Project ‘on hold’

Astonishing (and somewhat frustrating) to see that it’s been the better part of a year since my last post. Just as I was getting ready to move into the next stage of pre-production for my solo TEMPEST, another project came along and said “Me, first!”

The Other Guys Theatre Company of Victoria, BC, has graciously asked me to build a one-person show about the late, great Pete Seeger. After a summer of research, we recently completed the first draft of an adaptation of Pete’s book THE INCOMPLEAT FOLKSINGER, including stories from his early years (up to about 1970) and 29 songs!

The show will open at Victoria’s Metro Theatre on January 8, 2015.

And my next phase of work on THE TEMPEST will get under way shortly after that–hoping to have something to show for all the effort in the summer of 2015!

Stay tuned.

Sacred and Profane – Music in THE TEMPEST

I’m starting off 2014 with a view to posting regularly to Shakespeare’s Brain–the last few months of 2013 were devoted to work, making work, looking for work, and finally, celebrating the holidays with family.  I’m feeling refreshed and ready to embrace the next stage of my work with THE TEMPEST.

There is more music in THE TEMPEST than just about any other Shakespeare play–one wouldn’t call it a ‘musical’, but music (and soundscape) is called for by the author in multiple ways, whether directly inserted in the form of a song, or indicated in the stage directions.  Indeed, its function seems to be to connect the sacred (Prospero’s Magic, Ariel’s interactions) and profane (the Servants–Stephano, Trinculo, Caliban) elements in the play.

Caliban’s description of the music that seems to come from The Island itself will be my starting place:

Be not affeard, the Isle is full of noyses,
Sounds, and sweet aires, that give delight and hurt not:
Sometimes a thousand twangling Instruments
Will hum about mine eares; and sometime voices,
That if I then had wak’d after long sleepe,
Will make me sleepe againe, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and shew riches
Ready to drop upon me,…. (from First Folio)

My next phase of work will be to explore what types of instruments I can use to evoke these elements, and to write the music that will eventually become part of the production.  For now, here is a list of all music/soundscape elements:

ACT I

Tempestuous Noise of Thunder and Lightning‘ – the storm created by Prospero and enacted by Ariel, causing the madness which drives the ‘court party’ to jump overboard

Enter Ariel, Playing and Singing‘ – initiates two songs that Ariel sings to Ferdinand: ‘Come unto these yellow sands‘, which Ferdinand says both quieted the storm and his ‘passion with its sweet air’; and ‘Full fathom five, thy father lies‘, which remembers King Alonso’s apparent death

Act II

Enter Ariel Playing Solemne Musicke‘ (sic) – this has the effect of putting everyone but Sebastian and Antonio to sleep, allowing them to plot the murder of Alonso and Gonzalo; this piece is only heard by the audience

Enter Ariel with Musicke and Song‘ – Ariel sings in Gonzalo’s ear a song which warns him of the impending murder and wakes him up just in time: ‘While you here do snoring lie‘…

Enter Stephano Singing‘ – Stephano’s drunken song ‘The Master, the Swabber, the Boate-swaine & I‘ brings the audience immediately into the profane world of the servants, setting up the clown show that follows

Caliban Sings Drunkenly‘ – having tasted wine for the first time, Caliban’s true nature emerges: ‘No more dams I’le make for fish‘…

Act III

Troule the Catch‘ – the round sung by Stephano and Trinculo (‘Flout ’em and cout ’em‘…}, which Ariel then plays on a tabor and pipe, diverting the three clowns from their murderous plot against Propero, and leading them off on a merry chase into the swamp

Solemne and Strange Musick‘ – Prospero’s enchantment of Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio begins with this piece, to which ‘several strange shapes‘ bring in the banquet

Thunder and Lighting‘ – ushering in Ariel ‘like a Harpy

Soft Musick – to which the shapes ‘Dance (with Mockes and Mowes) and Carrying Out the Table

Act IV

[Soft music]‘ – marking the beginning the the pageant which Prospero and Ariel create to mark the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda

[They Sing]‘ – Juno and Ceres song to bless the marriage: ‘Honor, riches, marriage, blessing‘….

