Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Richard III

Richard III

How much can we really know about our leaders?  How and why does a leader succeed to power against all odds and then destroy himself? Richard pulls the wool over everybody’s eyes – for a time. He fools his brother King Edward – so much so that after Edward’s death, he is appointed guardian of young Prince Edward, the successor to leadership. As our mercenary hero schemes his take-over, he facilitates the murder of Hastings, a loyalist to the young Prince. He then installs young Prince Edward and his younger brother York into the Tower of London.  The first and last time we see the young Prince onstage he says “I do not like the tower of any place.” And with good reason. Both boys present a threat to Richard’s plots and conveniently disappear into a vortex of fate. The ethics and morality of his culture do not apply to our central character.

Mindful of his need for funds, Richard woos the newly widowed, wealthy Lady Anne into his arms. Intriguingly, Richard is responsible for the death of Anne’s father-in-law Henry VI as well as Henry’s son, Prince Edward.  Yes, there are multiple Edwards in this play: King Edward IV (Richard’s brother), young Prince Edward (King Edward’s son and heir), and Prince Edward (Henry VI’s son).

Oh, let’s not forget Richard’s other adversaries, his brother Edward’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, and her entire family! In our trans-gendered production this includes her sister Rivers as well as her sons Dorset and Grey – all eager to hold onto their key to the magic kingdom. Here’s a plot spoiler: they are not successful in their quest and two of them die.       
Richard not only deceives his brothers and Anne, but his senior advisor Buckingham, Catesby (Hasting’s legal advisor), Norfolk and  Ratcliff  (key military advisors). Fair weather Stanley supports Richard until he perceives a power shift and joins the army of Richmond, who ultimately defeats Richard’s regime at the end of the play.

Historically, the man who defeated Richard III was a violent and ineffectual leader. In BSC’s production we jump out of the frying pan into the proverbial fire - the semi-automatics weapons wielded by Richmond’s soldiers mirror future tribulation. Richard is not a hunchbacked villain, but a charming and brilliant politician who deceives even those closest to him.
BSC’s production is inspired by post-modern images, colors and icons of power and privilege. In our study of the text, bold images of destruction and decay burble up – Richard reports himself as “scarce half made up.” Magic and bad dreams present themselves: nightmares, prophesies, curses, blood, legions of foul fiends and of course - ghosts. The past and present are intimately connected, practically simultaneous.  Check out of our prodcution web site for more photos of Richard III and a our with  one of the theatre’s most ruthless characters - a masterful word-sorcerer whose poison seemingly bubbles from “so sweet a place.” 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lighting Design - RENT

There is nothing in this world that is more humbling than being part of something larger than yourself. Something, that when all the small pieces are put together, they form a masterpiece. This is my understanding of theatre. The greatest moment of this understanding is when you finally settle in one of the seats and get to watch the 180 hours of work come together. To inhale deeply as the lights dim and the music fades up; there is not greater understanding.

My experience in the Birmingham Southern Theatre is unique because, unlike most of the students, I can always be found in black behind the stage or behind the drafting table. My passion lies in the technical side of theatre.  Starting at props design, growing to scenic design, and finally peaking at lighting design.  Being on crew in each of the fields and later heads of these crews, I finally found my ‘nitch’ as a designer.

The past Spring, 2012, I was honored to be the Lighting Designer for the theatre’s magnificent production of RENT by Jonathan Larson.  It was here that I found my true calling and my future career.

Designing the lights for any show is no easy task, even if you have taken a lighting course, understand the mechanics of lighting instruments, and have a creative eye. Designing lights is the columniation of all of your knowledge in lights, your creative eye, and your ability to take risks.

Specific to RENT, my experience was nothing short of life changing. I spent over 180 hours working on the show. After reading the script three times and understanding not only what is happening via text, but also what is unsaid, I began to formulate my design.  Using blank pieces of computer paper, I would sketch the stage and the actors’ positions. Then I would use a gel book (full of the colors to change the lighting color) and tape colors I felt would be of use to me. Some pages were full of 20 or so cuts of gel. As the rehearsals progressed I would change my design according to new discoveries for the actors and myself. During this time I would also be writing in my script the lighting cues, when they should come on and when they should fade out. While working on the creative design aspect for each scene (also known as specials) I was creating the base lighting that would be present in every scene. This lighting ensures that the actors and the set will have adequate coverage so they can be seen from the audience.  There are many methods to a base lighting system, however I decided to take one of the famous ones and create a reverse of it.  In my opinion, I think it worked well with the specials that I added in.   Finally after creating the base lighting and then all the specials for each scene, I would program them all together during the week leading up to the show. We would run through every rehearsal with the lights, sound, cues, signing, and dancing. By the opening of the production, we had a pretty darn show to perform.

