An appreciation for the true essence of ensemble theatre, the electricity of enthusiasm and kinetic nerves that can pulsate through members of a troupe, is something that is not often considered or discussed in modern dramaturgy. While there are certainly a preponderance of awards specifically honoring the strength of ensembles, the actual spirit of ensemble acting or the dynamics which emerge from the productions put on by troupes, is somewhat lost on modern audiences. In the New Renaissance Theatre Company’s recent outdoor production of Shakespeare’s Tragedie of Macbeth, actively challenged and both the conventions of modern theatrical staging and the conceptions of ensemble interactions. This recent staging, which was paired with the Company’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, was designed specifically to capture the Shakespearean vision for theatrical productions, specifically of his own works (if, of course, you believe they were indeed his own). This staging of The Tragedie of Macbeth was prefaced—after an impressive, charmingly anachronistic sonorous introduction by two of the company members singing a very impassioned rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Trouble”—by the prompter for the show explaining the historical precedent for an outdoor, unrehearsed performance of Shakespearean theatre. Explaining the fear of creative theft and wanton reproduction in the absence of copyright laws, the prompter emphasized the importance of spontaneity in performance style and the irreproducibility of the scripts that the actors would work have to work with in their nightly stagings. Not only would actors not have the chance to rehearse their lines and stage directions for the highly demanding pieces they would have to perform each night (and often in a different locale every night), but each actor would be dependent upon a scroll that would only contain their own lines, in the hopes of preserving the integrity of the whole play. This production of Macbeth, part of the innovative Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, forced the actors to rely on not only just a scroll of parchment with only their lines transcribed upon it, but was also completely unpracticed (or, at least, relatively “unpracticed,” given the inability for a modern thespian to exist in a vacuum which Shakespeare or Macbeth cannot permeate) rendition of the play. Moreover, the Company’s production braving the element outdoors added to the purist authenticity of the production. The results, while at times anxiety-inducing given the precarious weather, were invigorating if not a little a disjointed. Granted, a fair amount of the disjointedness of the production can be attributed to the show’s lack of rehearsal—and, to the Company’s credit of authenticity, the actors relied impressively on a prompter for the entirety of the show as performers in the Shakespearean era would have. The production of Macbeth, while occasionally interrupted by modern disruptions like helicopters and planes, was enlivening, and the actors’ stamina and commitment to their cohesion, remarkable. The interconnectivity of the actors truly highlighted the potential of ensemble acting to be a beautiful beast in its own right—though, forced to single out, the Duncan, Lady Macbeth, and beloved witches truly stood out. The New Renaissance Theatre Company aptly lived up to the challenged they set out for themselves. And what is more, getting to hear a grown man with a beard belt out Kesha’s “Tik Tok” as a way of distraction from an interrupting plane was a delight, and probably had Shakespeare (or whoever actually penned Macbeth) sneering from his grave. The New Renaissance Theatre Company's productions of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew sadly have both already closed but if you'd like to know more about New Ren and their Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, click here.
I didn’t know much about Texture Contemporary Ballet's Resounding Sound before arriving at the New Hazlett Theater. I was a fill in for another writer that had fallen ill, so I only really knew the time and the place. I walked into the theater to take my seat and I was automatically intrigued. The stage was level with the ground the seats were cascaded like bleachers, knowing that was here to see a contemporary ballet performance I was thrilled, I would be able to see everything! The show starts and the band (for lack of better words, it was simply a vocal artist accompanied by guitar) is highlighted above the stage and begins to sing, and the dancers come out and I’m instantaneously thrilled. When I was a performer myself, we had this joke that we always wanted to give our best performance especially in ensemble numbers, to truly let our personality shine through because a critic that came to review a show we had previously performed said that they were “blown away by the 3rd ensemble member from the right”. Fast forward 11 years later and I found my very own 3rd ensemble member from the right, a dance student from Point Park University named DaMond Garner. I can’t explain how or why he was so captivating, but he demanded my attention from the first second that he stepped onto the stage and I was happy to give it to him. Upon exit my girlfriend said the same thing to me, she was mesmerized. (Thank you for such a great show, DaMond) The show itself was a unique experience for me. The band, Sacramento-based musicians, Justin Edward Keim and Vincent Randazzo, were singing songs that I was unfamiliar with but loved, very reminiscent of a John Mayer singing his own version of Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane. The dancers turned these songs into love stories that revolved around the theme “A Twist of Fate”. The performance was short, only lasting about 45 minutes with no breaks or intermissions, but they took us on such a beautiful journey in that little bit of time. The choreography was elegant and beautiful. At times I thought the dancers were out of sync and then they came back together instantly, which honestly is genius when you consider that they were telling stories about love. Perfectly imperfect is what I would call the work that Artistic Director and Dancer Alan Obuzor prepared for Resounding Sound. If you are familiar with the work of Mia Michaels, I would highly recommend you attend anything that he has to offer to the stage in the future. Along with Assistant Artistic Director Kelsey Bartman, he delivered an extremely original and passionate performance. Overall, I truly feel like they can separate the band from the dancing each can stand on their own as a great show. This was an absolutely beautiful performance from Texture Contemporary Ballet, which is in their 7th season, and now that I’m aware of what they do and how well they do it I am looking forward to what they have to deliver to us next. They will return to the New Hazlett Theater September 29 – October 1 2017 for Boundless. Can’t wait to see you all there. For more information on Texture Contemporary Ballet, check out their website here.
