Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Miranda Fisher on The Creative Process

photo by Brenda Sparks
pictured: Paige Gober, Diego Gomez, Miranda Fisher

I’m continually amazed by the strength and creative expression that theatre allows. The cast of Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare in the Park 2009 production of Taming of the Shrew is comprised of a generous assortment of differing individuals. The youngest being a fourteen year old student and the oldest being a well experienced teacher, it has been a highly advantageous learning experience in each element of the spectrum. I’m learning so much from everyone. It simultaneously reminds me of how inexperienced I am and how much I’ve already learned in such a short amount of time. Last summer, my first time being in the Apprentice Company, was my first real exposure to Shakespeare. I remember at the beginning of my sophomore year being embarrassed that I was unable to name five Shakespearean plays. I was terrified of Shakespeare! But now, only two years later, I’m thrilled to tear apart and analyze any of his text.

The first day of Apprentice Company training I was filled with heaps of nervous energy and apprehension. I’m not some fanatic believer in Murphy’s Law, but the first day of training a couple major things went wrong. One of our workshops fell through because the instructor's wife had a baby that morning! But like a Shakespearean superhero, Nashville Shakes Artistic Director, Denice Hicks made an impromptu text based workshop. I’m constantly reminded of the fortune theatre provides even in the midst of unfortunate happenings.

Nashville Shakes has lost numerous sponsors and support due to this distasteful economy. We’re fighting against the odds, but it’s all good. My experience this summer has been filled little potholes of the like but it seems that, with a little flexibility, anything can be mended.
To say the least, our training went exceptionally well. After we all were acquainted with one another, we chose monologues to rehearse, and began a series of Viewpoint exercises. Anne Bogart’s Viewpoint exercises have been the foundation for our character development, and the creation of our ensemble. Thanks to Viewpoints Brenda Sparks, our director, has been able to effectively communicate broad ideas. We’ve mainly focused on ideas of shape, spatial relationship, tempo, architecture and topography. Viewpoints is an essential part of our creative process.
We just completed our second day of blocking rehearsal and have made it through the entire first act. (With only two weeks of rehearsal , we’re making great time!) Over the next two weeks we’ll be finishing the blocking, exploring specific character interactions and layering in the technical aspects of the show. We’ve already got some groovy costumes, thanks to June Kingsbury. I cannot wait to make it to opening night. Everything is coming together so quickly.

Dude, ApCo has been such an essential part of my growth as an actor and human being. It’s offered such and opportune learning experience. Donations, please! Keep this program around! Young people need this exposure to Shakespeare and the arts.
Miranda Fisher, ApCo 2008, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Alex Spieth talks about her Directing Apprenticeship

Hello from ApC0 Training!
I have been in two previous Apprentice Companies (in 2006 and 2007) and performed in “Macbeth”, “Merry Wives of Windsor”, and “Two Gentlemen of Verona”.

I have loved Apprentice Company and I believe that any actor MUST/SHOULD AUDITION (for the program) because I grew TONS through the experience. This year I auditioned again but this time as Directing Apprentice for “Taming of the Shrew”. I was ecstatic to discover that I would again get to work with such talented actors and receive the incredible training of Apprentice Company, but I was even more excited to look at Shakespeare through another angle, this time of Directing.

Before Apprentice Company, Brenda Sparks (ApCo and Shrew Director) gave fellow ApCo student Markus McClain and I topics (such as “Social History of the late 1960s and 1970s” or “Themes on Taming of the Shrew”) to research and make presentations to help enlighten the actors on the time period and happenings of where and when the show is set and elucidate the textual work.
So away I went to the Library and began the process of research. It felt so good to feel like I was helping serve as dramaturge and maybe was getting the show more grounded about the times on the late 1960s and early 1970s. Once I arrived as an Apprentice on the fateful first Monday of training, I was nervous about feeling a disconnect with the group. I was nervous about being THAT GIRL who arrived with informational posters aplenty for the first day. But under the guidance of Denice (Hicks, Nashville Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director) and Brenda I never felt isolation.

The Directing Apprentices and the Stage Managing Apprentice were encouraged to participate in all activities—Sometimes I felt ungrounded due to my lack of assigned character, but mostly I had the freedom to create a new character each time we did an exercise, actually feeling freed by my lack of text. As Directing Apprentice, I am still able to participate in all of the incredible explorations with monologue work, vocal training, stage combat (with my boy Gus Gillette!), and dancing. Doing training with the acting apprentices firstly helps create a friendly relationship and secondly creates a common language for the show that everyone understands.

Instead of only waiting for my own discoveries about an individual character, I try to watch to discover the other actors make discoveries. I want to be fairly in tune with the characters they create so when the time comes I can help Brenda mold inspiring viewpoints work into THE REAL SHOW! Watching the actors is inspiring, because people I have known for years still shock me with their talent and bold acting choices and people I hadn’t met before create character habits I would never be able to think of. I feel very close to the other apprentices and can’t wait to see them truly take on scenes and create the “Taming”; they are talented beyond belief.

The next part of the plan for me is to work scenes for twenty minutes before Brenda works them onstage at the band shell, to clear up questions on the script and give the actors another set of eyes. We move from Studio A at the Npt Arts Center to Centennial Park next week!

