Thursday, February 28, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare Auditions March 16

Auditions for the 2008 Richmond Shakespeare Festival and the 2008-2009 Richmond Shakespeare Theatre will be held on Sunday, March 16 beginning at 2:00 PM at Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street). Callbacks will be held later that evening.

Shows include:

The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) – June 12-29
As You Like It – July 3-13
Henry IV, Part 2 – July 17-August 3
Hamlet – October 2008
Other shows in 2009 TBA

Actors should prepare a one-minute classical monologue, bring a resume and headshot (if available), and be prepared for movement and cold reading. Some roles have already been cast. Most roles are non-union, but a limited number of Equity contracts are available.

To make a reservation or ask questions, contact Andrew Hamm at 232-4000 or

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RAPT-urous Music from Liz Blake & Andrew Hamm

This past Monday night was our monthly gathering of voting members and at-large folk of the Richmond Alliance of Professional Theatres (RAPT), of which Christine Walters is president. This was called a Thirteenth Night celebration, held at ComedySportz, Walters' professional improv theatre company/club (RAPT's event has previously been held at Fielden’s on or about Twelfth Night each year). ComedySportz is doing great work there in a leetle hole-in-the-wall place at Staples Mill and Glenside. Really great. We also shared New Year’s Eve with this hilarious troupe, and if you get the chance, check out their shows. (And, see RS actors Pete Schmidt and Stephen Ryan, at ComedySportz on March 6&8, part of "Cousin Sheckie Improv!")

So, before the festivities, RAPT approved an important structure of RAPT’s foundation for Richmond Theatre Artists. Those in our community who fall on the hardest of times, whether due to illness, injury or extenuating circumstances, who have made significant contributions to Richmond’s theatre scene, may apply for financial aid. Artists dealing with life-threatening disease, life-altering circumstances may apply, or others may apply on their behalf, for assistance. It’s a great program, for whom the fiscal agent is Theatre IV/Barksdale; the fund is run through the Community Foundation. Great folks, great oversight, great mission. Win, win, win. Call our offices if you have any questions. (804-232-4000)

We were pleased to pass this policy structure, which was recommended by the Community Foundation, to govern the fund. Thereafter, Richmond Shakespeare offered to host one of the upcoming meetings. (summertime, to help showcase our wonderful summer venue at Agecroft Hall) Richmond artists do indeed take care of their own.

Next, Liz Blake and Andrew Hamm kicked off the entertainment portion of the evening, singing with skill, beauty, pleasure, grace and passion. In a word, they were fantastic. I’m biased, but I love to hear them sing. They kicked off their set (the evening included standup and improv to follow, but these guys were one hell of an opening act) with "Honor Riches Marriage Blessing," the primary song Andrew composed for this past summer’s 2006 production of The Tempest, followed by a song from Measure for Measure, also lyrics-by-Shakespeare-music-by-Hamm. The song, and its placement in the top of our show’s second half are consistently my favorite moments of Measure. They followed this with a piece from Andrew’s graduate thesis adaptation of Grammy winner Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, "Breaking Us In Two," which showed their full harmonic range together and showcased Liz splendidly scoring passionate low, LOW notes with aplomb. They sounded great. Andrew rounded out the evening with a song inspired by his experiences on Measure, and it might have been sung from the perspective of Angelo, “feasting on her eyes.”

All in all, a great evening. Four chances left to see Hamm & Blake in Measure for Measure.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's March Workshop

"Professional Development"
with David Sennett
Tuesday, March 11, 2008, 7:00-9:30
Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street)

What does an actor need to survive and thrive in the working theatre world? Headshots and resumes, of course, but also numerous monologues, special auditioning and rehearsal skills, marketing plans, and financial strategies are just some of the requirements. How does an actor go about obtaining what he/she needs? And what about unions, agents, managers? Learn some basics about making a living doing the work you love. Actors should bring headshots and resumes for feedback.

Instructor David Sennett is an Equity and SAG actor, teacher, director, and producer who has appeared nationally on stage and screen. He currently teaches Theatre at the Center for the Arts at Henrico High School.

