Skip to Content

The NYSX Blog

Interview with our Dramaturg, Shane Breaux

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

As the Production Dramaturg, my responsibility is providing historical information on Shakespeare, his play, and details about the time it was written; what the play might have meant to its original Elizabethan audiences; then provide context for our particular production concept; and finally attend rehearsals and help facilitate it all coming together.

Brief background?

I grew up in the Cajun country of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and I have been working in the theatre in many capacities (actor, producer, playwright, dramaturg, historian) for about twenty-five years. I have been working with director Ross Williams and NYSX since its inception, and I currently teach theatre history and text analysis on various college campuses, while I am also working on my doctoral dissertation in theatre history at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. I don’t sleep much.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Today, I would have to say that Titus Andronicus is my favorite Shakespeare play. It has a wonderful mix of humor, despair, political ideology, violence, and a joyful theatricality that feels very contemporary (despite all those obscure-to-us historical and mythological references, of course!). But ask me again tomorrow . . .

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Ridick. Yulous.

How did you get into dramaturgy?

I was first drawn to the theatre as a child by my love of musicals (Grease 2, baby!) and Carol Burnett’s variety show back in the early 80s (there wasn’t all that much live theatre in Lake Charles, LA, you understand). Many years later as an undergrad, I happened to see a production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which blew my mind about what theatre, and what plays in particular, could do. I immediately started reading and analyzing as many plays as I could. Then in 2009, I entered the Master of Arts program in Theatre History and Criticism at Brooklyn College where I was mentored by the great dramaturg Lynn M. Thomson.

What kind of research did you do for Much Ado?

The research I do for any Shakespearean production focuses on the play itself as well as on our production concept or setting in order to help everyone involved see how the director reached their preliminary creative decisions and to inspire the actors and designers to continue that process. Therefore, I pulled together information on how Much Ado playfully teases the limits of tragedy within comedy. In terms of our production concept, I shared recent newspaper articles about our reliance on social media and personal electronic devices, as well as the way those technologies have allowed fake news (i.e., the gossip and misinformation of the play) to both proliferate widely and quickly as well as to seem believable. I also use the Oxford English Dictionary to help define words and explore their multiple meanings.

What are the differences in this production of the show compared to traditional productions?

For NYSX, this is the first time that we have one cast performing in our main stage production as well as in ShakesBEER before taking it all on tour. In terms of the play, our terrific cast of actors is in the process of finding and creating some really fabulous moments that will crack you up and then make you earn that laugh by breaking your heart a little.

 

BACK TO THE BLOG

 

Interview with our Scenic Designer, Jason Lajka

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

Set Designer, I draw pictures and build models and participate in meetings, resulting in a design for the scenic elements in the production.

Brief background?

I've been making stuff in NYC for about 17 years.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Merchant of Venice. I saw a production 20 years ago that still haunts me.

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Facts matter.

How did you get into your area of design?

Well ... I joined Drama Club in high school because I had a crush on a guy. After high school, I continued to be involved in theater, learning that I had a knack for design.

What kind of research did you do for Much Ado?

A big part of the process is Ross, Shane, and I sitting down and talking about the play and what our feelings are about it. From those conversations, I find images, sketch ideas, and build rough models that represent ways that our (often) abstract ideas can be conveyed in tangible forms.

How does your design convey the themes of the play?

The design is an expression of how quickly information can travel.

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

My favorite part is discussing the play with my collaborators.

 

BACK TO THE BLOG

 

Interview with our Lighting Designer, Jason Fok

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

Lighting Designer. I work with the director and design team to create the visual world of the play.

Brief background?

Born and raised in Palm Springs, California. Moved to the East Coast to study theatre design and art history.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Titus. The idea of how betrayal and quest for revenge drive people towards extreme circumstances for survival. I have always been a fan of plays and stories where people have a deep emotional or physical struggle to break out of their circumstances.

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Deception. Honor.

How did you get into your area of design?

I got started in lighting while I was in middle school. I went to a lot of art museums and theatre performances with my parents growing up and caught the theatre / art bug.

What kind of research did you do for Much Ado?

