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Posts Tagged Macbeth

Joel Sass, the Adapter of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

LONGEST HAMLET: Hamlet is William Shakespeare’s longest play, with over 4000 lines, 20 scenes and 33 characters. Normally, it would take over four hours to perform.

FASTEST HAMLET: In 2008, a 15-minute version was performed by Austin Shakespeare in Texas. That production was called The World’s Fastest Hamlet; and after the show, the four-member cast then did a two-minute Hamlet, followed by a ten-second Hamlet.

PARK SQUARE’S HAMLET: This season, Park Square Theatre unveils a world premiere adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Joel Sass, who is also its director and set designer. With a performance time of two hours 20 minutes, including intermission, and a cast of nine playing multiple roles, it will be performed for general public and student audiences.

Joel Sass has done several adaptations for the stage throughout his career, including William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Pericles for the California Shakespeare Theatre as well as Pericles for the Guthrie. In 2011, he’d adapted Neil Bartlett’s stage version of Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist for Park Square Theatre, following up in 2016 with his adaptation of Dicken’s Great Expectations on our Proscenium Stage. Then he successfully pitched the idea to adapt a shorter version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for Park Square.

“I’ve gotten into the reflexive habit of exploring how to do big stories imaginatively and economically,” Joel said. “Hamlet at 4+ hours may be a great experience, but there are a lot of other ways to approach it by being more selective and creative on the story elements. I also wondered how I could manifest the world of Hamlet with less cast.”

The germ of Joel’s idea actually resulted from his conversation with former Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling who’d wanted to do Pericles but could only afford to hire nine actors. Having successfully explored that possibility for the Guthrie inspired Joel to consider a similar approach for Hamlet.

Joel Sass (second from right) in rehearsal with Hamlet cast members
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

“The process of adapting an existing Shakespeare play isn’t as complex as adapting a novel into a play. I already have the dialogue, and now I must decide what comes out and what to change,” Joel explained. “Hamlet is already a play that usually gets some cutting done. The play doesn’t have a definitive version either; there are three or four official versions with variations in plot, language and order of events. I feel that gives me implicit permission to continue to experiment. I needed to decide thematically and plot-wise what I wanted to do to retell the story.”

“I made some obvious cuts. For instance, I chose to lose the geopolitical element between Denmark and Norway, which is not necessary to the heart of the story. And I contemplated this one seriously but decided to take out Hamlet’s childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I looked at how the plot flows and felt that the qualities of their relationship with Hamlet could be reiterated in exchanges with other characters. Take the richness implied in their friendship with Hamlet; that could be applied to Horatio.”

Knowing that the play would also be performed for student matinees where the audience may be studying Shakespeare’s longer version, I wondered if Joel had taken that into consideration for his adaptation.

“The value of students seeing theatre is not predicated on exact replication. Theatre is more organic of an experience and art tool than that. Using the tool of theatre is all about how stories are adapted or readapted. What meaning can you get from reinterpreted versions?” Joel pointed out. “The students will know the play enough to know what’s missing. The adaptation will make them more attentive to the material.”

Joel Sass with Kory LaQuess Pullam, who plays Hamlet
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

With a smaller cast playing fewer characters and mixed-gender casting, Joel’s version of Hamlet will also bring an additional dimension for not just student groups, but all audiences, to ponder. What does it mean, for instance, to have the traditionally male Polonius character now be the female Polonia? According to Joel, audiences will get to explore anew characters that they may have thought they knew well.

“I’ve created a very intimate, more contemporary thriller in this adaptation,” said Joel. “I’ve emphasized the psychology of the characters and intensity of their circumstances, which can be more diffused or drawn out in a longer version. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a compelling, universal story that can withstand numerous ways of distilling events and language. We should want to see different versions of Hamlet.”

Introducing Theatre Ambassador Mairi Johnson

 

When Mairi Johnson found out about Park Square Theatre’s Ambassadors Program, she leapt at the chance to learn more by showing up at an Ambassadors Bring-A-Friend Day despite not knowing any Ambassadors. She subsequently became an Ambassador during her junior year in Mounds View High School and will continue in her senior year as an Ambassador2.

