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The NYSX Blog

Interview with our Don Pedro, RJ Foster

Role in the show?

Don Pedro

Brief background?

I'm originally from Baltimore and have lived in NYC for about 14 years. I've worked regionally, Off-Broadway, and television. The majority of my theatre work has been with Shakespeare.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Can't do just one. So I'll go favorite tragedy, comedy, and history. For tragedy, I'll go Titus Andronicus because it's just crazy. I'll go Much Ado for my favorite comedy because it kinda of got me into Shakespeare. For my history play, you can't go wrong with Richard III.

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Funny Love

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

Read the play. Then read the play again. Then tried to memorize my lines. Very very in depth stuff.

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?

I would say directly addressing modern technology the way the show is trying to do is something of a theme that I haven't encounter in any prior productions of Shakespeare I have been in before.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?

The shoes.

 

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Interview with our Don John, Sam Leichter

Role in the show?

Don John/Dogberry

Brief background?

Originally from Philadelphia, I graduated from Bates College with a BA in Theatre, and received my MFA from Rutgers. I live with my partner and dog, Pinter.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Measure for Measure; I worked on the play in undergrad, it's so dark and twisted. Lots of fun.

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Hmmm.... Lies and love.

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

Lots of text homework.

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?

Ross has a vision and concept that is new and very much of this moment, but is not at odds with the text. Our adaptation illuminates what is already there in the play.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?

Playing two characters is always a fun challenge. And these two are so different. Don John is "not of many words," while Dogberry uses ALL of the words, including those that don't really exist. Finding the differences, and similarities, between these two characters will be such a great acting opportunity.

 

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Interview with our Borachio, DeAnna Supplee

Role in the show?

I play the deviously ambitious soldier Borachio.

Brief background?

I was born and raised in the Mount Airy section of the greatest city in the world: Philadelphia! It can have a bad reputation with many nonresidents due to headlines or what have you, but it really is the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. My ability to empathize with and connect to characters and an audience is attributed to my many experiences in that city. I attended the University of Pennsylvania where I majored in Theatre Arts and English, I was then fortunate enough to be accepted into the Actors Studio Drama School in New York City where I earned my MFA in Acting. I have had the privilege of performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, studying at Oxford University's Magdalen College (BADA), and traveling the world--all of which has deepened my work as an artist and appreciation of the craft.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

My favorite would have to be the first Shakespeare play I was ever assigned to read on my own as a child: A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was then also the first of his plays I got to see live. It was purely magical, but not in the way one would think with glitter and optical illusions. The character of Puck was played by this fierce androgynous woman who completely stole the show for me. Mind you, I had no idea what "androgynous" meant at that age, but I knew there was a liberty, an audacity, in her stage presence, that I rarely observed in women! I wanted to be her on that stage, I wanted to be her in life. While Shakespeare wrote some pretty bad ass female characters over the course of his career, there is truly nothing like seeing a women take a traditionally played male role, and owning it!

2 words to describe Much Ado?

#FakeNews #RealLove

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

I have been watching a bit of footage of female soldiers, as well as reading about their experiences in the armed forces. I think when tackling this role, it could be extremely easy to fall into playing an archetype or to just play "evil" or "mischievous," but there is so much more to this character-- especially with Ross' decision to have a female do the part. Yes she is manipulative and ruthless-- but why is she that way? Is it because she has had to find creative ways to fend for herself as a female in a male dominated environment? -- Asking myself questions like this so that even though her actions may be distasteful, they are not in vain or completely unwarranted. What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in? I have done many modern adaptations of Shakespeare, but none where technology was such a present device in the story-telling. The presence of smart phones, digital communication, and VR goggles really challenges me to receive the text and the world of this play in a new way. Also from a practical standpoint, I have never done a production with this many union actors! This cast is extremely talented and diverse in training and experience. I do not believe I have ever learned so much by just watching actors rehearse and explore and play. The experience has been truly valuable.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?

While Borachio does a lot of reporting of news throughout this play, she also does a LOT of listening and observing. Both on the stage and in real life there is a tendency to get extremely passive when we listen. Therefore my challenge in this play (heck, in my life) is to always be an active participant even when not speaking or being watched. Additionally, I would say a difficult aspect of this production, as a whole, is how relevant it is. We are currently living in a time where individuals think there is such a thing as an "alternative fact." Political figures are unabashedly perpetuating lies and publicly shaming news outlets, thus preventing the press from accurately and freely doing their job. Much like in this play, what was once thought as objectively factual is now recognized as subjective. The blurring of this line, as you'll see in our production, has potentially dangerous ramifications. So while difficult, it is my hope and desire for this production (and all socially-conscience art) to challenge the way the audience thinks and inspire hope to make a change.

