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Recent blog posts

Why are the line numbers different?

Posted by on in General
We get asked this a lot and the answer may seem simple, but can sometimes be complicated to understand. So I put together a sample comparison between a few editions and some key points to consider.
 
Paper books gave us a durable medium which has lasted for centuries. It’s a fixed size, from small to large, and fits into a pocket or a bag. In Shakespeare’s day, this portability factor was key to making literature accessible to the masses.
 
In 2014, we have truly gone beyond the traditional paper book with eBooks and the Internet. Text no longer takes the form of a fixed layout on a page of predetermined size. Web pages flow continuously and you scroll to read. If you’re reading the NY Times on your computer, the pages and text flow will look different when viewed on your mobile phone or tablet device. Instead of content being predetermined by the author or publisher, it’s adapting to the context where it’s being displayed. The text may get larger when viewed on a mobile phone vs. what’s displayed on a big computer screen. If your eyes are bad, there might be a button to make the text larger, smaller, or change color to suit your preference.
 
Shakespeare’s texts have been studied in great detail over the years and a handy way to reference specific lines in each scene is by line numbers. This works great, but as publishers, editors, and scholars developed their own editions, line numbers varied due to editorial decisions—some editors preferred the quarto version over the folio version or vice-versa. This caused line numbers to be off by sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.
 
When Shakespeare’s text become electronic, line numbering became problematic because blank verse has defined line breaks, but prose doesn’t. This didn’t matter so much when we had print books because the columns were laid out by the book designer and prose line numbers could be adjusted to match a previous or alternate edition. But when the columns are different widths (or when there are no predefined columns at all), prose line numbers can be completely inconsistent.
 
If the plays were written entirely in blank verse, complete with hard line breaks for each line, the problem of prose line numbers wouldn’t exist. But that’s not the case. There are only five plays that are 100% verse:
 
Edward 3
Henry 6.1
Henry 6.3
King John
Richard 2
 
There are five plays that are mostly verse with a small percentage of prose:
 
Antony & Cleopatra (92%)
Julius Caesar (94%)
Macbeth (92%)
Titus Andronicus (98%)
Two Noble Kinsmen (95%)
 
And there are no plays that are 100% prose—Merry Wives of Windsor (87%) is the highest followed by Much Ado About Nothing (72%) and Twelfth Night (61%).
 
The spreadsheet below shows the line counts for Hamlet (72% verse) across a variety of editions, including the edition on this website the same edition used in our Shakespeare app.
 

line_numbers.png

 
As you can see, differences in print editions can vary by up to a few hundred lines. When it comes to digital editions, that variance can be even more depending on the screen size of the device (and font size) you’re using to view the texts because of how prose text reflows and editorial differences. The PlayShakespeare.com and Shakespeare app editions are identical, but they will reflow differently by as much as 100 lines over the course of a play. Plays with more prose will have more variance than plays with less. The 28% prose within Hamlet means the play could have large variance.
 
In my opinion, line numbers should never be dogmatic. Actors and directors rehearsing a modern play today would never use line numbers to find their place in the text (they estimate or navigating by act and scene numbers or page numbers). So I’ve always taken the tack that line numbers are a guide to get the reader in the ballpark, if not the exact line. If the line number is used in rehearsal, discussion, or study, its accompanied by a note or comment of some kind to give context.
 
So the next time someone insists that all editions are alike when it comes to line numbering, you can tell them that’s not at all true. Even the same edition viewed on multiple digital devices will also be different.
 

A Tiny Tempest

Posted by on in General

Tact will be performing A Tiny Tempest, a fast paced 55 minute version of The Tempest at this years Edinburgh Fringe. If you are going to be there like our facebook page or contact me for special offers.

It has taken a (very) long time, but PlayShakespeare is proud to announce its first review of Two Gentlemen of Verona, performed in Shona (native to Zimbabwe), no less. London reviewer Craig Melson caught the production, which is part of the Globe-to-Globe festival hosted by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. You can read his review here.


Reviewing 'lesser done' Shakespeare is a key goal for the site. We have reviewed twenty-nine Midsummer Night's Dream productions, twenty-seven Hamlets, and twenty-two Macbeths. By contrast, for example, there are only two King John reviews--a fact we'd like to change over the coming year. Additionally, we are still looking to review a production of Two Noble Kinsmen, Sir Thomas Moore, and Edward III. If you are putting on a 'lesser done' Shakespeare in the near future, please be in contact with me or the staff reviewer in your area, as we are keen on reviewing your show.

NEW YORK, NY  - The Shakespeare's Sister Company  is raising funds for our all-female theatrical production William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"  to premiere Valentine's Day, 2012 in New York City's East Village. Our film noir version features chicks with guns during the 1929 St. Valentines Day Massacre.  The production is being presented as the Shakespeare's Sister Company's on-going mission in women's empowerment and social change for women's rights.

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The Need
In 23 days, we will need to raise a minimum of $8000 to get the show up and running for a solid production run.

In Our Production
This epic tragedy will be set in the roaring 1920's of Chicago when gang rivalries between the Italian and Irish sprung up over power struggles within the underworld culture. Emulating the Al Capone vs. Bugs Malone rivalry, the Capulet's will represent the Italian south side and the Montague's will claim the Irish north side.

Underground Speakeasies, playing jazz and rag time music, provide a mysterious setting to escape from the strict laws of prohibition. With a high unemployment rate leading toward the great depression, desperate people take desperate measures to maintain jobs and keep friends. The Capulet's host a masked ball where they invite policemen to drink from their illegal alcohol stock and seal the deal to keep their bootlegging anonymous. Romeo sneaks into the Capulet's masquerade party to spy on their transactions and falls into forbidden love with the fair Juliet. The Capulet's domination of bootlegging infuriates the Irish and sets up the tension leading to murderous fights between the two groups akin to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929.

Women have just gained the right to vote, but there is still much to fight for in this patriarchal and dangerous society. Juliet will test the waters of exploring women's new found freedom by dating a boy from the wrong side of town. She journeys from a young woman forced to have a constant guard (her nurse) to a cultured flapper who visits speakeasies, has male sleepovers, and is allowed to decide her own fate.

With an all female cast, this show will create opportunities for women to play both female and male roles in a divided society. Women will play the men as men allowing females to explore the violent nature of gangsters adjacent to women playing females trying to find the strength to fight for their right to rise up in society.

About the Shakespeare's Sister Company
Formed in 2008, the Shakespeare's Sister Company is a not-for-profit theater organization which supports women in the arts. Our commitment is to produce great new plays and established theatrical works by female authors. Our mission is to address global change through the theater, including women empowerment workshops and literacy for youth.

For more information, please visit our webpage at Shakespeare's Sister Company at http://www.shakespearessister.org and our kickstarter campaign on http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/546154532/romeo-and-juliet-st-valentines-day-massacre-of-192

New Five-Part Series

Posted by on in General

PlayShakespeare is about to begin publishing a five-part series covering filmed versions of the Bard's works. Writer Matthew Henerson has written a magisterial account of major Shakespearean films, resulting in a "top five" recommendation list. Each installment will cover a review of one film and Henerson's reasons for including it in the list. Images and, where possible, video clips will accompany the stories. Look out for a new installment every week, and leave your comments on the message boards.

