Shakespeare London Excursion 2019 — Recap

This indenture made twixt 25th July and 2nd August 2019…

This year’s SLE saw a blend of gender-benders and gender-swaps, infused with immersive audience participation and some (not always) spot-on ad-libbing that fearlessly incorporated noisy passing-by trains into a romantic balcony scene. We also learnt to read the tide schedule and stepped onto the shores of the Thames River to dig out treasures of a different kind.

The theatrical experience

We started our theatrical journey with Iris Theatre’s Hamlet (Daniel Winder’s last production with Iris Theatre — we will certainly miss him!). This outdoor promenade production threw its audience into a modern version of England (rather than Denmark), with a political agenda of an unforgiving and cruel dictatorship. Hamlet, played by non-binary, transgender actor Jenet Le Lacheur, explored the meaning of power, life and death, but mostly of gender. And it is this exploration that dominates the production. While the rest of the court continuess to refer to Hamlet as male, Horatio embraces Hamlet’s female gender and refers to Hamlet as “My Lady.” This approach offered different readings of Hamlet’s internal struggle (“To be or not to be” offers new interpretation within gender-fluidity), yet it felt as if it wasn’t thought through to the end and added very little to the external struggle, the political and social conflicts. Other weaknesses were that the soliloquies felt oddly misplaced and rushed through, the question of Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia, his mother, his father — all became less significant.

The next production took us to the Globe: Henry V, starring Sarah Amankwah as Henry. Her androgynous rendition of a fairly young and inexperienced king renders Henry’s war-driven and power-hungry action as plausible, yet the supposed fear that the French experience when the English army invades their country, could not be traced — the English King does not live up to this mightiness that the text calls for. This production, too, played with gender-bending elements, so the French princess, Katherine, is played by Colin Hurley, at least twice as old as Amankwah. While it takes the audience a few seconds to adjust to this bizarre moment, it actually works because one focuses more on facial expressions, gestures, body language — all of which gives meaning to the scene between Katherine and Henry. The swift scene changes that often brought equally swift costume changes with it (on stage!), due to the reduced cast number, were stunning and breath-taking.

From this we moved to the next Globe show, the Merry Wives of Windsor. This production intended to entertain, and they did indeed. Falstaff, played by Pearce Quigley, pulled all stops to keep the audience on his side. The setting and costumes neatly played along, all in all — a light-hearted, entertaining evening. Shame though that the buck-basket scenes weren’t played out to their full potential (as the Globe did in its previous productions).

We then moved indoors to for Midsummer Night’s Dream at Bridge Theatre, with a star cast and many enchanting and hilarious moments. This production swapped Titania’s and Oberon’s parts — it is thus Oberon who falls in love with the Ass, which gives Titania a more vicious and devious character. The double casting of Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta worked well and added much to the production, it also had a nice side-effect to Theseus’ overruling Egeus in the woods when all four lovers are found after their intriguing night-out in the fairyland. Theseus, having flashbacks of Oberon’s affair with Bottom, rejects pre-arranged and forced marriage and advocates free choice of whomever you want to love. A plausible thought, yet: If Theseus/Oberon agrees that the “course of true love never has run smooth” and thus the lovers should be able to choose whomever they want as their partners, why then were the scenes between Oberon and Bottom in every detail of their affair overstereotyped and thus exposed to ridicule? All in all, the production was enchanting, lively and never dull — we were pushed around by the hosts (i.e. ushers) and made way for fairies and other lost characters in the woods. In the end we even joined in with the actors, dancing in the forest of Athens.

The final show was Romeo & Juliet by Open Bar Theatre. Neatly situated in a pub garden, this show’s four actors engaged their audience with this romantic tragedy. The audience was entertained, the scene changes swift and effective as always with Open Bar Theatre — but the question of whether a tragedy can work in this surrounding, in this atmosphere, with trains going by loudly and seemingly taking forever must be answered with a hesitant “not quite.” It worked well as long as everything in the play itself was light-hearted and all game, so the first half was simply brilliant. Yet when it turned dramatic, when corpses were strewn over the stage, the four actors struggled a bit to pay homage to the narrative. Nevertheless, an entertaining, lively and hilarious finale to the excursion!

Other treasures

Watching the plays and engaging in acting/directing workshops is only one side of the coin. To dive into 16th- and 17th-centuries daily life, we also retrace the original sites of the playhouses. For that, our participants transcribe the original documents that pertain to Shakespeare and his time, both at the National Archives and at Dulwich College. With all the clues, we embark on a treasure hunt, pinpointing early modern playhouses in 21st century London. No google maps!