This process took place over about a two month period, with late nights, early mornings, and the blood, sweat, and tears of the Lighting Crew and myself. We worked tirelessly on this show, and I feel that it was phenomenal.

Thank you all for reading and I hope that everyone will have the chance to be involved I a theatrical production, especially on the technical side!  I cannot wait to continue my love for lighting design during this final year at Birmingham Southern and carry on into my future.

Love & Lights,
Jacquelyn R. Cox

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Journey to South Africa: January 2012

Although I missed the energetic weeks of living in the theatre from dawn to dusk and the chill of opening the green room door to a dark January evening after a long day of sweaty rehearsals, I must admit I enjoyed myself thoroughly journeying through the country of South Africa. A lot. So much, I really want to obtain dual citizenship ASAP and go live and teach there. This may seem far-fetched, but who doesn’t love an extraordinary goal with seemingly insurmountable obstacles?

The name of the interim trip is titled After Apartheid: The New South Africa. After a week of discussing African literature- and even a play! (Master Harold and the boys)- we flew from the Birmingham airport to Detroit and from Detroit to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Cape Town. Cape Town looks NOTHING like one’s typical imaginings of South Africa with its breath-taking mountains and beaches. Of course I brought with me a journal to write about every detail of this amazing experience. It was upon arrival that I was reminded of (and journaled extensively about) the principle of assumption versus reality. I had assumed to find sand and zebras but there I was looking at a vast expanse of mountains and beautiful coastline. Welcome to South Africa!

Although I felt completely at home with the people there and soaked up every moment of the America-free culture, I couldn’t help feeling a huge void. I knew instantly what was missing—the constant presence of theatre friends. Seriously. There I was in Africa and I was truly missing the friendship of my fellow thespians. I journaled for pages and pages trying to put my finger on what that special quality of “theatre people” is that I was so desperately missing. Is it the natural empathy that develops because of our craft? Is it the constant encouragement and uplifting spirit that radiates from their speech? I can’t seem to put it into words, but there is a noticeable distinction about the kind of people theatre performers tend to be and it took me being half way around the world to truly miss that fellowship.

Luckily it was filled by the incredible spirits of the African people. You know how when you are having a marvelous day and you smile and greet everyone you encounter on the sidewalk? You also know how each time the victim of that smile looks at you suspiciously or only half-heartedly receives the friendly gesture, you find your enthusiasm dropping in distinct blows? Not in South Africa. The opposite reaction occurred. Everyone, and I literally mean everyone, that I encountered with a smile or nod whole-heartedly accepted the gesture, engaged in the compassionate exchange, and continued uplifted by the human interaction. I was amazed. This distinct spirit is called Ubuntu, a Zulu word that is not translatable in the English language—probably because it doesn’t really exist in America’s individualistic culture. Ubuntu roughly means: My humanity is bound up in your humanity. If you succeed, I succeed. If you fail, I fail. We are all connected and must treat each other accordingly. I am not envious of your success because it is my success. Wow. How seldom do we see this in theatre, where people are competing for leading roles and once they get the role, look for the strongest tactics to manipulate others to achieve a selfish goal. Haha. I know, it is quite a pessimistc view of theatre, but you can’t deny its truth! I have actually struggled with this concept of “selfish theatre” since last year and just recently realized that theatre can be used for activism , social change, and therapy. I’m hoping to study abroad in Cape Town and learn more about the use of theatre for the advancement of ubuntu.

An odd thing occurred while I was there- I kept feeling so drawn to the poor townships. Instead of merely feeling sympathy for the people in the towns, I yearned to be there with them in the village, teaching, interacting, and pouring into the people there. It defied logic. Who wants to willingly live in a shack with an outhouse down the road? I was even frustrated that we went to so many tourist destinations. I just wanted to be in those villages and live like they lived. Though they have little, they are so joyful and content. They know what it means to truly live. Without facebook. Without iphones. All they have is each other—and that’s all they really need. I want to know that life, a pure and simple existence.
I discovered my burning desire for the poor, and I’m hoping to combine that desire with theatre, to hopefully leave this world a little better than it was when I got here.
Thanks Africa.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Interview with Dramaturg, Anna Rose MacArthur

Name: Anna Rose MacArthur
Major: Theatre Arts and English
Year in School: Senior

What are your responsibilities in the company?