“I’ve been doing theatre for as long as I can remember,” Mairi told me. “I love theatre and everything about it.”

Applicants to Park Square’s Theatre Ambassadors Program do enter with great enthusiasm for theatre but are not expected to know everything about it. They’ve actually come to learn more and gain a broader perspective about theatre from professional theatre artists, by delving deeply into plays and through peer discussions.

“It was such an amazing experience of community,” Mairi said about her first year in the Ambassadors Program. “Everyone was incredibly supportive. I got to work with awesome performers and artists. I learned what they had to say and brought them into my school. This was a new experience of being able to interact with so many people I wouldn’t otherwise have interacted with, from professionals to peers. It was cool to hear different perspectives.”

Mairi has noticed that she now sees shows with a “theatre eye.” She thinks more about a play’s internal workings. She pays attention to how each song is sung. She searches for symbolism on stage and wonders about the choices made in a production. This new awareness has resulted in more nuanced conversations about productions with family and friends as well as a broadened taste in genres.

“Watching The Liar with my mom at Park Square last season, I found added layers of meaning in the use of the two-dimensional set and flat props. When I brought my friends to see Macbeth on the Boss stage, we talked about all aspects of the play in the car on our way home, like the unique take on the witches. Seeing The Realistic Joneses changed my perspective on what I’d like to see from just musicals to everything on earth. Now, I can’t wait to see Dot on the Proscenium this season.”

As an Ambassador2, Mairi spent this summer contributing to Park Square by helping with the program and assisting various departments. In doing so, Ambassador2s get insight into what it takes to keep a theatre running through their wider exposure to the organization, which includes meaningful interactions with staff who talk to them about what they do and how they got there. They also read and discussed some scripts of upcoming plays at Park Square Theatre.

“Mary Finnerty (Park Square’s Education Director) brought back some of our feedback so we were able to impact the shows,” said Mairi. “We even got to sit in on the first production meeting for Henry and Alice: Into the Wild. It was cool to see how everyone bounced ideas off of each other.”

When they apply for the program, candidates are asked “What does theatre mean to you now?” so I wondered how Mairi’s answer may have changed, having completed a full year of the ambassadorship. Here’s what she had to say:

“I knew theatre was about community, but my view of that keeps expanding. I’m able to interact and understand others in theatre better; I’m able to put myself in someone else’s shoes. For instance, at first I was focused on being frustrated by the lack of a robust theatre program at my school, but now I see how theatre has built a community in my school. I had to reflect on how everyone is having fun together and is like a support group. At Park Square, meeting all the Ambassadors and hanging out with them–like our trips to Candyland–is not something I’ll forget. They’re like my production family. I’m excited to reconnect with some of the same members as an Ambassador2 but also to meet new Ambassadors coming into this program that’s changed me.”

Not all Ambassadors ultimately pursue a career in theatre, but Mairi’s experience in the program did deepen her commitment to the field, and she will start auditioning for BFA programs at colleges this winter. She retained her resolve to become an actor but now with fuller knowledge about other possible options.

When asked what’s been most memorable about being in the Ambassadors Program so far, Mairi specifically cited her meeting with singer/actor Ann Michels to garner advice and insights during Career Day for the Ambassadors, when each get one-on-one sessions with three professionals.

Then Mairi added, “But there’s been so many OMG moments!”

Her final verdict for Most Memorable in the Park Square Theatre Ambassadors Program: “The entire thing!”

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ADDITIONAL FUN FACT: Mairi is Princess Birdie at the Minnesota Renaissance Faire, newly promoted from being a handmaiden in past years. As such, she’s a lead storyteller in the Princess Court. Drop by to listen to a story and say ,”Hi!”

NOTE: Read about the Theatre Ambassadors Program itself and another Ambassador’s experience in the past posts, “THE THEATRE AMBASSADORS PROGRAM: An Arts Leadership Program” and “Introducing Theatre Ambassador Greta Hallberg.”

