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The NYSX Blog

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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Interview With "Much Ado About Nothing" Director, Ross Williams

Q: How did you become interested in directing? What is your style of directing?
A: 
The first show I ever directed was in high school actually. I was the first student in my high school to appeal to the Theater teacher and say ‘I want to be in charge!’ I think that there was a sense of artistic control and storytelling that appealed to me. So I directed the Odd Couple, it was my first full length show. It went well and from there I made a decision to pick my undergraduate school based on its directing programs. Since then, up until 7 years ago when I founded the company, I’ve been splitting my focus between acting and directing. Then I changed my focus completely to directing and quit acting.

For my approach I’m very interested in ensemble storytelling and how the energy of the whole of the actors’ ensemble can reach the energy of the whole of the audience. In addition, my approach is about if actors are communicating in a deeper way than just through words, but instead through energies, their passion about a piece, and a communal sense of storytelling. Then, I think, the audience will experience that more powerfully. So I come to every show first and foremost with “what is the ensemble”, “how do we build the ensemble”?

For Shakespeare specifically, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the messages in the play relate to a contemporary audience. It’s not about updating the play, it’s about looking at the play through the lens of today’s culture. And that establishes where I want to begin with play.

Q: Your synopsis states that the story is "set in a world in which technology and virtual reality provide a fitting meta-context." In what way do you think the spreading of misinformation is similar and different in our world vs. Shakespeare's world?
A:
Certainly in the world of Much Ado About Nothing misinformation is, for most part, looked at from a comedic standpoint and I think misinformation in today’s word is hardly laughable, so that’s a difference. Also Shakespeare was writing very specifically about being overheard incorrectly and people writing incorrect things. Much Ado About Noting is the translation or the original sense behind “nothing.”   

So, in the original play it is about listening. But as I looked at the play and especially in light of last year’s political events and today’s current suspicion of all things media, I started to think that today we don’t overhear each other’s fake news. That translates to the place of Facebook and social media where we perpetuate fake news without even knowing it sometimes. We jump and share something that makes us irate because the story is there even if it’s not true. I remember there was one about Donald Trump’s children out on safari doing big game hunting that people were sharing all over the place and it was patently false.

The virtual reality thing comes on a little bit more in the sense of images. First off, building a world in which mobile technology would exist brings me to look at the entire world of technology and what are user driven technologies that could be a part of this milieu. What is interesting about it though is that virtual reality is a mask of sorts and you can, if there are multiple people acting in a virtual reality world, convert your appearance to look like anything. You could be standing in virtual reality fantasy world having a conversation with Dolly Parton and have no idea that it’s some guy in North Dakota. It creates a more enhanced version of a mask, and certainly one based in our contemporary technology obsession.

Q: In the past you've only directed Shakespeare's tragedies. What drew you to Much Ado About Nothing, one of his more popular comedies? Did last year’s political climate and the ramifications that we’re seeing today, is that what drew you to this play, especially this one?
A:
There were a couple of things. One was the fatigue of the content. I’ve been doing very dark content for several years and there’s fatigue for me as a director and fatigue, reasonably so from our audience because audiences like to have a chance to breath and laugh. All of Shakespeare’s plays have some kernel of darkness, message and humanity in them. And I think that’s what makes even his comedies so beautiful, it’s that even in comparison to his most successful contemporaries there’s more humanity in his text.

So as I looked at the comedies, knowing that I wanted to go in with a comedy, knowing that I wanted to go in with something a little more approachable especially since we’ll be touring the country with it for our Intersections program, I was looking for one that connected to our contemporary story and that didn’t shy away from the emotional, human moments. And Much Ado takes a dip in the middle of it toward a very dark place, so I get a little bit of both. I get some of the tragic in there but only for about twenty minutes. It’s nice. (He chuckles)

Q: What is the most challenging thing about directing Much Ado About Nothing?
A:
For me specifically, in this process, the most challenging thing is creating a show that can translate to fully produced New York run and a pared down touring run. That has been logistically and artistically finding a way to tell that story in a more mutable frame.

I think also a challenge of this play is that it’s written almost completely in prose. The verse text of Shakespeare provides a lot of guidelines and structure; this play is lot more open-ended, there’s a lot more space to wiggle around in it and that has been fun but also challenge. I do find myself feeling incredibly grateful when it drops into its verse sections, which are – relative to his other plays – few and far between.

Q: What do you think is important about this story? What do you hope the audience walks away with at the end of the performance?
A:
If I can get one person fewer person to walk down the street with their head buried in their phones and pay attention to the world around them, that’d be great. If I could get one more person to consider the veracity of piece of news before they share it that would be a win. Those are kind of tangibles within the world, the ultimate and intangible result is that I hope people leave the theater having gone through a journey and when they come through on the other side of it they are lighter and their world is more open to experience. And that they’ve have some kind of connection and some sort of release, catharsis if you will.

Q: What do you hope to get out of directing this piece?
A:
A renewed faith in the comedies, in my experience, would be great and it’s already started happening. I’ve built so much of my career around dissecting the emotional plays and finding their existential core. This is much more straight forward production. It’s still set in a world of adaptation, but it’s simpler, it’s more direct and I hope that it will allow me to flex some different muscles and give me more faith in my work through comedy.

From an organizational standpoint every time we do a production the scope of it grows in some way. In this case we’re bringing on new actors who are going to expose us to new audiences, we’re working with new designers who are going to expose us to new audiences and new ways of thinking. And I hope we’re able to harness all of that growth and put it to use as we move forward. I would be nice to come back and say that production moved the ball forward.