I am Dramaturg; I help build the set; and I am also in the cast. And my responsibilities for that are…for dramaturgy I do the historical, contextual research for the show and present it to the company.  And, then of course, for the set, I help build the set and for the casting I act. 

What is your typical day like?

In the morning, I either help with the set or I’m doing historical research and composing that information into ready sources, such as a PowerPoint or a blog for the company. [Anna Rose's blog: http://thegooddoctoradramaturgy.blogspot.com ]  In the afternoon, I am in rehearsal. 

What is the most interesting fact that you have learned from your research?

Ummm.  This probably isn’t the most interesting….but, I am a writer and something that Chekov wrote that has stuck with me is that writing should be as objective as possible because that in itself is significant.  Just the day’s gestures of sitting down and eating dinner. He has this quotation how people sit down and eat dinner and all the while their lives are being created and being broken up, that those commonplace actions hold absurdity and significance.

What has been the best part about it?

I guess the best part about it has been being able to come in and do what I love everyday, which is theatre.  Even though that means waking up earlier than I would like and that means a lot of stress and a lot of time and a lot of energy, there’s really nothing else I want to do. 

What has been the most challenging?

The most challenging part has been, um,… it’s the daily energy requirement.  It requires a lot of energy every day, and the dramaturgy I had to start on during the break.  So taking my time during the break and devoting it to this project and not having a clean break from school; I had to carry the work with me.  And, being a senior, that’s expected.  Also, doing the historical research and figuring out dramaturgy, which I hadn’t done before…it’s a lot of isolated time researching. 

What makes this department unique?

Well, BSC is a liberal arts school and that permeates into the theatre arts major.  You don’t specialize in any field of theatre-- acting or set or costumes or lighting or what not.  You do it all, and that is very much seen in interim where you’re on a crew. And then, if another crew needs help, let’s say, you’re on costumes crew but set crew needs help, and costumes is having a light load for the day, you’ll switch over to the set crew.  If you’re acting, you’re also on a technical crew.  You really learn the whole process of theatre and what those roles require and also how to communicate with and appreciate the people in those roles.

How do you think what you have learned will help you in the future? 

Well, I ultimately want to teach, direct and write for theatre.  So, anything I do in theatre adds to my knowledge of theatre, which will help those career goals and inform those career goals.   

Anna Rose sneakily peers over her computer 

Anna happily working in the theatre lobby

Friday, January 13, 2012

Interview with Landi Drake

Name: Landi Drake
Major: Theatre Arts
Year in School: Senior

What are your responsibilities in the cast?

I am on props crew and in two short scenes.  I am in the surgery scene with Jasha Vaughn, and I play the doctor.  I am also in the Seduction scene with Nolan Martin, and I play the wife.

What is your typical day like?

In the mornings I tend to my prop crew duties.  Mainly in the last week we have done a lot of shopping off campus for various props and we have been making some props by hand.  So, I do that until about 12:30pm and then we have an hour break for lunch.  At 1:30pm, usually I am in rehearsals.  Umm, and then if my scene isn’t being rehearsed that day, I go back to my props crew duties. 

What has been the best part about it?

The best part about it has been…probably working with everyone in the department and working through rehearsals.  I love this department and I love all the people.  Whenever everyone has such a good work ethic rehearsals are just really exciting, and a time to play…so it’s fun.

What has been the most challenging part about it?

Um, probably the most challenging has been working through the show in a quick amount of time.  We basically blocked the entire show in four days.  Getting off book that quickly and getting use to putting on a show in three weeks is the challenging part about the process.

What makes this department unique?

I think what makes this department unique is the individual work ethics because when everyone comes together, things get done really well.  Everyone works well together, and we are kind of like a little family here.  It’s a great environment to come to everyday.  It makes it fun. 

How has what you have learned going to help you in the future?

We work at the same pace that a lot of professional companies do….I think that will help me in the future.  And, just the level of professionalism that everybody has, that will really pay off.  

Landi Drake Wallace 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Interview with Lighting Designer, Shea Glenn

Name:  Shea Glenn
Major: Musical Theatre
Year in School: Senior

What are your responsibilities in this production?

I have to design the lights…..obviously [laughs].  Really that’s pretty much all I do.  I think of the lighting ideas and Nolan Martin, the Light Crew Head, and I sit down and talk about it.  We have to figure out the best way to make it work.  As lighting designer, I’m also responsible for the paper work.