The Shattered Mirror

Joseph Stanley, the set designer for Park Square Theatre’s production of Macbeth, first became involved in theatre, both onstage and behind the scenes, during junior high. He decided to give it a try because his older sister had so much fun performing in high school plays. Then well-timed mentors kept popping up to broaden and guide his interest, from an enthusiastic fresh-out-of-college ninth grade English & Theatre teacher who would even let him into the shop rooms to “build stuff” on snow days to a high school teacher who let him design to his heart’s content.

By college, Joseph knew that he wanted to pursue set designing. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington where, despite being an undergraduate, his professor allowed him to take graduate-level courses. He also worked in summer stock theatre, steadily making connections for more designing opportunities. Joseph, who grew up in Iowa, ultimately landed in the Twin Cities to get his MFA at the University of Minnesota.

Joseph has worked in the Twin Cities since 1993, designing for 12 to 15 shows per year. About half his projects are for theatres with their own construction crew. For clients without their own staff, he both designs and provides set construction at his own studio. Since his first professional set design in 1984, he has been the designer for at least 250 shows.

Joseph had first worked with Macbeth‘s director, Jef Hall-Flavin, in last season’s Sons of the Prophet at Park Square Theatre, and Jef wished to work with Joseph again in Macbeth. Jef brought to Joseph the concept of using a shattered mirror as the central metaphor in the set design, and Joseph ran with it.

Macbeth set construction on the Boss Thrust stage

Macbeth set construction on the Boss Thrust stage

“Jef spoke about the timeliness of Macbeth,” Joseph said, “and how holding a mirror in front of ourselves would reflect ourselves back, especially given current events.”

Joseph, a self-professed pragmatist, also saw the practicality of using mirrors to give the illusion of having more people on stage.

Macbeth has just a cast of nine people,” he pointed out. “But there are a number of times when an army must be on stage. The mirrors make it seem like more than nine.”

The mirror, too, lends itself to practical use to highlight the mystical, other-worldly moments in the play. For instance, the mirrors at center stage act like two-way mirrors for a nifty visual effect when apparitions appear.

And, of course, the shattered mirror reflects the shattered story itself as, in Joseph’s words, “Macbeth becomes a shattered man who breaks down throughout the play.”

Macbeth set design realized on stage

Macbeth set completed on stage

I asked him, too, if he and Jef were not purposely tempting Fate, given that Macbeth already has the reputation of a cursed play (see my previous blog on theatre superstitions, “‘Macbeth’ and Other Unmentionables”). After all, breaking a mirror guarantees seven years of bad luck.

Turns out that Joseph is not particularly superstitious but thinks that “one of the neat things as a scenic designer is that people see things in my designs that I don’t consciously think about.”

You will see another Joseph Stanley set design this spring on Amy’s View, which runs from May 12 to June 4, on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage. Meanwhile, don’t miss seeing Joseph’s stunning set on the Boss Thrust Stage for our World Premiere Commission of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, adapted and directed by Jef Flavin-Hall, ending on April 9.

Designing Costumes for the Brutal Period

Macbeth costume

For Sarah Bahr, the costume designer for Park Square Theatre’s production of Macbeth, determining the time period of the play with Director Jef Hall-Flavin was key to nailing down her costume concepts.

“Jef and I discussed creating our own ‘Brutal Period,’ which takes from ancient and modern,” Sarah said.

Lady Macbeth costume design“From the start, I wasn’t interested in an historic representation of ancient Scotland,” Jef explained. “While that’s a fine idea for a film, I find it can remove the audience from the here and now. I want the audience to feel connected to the characters. Historically accurate costumes are also not practical when actors plays multiple roles. My goal was to create an onstage world where swords and daggers don’t feel out of place, but yet we may recognize fabric and garments from our own time.”

Sarah added, “I melded research from couture fashion designers and medieval clothing. Through my research process, I found similarities in the use of leather and heavy woven cloth, draping fabrics and asymmetrical lines.”

Jef further challenged Sarah to create a religious symbol for the prophesying three witches or sisters. It would be the same symbol that Macbeth would wear as well.