Interview with our Leonato, Christopher Randolph

Role in the show?

Leonato (the Dad)

Brief background?

Born in Boston Mass., I grew up and went to college there and then got an MFA in acting in San Diego before moving to New York City. I have a sister who’s an actor and a brother who’s a rock and roll singer/songwriter, both very talented; but, I mean, my poor suffering parents: how many school plays and talent shows did they have to come to? At least my youngest sister is a Mom. I’ve been acting for 32 years now professionally, and another 15 years before that non-professionally. That makes me sound really old but I started doing plays in the 6th grade and basically that was all I thought about after that, to the detriment of most of my school work. I’m also a director, though I’ve only been directing for the last 5 years or so. I really enjoy that process as well, and it’s refreshing and informative to go back and forth between the two disciplines. Beyond that, hmmmm... I love to cook, swim, sail and ski. I think that New York City is the best place in the world to live, particularly Brooklyn, but getting away into nature every now and then is essential. My favorite vegetable is avocado and my spirit animal is….. wait, this is a dating app, right….?

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

They are all brilliant, but I’d have to say Measure For Measure. It was the first full Shakespeare production I ever acted in, and it’s a complex, difficult, funny and disturbing piece, with terrific characters and gorgeous language. I’d love to do it again. Like a lot of Shakespeare’s plays it is entirely appropriate and applicable to our lives and struggles today. How did he DO that…?

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Love conquers pride. (yeah, ok, that’s 3. I was never good at filling out forms).

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

Reading reading reading. Also, mouth exercises (beyond just eating pizza).

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?

As the rapid advance of technology increasingly takes over our lives it’s important to recognize the downside of a world where information bombards us so relentlessly and as such speed. I think this production emphasizes that what’s essential in the end is the direct human connections we make, and the need to embrace and trust those over and above the artificial world technology sucks us into. Shakespeare was above all a humanist, and this production highlights that by showing that a 400 year old play is full of characters who wrestle with the same human issues we all do today.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?

Tapping into a place where killing someone you love dearly for the sake of honor feels like the right thing to do.

Interview with our Antonia, Amanda Barron

Role in the show?

Antonia

Brief background?

I’m a native of the UK but have lived and worked as an actress in NYC for the past 15 years. I’m passionate about ensemble driven theatre and love Shakespeare. I work in all areas of theatre, film and tv.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Only one! That’s cruel. No, really, it’s too hard. I have three favorites: Much Ado for its blend of comedy and tragedy, Titus Andronicus for its raw, ultra-violent exploration of grief, and Richard II for it stunningly beautiful poetry.

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Fake News. Gossip. Oops, that’s three isn’t it?

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

Antonia is a newly created role for this production . She’s a combination of two old men: Antonio and the Friar and two funny women: Margret and Ursula. So I had free reign to create whoever I wanted to. At least within the world of this version of the play. I always start with the script and mine that for all it’s worth to see what clues I can find about the character. And, Shakespeare is an actor’s dream as everything is right there in the language on the page. After that it’s about understanding the world we are playing in inside this production. Then it’s finding her voice and physical characteristics.

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?

This one is especially wonderful for me as it’s one of my favorite plays and I’ve done it before so I know it very well. But what makes this production different is setting this show in the world of tech and social media. Seeing the characters deal with fake news, rumors and bullying really brings this production into today and makes it very relevant with our current social and political climate.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?

I think that with any supporting character, and especially one that is an amalgam of many different characters with different points of view, it can be a challenge to discover the arch of the character’s journey through the play. Although in this production I’m almost spoiled for choice really, as I have four characters rolled into one, so it’s not a bad problem to have.

Interview with our Claudio, Cory O'Brien-Pniewski

Role in the show?

Claudio

Brief background?

Detroit native. Studied theatre at Western Michigan University (undergrad) and University of Tennessee (graduate). Member of AEA.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Comedy - Loves Labours Lost for the lovely wordplay between lovers

Tragedy - Titus Andronicus for the visceral violence and revenge

Two words to describe Much Ado?

FAKE NEWS!