What does your paper work entail?

The light plot [which is essentially the blueprints for the lighting design].  I make it using a computer program we have here at Birmingham-Southern.  Once done, you have to make sure that you have a circuit for each light and that each circuit is plugged into a dimmer so that they will actually work.  To keep things straight, we have to have a list of all the dimmers and which circuit goes in each; this is called a dimmer patch.  Then I have to make all the light cues for the show.  To do this, I sit in rehearsal and note when a light comes up and where.  This takes a lot of time.

What is your typical day like?

When Nolan goes to rehearsal in the afternoons, I act as Light Crew Head.  So essentially, I tell people what to do.  But, seriously, my light crew is awesome and they’re very quick learners so I can pretty much tell them what to do and it gets done. 

What is the best part about being the Light Designer?

The best part about being the light designer is that you see your design in your head, and then you see them on stage, coming to life.  That’s the coolest thing. 

What is the most challenging aspect?

When things don’t work and you don’t know why.
 [As we speak, Shea Glenn is beckoned by Technical Director, Matt Mielke, to turn on the lights in Theatre One and then returns to continue the interview.]
Another challenging aspect is having to share the space.  During the semester, the set crew works during the day and the light crew comes in at night.  However, during the Explorations term, both crews are trying to get things done at the same time.  Can’t turn off their lights because they need them!

What makes Birmingham-Southern’s theatre department unique?

The creative license that is given to the student designers is a cool part.  I’ve been mentored, but no one is standing over me telling be to do this or do that.  Also, this month-long process is good at teaching you what is like to work an 8 hour day in the professional theatre world.  I came here as a performance major and chose to do my senior project on light design.  Before I came here, I had never touched a light.  I’m a transfer student and at other schools, it is either you do tech or perform.  Since coming to Birmingham-Southern three years ago, I have worked in every tech position, as well as performed.  This is an aspect that is very unique to this theatre department. 

What are a few things you have learned here that will help you in the future?

I’ve learned how to work with different people and all personality types.  I know what is like to be the low person on the totem pole, as well as the leader of the pack.  Most importantly, I know so much more about theatre and the professional conduct it expects.  

Shea Glenn with her favorite light, an Inky.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Month of January

It’s January, which means it is Explorations term at Birmingham-Southern College.  During this period, students take a class on things like knitting, yoga or the 1960's; travel abroad; take part in a service-learning project; participate in an off-campus internship; or contract their own classes.  However, in this time of typical leisure, the theatre only has one thing on its mind: to produce a show in three weeks.

In order to understand what this means, you first must know that the average time allotted to get a show on its feet is about 11 weeks, and we do it by dedicating every day of January to getting this show on the road.   

When I say every day in the month of January, I mean it.  You will find everyone in the theatre every week day from 9:30am-5:30pm and every Saturday from 1:30pm-5:30pm working hard to get everything done.  It is an intense month-long process filled with set building, costume construction, props gathering, line memorizing and daily rehearsals.  During the morning period, everyone works on their assigned crew position and every afternoon those who are in the show rehearse.  Without the hard work and discipline of everyone in the company, the show would be impossible. 

“Given the long hours of work, is this experience even worth it?” you might ask, but even as I write this, sitting in the greenroom drinking my fourth cup of coffee, I say yes.  Must you give up the opportunity to take it easy for the month of January?  Yes.  However, you gain the opportunity to really push yourself and develop discipline.  I’m not going to lie, the month long process is challenging and difficult, but the payoff is grand.  Whether you are a designer, actor, or crew member, it is exciting to see your hard work come to fruition during the four performances at the end of the month.  By the sheer fact that you gave up so much of your time makes it more special.  It is same feeling you get when you save up all your money to buy that one thing you want more than anything.  When you finally get it, there is no way you will ever take it for granted.

 Another aspect that makes the interim worth your time is the relationships you build with the company.  Being a part of the company is like going on a long road trip.  You are with these people all day, every day.  It is as if we are all in one giant bus travelling together to reach a faraway place.  They become some of your closest friends and confidants.  This experience forces everyone to work together to get to our final destination and reach our many goals.  This takes trust and patience.  Through solving problems and completing tasks, this experience teaches us the skills to work with each other, a skill relatable to many areas of life.  

Assistant Director, Hillary Brown, and Stage Manager, Robbie Hindsman
Set crew working hard to complete the set
Light Designer, Shea Glenn, tending to her light plot 
Actor and Set Builder, Kelsey Shipley, caught on her way down to the scene shop!