We started to work on setting the scene for feuding Verona. The feud between Capulets and Montagues, dating back to ancient times, still sits deep in Verona and affects every citizen, whether they are a Capulet or Montague, or a simple bystander. We have chosen a modern theme for this feud and why it is impossible for Romeo and Juliet to unite in peace, but we don’t want to give away yet which theme it is. One thing however we can announce, it’s Team Red versus Team Blue.
So here are a few sneak peeks from our last rehearsals.
Assistant Director Anna-Maria explains the fight choreography to Malena (Peter) and Anna (Benvolio). This fight-team faces a particular challenge since they are set to work downstage (and close to the edge of the stage), therefore every single step needs to be firmly memorised.
Here you can see Lise (Tybalt) and Malou (Mercutio) in action, while the rest of the cast is trying to learn lines. On a stage with only 2,5×1,5 metres, a fight scene is extra challenging. So our big question was, how can we come up with a fight choreography that is safe for the actors and yet engaging and with an air of menace? The micro-movements that these actors employ are simply stunning. Lise and Mercutio fully embraced the challenge and bring scene 14 (Tybalt accidentally stabbing Meructio under Romeo’s arm) to life. Bravo!
And here we see the actors setting the scene for feuding Verona. Enjoy!
And now to something completely different… when the director isn’t watching… ART!
Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt. Er lag auf seinem panzerartig harten Rücken und sah, wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob, seinen gewölbten, braunen, von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch, auf dessen Höhe sich die Bettdecke, zum gänzlichen Niedergleiten bereit, kaum noch erhalten konnte. Seine vielen, im Vergleich zu seinem sonstigen Umfang kläglich dünnen Beine flimmerten ihm hilflos vor den Augen. »Was ist mit mir geschehen?«, dachte er.
And there it was — opening night for Die Verwandlung! And us not only in the front row, but also represented with selected texts from our workshop.
Jan Friedrich’s take on Kafka’s text is an interesting collage. Not only does Friedrich work intertextually when implementing various scripts from Ibsen and Woolf, he also opts for a deconstructional approach: the Samsa family’s house gets literally taken apart during the 2,5-hour-show, so does the family itself and even the transformed Gregor is represented by a triple-bug played by three actors in pink bodysuits — Janosch Fries, Simone Oswald and Michael Schröder. The figure three is, as in the original text, continually taken up in the production — dismantled and then put together again.
Transforming an epic text into a dramatic one, especially one that relies so heavily on a narrator as Die Verwandlung, is always a challenge. Friedrich solved this challenge by having the various characters of the family take over narrative parts, therefore presenting the story not only out of one perspective, but out of multiple ones. The audience therefore is forced to put the puzzle together themselves — which character’s rendition of the events can one trust? To deepen various perspectives, the production employs medial means — a live camera projection of specific scenes is projected onto the outside of the Samsa house, and at one point, onto the torso of one of the three bugs. These images create a certain voyeuristic atmosphere, since these scenes rely heavily on intimate and private moments of the various family members. The only set-back would be the delayed and mismatching sound in these medial scenes.
While the set was rather puristic, the characters themselves were presented in a much louder fashion, much resembling the Simpsons. Painted in yellow, with oversized wigs made of foam rubber and wearing huge, bulging eyes, they appeared grotesque. Emotions were expressed through language and gestures, facial expressions could not be deciphered. Their puppet-like appearance could alos very well signal a dehumanized family unit.
The first half ended on one of the bug-actors seemingly in dialogue with himself, slipping back and forth between Mother and Son. The son, notifying his mother of a disease that would gradually degenerate and kill him, begs his mother to help him to end the torture. The mother though cannot accept her child’s death and therefore refuses to help him die. A harsh moment to be released into the break. After the intermission, the audience is faced with a new transformation, one into the reverse — from bug to human being, from bug to — so it is implied by the actor wearing a ‘human’ mask — Kafka himself. Notably this character stood out against the others because it appeared and looked as the only human being in this production, but also felt like one. At some point, all three bugs morph back into one entity and, void of any energy and determination whatsoever to stay alive, willingly allow themselves to be squashed by the house’s roof. The roof now sitting prominently on stage centre, turns into a hill-side area, with the remaining family members — father, mother and daughter — forming a holy trinity and frolicking about the future. Fittingly, the evening ends with the Maid chiming into the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun…”
All in all, it was an evening with some excellent acting and much conversation to ensue in the classroom. Thank you, Schauburg & team!
This week caused a bit of a stir among the ESM Players!
To Shakespeare, or…?