The Dance of the Nimphes and Reapers – noted as a graceful dance which is interrupted by Prospero

A Noyse of Hunters Heard‘ – the’ spirits in shapes of dogs and hounds’, set on the three clowns by Prospero and Ariel

ACT V

[Solemne musicke]‘ – Prospero calls this ‘A solemne Ayre‘, which ushers in the enchanted threesome of Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio, and begins to ‘cure thy brains

[Ariel sings, and helps to attire him]‘ – the song Ariel sings to Prospero: ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I‘, foreshadowing Ariel’s approaching freedom and Prospero’s farewell to his servant

From this point through to the end of the play, music now seems superfluous, as Prospero no longer can use his ‘Art’ to achieve his ends.

Update – finally finished Act 5!

Island Tree - THE TEMPEST, Shakespeare's Brain

For the select few that have been following my blog–apologies for the 2 months away.  Between work and actual memorization time, any opportunity for meaningful posting disappeared.

However, I have managed to finish memorizing the complete text of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, start to finish with all the stage directions (as indicated in the First Folio), and as Prospero says at the very start of Act V,

“Now does my Project gather to a head…”

and in the next month (or so), I’ll be getting ready for a first public ‘reading’ of the script (yoiks!), and will start to catch up on on-line activities.

more to come

Half-way through Act IV

I’ve had to take a bit of a break in memory work, as I’m performing in GOOD TIMBER (go to http://www.otherguystheatre.ca/) at the Chemainus Theatre in lovely Chemainus, BC until June 1, which has left limited time to devote to memorizing THE TEMPEST.

Be that as it may, I’m now just about half-way through Act IV, which is actually one giant scene, breaking down into three parts: 1) Prospero’s ‘blessing’ of the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda, and his warning to them to not have sex (consummate the marriage) until ‘all sanctimonious ceremonies may/with full and holy right be ministred’; 2) the pageant created by Prospero and Ariel, featuring spirits playing the characters of Iris (messenger and servant to Juno, Queen of the Gods), Ceres (Goddess of the Earth), Juno (wife to Jupiter), and various Nymphs and Reapers; and 3) Prospero’s interruption of the pageant to foil the plot of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo against his life.

I’ve just finished memorizing parts 1 & 2, with some initial observations:

– Miranda is completely silent during the scene between Prospero and Ferdinand–it seems to me that, in some respect, Miranda now only has eyes for Ferdinand, and that her father understands that she is now ‘lost’ to him;

– Prospero’s admonishing the young couple to be more ‘abstemious’ seems to indicate a fair bit of un-noted actions–I imagine them almost completely ‘entwined’, which to a protective father would give cause for concern;

– once the Spirits enter to perform the pageant, there’s a shift to what might be called a more archaic form of language, full of rhyming couplets and rather obscure descriptions of the world in which the Gods and Goddesses live–in terms of memorization, I thought the arrival of three new characters would present a problem, but in fact, the rhyming structure made the process more straightforward than anticipated;

– yet another lovely song (THE TEMPEST is truly full of music, in many manifestations) sung by Ceres and Juno–interesting to consider how this may be played/sung in the context of a solo performance.

I look forward to taking on the last part of the scene, as the drunken clowns re-enter to receive their ‘just deserts’, which will then leave only Act V to memorize, en route to completing this first stage of work inside Shakespeare’s Brain.

Three Acts Memorized

A 2-hour Shakespeare walk this morning along the shores of Southern Vancouver Island…

Shakespeare Blog - Island View

…and a complete runthrough of THE TEMPEST, Acts I, II & III; 60 pages out of 80, so 3/4’s of the way.  Acts IV & V divide the last 20 pages in half, which will add about another 30 minutes–even in its entirety, THE TEMPEST is like a short story compared to the rest of the Canon (1/2 the length of a full reading of HAMLET, for ex.)–I consider myself lucky to be able to get a complete run-walk done in under three hours, as I’ll need to start doing this at least once a week, once I have the whole play learned.

In Act III, Shakespeare takes this compression to a whole new level through three very short scenes which reveal to the audience the essential magic of The Island, and how this ‘quickening’ property(in alchemy, to ‘quicken’ is change a substance by heating, or adding elements which produce a chemical reaction) intensifies and magnifies the ‘true nature’ of each character, for better and/or worse, pointing towards an inevitable (karmic) conclusion.