 

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“The Rape of Lucrece”: Shakespeare’s Ancient Story Gets a Modern (and Timely) Reworking on the New York City Stage

by Jed Ryan
HUFFINGTON POST


The newest creation from New York Shakespeare Exchange (NYSX) Company is a full-length production of the epic poem The Rape of Lucrece. Published in 1594, the powerful piece is one of the The Bard’s earliest works. It is set in 509 B.C. Rome, just before the fall of that city-state’s monarchy. The Rape of Lucrece is rarely adapted for an audience in contemporary theater. Why? It may be due to the challenges of creating an entire multi-character theater piece from a narrative poem. Of course, there’s also the heavy subject matter, which is unmistakable: The title gives that away. Lucrece and SextusHistory has proved that Shakespeare’s popular works— both the messages behind them as well as the audiences’ reactions to them— have transcended the test of time through the centuries. The way his characters spoke, in all their quaint extravagance, may be different from the way we converse in 2016. However, those characters’ witty and sarcastic observations on their fellow humans and on society in general have shown that humanity really hasn’t changed much throughout time— sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Shakespeare’s body of work has also shown that our core attitudes and mores have indeed evolved throughout time... but sadly, not as fast as they should when it comes to some issues. The Rape of Lucrece, the poem, is about the sexual assault of its title character and its effects on both the victim and on society at large. As we enter 2017, that theme couldn’t be more timely— especially given recent political events in America.

Directed by Cristina Lundy, this production of The Rape of Lucrece was adapted for the stage by playwright Kevin Brewer, and uses largely original dialogue. It has been expanded beyond its original source with new characters, a generous helping of modern sensibility, and an innovative new structure which allows a larger setting for the story. The central synopsis, based on historical fact, has stayed the the same. In the town of Ardea, we meet Sextus (Leighton Samuels), the seemingly charming prince and soldier who is preparing for a battle against a renegade tribe south of Rome. Sextus gets a visit from his four of his fellow soldiers/friends, one of whom is also his cousin, the just-married Lord Collatinus (Shawn Williams). As the men indulge in wine and engage in “boys will be boys”-style talk about their favorite subjects (politics, sex, and religion... What else is there?), Collatinus waxes poetic about his new wife: the lovely, loyal, and oh-so-chaste Lady Lucrece. Lucrece also happens to be the daughter of Lucrecius (Pat Dwyer), a Senator. Eventually, the audience does meet the titular Lucrece (Aaliyah Habeeb). Through her interactions with her handmaiden Mirabelle (Gabby Beans), we see not only her physical beauty but also learn of her gentle, gracious nature and her dedication to her husband. It’s not just the audience who becomes smitten with our Lucrece, however. Sextus looks onThe very well-built (and very single) Prince Sextus soon develops carnal feelings for the wife of his friend/fellow soldier/cousin. In Shakespeare’s own words, the prince becomes “inflamed with Lucrece’ beauty”.

There’s a lot of smartly bawdy humor in the play’s first act, and it comes largely from the over-the-top buffoonery of Sextus’ young servant Caius (a lovable Erik Olson) and the equally outrageous dialogue by Sextus’ full-time socialite cousin Brutus (a comically deft Brandon Garegnani). The comedy, full of puns and double entendres, both honors and parodies Shakespeare-style language with some broad anachronistic indulgences. The humor and levity in Act 1, however, slowly give way to the far more serious second half, when Sextus visits Lucrece while Collatinus and the other men are away in Rome. Through soliloquy (with lines taken from the original poem as well as some new Shakespeare-inspired ones), Sextus evokes Hamlet, another Shakespearean prince, as he proclaims himself as a tortured soul: tortured by desire, and foreseeing any of his impending actions to be the inability to repress those desires. Needless to say, Sextus ultimately gives in to his dark side. In a hauntingly superb display of theater, Aaliyah Habeeb chillingly conveys the emotional aftermath of her character’s violation— including but not limited to Lucrece’s guilt, shame, feeling of helplessness, anger, and desperation. Astonishingly, although her dialogue is largely taken from the original play, her post-trauma feelings prove to be virtually identical to those of any victim of sexual assault, whether in 1594 or 2016. As a clever creative touch, Lucrece communicates her internal dialogue with the oracle Cassandra (played in physical form by Kate Lydic), who offers some enlightened insight. Nevertheless, Lucrece sees only one self-sacrificial way to escape her emotional torture. That act, according to history, propelled a full-scale revolt against the Roman royal family and the establishment of the Roman republic. This reworking of The Rape of Lucrece offers an additional form of justice, which is not only surprising and shocking but also, shall we say, more “personal”...

The director and cast of The Rape of Lucrece have great respect for their source material as well as the serious (and, as said before, timeless) subject matter. Both the comedy in the beginning and the tragedy in the second half are both performed with equal energy and talent by the youthful cast. The play is also bolstered by many creative directorial and artistic touches, such as the “living” art pieces which play a role of their own. This production is proof that Shakespeare, in all his complex glory, is alive and well in New York City. And, he hasn’t lost his ability to both entertain and provoke us.

The Rape of Lucrece runs through October 22nd at Teatro Latea at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, NYC. The play contains nudity and scenes of sexual violence. Parental discretion is advised. Tickets and more information are available at www.ShakespeareExchange.org.


Jed Ryan has been a New York City-based freelance writer and photographer with a focus on LGBTQ issues.

Photos by Martin Harris
 

Plays To See Review

A wonderfully thoughtful review of our current production of
The Rape of Lucrece. 


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Our Promo Video

 

Artistic Director Ross Williams, Director Cristina Lundy, and two of our
amazing cast chat about The Rape of Lucrece.


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THE RAPE OF LUCRECE from NY Shakespeare Exchange on Vimeo.

VIDEO by Ryan Hendricks