ESM Players — Safety first.

Romeo & Juliet is a fight-laden play. There are three scenes in which fights take place, one scene that features a fake death and, we thought, why not add another one? So we will initiate the production with an unusual scene that is not originally part of R&J (albeit it, it is originally by Shakespeare, we promise!).

Our actors have a lot of fun with their theatre daggers, but before they may use them to rehearse the fight choreographies, they rehearse with rather unusual items. Anna-Maria, AD, is very keen on having the actors be comfortable with their movements and blocking before she hands out the theatre daggers. She explains that first she has the actors dry rehearse in slow motion, to emphasise and set blocking. Then they get their ‘replacement daggers’ — and since everyone shows up with their school utensils, what better to use than good-old highlighter pens. Only when neon-green and neon-pink have made it safely into the choreography, will Anna-Maria hand out the real props. And this we do every single rehearsal. We’re not there yet, but with the coming months ahead of us, by March it will look quite like the real thing.

Here’s a sneak peek of Tybalt (Lise) and Mercutio (Malou) — in slow-motion. The bags around the two actors, you ask? Well, you need to get the actors used to the proper stage dimensions of Galli Theater.

Video: Anna-Maria

Reminds you of something? Monty Python and The Holy Grail?

ARTHUR: Look!

BLACK KNIGHT: Just a flesh wound.

ESM Players — Update on Rehearsal Progress

What were we up to in the last two weeks?

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!

Schauburg/Die Verwandlung — Opening Night: bugs, bugs, bugs. And one Kafka.

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.

Kafka, Die Verwandlung

Schauburg Programme Cover

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!

Texts written by ESM students as presented in the Schauburg Programme

Und es war ihnen wie eine Bestätigung ihrer neuen Träume und guten Absichten, als am Ziele ihrer Fahrt die Tochter als erste sich erhob und ihren jungen Körper dehnte.

Kafka, Die Verwandlung

ESM PLAYERS — WEEK 2: Play and casting announcement

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.

Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich’s sein!

Schauburg und “Die Verwandlung” — Part 2

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?

Morphing into a bug

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.

Mobile bugs

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.

Giving and receiving

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.

Schauburg & Kafka’s “Verwandlung”: Being Premiere Class

This autumn, we’re Premiere Class for the stage adaptation of Kafka’s “Verwandlung” shown at the Schauburg, München.

Die Verwandlung

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!

Greetings from the ESM Players 2019/20!

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.

Follow us on facebook and at #esmplayers.

May the Bard be with you. And us.