“Countless productions have portrayed the witches as supernatural figures,” Jef said, “but I wanted them to be more like nuns. So the challenge I gave to Sarah was to create garments for a religion that doesn’t exist. What she’s been able to cleverly create is an ecclesiastical look for the sisters–complete with symbology and meaning as if it were a major world religion–without being recognizable as historically Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Ours is a religion without a name.”

Macduff costumes                    Sarah had researched geometric symbols of Alchemy and modern jewelry design to come up with the symbol for the witches and Macbeth, a circle with a triangle inside and a rectangular + shape at the bottom. Then she extended the concept of using geometric symbols to identify characters as Thanes but also differentiate each as coming from a different place, somewhat similar to the idea of family crests. This latter choice also helped to further accentuate the importance of symbols for Macbeth, King Duncan and the sisters.

Because this production has nine actors portraying 24 characters within just 90 minutes, Sarah additionally came up with the idea of color coding characters to wear their related group’s color. For instance, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wear red tones, while Macduff’s family members are garbed in greens. This not only helps the actors with speedier costume changes but, more importantly, helps the audience track plot lines plus understand who is who and their relationship to each other.

“It’s a great solution to providing the kind of clarity I wanted,” Jef said, “especially since many of our audience members will have never seen the play before.”

Regardless of whether you’ve seen Macbeth performed on stage before, you have decidedly not seen it ever depicted within the Brutal Period, a time reminiscent of both then and now. This tragic Shakespeare play remains pertinent to this day. Don’t miss it on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage March 17 to April 9.

More Macbeth costumes

 

(Note: If you’d missed it, be sure to go back to read the prior post, “SARAH BAHR: Costume Designer for Macbeth.”)

* All costume sketches on this post are by Sarah Bahr; all photos were taken by Connie Shaver.


Ting Ting Cheng joined Park Square Theatre’s Front of House staff in 2014.  Born in Hong Kong and raised in Los Angeles, she became a Minnesotan after graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in English Literature.  She loves live theatre and has a passion for writing.

SARAH BAHR: Costume Designer for “Macbeth”

(Photo by Christa Haeg)

(Photo by Christa Haeg)

The other day, students from a small town southwest of St. Paul, surrounded by some of Minnesota’s most productive farmland, streamed into Park Square Theatre for their first live professional theatre experience. They’d travelled 130 miles in over two hours one way, dressed up for the special occasion and were absolutely thrilled to be here.

Upon discovering, in the post-show discussion, that the town has no formal theatre opportunities beyond community summer stock, cast members encouraged them to create their own projects and, just as importantly, try on as many roles as possible, both in front of and behind the stage.

It was against this backdrop that I received answers from Sarah Bahr, the costume designer for Park Square’s production of Macbeth from March 17 to April 9, regarding her background in design. At this moment, we introduce Sarah herself, perchance to inspire explorers into someday realizing their own dreams.

Sarah Bahr prepares Vanessa Wasche (Lady Macbeth) and Michael Ooms (Macbeth) for a photoshoot (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Sarah Bahr prepares Vanessa Wasche (Lady Macbeth) and Michael Ooms (Macbeth) for a photoshoot
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

The following is an excerpt from our interview:

Sarah, how did you come to become a costume designer? What was your journey to hone in on that as your passion?

I grew up in rural Minnesota, which started my journey as an artist. My mother taught me to sew, my father taught me to work with my hands and my grandmothers taught me to paint. I was always creating and using my imagination, though I didn’t fully understand I could choose a career in the arts until I was in high school. 

I attended the University of Minnesota Duluth to study costume design. I was drawn to the field because of my love for fabric, sewing, sculpting, defining characters through clothes and the collaborative nature of theater. 

After graduation, I worked as a stitcher for the Minnesota Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Guthrie Theater but soon realized I needed a big change. I moved to New York City to pursue a career in building costumes. After working at one of the many Broadway costume houses, I noticed how removed I was from the collaborative theater-making process and how I liked theater creation more than just making costumes.