15 students maximum. High school juniors and older. Cost: $20. Spaces are limited. Call 232-4000 to make your reservation today!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Style Weekly: "Measure for Measure" is "Bracing" and "Gratifying"

From this week's Style Weekly:

Quick-Change Artists
Actors make the most of multiple roles in “Measure for Measure.”
by David Timberline

Richmond Shakespeare Theatre’s practice of “doubling” — having each of its actors play two or three roles in a show — has always led to some interesting juxtapositions. Its current production of “Measure for Measure” may present the most fascinating and artistically rewarding combinations yet.

In this complex consideration of moral gray areas, Andrew Hamm portrays both the strict Duke’s deputy, Angelo, who must crack down on the reprobates of Vienna, and the unfortunate gentleman Claudio, who gets cracked down upon. Both of these characters are fraught with inner conflict, and it’s a tribute to Hamm’s considerable skills that he is able to make each man’s trajectory riveting and distinct. He even throws in for good measure an amusing comic turn as an elderly constable.

Hearing that Claudio has been sentenced to die, his novitiate sister, Isabella, leaves the nunnery to plead for his life. Angelo makes her a devil’s bargain: If she sleeps with him, he’ll free her brother. As Isabella, Liz Blake is convincingly enchanting and proves her acting mettle in the extreme emotional rollercoaster her character must ride.

Spurring the plot into greater complication is Vincentio, the Duke (David White), who disguises himself as a friar to spy on the proceedings. White doesn’t quite do enough to differentiate the Duke from the pimp Pompey, but he salvages his performance in some exceptional final scenes.

In other supporting roles, Julie Phillips makes her biggest impression as the bawdy Mistress Overdone, and while John Moss’ near-farcical take on the opportunistic Lucio sometimes seems to belong in a different play, it’s also consistently hilarious.

As is befitting one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays, this production has some issues with the mix of comic and melodramatic elements. But the overall effect is a bracing — and gratifying — journey down a murky moral path.

Great to hear such praise from Style Weeky! And our review appears directly beneath the review of Doubt, making this "Nun Week" at Style.

If I may be so bold, I need to point out that this show has grown tremendously in the two weeks since the Thursday preview that Mr. Timberline saw. All five actors have really deepened their connection to their roles. If you saw the show early, it's worth coming back to see it again.

There are only two more weeks of Measure for Measure. Don't miss this show!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Images from Last Week's "Playing Multiple Characters"

If you missed Jill Bari Steinberg's fabulous workshop, "Playing Multiple Characters," last week, well, you kind of had to be there to get how much fun it was. One of the most enjoyable parts, for me, was watching the work of the five actors comprising the cast of our next show, As You Like It.

Here are several thousand words' worth of pictures to help get the experience across:

Jill Bari presides over the chaos.

Adam Mincks (Touchstone in As You Like It) and Sunny LaRose (Rosalind).

Lelia Pendleton, Patrick Bromley (Orlando), and Julia Rigby (Celia).

Jacquie O'Connor and Frank Creasy (Jaques)

Jill Bari is very tall.

Sunny LaRose.

Billy Christopher Maupin.

Four ridiculous characters.

Thanks to David Bromley, Patrick Bromley, Frank Creasy, Joey Fanelli, Becki Jones, Sunny LaRose, Billy Christopher Maupin, Adam Mincks, Jacquie O'Connor, Lelia Pendleton, Susan Scovill, Pat Walker, and of course to Jill Bari Steinberg for her time and talent. It was another fantastic evening for the training department.

Next up: David Sennet's "Professional Development" on March 11!

Friday, February 15, 2008

In Defense of the Bad Guy

If you've spent any time in a talk-back session with me, you've probably heard me gleefully admit that the only thing I might like better than creating art is talking about creating art. This blog is quite the enabler for me, isn't it? It certainly gives me a great opportunity to talk about making Measure for Measure, which has been among the most rewarding experiences of my artistic life.