I'd like to draw attention to what I expect must be a first for PlayShakespeare (I haven't checked all the archive reviews, so I may be wrong): two reviews of the same show. In December, I reviewed the Donmar Warehouse's production of King Lear (you can read the review here) in London. After a highly successful run, Lear was broadcast live and then went on tour throughout the UK. Recently, Lear (featuring Derek Jacobi in the title role) made its way across the pond, where New York reviewer Roseanne Wells saw it. (You can read her review here.)

Sometimes productions can be divisive, but I think it's pretty clear that this Lear is fantastic. Both Roseanne and I rated it very well and highlighted Jacobi's performance as the work of a true artist. Michael Grandage's direction also received high marks.

If you're interested on two different takes of the same production, check out the Lear reviews.

I have recently posted Michael Meigs's review of Measure for Measure, performed by the touring company of the American Shakespeare Center (based in Staunton, VA). Michael is the PlayShakespeare Austin, TX correspondent, and saw the show last week when it came to UT-Austin. His perceptive review contextualizes MM as one of Shakespeare's 'problem plays' and points out the text's many seemingly contradictory currents. In the review, Michael indicates his appreciation of the actors for their solid performances, but takes issue with the direction, feeling that it oversimplifies a complex text. The production's overly-humorous emphasis glosses over important themes.

It is a commonplace to say that every age, every generation, has its preferred Shakespearean plays. The 19th century was apparently enthralled by King John, but the history play is now rarely performed (the only review on PlayShakespeare is here). Other plays, however, are being 'rediscovered' as occasion demands--Troilus and Cressida with the beginning of the Iraq war and Timon of Athens with the start of the financial crisis. Even traditional standards of the repertoire have seen a darkening in tone, as witnessed by the Midsummer Night's Dream from director James Rutherford. Shakespeare's canon is large enough, and his writing insightful enough, to remain topical, it would seem, 'for all time'.

What Michael's review uncovers, however,  is a production that resists (whether through deliberate choice or good-natured obliviousness is unclear) the 'problem' of this 'problem play'. His review brings up the question, 'Must we respond to the "problem plays" as "problems"'? Is an interpretation that ignores the more serious elements of the text a legitimate interpretation? In this day and age, can productions of MM (or T&C, WT, Tempest etc.) get away with a purely lighthearted tone? 

Questions, questions, questions...

Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Posted by on in General

So begins my four-day, five-play and one interview tour of England's Shakespearean scene. I am currently sitting in the cafe/bar area of the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. I left London by train in the afternoon, and after an unremarkable journey, arrived in Bristol an hour and a half later. It was a ten-minute (and clearly signposted, thankfully) walk to the Youth Hostel, followed by a longer, more languid trek to the Tobacco Factory, outside the city center.

The Tobacco Factory is one of those re-claimed, re-constituted spaces, now trendy and housing a flourishing arts scene along with a sizable bar/cafe. Speaking of which, the spicy (curried) carrot soup + a portion of homemade bread has just arrived. Tasty. The cafe/bar is large and open, with a small raised stage area on its far left side. A series of red beanbags line the stage, in addition to painted warnings: 'No kids on the stage'. How are they supposed to resist? [Having just set down my laptop to collect my tea from the bar, I catch the woman sitting next to me reading what I've written so far. Sorry, lady, no points for subtlety.]

Tonight's performance is Richard II -- a play I feel in love with the first time I read it in an introductory Shakespeare class in college. I am eager to see it performed, and early buzz on the Twitterverse has complimentary things to say. As I walked down the long Bristol streets to the Tobacco Factory, I felt the anticipation one feels for a satisfying event: there's something deeply settling about witnessing what you know to be a strong play performed by (what will hopefully be) a strong cast.

Tomorrow is a train ride back to London, a short Tube journey to an east London train station, followed by a train ride to Norwich.

Review of Richard II  forthcoming!

 

 

Shakespeare for All Seasons

Posted by on in General

If the on-line newspapers are to be believed (or many of my friends' g-chat status updates), the US east coast is drenched in snow. Here in London, gray skies and rain make for a dismal February. But the weather has not prevented some counter-seasonal productions. In the last week, PlayShakespeare has posted two reviews of A Midsummer Night's Dream, one staged in California, and another in New York City.

As a way of shaking off the mid-winter doldrums, I am arranging a mini-Shakespeare tour of England. On Wednesday (February 17) I leave London and head westward to Bristol to see Richard II at the Tobacco Factory. Though Richard II is one of my favorite plays to read, I have never seen it in performance (live performance, that is). The next day, I need to be on a train by 8 am to head back to London where I hop on another train and go straight to Norwich. Hopefully arriving before the 2 pm start time, I'll see Propeller's Comedy of Errors and, later in the evening, Richard III. The all-male company has been receiving strong reviews, and I'm excited to see what they do with the plays. Between the afternoon and evening shows, I'll be interviewing members of the company to ask what it's like working in an all-male performance group. If you have any questions you want asked/answered, send them along to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Friday sees me on another train, headed to Bury St Edmunds to see a production of Much Ado. Saturday is a drive to Guildford for the Guildford Shakespeare Company's Hamlet, staged in an old church. I'm told the first fifteen minutes are going to be frightening -- looking forward to a production that makes the ghost a fearful presence. Possibly early next week (before leaving for Bristol) expect an interview with the GSC and the show's director Caroline Devlin. 

On my trip, I'll be blogging about my experience (when I'm not typing up reviews). If you have questions or issues you'd like me to address, send me an e-mail, or tweet -- @beijingcoma.

Up-coming on PlayShakespeare will be more book reviews, including Contested Will and 1599

Cheers

Chris

Introductions

Posted by on in General

Hello PlayShakespeare community!

My name is Christopher Adams, and I am the new editor for PlayShakespeare. I am excited about the opportunity to work with PlayShakespeare as it enters the new year and looks forward to expanding its scope, both in the US and elsewhere.

In 2011, PlayShakespeare hopes to add reviewers in several cities throughout the US, Canada, and the UK, helping to generate a greater number of reviews and creating a deeper understanding of Shakespearean performance. In the more distant future, the site seeks to become, truly, the place of record for global Shakespearean performance, first focusing on the English-speaking world and then branching into areas further afield. So be on the look-out for reviewer postings in your city.

Additionally, the site is looking to have its finger on the pulse of Shakespearean/Shakespeare-related events by offering book, film, and exhibition reviews.

Already in January our reviewers are scheduled to cover shows in California (Hamlet Has No Legs), New York (Cymbeline, Midsummer Night's Dream), and London. Ron Severdia has already offered his take on the Julie Taymor-directed Tempest  (starring Helen Mirren) and Mary Maher's book Actors Talk About Shakespeare.