I am so excited to help this wonderful show develop and get to participate in Shakespeare in the Park again (because it makes for WONDERFUL SUMMERS AND TRAINING EXPERIENCE) before heading to college. APCO FOREVER!
Love, Alex

Sunday, July 19, 2009

First Week of Training Wraps

Hello everyone! J.R. Knowles here with your ApCo 09 blog update. This is my second year in The Apprentice Company, following being in CORIOLANUS last year, and it's exhilarating to be back! There's such a huge disparity between the first week of this year's training and last year's training, at least from my perspective. Last year, walking into the NPT Arts Center, home of The Nashville Shakespeare Festival, for just the third time (the first and second being auditions and callbacks) was unfamiliar and intimidating; this year it feels like coming back home. After a very busy year's time, I had forgotten just how much I missed working with Nashville Shakes! It seems to be a magnet for all the most illuminating teachers, talented professionals, and eager theatre students.

watch the Npt Arts Break Feature on Nashville Shakes Education Work

On that subject, it's so incredible to be around all my old friends again! Being around all these talented and familiar faces helped jump start me mentally and got me right back in the saddle very quickly. While most of this year's apprentices I've known or met in some in some fashion prior to training, the new friends we're all making is icing on top of the Shakespearean cake. If the packed callback wasn't enough proof, all the new apprentices this year is proof of just how much young talent middle Tennessee has to offer.

Alright then, the training. This year, for myself and at least last year's apprentices, is a mix of review and wholly, completely different training. Er, let me explain. This year marks a return to Viewpoints work. The monologues work we've started on is also a similar but wonderful system of presentation, Q and A, and constructive feedback. However, the aspects of this year's training pertaining specifically to our Groovy Shrew is quite different from what we did to bring Rome to Nashville last year.

Needless to say, this year's Shakespeare in the Park may find a marked decrease in the amount of gratuitous blood and staff-on-club combat :). Amongst watching an Episode of Laugh-In that had us all in stitches(It's Sock it to Me Time!*punch*) and a trip back through Time magazines, we got in a fantastic stage combat lesson with David Wilkerson, with more of a focus on comedy than raw violence. Thursday, we were all treated to a groove-tastic dance lesson with the especially groovy Rowena Aldridge. Just another perk of Apprentice Company!

I mean, honestly, where else are you going to see pieces from HAMLET and KING LEAR one day, and immediately the next day learn everything from The Madison to the Monster Mash?

In summary, J.R. Knowles is alive and thoroughly enjoying every moment of the 2009 Apprentice Company. Stay groovy!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A student's thoughts on the first 3 days of training

photo by Brenda Sparks
From ApCo member David Corlew:

We are now three days into the first week of Apprentice Company training. Two ideas have dominated for me so far: a continual process of self reflection and the importance of a wholly connected ensemble.
The first idea, that we should always be probing deeply to learn more about ourselves and how that affects our interactions with the world, comes up in two daily activities.

We warmup each morning with a short yoga routine to center and quiet our focus, and wejournal once a day, writing without pause in a "stream of conscienceness" style to answer quesitons like, "Who am I?" "What are my causes in life?" or "What moves me to action?" There's an obvious benefit in forcing yourself to come to terms with who you are. But in thinking about these answers for ourselves, we are also practicing a mode of observance that every actor uses in trying to create characters. If we are honest, which we try to be by writing without reserve, our answers will make us feel both good and bad, revealing traits we like and traits we don't like, nobility and shallowness together; and this is a reminder of the complexity of all human beings and thus all characters. That's not to make the training sound isolating - really, it is anything but. The group is very open and feels very connected, both while working and during breaks (for VitaminWater10...added by mangement ha!).

Another daily activity is Viewpoints work, which is too complicated to try to explain in one online blog entry (or really any number of online blog entries). Suffice it to say that it gets us thinking about the physicality of our characters. It is a way to begin working on the outer manifestations of whoa character is - how they walk, what their posture is like, etc. - by actually doing it. It really breaks down barriers in the group and makes everyone comfortable. Instead of feeling self conscious, or wondering if what you're doing is right (or worse, convincing yourself you have some more thinking to do before you try doing something) you are forced to jump the gun and try something. Plus you benefit from watching what seventeen other people are trying. All that takes place in the morning.

The afternoons vary every day - Monday we worked on textual analysis (working through the poetry of Shakespeare's plays and identifying how that poetry can even direct us to clues about who our characters are), Tuesday we watched Laugh-In (our inspiration for the setting of our TAMING OF THE SHREW) and looked through magazines from the '60s for ideas about our characters, and Wednesday we did stage combat (!). Theory is a tempting weed to action. In math, I always like to understand every facet of every tool I am using to solve a problem before I start trying the problem. Fifteen minutes later, when I'm fifteen problems behind my classmates, I normally give in to just working each problem and find that I pick up (at least most of) the theory that way. In relationships, we sometimes obsess over the best way to approach bumps in the road, but the decision all that thinking pointed toward is so often thwarted or transformed (you pick the slant you like) when it is put in the hands of the friend we're trying to patch things up with. Thinking is most rewarding when coupled with action. It's often hard, in shows, for me to jump overthe hurdle of first trying what I've thought about my character. So far the coolest thing ApCo has done for me is force me to jump that hurdle immediately and really quite effortlessly. It's not that theory or thinking is bad, but it's strongerwhen coupled with action. When one actor has an idea, that idea won't reach its full potential unless the actor brings it into the real world, where it is vulnerable to be shaped by other actors and constantly evolve. It is this sort of organic possibility to which Viewpoints helps open up our group. It sounds pretty obvious now that it's spelled out plainly here, but it was a very striking revelation to me earlier about how important it is to have courage to shoves omething out there and availability to work with what's being shoved back."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gathering Up For Day 1