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

Lots of work on gullibility. Staying in an honest moment. Remaining true to character motivations.

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?

This is a much more modern adaptation of Shakespeare than I usually find myself performing in. I very much enjoy the use of modern technology to help perpetuate the idea of fake news and all the outlets it can come from these days.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?

Balancing and justifying the massive range and sudden changes of emotion. Every interaction Claudio has with the other characters effects him deeply, the difficulty stands in keeping the performance truthful thru all of these sudden and deep emotional changes.

Interview with our Hero, Kim Krane

Role in the show? 

I play Hero, Beatrice's cousin and Leonato's daughter, as well as Verges, right-hand man to Dogberry.

Brief background?

I was born in Arizona, and spent most of my young life in Kalamazoo, MI. I was lucky enough to receive a Bachelor's in Theatre Performance from Western Michigan University and an MFA from the Case Western Reserve/Cleveland Play House training program. I've produced ShakesBEER for NYSX for the past three years. I firmly believe there's not a bad mood a solo dance party to nineties pop hits can't master and I think given the right opportunity Jake Johnson could master a Shakespearean clown role. 

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

So hard to choose! Romeo and Juliet was the first Shakespeare play I fell in love with; I think the language in that play is remarkably beautiful. However, I have to credit my grad school teacher Geoff Bullen (RADA) for making me fall in love with the Bard. He took Shakespeare off the "high art shelf" and made it something we could touch, see, act and more importantly feel in tune with and love. He gave me a feeling about Shakespeare I didn't get again until linking up with Ross Williams and his NYSX contemporaries.

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Love triumphs     

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

I spent a good deal of time researching past productions, as well as literary criticism of this play in order to understand how it has been perceived in the past, and what I want our specific production to do. And of course, going back to the text. It's all there. Shakespeare knew what he was doing. After that it's about being in the room with the company and shaping the story we aim to tell as a team. 

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?

It's different based on the nature of "Intersections". Before rehearsals started the cast was already working on and performing ShakesBEER together. It was lovely to start rehearsals for this show already feeling a strong, supportive sense of ensemble in place. Also, I have never been in a Shakespeare play that uses our current technology. We are dealing with a very current form of communication within a play written centuries earlier. It's been interesting to discern between social norms that have changed versus those that have remained relatively the same. 

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?

Hero, while being critical to the plot of the play has less to say than most, therefore, it has been my focus to make sure her inner life is full; to be specific in clarifying her desires, point of view and her obstacles in every scene. Verges has been it's own unique challenge: the constables deliver comedic relief when the play veers towards a drama; however their language, as well as their thoughts are convoluted. Luckily, I have the brilliant Sam Leichter to play against, and these scenes have become a welcome joy in the rehearsal process. The quick changes between the two characters however: those might remain to be the most challenging yet! 

 

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Interview with our Costume Designer, Elivia Bovenzi

Position and include a one line description of what your position does? 

I am the Costume Designer. I’m responsible for dressing the actors in clothes that enhance their character.

Brief background?

This is my fourth production with NYSX. I currently work as a freelance costume designer in NYC, and I am dreaming of getting a dachshund someday... 

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Hmm. Probably a Midsummer’s Night Dream. From a design standpoint there are lots of fun things to create: fairies, lovers, a man with a donkey head...

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Manipulated love.

How did you get into your area of design?

Theatricals run in my family. My grandfather was an actor, director, and playwright. His kids all acted in his plays, including my father, who then went on to become a Set designer and an architect. I, too, started off as an actor, but soon found a more creatively fulfilling role being a designer. 

What kind of research did you do for Much Ado?

Our color palette is very “Candy Crush.” Bright. Monochromatic. Fun and playful. I did a lot of high fashion research, looking at editorial photo shoots and and street fashion.

How does your design convey the themes of the play?

Much Ado is a comedy, so we wanted it to be bright and fun. The clothes certainly reflect that. Also: in this production we have a theme of how modern technology can interfere with the truth, therefore mis-truths become widely spread, negatively (and sometimes positively) affecting the relationships of the characters. Social media and online communication are used throughout the play so I wanted the characters to have a quality of that ideal, “curated lifestyle" look, that is heavily present in online profiles. 

 

What is your favorite and/or most challenging part of the job?

 

My favorite part of the job is seeing everything on stage for the first time. It’s a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. 