My schedule is set to become quite busy, covering the RSC's winter London season (with Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and King Lear left to see). At the end of the month, I'll be attending Comedy of Errors by Sell A Door productions at the Greenwich Playhouse, followed by Richard II, Richard III, and another Comedy of Errors in February (the last two by the all-male company Propeller--they will be featured in an up-coming interview). Indeed, I'm toying with the idea of going on a two-week Shakespeare binge in the latter half of February, since so many productions are set to open. 

The winter is only just the beginning--a warm-up to the full-on extravaganza that is spring/summer Shakespeare. And, at least in the UK, it's looking like it will be a spectacular season. Kevin Spacey (who needs no introduction) is set to star in Richard III at the Old Vic, Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) in Hamlet at the Young Vic, and David Tennant and Katherine Tate (Doctor Who) are scheduled for Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado at the Wyndham. The RSC has announced the plays for its up-coming season, making use of its new (and impressive) performance facility in Stratford. The Globe has chosen to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible with its 'The Word is God' season, featuring, among other plays, Hamlet, Doctor Faustus, and a modern play entitled The God of Soho

All in all, it looks to be a busy season.

If you have any questions/comments, feel free to e-mail me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Chris

 

Please tell your friends. Almost finished with our Hamlet based docudrama. Thx.Our Link: http://kck.st/hozRMI

Closing it out

Posted by on in Boulder CO
It's my last full day in Boulder, and this will be my last post for this blog. It has been an amazing summer, and I've been impressed and touched by the interest in my summer project and in the completion of my Shakespeare canon. But it's time to say goodbye to this season and to all the new friends I've made, and get back to my home and my cats and more familiar routines.

My wife Jannie flew out from the Bay Area last Friday, and has seen both of the shows I'm in; we'll go together this afternoon to see Woody Guthrie, which I know she will love. Tomorrow we'll set off across the mountains for home; we still haven't determined our exact route, but it will probably take us through southwest Colorado and across southern Utah. We've traveled extensively in the Four Corners area in recent years and we always enjoy it greatly.

We closed Henry last night, going out on a high note. There was no performance in the Rippon last night, so many of the company who are in the three outdoor shows, and who had been unable to see Henry before, took in the closing performance. They were a clued-in, responsive audience, closely following the subtleties of the plot and giving us a standing ovation at the end; it put the cap on the feeling of achievement we've experienced, a sense of taking a little-known, seldom-performed work and demonstrating that it can be not only a viable play in performance, but a dynamic and involving evening in the theatre even for those unfamiliar with its history. Personally, I was happy with where Wolsey has taken me as a performer, and felt I had grown as an actor through the process of rehearsing and performing it. You can't ask more than that of a production.

We close Three Musketeers tonight, and then the season wraps up with final performances of the other three plays Friday and Saturday. The company will scatter to the four winds, and each of us will be going on to new projects and fresh challenges. For myself, I start next Tuesday teaching two classes (Shakespeare language and theatre history) at Solano College, and understudying Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll at ACT. By this time next week, all that will be left of this season is a few pictures and a lot of valued memories, and the distinction of achieving something unusual in the professional theatre. I would like to thank all those readers who have followed my journey, taken notice of what we've accomplished and shared with me my excitement at bringing the circle of my Shakespeare career to its close. I hope it's been of interest to you.
The season will close in two weeks now, and there's a pervasive sense in the company of the end getting nearer. For the largeish group of us doing Henry and Musketeers, in fact, we have only ten days to go; we close those two shows on the twelfth and the thirteenth. Then we'll scatter to our various destinations around the country and the season will be only a memory. There's nothing quite so "over" as a summer festival, a group of people who had never worked before (at least not in that exact configuration) and never will again.

The company is dancing as fast as it can on the edge of the world, to steal some metaphors from other sources. Drinks at the Sink after each evening's show, and get-togethers in the apartments at the Townhouses into the wee hours, are pretty much a nightly occurrence now. No one has daytime rehearsals any more, so except for the few that have day jobs in the area the last vestiges of responsibility have dissipated and all we have to be concerned about are the evening performances (and an occasional weekend matinee). Most of us can sleep in mornings, and into the afternoon if need be. So we're partying diligently and with purpose, trying to hang onto the moment as long as we possibly can.

The challenge for us as performers now comes from the length of time between performances. Many of the shows, this late in the season, may perform as seldom as once a week; we did Henry twice this week, on Thursday and last night (Saturday), but we don't do another show for a full week, until next Saturday. It's not necessarily that we go rusty, or are liable to forget our lines (although it's always a good idea to run through them the day of a show, which I do), but that the tightness, the rhythm, what I've referred to earlier as the "flow" seems to need consecutive performances, or at least two or three close together, to fall into place. Until last night, the best show for me personally had been a couple of Sundays ago, when we did a 7:30 show following a 2:00 matinee. For that evening show we felt well warmed up, comfortable with one another, and ready to enter that special space where we are really playing together. Fortunately, we end the run next Saturday-to-Tuesday with four shows in four days, so we expect to go out on a high note. Sean proposed last night that the cast should get together voluntarily a couple of hours before the performance next weekend, to run lightly through the show together, and I expect most of the actors to show up for that. We have a pretty good esprit de corps and most of us are very committed to giving the best performance we're capable of.

Last night was the fiftieth anniversary of the first CSF performance of (Hamlet) on August 2, 1958. Philip presided over a little ceremony from the stage following the curtain call for Macbeth. I had a feeling of pride that my own participation had stretched back into the Fesival's first decade, and that I'd worked with many of the people responsible for its creation. I was already in a nostalgic mood because Larry Gallegos, who had played Shylock in my first season in 1966, had come to see me in Henry last night; and then who should I see after the ceremony but Ed Stafford, the fight director from those first seasons, who had driven up from his home in La Junta for the weekend. Three or four former actors from the company in the 60's have come to the stage door after seeing shows over the past weeks, and it's always been special, even when my memories of them were a little vague. It pleases me that they remember me fondly and share something of my feeling of closure in my summer project.

Getting High

Posted by on in Boulder CO

My old friend Robert Sicular has been visiting here from California this week, with his friend Tim Orr, seeing the shows and their friends from the Tahoe Shakespeare years. It's been good to hear their input on our performances and to have a jolt of fresh energy in our party scene, now running out of steam a little in the July heat and the routine of nightly performances.

Yesterday being everyone's day off, we got a party together to drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park, about 90 minutes' distance from Boulder, and do some high-altitude hiking. Sean (King Henry), Philip (Artistic Director), Robert, Tim and I all piled into Phil's Subaru-- a tight fit, most of us being six-footers-plus-- and drove through Estes Park and up the old dirt road to the visitor center near the summit. We then found a good trail from Milner Pass, a few miles down the western side of the park, back up to the visitor center, a nice hike of four-plus miles rising from about 10,760' to 11,800'. The cool weather was a real relief after two weeks of temperatures in the nineties in Boulder, and there were still big patches of snow on the ground. But the main pleasure was finally to get up to the high country after weeks of glimpsing the mountains so tantalizingly close, but never having free time enough to get up among them. A particular thrill was to climb up past the tree line and-- pretty abruptly-- find ourselves in the alpine tundra that covers all the mountaintops above eleven-five or so. It was well worth the discomforts of getting there, and an exhilarating experience to share with old and new friends.