The audience is given only a brief moment to catch up with the three groups Prospero (with Ariel’s help) has isolated from one another, and which only all come on stage together in Act V.  Even though it feels like events are happening in real time (one day, by Prospero’s reckoning), it’s as if Time has slowed almost to a crawl: Ferdinand is in the midst of piling ‘thousands’ of logs; the Clowns have consumed substantial amounts of wine; and Alonso and Co. have been wandering through what seems a maze of ‘forthrights and meanders’ (as Gonzalo says).

Shakespeare Blog - THE TEMPEST - Island Rocks

Scene 1 reveals Ferdinand in the midst of his ‘ordeal’, which he accepts as a small price to pay to be in Miranda’s company.  She enters (with Prospero watching in secret) and what follows is a brief intense courtship, during which she essentially proposes to Ferdinand.  Prospero rejoices in her choice and in their betrothal, an affirmation of what he has foreseen.  This scene is a lovely reflection of the many Lovers in Shakespeare–in particular, I am reminded of Juliet’s ‘testing’ of Romeo’s love and faithfulness (though in a tragic circumstance)–our only saving grace at this point is our understanding of Prospero’s faith in his daughter (unlike Capulet).

Shakespeare Blog - THE TEMPEST - Island Meadows

Scene 2 catches us up with Caliban, Stephano & Trinculo, who have been consuming copious amounts of wine since we last saw them, to the point where Caliban is almost comatose, Stephano’s hubris has reached untold heights, and Trinculo has abandoned all caution and, true to the nature of all Shakespearean clowns(jester), is commenting on everything Stephano says, and insulting Caliban at every turn.  This scene is a classic ‘status battle’ (see the work of Keith Johnstone), and the subtle shift of Caliban upward and Trinculo downward is promulgated by Ariel’s appearance (invisible) and interference.  Yet, Caliban’s true nature cannot be denied, and his hatred of Prospero is revealed through his plot to convince Stephano to commit a gruesome murder.  Ariel’s discovery of the plot reassures the audience that we are in a comedy after all–the marvelous moment when Ariel’s music begins to lead them away is our reassurance that all shall be well.

Shakespeare Blog - THE TEMPEST - Island TrailsScene 3 reunites the audience with the court party: Gonzalo is exhausted and must rest; King Alonso gives up all hope of ever finding his son; and Sebastian & Anothonio continue to plot the murder of both, and are awaiting an opportunity to carry through with their plan.

Then follows the magical ‘banquet scene’, wherein various of Prospero’s ‘meaner ministers’ enter dancing, and invite the courtiers to eat.  This is interrupted by  Ariel’s appearance as the harpy, wherein he curses the ‘three men of sin’, and which results in the ‘enchantment’ of Alonso, Sebastian and Anthonio, each trapped in their own worst nightmare (‘knit up in their distractions’, as Prospero says), and completely within Prospero’s power.

Still the essential good nature of Gonzalo is not affected by these events, and the audience is somewhat reassured that he and his fellows will insure that nothing terrible will happen to King & Co.

THE TEMPEST is now set up to move toward its inevitable confrontation and conclusion, in Acts IV & V.

Act 2 memorized, Act 3 almost done!

Almost 3 weeks since my last post–egad!  Not to say that I haven’t been working, just that all my available time has had to go into memorizing and practice. It gets a bit overwhelming at times, when I step back and consider how much I’m already trying to keep in my brain, much less how much has yet to go in!

So, for a while, I’ll use blog space only to keep up to date with current events, then start picking up earlier threads as I start to consider the play as a whole. And that is now starting to look more real–as of yesterday, I’ve memorized 53 pages out of 80 in my script. (Applause First Folio, by Neil Freeman)

Act 2 came together relatively smoothly, as it switches completely away from Prospero and Miranda/Ferdinand, and fully introduces all the characters that the audience needs to follow through to the end.  It splits neatly in half, and in doing so also reveals dual tragic and comic elements essential to what are referred to as the ‘romances’.

Scene 1 reveals King Alonso’s court wandering the Island in search of his son, Ferdinand, even though Alonso firmly believes he’s dead, as do Sebastian and Anthonio.  Gonzalo (see the post Fifth Business) is doing his best to console the King, putting forward the argument that their escape from death is miraculous, and therefore cause for hope that Ferdinand may also have survived.  The Island’s magical property can be glimpsed within this radical split between beliefs and points of view.

