Putting a Face on Theatre
Having surmounted assorted technical troubles (like not having any electricity available on site), I enter into our travel week re-equipped, reconfigured and resilient. The 10th century castle we will be performing at in Prague is apparently not going to have electricity available for me at all, so I've ditched the Korg workstation and laptop in favor of battery-operated and fairly simple gear.
Most of the actors and tech crew from America and elsewhere have made it to Prague and have been busy getting oriented and starting prep work on our stage. I fly over on Monday May 16th to join the last few rehearsals prior to opening with As You Like It on Thursday the 19th.
At left, you can see our setting amid the fortress walls of Vysehrad, built on a hill overlooking Prague and the Vitava River. Being a 1,000 year old national historic site, modern utilities are somewhat under-represented. One of our Texas sponsors endeared himself to all by paying for a port-a-potty to be stationed backstage for the actors. THAT, my friends, is a true theatrical supporter who will be thought of regularly. I'm not going to be the first to suggest the words "To pee or not to pee, that is the question" but you know it's coming.
At right is a photo of a night performance from last year's Romeo & Juliet. The sensation of doing Shakespeare in an actual castle is amazing - magic, if I may - and makes the lack of utilities something worth working around. In my case, that means devising a battery-powered keyboard and SFX rig that is small enough to squeeze into my luggage and which will cover this space. And fit in my budget. And fit in the luggage requirements for British Airways. There are probably some more ands in there that I've forgotten, but you get the idea.
As mentioned previously, our As You Like It is scored with acoustic instruments and the cast can actually sing well enough to make themselves heard even without amplification. I may have to tweak some arrangements for clarity, but I am confident we'll be able to make the singing heard in the last rows. It's King Lear and the dark, synthesizer-driven score which is the fly in the proverbial ointment. Reproducing the score I've written while staying within the boundaries of all those ands is going to be tough. Check in with me next Monday after we've gotten through the first week's rehearsals and performances for photos and descriptions.
Fight Director Brian Byrnes
I will be continuing to feature the various designers and directors in this spot. Today, I'd like to introduce you to the estimable work of Brian Byrnes. The plot of King Lear turns on a number of violent actions. To keep those actions believable is one of Brian's jobs as fight director. Keeping actors safe while making those actions believable is also one of Brian's jobs. A member of the faculty at University of Houston where he is an associate professor in the School of Theatre and Dance and also a member of the Society of American Fight Directors, Brian has worked for a large number of theatrical productions in Houston, including the Houston Shakespeare Festival.
During rehearsal, we were sometimes forced to fit large quantities of edged weapons, actors and testosterone into small dance rehearsal rooms. At right, actors Jeff Smith and director Guy Roberts work through the blocking of a fight scene under Brian's watchful eye.
Keeping safety in mind was imperative, especially given the large number of people present at rehearsals and the sometimes small rehearsal facilities. Add in some caffeine, adrenaline, lack of sleep and some floor to ceiling mirrors and you've got a recipe for mayhem. Brian had his hands full and I'm pleased to say our body count was relatively low during rehearsals. Anyway, that's what you have understudies for, right?
I'll be writing next week from Prague, when we'll have gotten in our first performances. Do consider a trip to this loveliest of cities to come bear witness to what promises to be an epic production. Or look over my shoulder via next Monday's blog.