This year, we also were able to look at the draft of Shakespeare’s request for a Coat of Arms.

And one highlight was marked by a special moment on the shores of the Thames river: mudlarking. Our focus was set on clay pipes, some even came prepared with the right booties — and clay pipes we did find!

As a summary, five thought-provoking shows, many fresh and inspiring ideas on how to bring Shakespeare into the classroom (and make it FUN!), lots of exposure to original material (and SHAKESPEARE’s SIGNATURE!), many good memories and many a clayed treasure to bring home. Thank you, SLE 2019 for making this another memorable trip — I am already looking forward to 2020.

Romeo & Juliet — Farewell & Thank You!

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Photos: Tom Hafner

Photos: Dora Lutz

A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd.
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

And farewell friends, thus R&J ends…

Thank you, everyone, for making this happen — and a big THANK YOU to our great audience!

Romeo & Juliet — Recap while the house was dark

While we had a short break, some of the actors and the producer got together and thought about the current production.

Maybe we should explain first why we chose Romeo & Juliet. Romeo & Juliet is a gorgeous play. It has several elements in it that the audience can relate to: teenagers falling in and out of love, generational conflicts, jealousy, friendship, quarrels… Everyone knows the story, and we wanted to tell it in our very own way. How do you feel about it? Is Shakespeare still relevant today to you?

Ken Lawler (Producer and Set Design): Yes, of course Shakespeare is still relevant today! His characters are relatable, the complexity of the human nature hasn’t changed much in the last 400 years or so and Shakespeare’s themes and motifs are timeless and as such still very much relevant today.

Sara Brandt (Romeo): Absolutely! Shakespeare’s drama and comedy are timeless, and Romeo and Juliet is one of the most enduring plays for a reason. 

So Sara, you have played several female lead roles (Rosalind and Lady Olivia), how is it to play a man? (asks the director with a grin on her face)

Sara: Not too different, really. The role of Romeo is pretty action-packed.  Dancing, kissing, climbing balconies, multiple choreographed sword fights and death by poison. But even harder than the action is the truly profound sadness that Romeo experiences. When Romeo promises to stay with Juliet forever, I often find myself crying for real.

Maria, how about you? What challenges did the role of Juliet bring to you?

Maria Binica (Juliet): Juliet goes through an emotional roller coaster throughout the play. In only one scene, she can change from being hopelessly in love, to cursing the heavens. She matures very fast and I think this is one of my biggest challenges, to present these emotional changes and her development, from a child to a woman. 

What about the others – John, Jennifer, Claire and David, what brings you to theatre?

John Yates (Capulet): I have been actor, director and writer. Everything I`ve done in the way of acting, has been with Entity. They are 20 years old, and I was there virtually at the start.

Jennifer Mikulla (Lady Capulet): I´ve always loved theatre, to act in one of Shakespeare´s play is the dream of every actor and thanks to Conny, I have fulfilled my dream 5 times over.

During my time with Entity, I have played many roles, most recently I was the chair of the Entity FEATS committee. FEATS being the four-day international theatre festival which Entity hosted for the first time in Ottobrunn this year.

David Hall (Montague): For me, working together with others is the main attraction – the team effort.

Claire Middleton (Lady Montague): Being now retired, I decided I wanted to do something with people and to have fun.  I always had a problem with public speaking and I decided it was time to get over it. I am not over it but it doesn’t seem to be so important anymore, because I have found my talent for costume making! 

We love our Theatron, but it bring about particular challenges, doesn’t it?

Ken: Well, outdoor theatre is how Shakespeare did it, so we try to live up to this. Since we set up and strike the set for every rehearsal and performance, it must be built in a way that this can happen quickly enough and yet it must convey the idea of the real place, in our case, Verona.

Sara: Since we don’t use microphones, it’s a constant challenge just to be heard.  We have to be louder than the beer garden, the children playing nearby, dogs barking, airplanes flying overhead…

John:  Yes, getting the correct volume is always a problem. I love the “sweet spot” though, where you get the echo of your own voice. It disturbs tremendously, but is fascinating none the less. 

Maria: Outdoor theatre — you never know what to expect.

David:  Especially with the weather, it is always an unscripted participant. We spend a lot of time looking at the sky with furrowed brows.

Claire: My main challenge is getting my voice loud enough as well as coordinating with the other actors. Perhaps the biggest challenge for me is keeping the time when beating the drum for the dance in scene 7! 