My next opportunity came from NYU’s TISCH Graduate Costume Shop, where I worked for the next five years, working with the graduate costume students, building costumes, supervising wardrobe, coordinating craft projects and executing wigs and specialized makeup. On the side, I pursued a MA in Studio Art from NYU and studied fiber arts and sculpture in Venice, Italy, during my summers off.

True to form, I was ready for another change, and Minnesota called me back home. After assisting many seasoned designers at the Minnesota Opera and the Guthrie Theater, I knew my next step would be to hone my skills as a designer and pursue a freelance career. I studied under Mathew Lefebvre at the University of Minnesota and received my MFA in Design and Technical Theater.

The paths my life has taken me prepared me to work as a creative, a maker and a problem solver. I am grateful for the variety of opportunities I’ve had to get me to this point of my career.

What is your favorite part in the costume design process and why?

I love researching. I look for images as inspiration during all steps of my design and production process. I love how unexpected images I find on Pinterest, in books or my daily life can influence a world I am creating on stage. Research images are my favorite tool to use when discussing a project with my director, design team and actors; they help define what is in my head before I start sketching my designs. 

Is there something that you are working on after Macbeth?

I am designing set and costumes for a new comedy, Lone Star Spirits, at the Jungle Theater. I am also designing costumes for One Man Two Guvnors at Yellow Tree Theater as well as the world premiere of The Boy and Robin Hood at Trademark Theater.

As you shall see on stage, Sarah’s costumes for Macbeth will be stunningly thought-provoking to match all other aspects of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. You can also read more about Sarah Bahr’s work in an upcoming post, “Designing Costumes for the Brutal Period.”

Sarah Bahr with some of her costume designs for Macbeth (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Sarah Bahr with some of her costume designs for Macbeth
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

Vanessa Wasche: “I’ve Always Wanted To Be Everything!”

Vanessa Wasche as Lady Macbeth (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Vanessa Wasche as Lady Macbeth
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Who better to play Lady Macbeth than a woman who loves acting because “I’ve always wanted to be everything”? Indeed, what Vanessa Wasche admires most about Lady Macbeth is her ambition. She gets to play a powerful woman who doesn’t shy away from what she truly wants.

However, Lady Macbeth doesn’t hesitate to cross the line of murder to attain her heart’s desire. The challenge for Vanessa, then, is “to keep her as a real human being.” Vanessa does not plan to merely portray her as a purely evil, power hungry character to hate.

“I see her as being innately good,” Vanessa said. “She is like every human who wants things out of life and does what she can to go after it.”

wasche-vanessa-color

How does one prepare for such an infamous role? What will it take to access and sustain such strong emotions on stage, performance after performance?

According to Vanessa, “Getting as much sleep as possible.”

So, who better to play Lady Macbeth than someone who is no-nonsense and practical to get the job done?

 

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Michael Ooms on Playing Macbeth

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At the beginning of Park Square Theatre’s season, Michael Ooms graced our Proscenium Stage in a comedic role in The Liar. Now he takes on a much more somber turn as the title character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth on our intimate Andy Boss Thrust Stage. The play runs from March 17 to April 9, often performed both day and night to accommodate general audiences as well as school groups, setting a grueling schedule for all involved. Michael aptly deems it an “endurance test.”

But challenge is exactly what actors relish, and Michael will certainly have his hands full of that as he grapples with his character’s complexities. How will he bring out Macbeth’s humanity, even as he portrays a power-hungry murderer? How will he prevent the audience from automatically hating him? How will he build empathy for his character?

“He’s more everyman than he’s perceived,” Michael says of Macbeth. “He did one terrible thing. Then he just had to keep going in order to survive.”

We call that “digging yourself in deeper”–making human choices that force a chain reaction of further hard choices. In Macbeth’s case, the choices just happen to escalate in a horrific direction.

What’s fun about playing Macbeth for Michael, though, is the opportunity to go through several personality changes as his character morphs from being an amicable, likable individual to a fearful, raging one as he becomes unhinged by his deeds. This role requires an actor to display a wide range of emotions.