The view of the tundra



Sean, Tim, Phil, Robert near the timberline



Rocky Mountain columbine



Indian paintbrush

The Saga of Seth

Posted by on in Boulder CO

I've been meaning to write about Seth.

Seth Maisel is an actor in the company; he's in all three of the outdoor shows. He's one of the two or three best fighters in the company, small and compact (five-foot-five, 180) but fast and very agile. He catches your eye onstage, especially in action sequences, by his shock of sandy hair, his quickness, and his native flamboyance-- he has that watch-this quality that makes him stand out.



Seth as a Cardinal's Guard

As I watched Seth in rehearsals, especially for Three Musketeers-- where he appears in almost all the fights, seven in all-- it occurred to me that he's always fighting (often brilliantly) but seemingly never winning. This has to do with his casting. In Macbeth, he's playing messengers, murderers and kerns-- Gaelic GI's-- and the early battles are mostly a showcase for what ruthlessly efficient killing machines Macbeth and Banquo are, so anyone who gets in their way is likely not going to come off looking too good. Murderers-- not to denigrate their important function in Shakespeare plays, but well, they generally prefer the sneak-up-behind-and-stick-'em tactic to the fair-fight showdown (unless things go wrong, as they sometimes do), and messengers are usually unarmed and can be mauled and manhandled at will, as they often will be if their reports include prophecy-fulfilling mobile forests. (I remember hauling poor Kate Heasley, my Birnam Wood messenger, all over the stage, and I once dropped her more or less on her head. Accidentally. Really.)

Then in Love's Labours, Seth plays Moth, page to Don Armado. This of course is not a play one associates much with stage violence, but Moth does need to "present" baby Hercules in the Pageant of the Nine Worthies, so he gets to tussle with Cerberus ("that three-headed canis," a stuffed puppy-dog) and the (yes, stuffed) snake that tries to bite the young hero in his cradle. Even here, it must be sadly reported, the results for Seth are-- to put it charitably-- mixed.

But it's in Musketeers that his talents for coming off second best in a fight are really on display. And again, it's really not his fault. Seth is cast as Jussac, the captain of the Cardinal's Guard; and anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Dumas story knows that, just as Richelieu himself serves as a foil for D'Artagnan, the Cardinal's Guard are basically there to lose to the Musketeers. Whether it's a bar fight, a street brawl, an aborted abduction or a raid on a convent, there's Seth in the forefront, attacking valiantly, picking out the most challenging opponents, showing off his dazzling swordplay skills... and getting tripped up, disarmed, befuddled, knocked out or kicked in the family jewels one more time. If it were me, I'm sure I'd have developed a raging complex about it before the summer was half over. But Seth, he just keep comin' back for more.

So I asked Seth to break down the list of all his fights over the three shows so I could run a little statistical analysis. We put together a chart that classifies his combat by play, by what character he is, who he's fighting for and against, the outcome of the fight, and wounds or injuries, if there are any (and there usually are). The results, run through a sophisticated data-analysis program I have devised (mostly involving counting on fingers, and quite a few toes), revealed the following results:

Seth is involved in sixteen episodes of onstage violence.

Of these, ten are clear-cut losses. The outcomes for our hero include (a random selection):

* Being knocked down and hamstrung by the Thane of Glamis

* Thrown face-first to the deck by an angry King McB.

* Chased offstage by Malcolm

* Disarmed, hand cut by ill-advisedly catching an airborne rapier

* Knocked out by a baguette broken over his head

* Head slammed into wall

* Head slammed into table

* Head slammed on stairs

* Fallen on by two other guards (one of whom, Earl, is-- um, large), and then

* Stepped on by them as they run away

* Hip-checked (Duke of Buckingham) to the face

* Double-kicked in groin by Planchet and Athos

* Clotheslined by Athos

* Elbowed in face by Athos

* Slashed in butt by Athos (you really should learn to avoid this guy, Seth)

* (eventually) Run through by Athos...

But wait. We're being unfair to Seth here. He has his moments of glory too-- those brief, shining moments when he rises above the cruel fate of his casting and he triumphs-- if only temporarily. He gets to slash Athos-- once, not fatally. He does very well, on balance, in his contests with the plushies. (You should see him go to work on that snake.) He actually knocks out Old Siward with a shield-bash. And he does a very nice job on the Macduff baby (after its mother has nearly scratched his eyes out) with a battleaxe. Yes, I think we can say that, on balance, he wins that one. Maybe not the most stellar of victories, but-- when you're a kern... well, you take 'em where you can get 'em.

Here's to you, Seth. The season would be a lot less fun without you.

Everything's Open

Posted by on in Boulder CO

Well, we now have five shows up and running. Musketeers opened Saturday night, miraculously with only minor hitches. Director, cast and our redoubtable stage managers Amy and Shannon somehow pulled it all together and we got it on stage in all its raggedy splendor. I'll write more about the show next week; in the meantime, here's a link to four pages of great photographs, a mix of rehearsal and full-dress shots, from our company member Zach Andrews:

http://shinyscale.jalbum.net/musketeers

Henry played three times in the week just past, including a double shot Sunday-- matinee and evening, with a talk-back after the afternoon show-- and many of us, tired as we were, welcomed the opportunity to perform the show back-to-back. It's difficult to generate momentum and "flow" in your performance when several days elapse between shows, though it gets easier as you get more performances under your belt. By the Sunday night show, I was feeling loose and relaxed, more confident in the first scenes of Act I and with a freedom to try some new things-- different emphases, new colors, some fresher line readings-- in the big downfall scene of III, 2. A couple of reviews of Henry came out during the week; they're good, and fair to the show I think, though the Denver Post critic seems to be in some confusion over the play's date of composition-- it was probably written around 1613, ten years too late to curry any significant favor with Elizabeth (who had died, as he correctly notes, in 1603). Here are links to that piece and to the Boulder Daily Camera review as well:

http://www.denverpost.com/theater/ci_9901426

(this one has a fairly good picture of your hard-working correspondent)

http://www.dailycamera.com/news/2008/jul/18/csfs-henry-the-eighth-engrosses/

(and this one even spells my name right.)

It's Saturday morning, and The Three Musketeers opens tonight. In defiance of all probability and logic, it has come together over the past couple of days with amazing swiftness. Our tech time was severely cut into by the delays in finishing the set; the lighting designer, as of last night, was still improvising cues on the fly; the sixty-five or so costumes are still getting their finishing touches, and the music is being integrated at the very last possible minute, but last night we performed for a thousand preview patrons and actually delivered a nearly polished and rather exciting show. It's still a bit wild and wooly; many of the acting scenes are underrehearsed, so much of the rehearsal time having gone to the fights; the fighters are banged up in a myriad of minor ways (although the only semi-serious injury is to Athos, with a puncture wound to his hand), and we're all having to keep our wits about us at all times; but by golly, it feels like we have a show. It's the perfectly normal and quotidian miracle that is live theatre, in action again-- we all know that somehow it's all going to work out, but we have a superstitious fear that if we count on it, this is the one time that the magic won't happen. So we worry, and fret, and wring our hands at the impossibility of putting together something so big and so complex in the woefully inadequate time we have; and yet our faith is rewarded, our doubts rebuked, our complaints forgotten in the whirl of performance. I'm reminded of an exchange that occurs two or three times in Stoppard's screenplay for Shakespeare in Love (I may be paraphrasing): "It will be all right." "How??" "No one knows. It's a mystery."