In the last years, team ESM Players has brought two of Shakespeare’s major tragedies from the page to the stage (Richard III and Macbeth), exploring how kings and queens strive and how they fail, how private decisions thwart the course of politics, how fleeting a moment can be and how desperate we often cling to exactly those fleeting moments. They also explored enchanted woods, fairies and elaborated on Bottom’s dream, and last year they took the complete works to stage (well, sort of, anyway). It was thus about time for teenagers to claim Shakespeare, his language and a story that is about them. No kings, no queens — but teenagers: young, untamed, ready to make their world a little better. Can you guess, which play it is?
The play’s the thing: why theatre matters.
Theatre is about all of us. And so is this play. Hailed to be the iconic play about true love, Romeo & Juliet is a play about our emotions: falling in love, falling out of love, quarrelling, rebelling against parents or authority, challenging or being challenged by peers, eating your greens… Ok, perhaps not quite about the last one, but how much more can a student theatre group ask for?
But it’s old-fashioned, boring!
I hear you. But that means you probably haven’t read closely enough and not had a chance to taste Shakespeare’s words. Taste again. Look again, allow the language to guide you, let us on your imaginary forces work. And work we will, we have set the play into a modern context, thus translating it into a feud that is very close to us and will make it all the more plausible, why Juliet’s and Romeo’s fates are indeed star-crossed. Which context exactly we have chosen, psssss! This remains a secret for a while, but we’re sure, you’ll have a ball with it once you see it. (Uh oh, hidden clue.)
The Casting: lead actors
Meet Laura: Juliet Capulet
Laura has been with the ESM Players for several years and starred in many different roles. This year, she’ll take on the play’s tragic heroine — she can’t wait to give Romeo a pep talk from that balcony!
Meet Anna-Lena: Romeo Montague
This is Anna-Lena’s first year with the ESM Players. She has vast stage experience from other theatre companies and is ready to don some pants this year.
Meet the rest of the cast in the following weeks. We can’t wait to present Romeo & Juliet to you. This play is for you.
From page to stage. This week’s workshop investigated specific acting techniques that help actors morph into specific characters. How do actors make their characters become alive, which information from the text can they translate into their character and how much freedom do they have to give them psychological depth?
To further the students understanding of movement and blocking, they creatively — and a s team — worked at becoming a bug. Once they had morphed into this bug, they were asked to move as a bug, as one entity. This actually proved to be harder than it sounds.
Another focus was put onto maintaining the energy in a specific scene and, in particular, on giving and receiving. The students lined up, facing each other and then were encouraged to act out specific emotional moments.
The most challenging scene was mother/father discovering their son was changed into a bug. How does the bug communicate with their parent? What are its needs? How does the parent react? Which emotions are displayed, and how? A challenge, which most mastered very well. What the students took away from this workshop was a deeper insight into emotional character development, trying it out yourself, rather than analysing it on the page.
This autumn, we’re Premiere Class for the stage adaptation of Kafka’s “Verwandlung” shown at the Schauburg, München.
Taking teaching literature away from the normal classroom routine of the classical teacher-centred style, we chose a different path to explore a German classic.
The Schauburg’s programme is very exciting as it gives 26 senior students the unique chance to follow a professional theatre production from the beginnings to its opening night. We gain insight into the rehearsal process, the production process and thereby closely follow the team’s steps towards its opening night.
Last week we talked about how actors and the director approach a rehearsal, especially at the early beginning of a production. After having tried out some vocal and physical warmup activities, we had a peek into the various characters’ minds, trying with only one sentence per character to make them come alive in our rehearsal space. How would you feel like if you woke up one day as a gigantic bug? Imagine instagram and social media had been around in Kafka’s time…
We also got some insight into the costumes that the costumes designer envisions for this production. Some grotesque, some fairly peculiar — and some of us even were reminded of cartoon The Simpson. Well, clearly, this is going to be exciting to see what the costume designer has settled for. We can’t wait!
It’s September — which for some means autumn is around the corner. For others it means that the ESM Players get together and don their costumes for the next Shakespeare show. So, let us introduce you to this year’s Team Shakespeare!
Those who have followed us for the last four years will spot some familiar faces. This year’s Assistant Director will be Anna-Maria (top, left corner), who has been the ESM Players ever since they had their humble beginnings. And back then they weren’t even called the ESM Players. So, good to have you back on the team!
We also welcome many other familiar faces — and many new ones. Welcome to the ESM Players family.
We will post weekly updates from our Shakespearean Journey, and next week we will announce our play and, of course, the casting. Stay tuned! We’re looking forward to entertaining you with another great Shakespeare show in March 2020.
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!
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.