teacher at work. The Grade 7s left energized and ready for the rest of their day at Northwestern, and the artists, after a rich discussion with teacher Mrs. Keys and our instructors, dove in to unpack and discuss the Romeo and Juliet lesson and how they might have handled some of the challenges that came up during the class.

We were joined Tuesday afternoon by Laura Levin, associate professor at York and the editor-in-chief of Canadian Theatre Review, for an incredibly engaging look at teaching Much Ado About Nothing from the perspective of contemporary performance studies. It was a lively afternoon.

Today Alice Te joined us from OISE and our morning was all about equity and social justice throughout the classroom, and why it matters. The artists have been absorbing and assimilating all this new information and using it to devise their final assignment, a lesson plan for a Grade 12 English class, which they will deliver tomorrow in groups.

Working with this group of artists for the week has been fantastic. I look forward to working with them this year in education programs both here at the Festival and out in the schools.

Photo credits:
-York University instructor Kathleen Gould Lundy (centre) with Erica Peck (left) and other company members.
-Company members and Grade 7 students embody a line from Shakespeare.
-Company members (from left) Erica Peck, Travis Seetoo, Sarah Afful, Ruby Joy and E.B. Smith meet Grade 7 students.
– Actors Cara Ricketts, Ngozi Paul, Sarah Afful, Carmen Grant and Ari Weinberg in a class exercise.