There's something I haven't explained till now, concerning how much the Festival has changed in the years since I was here last (and most radically in the past couple of seasons, since Phil Sneed took over and expanded the season to five plays). In the early years of the CSF, we produced a three-play season; all three productions rehearsed simultaneously, nearly the whole company was in all three shows, and we opened them on three successive nights in July and ran them in a strict rotation for three or four weeks. This was not all that hard to do, as there were very nearly no sets at all. We performed on the grass of the Mary Rippon stage; there was temporary forestage built to bring the action closer to the audience (though it was made permanent, and built of the local sandstone, I think for the 1967 season), and in some seasons a curving staircase up to one of the towers, which Edgar Reynolds dubbed "the Treppen" (German word for "stairs"). There were two permanent stone benches stage left and right, and for a backdrop the walkway in front of the museum building behind the stage, and the doors of the museum itself. This was in perfect consonance with the values of Shakespeare production preached by Jim Sandoe and Jack Crouch, which was rooted in the bare-stage simplicity of the Elizabethan playhouse, where scenery was likely at a minimum and scene succeeded scene with no more than a piece or two of furniture being moved on and off stage.

Modern "conceptual" Shakespeare production is far more ambitious in scope, and the theatre has extended its reach to reflect the change. Directors and designers want to transform the entire space to provide a visual correlative to their ideas about the world of the play; and greatly increased production budgets and a much larger staff allow us to have three individual sets, almost totally different from one another. I've previously posted pictures from the two other outdoor shows; now here is the just-completed (all but a few details being finished up today) set for Musketeers:



A comparison of the three pictures will reveal how little overlap there is between one show's set and another. Even the diamond-shaped thrust that is a basic element in both Macbeth and Musketeers is eschewed completely for Love's Labours. Clearly, the amount of platforming in the former two shows requires that the construction be solid and reliable; actors have to be confident that the upper levels on which they're running around, emoting and killing one another are safe and secure. Much of the framing is actually done in steel. So we need a substantial shift crew (eight or ten strong, I think) that can change over from one set to another, even if they have to work all through the night, following a performance, to do it-- I know they fully expect to see the sun rise on Sunday morning, which is their first changeover out of Musketeers and into LLL. We owe our personal safety, as well as the credibility of the illusion we're creating, to them-- the proverbial unsung heroes.

My next posting will deal with the next three performances of Henry after opening-- we do both a matinee and evening tomorrow-- but in the meantime, here's a link to the review in yesterday's Denver Post. Not a bad review, though the critic is clearly fuzzy about the play's date-- it was written about 1612, nine years or so after the accession of James I and therefore a little late to hope to curry favor with Queen Bess...

http://www.denverpost.com/theater/ci_9901426

Canon Completed

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Well, the object of the quest has been attained, and now it's time to settle down and just perform the thing. I often feel-- and many other actors feel this way, it seems-- that opening nights, with their parties, hype, cards and gifts, friendly audiences and critics in attendance, are more trying than exciting; that the evening is to an extent something to be got through and put behind you so you can focus on the real work of recreating the play afresh for a new audience every evening. The opening night has so many added distractions that it can distort the actual creation of the art, and though sometimes the crucible of pressure is so intense that it can produce something rich and strange, I'm usually relieved to get it over with and settle into the calmer rhythm of the run.

In rep, however, that's a luxury we don't always have. After Saturday night's opening, Henry goes dark for five days; we don't perform it again till this Thursday, and then not again until Sunday. It will be a different challenge, to create the show anew after such a gap, and without a brush-up rehearsal to get our heads back into the world of the play. So it's each actor's personal responsibility to get him- or herself ready to go again. I'm looking forward to it; I think this is a well-disciplined company, most of whom have been working this way all summer long, and they know pretty well what's required of them.

I felt okay about my own performance, but only okay. I'm still feeling a bit tentative in the first act of the show, and don't really feel in the flow until somewhere in Shakespeare's Act II, which culminates in Katherine's trial scene-- and is more than halfway through Wolsey's own character arc. The big downfall scene, Act III scene 2, which people would probably take to be the single greatest challenge of the role, is paradoxically where I've come to feel most confident and at home, so that I look forward to it each night; but I feel I haven't quite nailed the powerful, manipulative, cosmopolitan and utterly self-assured Wolsey of Act I. That's my immediate goal for the next couple of performances.

In the meantime, we're all (no, not the whole company, but there are 33 of us in the cast) dealing with the challenges of The Three Musketeers. Some of the fears I expressed earlier about the ambitious scope of the season are threatening to be well-founded. The scene, costume and prop shops have met the challenge of putting up four different shows on four successive Saturdays, but the technical demands of Musketeers are huge, the tech staff probably exhausted, and we're several days behind as we move into what is supposed to be a first dress rehearsal tonight. We have yet to rehearse on the set, which is still under construction, and much of our blocking only will make sense when we can work with the levels-- there's a whole upper gallery stretching across the rear of the entire stage, and there's sometimes simultaneous action upstairs and down. So I expect a fair amount of chaos and confusion tonight as we try to integrate scene changes, furniture moves, light and music cues in with the swordfights, brawls and dances, all in clothes we've never worn before and in a space some of us have never worked in before (I have, but it's been exactly 34 years and eleven months since the last time). We'll get through it all and pull it off somehow. But it's going to be stressful, and there's not enough time.

Opening!

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Well, tonight's the night. We felt good as a company about last night's preview; the house was full and the response was all that could be asked for. I felt a little shaky in the first act-- I dropped four or five lines in my first scene with Cardinal Campeius-- but the big scenes went well for the most part and I feel ready to strut my stuff for friends and critics. It's hard to know how the show can be expected to do critically-- and I'm far from the most objective observer. I'll write another posting in a couple of days, after the excitement has died down.

I'm indebted to my friend Zachary Andrews (who plays a calm, impressive Archbishop Cranmer) for these photos taken at final dress. A wider selection can be seen at http://shinyscale.jalbum.net/CSF.


Preview

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We do our one and only preview of Henry tonight, prior to Saturday night's opening. One often feels the need for more previews, especially for a comedy where audience response is a big part of the rhythm of the show-- ACT and Berkeley Rep typically have a full week of previews before the opening. But it feels as though we'll be fine. The rehearsal process has taken five and a half weeks, though the scheduling has been irregular, and I think everyone feels pretty confident of what they're doing, considering we've only been working on the set for about four days. The costumes, of course, have added a new dimension (as well as an additional challenge-- I'm having to learn to clear my three-foot train so I don't walk back over it), and the show feels ready for an audience.