Since about halfway through our production process for Measure, James Bond (the director, not the fictional spy) and I have shared a similar experience: that of defending Angelo, the assumed "villain" of the play. With friends and colleagues, at home or at the Shakespeare Association of America conference last month, in every conversation we end up in about the show, it seems like our production's interpretation of Angelo becomes central. That's a bit of a red herring; yes, we have found an approach toward the character that we can't find much if any precedent for in the show's long production history (though we believe it to be completely supported by the text), but it changes a lot more than just Angelo. The whole triangle of Angelo - Isabella - Duke is shifted if you begin with the assumption that Angelo isn't a villain.

"Wait a minute," Shakespeare Scholar objects. "Angelo condemns Claudio to death for fornication, a crime that has gone unpunished in Vienna for 19 years. He tries to coerce Claudio's sister Isabella--a novice nun, by the way--to sleep with him to save her brother, and after he thinks he has slept with her he still orders Claudio put to death. How is this guy not a villain? He's a rapist and a murderer! And besides, the Spark Notes edition lists his character as 'Angelo: the villain of the play'."

Well, first of all, that's why I hate Spark Notes and their ilk, which bring the play down to the level of the reader, rather than the Arden or Folger editions, which endeavor to raise the reader up to the level of the text.

Secondly, Angelo fails to either rape Isabella or murder Claudio. If he's a villain, he's not a very competent one. Mariana, his spurned fiancee, substitutes for Isabella in the silent darkness of Angelo's garden house, and she is far from an unwilling participant in the act. And Claudio is spared by the disguised Duke and the Provost, who substitute the convenient head of the fever-slain pirate Ragozine for Claudio's. But the point is well taken; he certainly has ill intent for much of the play.

However, he's not doing these things in a vacuum. Angelo is no Iago, who performs his deeds out of hatred and jealousy; he's no Macbeth, who acts out of ambition and wife-whipping. When presented with a position of authority based solely on the fact that he has a reputation as a strict and righteous man, Angelo begs the Duke to give him some lesser responsibility. He has no idea what to do. When presented with policy decisions, he has no background to draw on for anything other than strict interpretation of the law.

Angelo reminds me of myself. When I got my first job as actor/road manager for a Theatre IV tour, I was a jerk. I thought I needed to act like a boss; I believed that my right to manage was assumed, where in reality it needed to be demonstrated. I was terrible at the job, and I made some very nice people hate me. I was Angelo.

Then Isabella (played by Liz Blake) shows up, gorgeous and brilliant, probably the first girl Angelo has ever been this close to and the first person he's met in town who's as smart and virtuous as he himself is. Having resisted temptation all his life by removing himself from it, he now finds himself not just tempted by Isabella, but, I believe, genuinely and sincerely in love with her. And, truth be told, in a diferent play they'd be a great couple.

So Angelo is in love for the first time. He's 35 years old, he's having all the hormonal rush of a 13-year-old, and he has the power of Claudio's life and death in his hands. He simply doesn't have the experience to resist using the powerful leverage he has to achieve the powerful urges he has. Then, when Isabella returns to discuss the matter, she repeatedly, innocently, seems to be saying "yes" to his thinly-veiled offer to trade Claudio's life for her love. Finally, he's just been tuned to too high a pitch, and strung along for too long, and he snaps.

Does that excuse him? No. But it goes a long way toward explaining him.

Viewing the play's antagonist through the lens of explainable action changes everything about the characters who interact with him. Doesn't Isabella bear some of the blame for the way things spiral out of control? She meets with him alone, she eggs him on, she stays in the room long after Angelo has made his intentions clear, and she certainly has argued passionately that her brother's fornication was no big deal. Of course she doesn't deserve to be propositioned, threatened, or sexually assaulted, but she is far from blameless for the situation she has placed herself in. Some of the show's company--including the director--have even posited that Isabella's refusal to give up her virginity for her brother's life could be seen as every bit as unreasonable as Angelo's insistence that any act of fornication is punishable by death.

The biggest culprit, in my mind, is the Duke (played by Dave White), our supposed co-protagonist with Isabella. First, he places Angelo in a position of power for which he is completely unprepared. Next, when things start falling apart, the Duke doesn't jump out of his disguise and set things aright; he chooses instead to remain concealed and concoct a series of elaborate plans to hook Angelo up with his ex and send him a substitute head. Most dastardly is his decision to keep Isabella ignorant of the fact that Claudio's life has been saved, holding onto that information for a later time, when he will delight her with good news just in time to ask for her hand in marriage.