Michael is certainly ready to test his mettle. He has ample experience in lead and supporting classical roles, including stints with the Classical Actors Ensemble, a Twin Cities repertoire company with a focus on keeping the rich plays of the English Renaissance relevant and alive. Not only has he played Macduff in a CAE staging of Macbeth, but he has also already played Macbeth himself in 2011 with Nightpath Theatre. So Michael will come to Park Square’s production “hitting the ground running,” not only in terms of memorizing his lines but also having insights to perhaps make different acting choices than before. In collaboration with Director Jef Hall-Flavin and the cast, Michael is excited to “see what he can bring to the table to ultimately work together to form a unified vision.”

Performing Macbeth for students is also something that Michael relishes because “unlike adults, they tend to come without preconceptions so their reactions are great barometers as to whether what you’re doing work.”

“The post-show discussions are especially eye-opening,” Michael continued. “They will interpret things in their own way, depending on where they are in life, and perhaps shine a light on a different perspective. I learn a lot from the kids, such as how well we’re telling the story. They are great mirrors reflecting back to us what we’re doing.”

Despite the rigor of his role, Michael knows that playing Macbeth is going to be a blast. He is unfazed by what is known as the “Macbeth curse,” which we shall discuss in a future blog post.

Michael Ooms with Vanessa Wasche in a rehearsal for Macbeth (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Michael Ooms with Vanessa Wasche (Lady Macbeth) in a rehearsal for Macbeth
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

An Evening of Theatre During the Day

Education Program - Bus

With the school year now in full swing, student audiences will steadily begin arriving at Park Square Theatre to enjoy An Evening of Theatre During the Day and/or Immersion Day workshops with local teaching theatre artists.

An Evening of Theatre During the Day, which is what we call our student matinees, provides our young audience members with all the same amenities we offer for an evening performance–the same version of the play, concessions available at intermission, and the same playbill we give to an evening audience as well as ticketed seating with usher assistance.

Education Program - Audience

When asked how she’d conceived the idea of An Evening of Theatre During the Day, Education Director Mary Finnerty replied:

I came up with Evening of Theatre During the Day in 1995 when I was asked if we could not seat students in reserved seats to save time which was how many theatres were dealing with Student Audiences.

Since this is usually the first theater-going experience for 90 percent of the students, it is our chance to give them an unforgettable experience that may nurture a future love for theatre.  I think it is extremely vital that we give students this age a truly remarkable theatre experience and part of that was treating them to uncut versions of exceptional productions and customer service that made them feel welcome. If we do not give them an Evening of Theatre during the Day we are cheating them.

Every year, middle and high school groups of all sizes, including home school groups, come to participate in Park Square Theatre’s award-winning education program, which serves up to 32,000 students per year. Its service to one of the nation’s largest teen theatre audiences impacts many communities throughout Minnesota and into its neighboring states.

The general public may also purchase tickets for student matinees as long as seats are available. It can be a truly rich and invigorating experience to watch a play surrounded by these enthusiastic young audience members.

To arrange a matinee performance or Immersion Day workshop for students OR to watch a show with student groups, make arrangements with Quinn Shadko at 651.291.9196 or education@parksquaretheatre.org.

Student Matinee Show Times:

The House on Mango Street – October 11 to November 4
A Raisin in the Sun – November 1 to December 22
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – December 5 to December 22
Flower Drum Song – January 31, February 1, 7, 8, 14, and 15
Nina Simone: Four Women – February 14, 15, 21, and 22
The Diary of Anne Frank – February 28 to April 28
Macbeth – March 28 to May 5

Regular Show Times Evening Performances:

The House on Mango Street – October 21 and 22
A Raisin in the Sun – October 28 to November 20
Flower Drum Song – January 20 to February 19
Nina Simone: Four Women – February 7 to 26
Macbeth – March 17 to April 9

 

Note: Find out the history of Park Square Theatre’s Education Program by reading “The House That Mary Built” (our August 10, 2016, blog post) and look out for upcoming blogs on Education staff, volunteers and services throughout our programming season.

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