I love musicals for the interlude of melodrama and escape they provide from my tragically mundane life. The singing and dancing, costumes, and live orchestra swelling between me and the stage make my heart happy. Opening night of Stage 62’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot has me beyond excited. This is my first time seeing Spamalot but I am familiar with the zany British sketch comedy of Monty Python and the absurdist humor that forces you to laugh, even if you aren’t sure what you are seeing and hearing is stupid beyond measure or ridiculously hilarious. As I wait for the curtain to rise, I can't imagine disappointment. [caption id="attachment_5340" align="aligncenter" width="656"] Rob James and Carl Hunt[/caption] Spamalot is a parody of the 1975 film, Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Theatergoers who have never seen the film will not be left in the dark. The musical, ‘lovingly ripped off from the motion picture’, maintains much of the plot of the film, (or what there is of a plot amongst the craziness of smutty French soliders, a killer rabbit, knights who say “Ni” and the impossible task of locating Jews for a Broadway musical). Spamalot takes place in 932 A.D. England, when King Arthur, played by renowned Rob James and the animated Carl Hunt cast as his servant Patsy, traverse the country in search of recruits for the Round Table at Camelot. King Arthur's first 2 volunteers, Matthew Rush as Robin and Jeremy Spoljarick playing Lancelot are soon followed by a political radical, Sir Galahad played by Chad Elder and Nick Mitchell as Sir Bedevere. After some convincing by, leading lady, Stephanie Ottey as The Lady of the Lake and her Laker Girls the troupe arrive in Camelot. Once there they are contacted by God, the voice of Marcus Stevens, fresh from the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s prominent performance An Act of God, who instructs the knights to locate the Holy Grail. The men receive more encouragement from The Lady of the Lake and set off traveling the land, visiting a French castle, a dark and “very expensive” forest, and a frightfully comic run in with The Black Knight. [caption id="attachment_5341" align="aligncenter" width="656"] L-R Nick Mitchell, Matthew J. Rush, Rob James, Jeremy Spoljarick, Carl Hunt, Chad Elder[/caption] The Knights of the Round Table are next tasked with finding Jews for a Broadway musical then Lancelot runs off to rescue a damsel in distress and The Lady in the Lake is ticked off for not getting enough stage time. All of these experiences are expounded through madcap musical numbers, some ripping off other well known musicals. Songs such as “I Am Not Dead Yet”, “The Song That Goes Like This”, “Knights of the Round Table”, “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway”, “Whatever Happened to My Part?” and “His Name is Lancelot” will without a doubt cause laughter. There is so much more hair- brained chaos I would hate to spoil the show by revealing too much, but I assure you, with the help of the audience, the Holy Grail is found and a Broadway-esque musical is successfully performed, nonsensical perhaps but loads of fun. [caption id="attachment_5339" align="aligncenter" width="656"] Stephanie Ottey[/caption] Typical of Stage 62 productions, Spamalot’s cast is bursting with talent. Aside from James and Ottey, each lead is cast in multiple roles, which requires many costume changes and sometimes different accents and it all appears effortless. The cast includes many accomplished thespians, but it is without a doubt James and Ottey who steal the show. Their strong voices and mastered characterization are delightful to watch. Ottey’s diva flourish and Jame’s execution as King, provide moments of side stitching hilarity. The ensemble is a tight bunch, especially The Laker Girls. After seeing several musicals at Stage 62 I am confident in reporting the choreography for Spamalot is by far the best I have ever seen. Hats off to choreographer Devyn Brown for creating routines that are energized and engaging, especially, ”Fisch Schlapping Song”, “I Am Not Dead Yet”, “Knights of the Round Table” and “His Name Is Lancelot”. Becki Toth’s skilled stage direction allows the cast to emanate ease in movements and smooth scene changes on a small stage, all of which translate into a show well done. I will offer you with a trigger warning: if easily offended by the offensive, if you are uncomfortable with bawdy jokes, parodies, preposterous plots, ‘little boy’ type humor often revolving around flatulence, then perhaps you might lighten up just a bit. This is a summer show you don’t want to miss. Spamalot does not make much sense but that doesn't matter. The show is for grins, starring a tremendously talented cast and crew who clearly aim for having as much fun on stage as the audience does watching them. If planning to attend a performance of Spamalot be aware that the venue has a major construction project happening right now and there is no parking on their property. Neighborhood side streets may offer a few spaces. The theater company has a shuttle service that will transport you from the parking lot on Main Street in downtown Carnegie, up the hill to the entrance of their building. Spamalot runs at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall through July 30. For tickets and more information click here. Special thanks to Stage 62 for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of Friedman Wagner-Dobler.