This, to my mind, is every bit as nasty as anything Angelo does. How is the Duke's manipulating Isabella's love for her brother in order to get her as his wife any better than Angelo's manipulating Isabella's love for her brother in order to get her as a one-night stand? Certainly, the Duke is no "villain." He does save the day in the end; no one is executed or raped, and everyone (except the unrepentant Lucio) ends up in some degree of happily-ever-after. But it's very telling that Isabella has no lines after the Duke proposes to her. For such an intelligent, verbose character to have nothing to say is not an accident for a writer such as Shakespeare.

As an actor, I always want to love and understand the character I'm playing. Loving Angelo the manipulative strict attempted rapist is obviously harder than loving Angelo the lovestruck helpless broken-hearted screw-up. It's much more playable to wrap my head around the idea that he's a generally good guy in way over his head who makes terrible, terrible decisions and feels awful about them afterward. And he is devastated by his choices, separating himself from Shakespeare's true villains with a soliloquy at the end of act four wherein he expresses profound regret for his actions despite the fact that he is convinced he will get away scott-free. Even at the end, when he has been forgiven by Isabella and pardoned by the Duke, he still apoligizes, "crav[ing] death more willingly than mercy."

To my mind, that's no villain. And I don't think that's just better for the actors; I think that makes for a better audience experience. We see something of ourselves in Cassius, in Hotspur, and in Bolingbroke, something much more approachable than the unrepentant villainy of Iago, Aaron, and Richard III. I think we've all gotten ourselves into bad situations from which we couldn't extricate ourselves. We've all lied and been caught in it. And in the end, we've all been in that moment where maybe we would rather just be caught cleanly than get away with what we know we did wrong.

I've been Angelo. I've been the bad guy. I think we all have.

Disagree? That's what the "comments" link is for, my friends. And we have two more Acts of Faith discussions scheduled, after the shows on Sunday, February 17, and Friday, February 29. Or, if you just want to tear my head off after the show, I can easily be persuaded to argue the point over a pint at Penny Lane after any show.

Photos by Eric Dobbs.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "Measure" "Offers Much to Chew On"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

A comedy wrestles with morality
Richmond ensemble takes on tangled plot of Shakespeare play
Sunday, Feb 10, 2008 - 12:08 AM Updated: 02:49 AM

Richmond Shakespeare's entry in the Acts of Faith Festival, Shakespeare's comedy "Measure for Measure," offers much to chew on in the areas of morals and ethics.

The Duke of Vienna has been lax in applying stringent societal laws; he pretends to head out of town and gets his deputy Angelo, a much tougher enforcer, to take his place while he's gone. Angelo promptly condemns one Claudio to death for fornication -- a crime that has typically gone unpunished by the duke.

Claudio's sister Isabella, a novice nun, begs Angelo to let Claudio off, but deceitful Angelo is willing to do so only if Isabella sleeps with him (with Angelo, that is -- confused yet?). The duke is hanging around Vienna disguised as a friar, and when he learns of Angelo's treachery he devises a plot by which Angelo will be tricked into thinking Isabella has submitted to him. So Angelo has sex with a substitute girl, but he still demands Claudio's death. The execution is faked, the duke reveals the truth and metes out justice, and then he asks Isabella to marry him.

It's fairly complicated, morally as well as plot-wise, and Shakespeare has blended serious matters with comic ones throughout. No one is quite blameless here, though several characters are shameless, or hiding their shame.

In Richmond Shakespeare's production, director James Alexander Bond upholds the company's high standard of spoken verse and pulsing energy as realized by a terrific five-actor ensemble.

Each actor plays at least three roles, and all the characters are well-distinguished. Liz Blake plays Isabella, lovely and innocent, brave and outraged. Andrew Hamm, as Claudio, has a classic scene with her in which he begs her to sacrifice her virginity for his life. He's also perfectly tuned as hypocritical Angelo.