We looked a lot of images of tubular lighting. Fluorescent lighting, light bulbs, rope lighting. How lighting could help reenforce or create architecture was really fascinating. The idea of digital information being transmitted was an initial idea.

How does your design convey the themes of the play?

The idea of fake news and how people perceive information was very important to the Director, Ross Williams. A lot of my design incorporates a lot of colored lighting - something about that felt very modern. We talked a lot with the Scenic Designer, Jason Lajke on how we could have light up boxes on the set or how lighting could create very defined shapes and spaces.

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

My favorite part of the job happens to be the most challenge - finding create solutions through design to solves moments in the play. Working with Dramaturgy is also a great way to dig deeper into the play. They are essential in informing my design choices.

 

BACK TO THE BLOG

 

Interview with our Technical Director/Props Designer, Ian Potter

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

My position is Technical Director/Props Designer. The Tech Directors responsibilities include: organizing and facilitating departmental communications, budgeting materials specifically for set considerations, running set build time, load in and strike. As prop designer I am responsible for pulling, purchasing, renting, and building all rehearsal and show props handled by the actors.

Brief background?

My background is primarily in Tech Direction, Scenic Design, Scenic Carpentry and Scenic Painting. Most of my professional experience is with the Harrisburg Shakespeare Company where I worked in residence for 5 years.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

Hamlet! Because I love the "Words, words, words" and more specifically the way Shakespeare organizes them in this play. Quite frankly "The rest (might as well be) silence."

Two words to describe Much Ado?

Zanily Electric

What areas of technical theatre have you previously worked in?

Scenic Design, Technical Direction, Scenic Carpentry, Scenic Painting, Props Design.

What are the technical challenges that Much Ado presents?

Much Ado, especially this production presents the challenges of conceptualizing a very high tech, sleek world, with many lights, beeps, buzzers, and screens without the tech team necessarily having the Silicon Valley sized budget for all of that hardware. The challenge is in making the audience believe the illusion. That's the magic.

What are you most looking forward to with the production?

I am most looking forward, as most techies do, to that opening night final image where all of the puzzle pieces fit together just so.

 

BACK TO THE BLOG

 

Interview with our Stage Manager, Gabriela Gowdie

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

Stage Manager - The Hermione Granger of the theater, always in two places at once pulling myriad objects out of a purse.

Brief background?

Born and raised in New York, I've been finding ways to express myself ever since I got my first taste of artistic freedom that one time I transformed the bathroom door into the crayon scribble masterpiece of my wildest dreams. Seeking it now I've expanded beyond scribbling into acting, writing, directing, and stage managing, channeling my experiences so that they may meet those of others and in the process be transformed. I particularly enjoy working with companies creating the new and reimagining the old such as NYSX, Third Rail Projects, Art House Productions, and O-Kaos Productions.

Favorite Shakespeare play and why?

The Tempest, a magician's last spell of words, each line a goodbye. This play always feels like swimming through the ever churning waters of a poetic mind, an ocean of dreams and memories, the liminal space between sleeping and waking where we are closest to home.

Two words to describe Much Ado?

About Nothing :P

How did you get into stage management?

My training was very interdisciplinary in nature and as a result, I was able to explore every element of the process. The first production I ever stage managed was a course requirement, but it was during that Dance Concert that I learned how Stage Management can be a dance of its own. Somewhere in between the logical and the creative, there's a balance a stage manager finds which steers the ship where it needs to go. Interest in that balancing act has brought me closer to it.

What do you think will be difficult in managing this adaptation of Much Ado? Why?

This adaptation has condensed an eclectic array of characters to a cast of nine; what I think will be challenging is maintaining the quick pace of the action backstage, where we always have to be one step ahead of a wild ride.

What are you most looking forward to with the production?

I'm looking forward to how this production bridges the gap between Shakespearean and modern audiences, revealing the many ways in which human communication has not changed despite advances in technology. Even with our gadgets, we still make the same mistakes time and time again. Yet victories are made every day, too, by those of us passionate enough to cry out for love, truth, and justice in the same, honored way...with our voices loud and our fists raised high.