All in all though, the Theatron in Westpark is ideal. The acoustics are good, it is situated in a peaceful, but not too secluded spot and there is a beer-garden close-by that helps us to refresh after rehearsals.

Another question. How does one learn such a big amount of lines – and remember them? Any tips for other actors?

Maria: I needed first and foremost to understand the true meaning of my words and the emotions behind them.

Sara: My approach is to make a recording of the other character’s dialogue, with pauses for my lines.  Then, I play the recording and ‘talk back.’  I hope my upstairs neighbours don’t think I’m crazy, shouting and crying at a recording of myself!

John: I have less this year than last, but I think a greater range of emotions, which is no easier than having to learn the text.

David: Yes, repetition carves it into your memory, until the next production, of course.

Jennifer: In short: practise, practise, practise.

And now, let’s hear it from our cast — why should the audience come and see this production?

John: `Cause it is very good. Everyone knows the story, but how it comes to life is always different.

Maria: The outdoor scenery, our beautiful costumes and the set pieces transform the Theatron into 16th century Verona, where people speak in verse, they fall in love and out of love, dance at parties and then fight with swords.

Sara: Absolutely, come for the fight scenes!  We have an amazing cast this year, and we have SIX sword fights with NINE different actors. 

Jennifer: Audiences can expect to see a colourful production and a lot of insult slinging, kissing and murder.  What more can you ask for?

All this is true, and after all: for never was a story of more woe, than this, of Juliet and her Romeo.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

Four more shows!

18-21 July

7pm at Theatron, Westpark

Weather update: 0176 52441735

Romeo & Juliet — Impressions from first week performances

Pre-show backstage, discipline — warmup — getting into character and last instructions by directors and stage-management. Of course, everyone’s primary question is — how many members are in the audience tonight?

Photos: Dora Lutz

And then the magic moment happens, three drum beats announce the beginning of the play: the moment when audience and actors become accomplices. This is the beauty of outdoor theatre, where there is no fourth wall – no place to hide, all in the open.

Photos: Dora Lutz

And yet, despite the vastness of the venue, there are intimate moments, which create an experience for both, actors and audience, in a unique emotional way.

Photos: Tom Hafner

And who says that Shakespeare is for adults only?

Photos: Dora Lutz

And then there is, of course, the relief afterwards — after a 95-minute-iambic-pentameter marathon of emotional rollercoaster, physical workout and worrying looks up to the sky hoping for the weather gods to spare us the rain tonight, after all this and much more — nothing says “Yes, we did it!” better than a cold drink. Cheers.

Photos: Dora Lutz

Romeo & Juliet — Performance Week 1

So it finally happened, performance week 1. We are very proud to be listed as a Kulturtipp by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Münchner Wochenanzeiger, as well as one of the ten things to do in Germany this July by The Local. So what are your excuses not see us?

What a week! Outdoor theatre holds a lot of surprises, from dogs and small children running onto the stage, to (un)expected rain showers — and sometimes to having an opening night in a hut.

Since the weather gods were not in our favour for our premiere, but we still didn’t want to disappoint our audience, we spontaneously turned opening night into a command performance for 26 audience members, when we moved it into our backstage/storage hut. We set up the Capulet and Montague towers, the tomb, altar and even managed to bring Juliet’s bedroom alive — and all this without ever rehearsing an indoor version. That’s great team work! Below you will find a few impressions from that night.

Photos: Dora Lutz

If you have missed it, here is a review from audience member, Michael:

mit noch feuchten füßen, und augen, schreibe ich diese zeilen. auch wenn am ende noch der klang der gläser stand, heute bevorzuge ich das echo des gesehenen und gehörten. das besondere fand seinen anfang schon im außen: regen. auch wenn ich meine finger 6 tage lang kreuzte, krämpfe mit eingeschlossen, der himmel tut, was er will und so wählte er den ort für dieses schauspiel. und so fanden wir uns im inneren eines art zeltes, gerade so, als säße man selbst in dem turm von julia, so als ringe man selbst mit all den gefühlen die sich in den wunderbar besetzten rollen nach außen stülpten. es war nah. und gibt es einen besseren ort für all das ringen um die liebe, als die enge, die einem herzen gleicht? wo capulets und montagues ins herz hinein- und hinausströmen, wunden hinterlassen und es beschwingen, manchmal im lachen, manchmal im weinen und der glaube hilflos dazwischen steht? und im zentrum weilt ein bett und eine gruft…beides todesnahe orte…und zugleich frieden-bringende. 
so sind diese worte noch trunken von dem erlebten und die geschichte die schon hundertmale erzählt und durchlebt wurde, erlebte ich heute wie das premierenspiel, so frisch, als wäre shakespeares feder noch feucht. jede rolle fand ihren passenden lebenshauch, wie wunderbar sie nachhallen: romeo und julia, vorallem aber meructio, friar laurence, county paris und julias amme. wähle ich morgen die montagues? auf welche seite werde ich mich schlagen? auf die seite der liebenden! habt dank….und alles endet mit einem tanz…

And although the whole week was a mixture of sun and (sadly, quite a lot of) rain, we managed to perform in the open — our actual venue.