The set is quite simple and unadorned, its starkness relieved only by a few furniture pieces (thrones, benches, one large screen for Katherine's apartments) and two or three "flown" pieces (lowered from the flies, that is) that add some color-- I open the show with a Prologue excerpted from Wolsey's final scene, while being ceremoniously robed by two monks behind a scrim, painted with the royal arms, which becomes transparent when we are lit behind it. I'm told the image is very effective. The costumes are the single element in the production which approaches high concept, and I'm not sure how effective they will be. The designer was impressed by some unfinished portraits he saw by Hans Holbein (in effect the Tudors' house artist) in which the head and shoulders were fully detailed but the bottom of the canvas remained unpainted. He has transferred this to a look in which all the costumes are made of off-white fabrics (pretty uniform in color, although with a wonderful range of fabric textures) and then hand-painted and appliqued so that every figure on stage is neutral from mid-chest tp the floor, with all the color and detail (fur collars, chaplets, chains of office) concentrated above the sternum. The idea is to direct the viewer's focus onto the faces, consistent with the director's emphasis on character interplay over spectacle; I worry only that all those near-white tones may be a little overwhelming and actually achieve the opposite effect. We'll see. Here are some of the sketches to give an idea of the effect:




My other concern is with the pace of the show, especially in the second half. The play reminds me of Julius Caesar in that after two of the three main characters-- Wolsey and Katherine-- pass from the scene, the most dramatic actions of the play have run their course, leaving to Act V the plotting of the King's Council to dislodge Archbishop Cranmer, and the birth of the baby Elizabeth (with the attending encomiums and golden-hindsight prophecies of her future greatness. At the moment, it seems to me that the last few scenes are a little lacking in dramatic drive, and even in the earlier acts, I could wish that scene followed scene with more energy and pace-- the action tends to stop, the stage darkens and music (well-chosen, evocative music-- I will say that) plays while furniture is moved and the scene prepared for the next group of characters. I fear that we lose some momentum and energy that way-- I've always been of the opinion (fostered, as so many of my tastes in Shakespeare are, by my early work under Jim Sandoe) that one scene should follow another with as little break as possible, with the initial line of the new scene following the final line of the previous one on word cue, if possible. The effect of our current style in Henry I would call stately rather than dynamic.

Into tech

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We start technical rehearsals on Henry today-- what we call a "10-out-of-12," two five-hour sessions separated by a two-hour supper break-- and the show feels ready to take the next step. Last week we were able to get onto the stage for one session to do a runthrough, but only about half the platforming was in place, so the rehearsal wasn't as useful as it could have been; and then Sunday night, for our last run, we were back in the rehearsal room, with the set taped out on the floor. I look forward to working today on what should be essentially a finished set (except for detail work), with the big staircase leading up-center that will make many of the entrances and exits work. At the same time, we'll be fitting in the sound and lighting cues, some stage effects (a scrim behind which Wolsey is robed at the top of the show, doors that open or close to give the space a different look) and maybe some costume elements; we should be in full costume for the first dress tomorrow night. The cast is confident; runthroughs have gone smoothly, with only occasional glitches, and the character-on-character interactions are sharp and dramatic.

Henry VIII, over its long stage history, has been known for its pageantry. It's unique among the plays in the Folio for its elaborate stage directions, describing in detail (much of it taken directly from Holinshed and other sources) processions, visions and set-pieces that must have showed off the full capacity of the King's Men to dazzle their audiences with sumptuous visual displays. This reputation accounts at least in part, I think, for the play's being seldom produced. When fans of the Bard think of the play at all, they associate it with court intrigue, maneuvering for power among obscure factions surrounding the throne of England and the Papacy, and with that elaborate pageantry; their expectations are not so much for stirring scenes of personal conflict.

Jim Symons, our director has taken a different approach, downplaying rich visuals in favor of a simpler, more unadorned look and trying to place greater emphasis on the three major characters, Henry, Katherine and Wolsey, and their individual arcs of action. The hope is that the story will thus be easier to follow, with less detail that's extraneous to the central story, and that the interplay of character will thus be sharper and more compelling. We'll see how the strategy works. I think it promises well: the small minority of our audience that's acquainted with the play even just by reading it (and I remind myself that I'd never read it through until last fall, much less seen it on stage) may miss the expected spectacle, but most should be happy to focus on the interactions of a few important characters and to fill in the rest with their imaginations-- inspired by the many versions of the story that have flooded popular culture, from the old "Six Wives" BBC series and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons to the recent The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors series on Showtime.

In other news: the Festival opened its second outdoor show, Love's Labour's Lost, over the weekend. It should be an audience-pleaser, with some gifted comic actors taking Shakespeare's eccentric characters and running with them. Again, as with Macbeth, I had some problems with how much the director has chosen to cut and change. The action has been transferred to an Edwardian garden, with topiary hedges, a sundial and a fountain that punctuates the action with unpredictable spurts, and with an ending that seems to presage the World War ("Keep the Home Fires Burning" replaces both the Cuckoo and the Owl songs) in a way that I didn't find pertinent. The royal references ("King" of Navarre, "Princess" of France) are virtually all removed, and that, along with a breezy insouciance among the four young men in their venture into Academe, seemed to me to render the issue of their oaths and oathbreaking, and the political dimensions of the Princess' mission, less than consequential. So I felt the absence of an underlying seriousness beneath all the horseplay.



The set for Love's Labour's Lost

I've been thinking, though, about my attitudes toward cutting in Shakespeare production. I'm always ready to pronounce (usually critically) on directors' excising of material to which I have a personal attachment. Back in the day, as they say, Jim Sandoe almost always delivered his productions uncut, typically in uncorrected Folio versions (though I remember an editing session on Pericles in 1973, going laboriously through the text to bring our readings into line with the 1609 Quarto, including a number of what had to be typos!), and that instilled me with a primitive belief that just about every word that Shakespeare wrote could be made to work on stage. But I probably need to remind myself that modern audiences are not necessarily prepared to sit still and listen for three-hours-plus, much as I may think they should be. It gives me a pang when a favorite line, speech or even scene is left out of a production I'm watching; but how much of that is just pride in how well I, Julian, know the play? There's quite a lot of cutting in Henry too, but because it's a play I don't know well, and have no previous experience of performing, I haven't formed attachments to particular parts of the text, so I'm prepared to see them go without too much regret. My own ox, as it were, is ungored.

Second Show

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Last weekend the Festival opened its second show-- Woody Guthrie's American Song-- and it's a knockout. I'd seen the show more than a decade ago at Berkeley Rep-- its adapter/director, Peter Glazer, is a Berkeley resident-- and I had looked forward to the opening with some anticipation. It's done with a cast of five and a four-person band, and apart from a couple of dozen great songs, tells a story that resonates with any American with a sense of the country's history, and with Californians in particular, since a good-sized section deals with the "Okie" Dust Bowl refugees who flooded into the Golden State in the 1930s, and the hardships and outright hostility they encountered. I've become very good friends with Sam Misner and Megan Smith in particular, the two cast members who are also in Henry, and who have Bay Area roots-- we share many mutual friends in California, though we'd never personally met before. But the other three actor/singers-- Lisa , Matt and Daver-- are all terrific performers too, and they constitute a tight and upbeat ensemble. It's taking some time for me to get used to the idea of the Festival producing non-Shakespeare plays-- Three Musketeers is even being performed on the Mary Rippon stage, which seemed strange at first-- but I may need to adjust to the thought that the season's most complete and satisfying show may turn out to be performed indoors, and not Shakespeare at all.