 

BACK TO THE BLOG

 

Sigh No More: Reinventing Shakespeare in Our Classrooms

Sigh No More:

Reinventing Shakespeare in Our Classrooms

     Shakespeare presents one of the most considerable challenges for teachers and students alike. After all, he is, as everyone knows, the greatest poet who has ever lived— a peerless master of language. His illustrious oeuvre is a master class in the complex relationships and systems—physical, political, emotional, spiritual—that exist within and between us. In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Blooms writes: “Shakespeare will go on explaining us, in part because he invented us.” “How he was possible,” Bloom writes, “I cannot know.” Simply, he is one of the most important people to ever live. We stand in awe of him, The Bard.

     And this is the problem.

     As I see it, the most considerable barrier separating educators and students from Shakespeare is the insurmountable monument of presumption we have constructed in his honor, one that we root dauntingly at the front of our rowed rooms. We make him nothing less than a secular deity. But how easily praise becomes platitude, reverence becomes redundancy. And I see often how students tire at the seriousness of it all, yawn at the nuisance, and I don’t necessarily blame them. To help adolescents become more engaged with Shakespeare, to not just view his works as tedious, impenetrable, and irrelevant, we need to continue to rethink how we teach them to our students.

     To the point about Super Serious Shakespeare is the preponderance of his tragedies in high school classrooms. The Big Four of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello are pillars of English curricula. In fact, Macbeth and Hamlet are the only two of his plays specifically cited under the Common Core Standards as texts “illustrating the complexity, quality, and range of student reading.” (Further: Shakespeare is the only author mandated by the Common Core.) The tragedies have a self-evident eminence, rich in their immediacy and potency; but cannot our students learn a great deal from the comedies—and, dare I say, have fun doing so? This is not to say that the comedies or the romances or the historical plays are never taught, but it seems that we have found the moral imperative of the tragedies to better suit our teenaged students. In doing this, we are denying them the opportunity to experience Shakespeare in a way that doesn’t involve them glaring up at him, glassy-eyed, upon the altar.

     Specifically, Much Ado About Nothing, though not exactly the pièce de résistance of his comedies, with its clever wordplay, folly born of miscommunication and misidentification, and issues of honor and honesty, slides deftly into the void slowly sucking our students into weariness. There is much fun to be had with Beatrice and Benedick’s witty nihilism, or with the masked ball where the play takes its shape, or with the second wedding fake-out of the irritating Claudio. Even Dogberry, one of the most ridiculous of Shakespeare’s creations, is an entertaining lesson in language (though, admittedly, while his senseless malapropism would have more dire consequences in a tragedy, here his solecism is simply inane). Indeed, in this play students can see that Shakespeare is not perfect.

     In my classroom, my students take a project-based approach towards better understanding (or “learning,” if you will) Shakespeare. Performance is the heart of the project. “All the world’s a stage,” after all, and students feel a greater comfort with and comprehension for Shakespeare when they embody his creations. Having students be Beatrice “[speaking] poniards,” enables them to more closely connect to the sharpness of her esprit, and perhaps better question the source of her marginal acidity (gender politics, anyone?). Pair in-class performance with character blogs and Twitter feeds and students can get inside the minds of their characters and give them greater dimension. Characters like the insufferably dour, “plain-dealing villain” Don John (Iago-lite) and the nearly voiceless Hero find life as they are reimagined through media. Furthermore, the use of media accentuates and diversifies the layers of miscommunication in the play. Ancillary yet essential characters like Borachio, Margaret, and Ursula find depth beyond their functionality. Imagine a Twitter exchange between Beatrice and Benedick, or a rap battle between Balthasar and Don Pedro (or, for that matter, Feste, Ariel, or Autolycus).

     Rethinking our approach to teaching Shakespeare to our students is necessary if we wish to refine their comprehension and broaden their creativity. Activities such as the ones only briefly mentioned above will keep students engaged, and dispel their presumptions about the Bard. They will reconstitute and reinforce relevance, and differentiate their experience. In this way, Shakespeare in the classroom becomes more than just much ado about nothing.

Daniel DioGuardi

St. Francis Preparatory School

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.

 

BACK TO THE BLOG

 

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.

 

BACK TO THE BLOG

 

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.