Photos: Dora Lutz

The weather gods seem to be more in our favour next week, so if you haven’t seen R&J yet, you still have a chance!

Tonight, 14 July and 18-21 July, 7pm, Theatron, Westpark

Romeo & Juliet — Week 10

This was our last rehearsal week before premiere. It meant pulling everything together, polishing the last few rough segments, being quicker for entrances and exits, being snappier and line biting. And it hath been done. Ten weeks of a Shakespeare journey are about to come to and end and find its culmination in eight performances (should the weather gods be with us — we really would like to break the spell of the six performances!).

And thus it is time to introduce the two households, much alike in dignity. Men in tights, ladies in long (often long-sleeved) dresses — you can imagine how this feels in 40 °C. Hot. We think they also look hot. In a good way. As a matter of fact, in a fabulous way.

So let us start with the Capulets.

The Capulets – Team Red — Photo: Dora Lutz

(From left to right, top to bottom: John, Jennifer, Helen, Tai, Sophie, Helena and Shreyas)

John (Capulet) has been with Entity for over 20 years. He has played various roles, from Him personally to being killed by an ungrateful stepson last year (he played Claudius in Hamlet). This year he repeats the father role, hoping not to be killed this time.

Jennifer (Lady Capulet) also has been with Entity from the very beginning and has filled almost all positions in Entity at one time or another. This will be her fourth Shakespeare production.

Maria (Juliet) pursues Japanese Studies and has come to Entity through this year’s workshops. It is her first production with the team.

Helen (Nurse) is of Irish and German descent. She joined Entity in 2016 and has played various roles. This year she is excited being in the midst of feuds, fights and love. (And yes, together with Friar Laurence, she pretty much is responsible for the love complications in this play.)

Tai (Tybalt) is back in his fourth Shakespeare production. Being stabbed behind the arras last year as Polonius with the ominous line “Oh, I am slain”, he gets to do some stabbing this year. Without ominous lines. When not on stage, he works in advertisement where you are strongly discouraged from stabbing anyone, except in the back.

Sophie (Sampson) is half French and half German and previously appeared with the ESM Players. This year she has tgd pleasure of biting her thumb at the Montagues.

Helena (Gregory) is originally from Finland and moved to Munich in 2019. This is her first Entity production. She also bites her thumb at the Montagues. Until someone gets hurt. Oh well.

Shreyas (Peter) is from India and this is his first experience with theatre. We think, he is doing a great job!

And thus, let us turn to the House of Montague.

The Montagues – Team Blue — Photo: Conny Loder

(From left to right, top to bottom: David, Claire, Megan, Susan, Luiza)

David (Montague) is from Oregon and was bitten by the acting bug in 2006 when he played a soldier in the Wyrd Sisters. The rest is history.

Claire (Lady Montague) is from Australia. She joined Entity in 2016 and loves to be creative, offstage as well as onstage. (She is our costume designer — and we are in love with our costumes.)

Sara (Romeo) is from the USA and has appeared in numerous Shakespeare productions with Entity, playing Rosalind, Lady Olivia and Rosencrantz. She also is thrilled to bring her swordplay skills to the Entity stage. (Our sword fights are AMAZING.)

Megan (Benvolio) has played several roles, among them, Lady Macbeth. This is Megan’s first Entity production.

Susan (Abram) is of Irish descent. She has been a member of Entity for several years. She is excited to be doing some stage combat for the first time.

Luiza (Balthasar) is from Brazil and studied Drama and Literature. She has filled many theatre positions and in her free time, she enjoys writing lyrics and rapping.

Sara as Romeo & Maria as Juliet — Photo: Conny Loder

And thus we are one final dress rehearsal away from presenting to you a wonderful production — swords, poison, love, rock ‘n roll. Join the fun!

11-14 & 18-21 July 2019 at 7pm at Theatron, Westpark