John Moss is amusing and animated as Lucio, Claudio's friend, and Julie Phillips is strong in several smaller roles. David White does a fine job with the role of the duke. It's a lively performance that lends heart to the production.

Thank you to Susan Haubenstock! One of the great things about doing plays with universal lighting is seeing Ms. Haubenstock's mysterious Mona Lisa smile in the audience during a show.

Matinee today at 2:30. Come out and join us!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Shakespeare on Ice!

Many thanks to the small but enthusiastic audience who attended last night's preview performance of Measure for Measure.

Our temporary carpeting made it look a bit like the show was being performed by Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner in places, but it was nice to have someone other than our crew in the house. It's always nice to be reminded that the jokes are funny, especially for this particular play, which I recently heard described as "a comedy with tragic relief."

Tonight's opening will be less slippery, I promise. And there's a reception afterwards, so please come join us!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Measure for Measure:" February 7 - March 20

Next up at the Richmond Shakespeare Theatre:

Directed by James Alexander Bond, who brought you Richmond Shakespeare's critically-acclaimed productions of Julius Caesar and Henry IV, Part 1, featuring the acting talent of Liz Blake, Andrew Hamm, John Moss, Julie Phillips, and David White, costumes by Rebecca Cairns and stage managed by Heather Johnson.

Death! is the sentence for impregnating a woman before marrying her, and even though Claudio does intend to marry his Juliet, he’s in a heap of trouble! The good Duke of Vienna has taken a break from royal duties, handing the reins of government to the strict conservative Angelo, who is tempted by Claudio’s sister Isabella, a nun’s novice; if Isabella will yield to Angelo's desire, he'll spare Claudio. Confused yet? Even though appearances in Shakespeare have a way of unraveling and all might end well, someone will be put to death, someone else spends a reckless night alone with a woman he cannot see, the clowns of Vienna will howl and the city itself could crumble. Be careful who you judge, as judgment might be passed on you!

Richmond Shakespeare's contribution to the Acts of Faith Festival, Measure for Measure is a story of passion and prayer, lust and restraint, sin and virtue, offense and forgiveness. One of Shakespeare's last comedies, the play is in many ways one of his most rich and complex, with broad bawdy humor alternating with theology and philosophy centuries ahead of its time. "The tempter or the tempted: who sins most?"

Mature themes but appropriate for age 14 and above.

Show times are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8:00 and Sunday afternoons at 2:30. All performances are in the chapel at Second Presbyterian Church (5 North 5th Street). Click here for directions!

Click here for tickets!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's February Workshop

"Playing Multiple Characters"
with Jill Bari Steinberg
February 12, 2008, 7:00-9:30
Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street)

Richmond Shakespeare is delighted to welcome local star Jill Bari Steinberg to our training faculty for this month's workshop.

Playing multiple characters in the same play, or even the same scene, can be an intimidating challenge--or it can be a heck of a lot of fun. Jill Bari Steinberg could be considered Richmond's resident expert, having played every role in the 2004 award-winning Theatre Gym production of The Syringa Tree, which was revived at the Barksdale in 2007. This workshop will impart techniques to create distinct physical and vocal character choices, as well as directing focus changes to establish each person. Each participant will finish the workshop with a complete multi-character scene performance. You don't have to be working on a one-person show (or five-actor Shakespeare) to benefit from these character-building tools!

Instructor Jill Bari Steinberg has been called "a civic treasure" by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She is a two-time recipient of the Times-Dispatch’s Phoebe award and was one of the first recipients of The Firehouse Theatre’s Wall of Flame awards for her body of work there over the past 10 plus years. Recent highlights include Barksdale's The Member of the Wedding, Brooklyn Boy and The Man Who Came To Dinner, the Firehouse's As Bees in Honey Drown, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Bat Boy: the Musical, and Theatre Gym's My Children! My Africa, A Devil Inside and How I Learned to Drive (just for starters).

The class is open to high school age and up. Space is limited. Participants should, as always, bring a bottle of water and be prepared to move.

Contact Director of Training Andrew Hamm at or 804-855-4998 for more information or to make a reservation.