 

The most challenging part is to find a way to achieve a high standard of design using not-so-many dollars… but it brings a better understanding of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention.”

 

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Interview with our Benedick, Devin Haqq

Role in the show? 
Benedick

Brief background?
Devin E. Haqq is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and a graduate of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's Professional Actor Training MFA program. He has performed in numerous stage productions, around the regional United States and New York City, most recently appearing Off-Broadway in Epic Theatre Ensemble's productions of "Richard III" and "Measure for Measure". Devin also appeared in HBO's award winning ad campaign "Surprise", directed by Sam Mendes.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?
Henry IV parts 1 & 2. I love the character of Falstaff. I have to play that role before I check out.

Two words to describe Much Ado?
Bipolar Romp      

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?
I started by reading the play over and over to really dissect the story. Since Benedick is such a merry fellow, known for his dexterity of wit, I've been watching a lot of stand-up comedy to get more insight into that kind of personality and find new ways of expression.

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?
Each time I embark on a production it's always a new and different experience. That's the beauty of these plays. No matter how many times they are done, each director brings his or her own particular point of view to the work. Likewise, each new actor that approaches one of Shakespeare's great roles looks to put his or her own unique stamp on it. Hopefully I will be able to do this with Benedick.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?
Well Benedick has a lot to say, so the challenge is not only memorization, but also finding the specificity within all of those words, while at the same time making everything immediate, spontaneous, and truthful. Many great actors have played this part, so there is a bit of pressure to measure up to those great performances. Also, lovers of Shakespeare have strong ideas about how certain characters should be portrayed. My focus is to find my way into the character by honoring the language and telling the story to the best of my ability. If I can do that, I know I will give the audience a great show.

 

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Interview with our Beatrice, Carey Van Driest

Role in the show? 
Beatrice

Brief background?
I moved to NYC seventeen years ago to pursue this crazy business and did my fair share of odd jobs (legal assistant, night shift customer service rep, chicken-wrangler for an off-Broadway play) for a few years.  Twelve years ago I was sent out for my first voiceover audition and booked it.  I was the voice of K-Y for 7 years.  No, not the State and no, I never got free product.  Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to voice a couple of campaigns and work on several commercials and am currently one of the voices of L’Oreal.  The rest of the business-y blah blah is on my resume and on my website: www.careyvandriest.com.  Oh, and I love LOVE dogs, especially puppy-tails, Parenthood the TV show and pickles.  My mother used to say if I ate any more pickles I would turn into one.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?
You really can’t get better than Much Ado for a perfectly structured comedy, and Beatrice is a bucket list role, but I am also a big fan of The Scottish Tragedy (even in writing I’m superstitious about the title) and I’d love to do King John only to tackle the role of Constance. 

Two words to describe Much Ado?
About Nothing.  Just kidding; I had to.  Great Play!  Or Witty Charm!        

What kind of preparation did you do for the role?
I asked a couple people who have done the role what their biggest challenges were in playing her, and what they found as the key access point for the character.  Then I read the show again since it had been awhile and did some thinking about who she was and how similar and how different she is from me.  That’s always my first step; figuring out where a character and I intersect and what I can use for a jump-off point.  Then everything’s in the text, and from there you just have to stay true to that.

What makes this adaptation different from another Shakespeare play you’ve been in?
The concept.  I’ve never used technology in a Shakespeare play before.  And I don’t think I’ve done a Shakespeare with such a small ensemble.  I’ve played Verges in another production of Much Ado that had a full cast and was barely cut as well as being done more traditionally.

What is the most difficult aspect of your role or the play?
Two things:

            One: Figuring out who Beatrice is in this world of people being plugged in.  She’s a logophile.  Words and communication are her currency.  So if she were alive in today’s society she’d be the one without a Facebook page and have a strong aversion to acronyms and emojis.  So thankfully Ross Williams, our director, has acknowledged that she’s an anomaly: I don’t touch technology except once in the show.

            Two: I think it’s very easy to stay on the surface with Beatrice and lean into the water-off-a-duck’s-back attitude with which she goes through the majority of her time on stage.  But that completely ignores why she’s got that defense mechanism in the first place.  So I’m still working on this, but finding the balance between the outward show of merry banter and the inner life that may encompass any number of things we humans feel – pain, loneliness, anger – is going to take some time.  It’s a process towards shaping a real human being on stage that will, as Devin (Haqq) and I discover the depth of the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, reveal itself.

 

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