Gonzalo’s arguments (supported by Francisco and Adrian) are countered by Sebastian(Alonso’s brother) and Anthonio (Prospero’s brother) through a series of vicious puns and insults that seem to be as much for the audience’s benefit, as intended to be heard as part of the discourse–lots of room to explore potential for when/how asides can be effective.  Through the ‘battle of wits’, much is to be learned concerning this pair of ‘usurping brothers’, particularly Anthonio’s influence over Sebastian which prepares the audience for the reveal of Anthonio’s plot to murder both King and Counsellor (while everyone else sleeps due to Ariel’s ‘solemn music’), and Sebastian’s agreement to participate.   Tragedy is neatly, if momentarily, avoided by Ariel’s intervention which reveals that Prospero’s prescience has foretold of the plot.

Scene 2 is the comic opposite of the court party of Scene 1, and introduces two new characters previously unseen, entering the world of servants and clowns that populate Shakespeare’s comedies–the ‘downstairs’ half of the equation, if you will–which in turn is destined to meet up with with Prospero’s servants, i.e., Caliban and (later in Act 3) Ariel.

Here we understand Caliban’s role in the play as a mainly comic figure (with an admittedly ‘monstrous’ edge), as his fear of Prospero’s ‘ministers’ leads him to believe that Trinculo (‘a jester’, in the FF Names of the Actors) is a spirit, and Stephano (‘a drunken butler’) a God, reinforced by the large amounts of wine that Stephano starts to feed him.  This first intro to the clowns is madcap and mayhem all the way, and is the perfect antidote to the looming tragedy on the other side of the Island.

From this point on, the audience will now be tracking 4 stories simultaneously:

  1. Prospero’s principle plan for revenge on his enemies
  2. Miranda and Ferdinand’s budding romance (guided by Prospero)
  3. Sebastian/Anthonio’s plot to kill Alonso/Gonzalo (known and observed by Ariel/Prospero)
  4. Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo’s drunken escapades

In three relatively short scenes, Act 3 gives the audience another look at all three ‘sub-plots’, before they start to converge in Acts 4 & 5.

In my process of learning the whole of THE TEMPEST, these parallel stories are starting to hook up in the memorization process, allowing me another way to assemble them as pieces in the larger puzzle.

More on Act 3 to come.

To Hear a Play

I read somewhere today that in Shakespeare’s time, people were more likely to say they were going to ‘hear a play’, rather than going to ‘see’ or ‘watch’ it. I’ll take that one step further and suggest that if (as Hamlet says) ‘the play’s the thing’, it’s the words that make it so.

I like that. The notion of ‘hearing a play’ fits well with this first phase of SHAKESPEARE’S BRAIN, in which I’m learning to speak the entire text of THE TEMPEST (including the stage directions) from the First Folio edition, circa 1623.

I’m hip deep in Act Two now.  This morning’s Shakespeare walk had to be lengthened somewhat, as my exercise plan included a complete runthrough of Act I, prior to a run of what I’ve learned in the past week concerning Act II, Scene 1:  the audience’s first real look inside the ‘court party’, which, according to the stage directions, features  [King] Alonso, Sebastian, Anthonio, Gonzalo, Adrian, Francisco and Others.  Needless to say, it is complex in the extreme, as the debate/banter bounces back and forth between Gonzalo/Adrian/Francisco and Sebastian/Anthonio while Alonso tries to shut himself off from most of it, ending with Anthonio convincing Sebastian to commit murder, followed by Ariel’s entrance (on Prospero’s orders)  just in time to save Gonzalo/Alonso.

I took some additional time yesterday to go back over the whole text learned so far, checking for minor glitches/mistakes, and noticed that even the slight adjustments I had to make in fact bring greater clarity and new insight into the thought process of whoever is speaking.

Even as I arrived home to contemplate and engage in the on-going struggle(!!) of being a self-employed (under-employed) artist in British Columbia, Canada, I took heart in the message that if I can make the text absolutely clear (as crystal), then perhaps a simple reading of the play, with minimal visual support (other than perhaps a beautiful setting) will be enough to engage and entertain an audience, and that this is really the only (best, organic) way to do it justice.