Further thoughts

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Something I've been meaning to write about is a phenomenon that was particularly powerful in the first week or so, though it's losing some of its novelty now. Those who know me well will be aware that I've spent much of my professional life acting and directing Shakespeare; one of the results has been, after doing all of the plays and some five or six times over, that I know the canon almost too well. That is to say, ever since directing Timon of Athens twenty years ago-- the last time that I engaged with a Shakespeare play I hadn't done before-- the thirty or more Shakespeare productions I've been involved in have all been familiar territory to a greater or lesser degree. My perceptions and interpretations of each of those plays are set to some extent-- not set in stone, because I try to keep my mind open to fresh perspectives on the texts; but my mind is made up to a point on what a play is about, who the characters are, and how to make it all work in performance. It was a revelation, then, in the first few rehearsals of Henry, to hear lines spoken for the first time and to know that they were Shakespeare-- yet to have them fall on my ear fresh, with no "baggage" of remembered interpretations from ten or thirty years ago, and no preconceptions as to where the action of the play was taking us. It's difficult to describe the excitement that this generated in me. I was suddenly on the same footing with nearly everyone else in the cast (alone among the actors, I think, Anne Sandoe has done the play before, having appeared in the 1971 production here), and the feeling was strangely exhilarating. I didn't feel that I had a head start on the rest of the cast, as I so often do, and thus we all seem to be on the same voyage of discovery together.

We did another full runthrough of the show two days ago, and everyone is feeling more comfortable; there's momentum and "flow" starting to happen, and the scenes are beginning to have that feeling of give-and-take that promises to make them dramatically compelling. (This is a normal part of the process, as actors' concentration, which has been inward and focused on the words as they struggle to master their text, opens out to include their scene partners as they become more confident with the lines.) A curious thing happened in III, 2, the scene of Wolsey's great fall. It's actually a sequence of four or five mini-scenes, confrontations with different characters separated by a couple of soliloquies. With the confidence of being solid on the lines, I indulged myself in some exploration of alternative ways of playing the moments-- playing against the surface meaning of the lines in places, taking pauses to enrich the subtextual action, playing some moments with a sense of their theatricality instead of only focusing on what emotional truth I felt secure with-- and the results were interesting. Several actors approached me after the runthrough to express how moved and impressed they were with how the scene had been played. It's difficult to write about this without sounding conceited, and I really believe that what success I've enjoyed as an actor has been grounded in a transcendence of self, an immersion of the actor's ego into the task of playing the language and the character. But the feeling that arose from playing Wolsey's fall with the scope and audacity of what we think of as a "star turn" was-- for lack of a better word-- masterful, and made me think twice about the whole question of artistic modesty. Looking back on times that I've experienced this feeling before-- in playing Macbeth, Lear, Prospero-- I realize that I associate that freedom to cut loose and try anything with great roles like these-- roles for which you don't just use some part of your personality and cut off others (as is so often the actor's task) because they are so demanding, so comprehensive, that they demand everything that the actor has to give. You just bundle up everything that you have learned as an artist and a human being and throw it at the character, hoping that all you have to offer will be, even barely, sufficient to fill the outlines of so great a dramatic creation. And the perception that Wolsey may be such a character, if I have the courage to take it in both hands and run with it as far as I can go-- without worrying whether I may be taking it too far, without limiting myself to what feels safe-- is exciting and liberating.

Season opens

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Our summer season opened over the weekend with Macbeth-- a show I'm not involved with, and which actually started rehearsals two weeks before those of us only in Henry and Three Musketeers even arrived in town. The season is set up (with an incredibly complex, overlapping, intercut rehearsal schedule, which I thank my lucky stars I don't have to be the one to organize) so that the five shows tech and dress and then open on five consecutive weekends.

It's a good production, with a striking set, an eerie musical score and fine, violent fights, choreographed by Geoff Kent, who also is playing Macduff and has his hands full with the many, many fights in Three Musketeers. The two lead actors, Phil Sneed (our Artistic Director) and Karen Slack, are giving clear, intense performances, and the supporting cast is strong. The text, to my taste, is more heavily cut than it needs to be. Whole scenes have apparently been thought to be superfluous (the Bleeding Captain, the scene between Ross, the Old Man and Macduff, and the dialogue between Lennox and the unnamed Lord, as well as some of the Witches material which is generally considered spurious), and though none of those scenes actively advances the plot, I've always felt that they enhanced the general atmosphere of the play as well as clarifying the through-lines of several supporting characters. The play is short in any case; even an uncut version should come in at well under three hours. I've always felt it was one of the functions of a Shakespeare festival (given its particular emphasis on the works of a single author) to give the fullest possible account of a play, consistent with the constraints of time and its audience's capacity to stay engaged. But that's my own opinion, and I'm probably in the minority on this one. (The Denver Post's review can be read at http://www.denverpost.com/theater/ci_9693832 .)



The set for Macbeth, Mary Rippon Theatre

An interesting sidelight on my previous post (and yet another instance of the serendipity that seems to surround this whole experience for me) came yesterday when my fellow-actor Gary Wright lent me a book he'd been reading, and which I'd expressed interest in: Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why. I've always had a keen interest of stories of human survival in extremis, like Scott, Shackleton, Cabeza de Vaca and the Donner Party, but this book is something more: it talks a great deal about physiology and brain chemistry and the role they play in the decisions that may mean life or death for people caught in extreme circumstances. In the course of his analysis, Gonzales references studies into the workings of the brain that have an obvious application to what I wrote a few days ago, on my own perceptions of how memory functions. (My sister Consuelo has also posted to this blog with some personal observations in support; see comments on "First Runthrough", 6/23.) Here's what Gonzales has to say:

When you learn something complex... at first you must think through each move. That is called explicit learning, and it's stored in explicit memory, the kind that allows you to remember a recipe for lasagna. But as you gain more experience, you begin to do the task less consciously. You develop flow, touch, timing-- a feel for it. It becomes second nature, a thing of beauty. That's known as implicit learning. The two neurological systems of explicit and implicit learning are quite separate. (p.67)

Elsewhere (p. 73), he draws a distinction between limited-capacity "working memory" and long-term memory, which seems very close to the dichotomy I was describing. I recommend the book to anyone who finds this phenomenon pretty fascinating, as I do.

First Runthrough

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We did our first full runthrough of Henry, with the designers in attendance, yesterday. I was petrified that I wouldn't have all my lines for it-- I feel a responsibility to set an example, as a senior Equity actor, even though I have the largest line load except possibly for Henry himself-- so I had spent the two or three days before madly cramming lines. I was fairly well satisfied with that aspect; I only had to call for line a half-dozen or so times, which is not bad for this stage. It's not much fun learning a lot of lines fast-- it's really drudgery of a kind-- but I'm really happy to have it behind me. Now, actually running them, and huting down and eliminating inaccuracies, is much more enjoyable.