Based on my current rate of memorization, I should be ready sometime before the end of the summer….

Prospero’s Heart – Miranda

I have done nothing, but in care of thee
(Of thee my dear one, thee my daughter) who
Art ignorant of what thou art, naught knowing
Of whence I am: nor that I am more better
Than Prospero, Master of a full poor cell,
And thy no greater Father.
  (Prospero, Act I, Sc ii THE TEMPEST)

Considering what I’ve said so far concerning Truth as the substance–and prerequisite–of Prospero’s Art(Magic), it’s still amazes me that as a father, he has kept this huge secret from his daughter for twelve years, especially in light of what he says a little later on the subject of her education:

...and here
Have I, thy Schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other Princess can, that have more time 
For vainer hours; and Tutors not so careful.

to which Miranda responds:

Heavens thank you for't.

Coming upon this exchange made me go back and re-examine the entire scene, realizing there is likely much more to it than initially springs to mind regarding Miranda’s true power and function within THE TEMPEST, as an equal partner to her father, the other half of the dual-protagonist equation.

The more I work with this scene, the more it reveals an incredibly intense exchange of energy between equals, even as it is absolutely obvious that Miranda does not possess the level of magic that Prospero does.

Consider her first response to the above speech:

More to know 
Did never meddle with my thoughts.

Then, almost immediately thereafter:

You have often 
Begun to tell me what I am, but stopt
And left me to a bootless Inquisition,
Concluding stay: not yet.

She chooses her words very carefully and definitely plays low status, but her father’s confession (which emerges as the story of his fall from grace in Millan) and subsequent re-living of his great tragedy, have created a seismic shift in their relationship and she is completely aware of this,  realizing this is potentially her one opportunity to finally get the whole story out of him.

There’s also the matter of the number of times Prospero seems to ask her if she’s paying attention, as if in her adolescence she’s prone to get distracted.  Again, I offer that this tends to underestimate her, and indeed devalue her, unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence in the interpretation of female characters in Shakespeare (don’t get me started).

Given Prospero’s deliberate status reversal, wherein he must finally tell Miranda of her Mother, and how her death prompted him to withdraw from society and escape into ‘secret studies’, which in turn created the conditions for his brother’s treachery, and their exile from Milan, all the little exchanges between them are as much Miranda keeping her father on track, as they may appear to be Prospero instructing, and therefore admonishing his distracted daughter.

When Prospero says (in various ways):

Do'st thou attend me?

I don’t believe he’s just asking if Miranda is listening, but in the words of a more current vernacular, this is more akin to ‘ do you feel me?’.

And, there’s absolutely no doubt that she does feel every bit of her father’s pain:

O my heart bleeds
To think oth' teen I have turn'd you to,
Which is from my remembrance, please you, farther;

To clarify, ‘teen’ refers to ‘pain, vexation (and/or) grief’–we might consider that Prospero is experiencing all three, prompted by Miranda’s early childhood memory of Milan, and the arrival of his enemies on the Island.

And then Prospero’s confession reaches its apex, as Miranda laments that her (3 year-old) presence in the lifeboat must have been a ‘burden’ to him, to which he immediately responds:

O, a Cherubin
Thou was't that did preserve me; Thou didst smile,
Infused with a fortitude from heaven,
When I have decked the sea with drops full salt
Under my burden groan'd, which rais'd in me
An undergoing stomach, to bear up
Against what should ensue.

At the very lowest moment of his life, his tiny daughter’s smile gave the father the ‘stomach’ to go on, to face whatever life and the fates had in store for them both.  She is both literally and figuratively an angelic presence in his life.  (And his direct saviour–perhaps this is why there’s no Christianized presence whatsoever in THE TEMPEST, as we are meant to witness the divine through the eyes of the child–I don’t think Jesus would have any argument with that.)

There’s no doubt in my mind that Miranda has stayed at the very centre of Prospero’s self-education in Art and Magic, and that indeed it may prove that his power is only what it is because of her presence on the Island. I believe Miranda has a magical quality entirely her own, quite separate and potentially much more powerful than any male shaman or magician might achieve.

And as the intensely proud and devoted single father of daughters, I’ll finish this by referring the reader back to the dedication of this blog.