It's an interesting phenomenon with learning lines, especially under pressure. I've known for many years that I can get a lot of words memorized in a fairly short time (a gift I think I inherited from my mother), but that they remain for the first couple of days in what I think of as "shallow memory;" I can regurgitate them slowly at first, picking my way word to word and aided by the verse rhythms (if any), alliterations and such, and whatever word associations I've been able to build in. It can be a painstaking process, and always feels fragile and tenuous; there's not much momentum or "swing" to it. But then, within the next two or three days, even if I haven't gone back to look at the text again, the lines have moved into "deep memory;" they begin to flow fluidly, with my sense of them pegged not so much to individual words as to larger syntactic structures; I can think the intention of the speech and lo, the words will be there to supply the thought. It's a little mysterious to me-- I think it may have something to do with the unconscious, the source of the idea of "sleeping on it"-- and as I say, it's been a familiar phenomenon for much of my life as an actor. It was only recently, with my increasing familiarity with the world of computing, that I was furnished with a metaphor for it. It's very like the distinction (as I understand it anyway) between random-access memory and the hard drive; and it provokes in me some interesting speculation on the degree to which computer-science development has aped the structures of the human brain. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

In any case, the show is in a good place three weeks into rehearsal, and with three more to go before we open July 11. Jim, our director, seems pleased and confident, although given the scheduling vagaries of a five-show season, we only touch Henry two or three days in the week ahead. For me personally, now that I've more or less mastered the text of the long (411 lines of verse in our cutting), demanding scene of the fall of Wolsey-- Shakespeare's Act III scene 2-- I am starting to really appreciate what a wonderful role Wolsey is. The language, the complexity of the character, the range of intellect and emotion, all make it a terrific challenge and a role any actor would kill to play. How fortunate for me that, when I finally get to perform in Henry VIII after years of waiting, it's to do a role of such richness and scope!

Today, the company's day off, I took a hike up past the Chautauqua to the base of the Flatirons, a trail I last trod in 1966, when I found a climbing partner, scaled the Third Flatiron and rappelled off the back edge, a vertical drop of 100 feet or more. Lovely views of the rocks and of the city below, friendly hikers on the trails, and a proliferation of mountain bluebells. This is truly a gorgeous place. A few pictures:



The trail above the Chautauqua



The Third Flatiron



The University from high up



Bluebells

Days off

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I've just had a series of four days off--Wolsey dies at the end of Act III, and Bonacieux in Three Musketeers drops out of sight before intermission, and both shows have been concentrating on the later acts. So no rehearsal calls, no costume fittings, and as I'm one of the few guys in Musketeers who doesn't fight, no combat rehearsals either. I've taken advantage of the time to rest, try to make sure to get enough sleep, work on my lines and continue my research. I've been reading Wikipedia entries on the lives and genealogies of the various lords in Henry, as well as Holinshed's Chronicles to get a sense of how Shakespeare used his sources. I've found that when I go back to the historical source material-- whether it's Holinshed, whose 1587 second edition Shakespeare used, or North's 1579 edition of Plutarch's Lives, on which he relied heavily for the Roman plays-- I am constantly struck by how closely, even slavishly, Will adheres to his source. Queen Katherine's trial speech, for example, probably shares about 70% of its vocabulary with Holinshed's account; Shakespeare appears to have done little more than tweak the prose to make it scan as verse, and allow the drama of the true history, at least as he received it, to speak for itself. (I'd encountered the same phenomenon before, especially in Enobarbus' description of Cleopatra on the Nile, taken almost verbatim from Plutarch.) And picking my way through the thickets of the English peerage after the end of the Wars of the Roses! Everybody seems to be his or her own cousin five or six times over, such was the intensity of the intermarriages among a handful of noble families. Little tidbits keep cropping up: that Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was uncle to two of Henry's luckless queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and saw them both beheaded in his lifetime; that his son Henry, Earl of Surrey, was a great-great-great-great-grandson of Harry Hotspur, and the man who first published poetry in blank verse in England; that the Duke of Buckingham executed in this play, apart from being the son of the Duke of Buckingham executed in Richard III (and a prime suspect in the murders of the Princes in the Tower), was also a direct descendant of Edward III, with a claim to the crown arguably stronger than Henry Tudor's; that the Duke of Suffolk, instrumental in Wolsey's fall, probably owed his life to Wolsey's intercession on his behalf after Suffolk's secret marriage to the King's sister fifteen years before... well, it goes on and on.

I finally get back to the play this evening, when we're to run through the first half of the show for the first time. I've been cramming the lines hard for the past few days, and I feel pretty confident that I'll be able to do the whole act pretty reliably off book-- just don't want to disgrace myself in front of a roomful of very good, well-prepared actors. We'll see how it goes.

On a lighter note: One of the things I had promised myself was that, when I got some days off, I would get out into the open, both to get some exercise and to reacquaint myself with parts of Boulder that I haven't seen in decades. So Sunday evening, after spending several hours glued to the tube watching Tiger Woods' late charge in the US Open, I decided to take a walk through the cemetery a few blocks away, which eventually turned into a fairly strenuous hike up into the open space above the city, towards the Flatirons, the impressive sandstone slabs that are emblematic of Boulder. I was just wandering where my whim took me, with no particular plan. Heading back down, I passed through the grounds of the historic Boulder Chautauqua, still high above the city. There were an unusual number of picnickers, I thought, and a steady stream of people coming up from town, so I stopped someone and asked what was happening there this evening. She told me that the Indigo Girls were playing a concert at 8:00-- it was already past 7:45. The next thing I knew, along came a man trying to sell a single ticket at face value-- fifty-seven dollars. I told him I had nowhere near that kind of cash on me, and suggested he keep looking for someone who could give him the value it deserved. But a few minutes later I saw him again, having failed to unload it, turned out my wallet and offered him the $23 it contained, and he accepted. (I wish I'd been thinking-- the generous thing would have been to offer him a couple of Shakespeare tickets in trade.) So I got in cheap to see one of my favorite music acts, playing one of their favorite venues, and it was terrific. The seats turned out to be in the second row, about forty feet from the performers, and I know I'll remember it as a high point of the summer to hear Amy and Emily sing "Hammer and a Nail," "Galileo" and "Closer to Fine," big favorites of mine. It seemed to be just one more example of the serendipity that has attended this whole experience.



Sandstone benches, Mary Rippon Theatre

As I sit and watch rehearsals, or walk around Boulder, or work on my text, I'm coming to a realization that, as privileged as I feel to be completing the canon as a performer, there's a stronger force at work on me this summer. It's beyond doubt that being here has made me feel nostalgia, wave upon wave of it at times. But I'm starting to feel that something else is in play here, and it's in the nature of a summing-up. Looking back over my career, it's clear that the five summers in Boulder-- especially the first four seasons, 1966-69-- were a personal watershed, an experience that in effect determined the course of the rest of my life. The influence of directors like Jim Sandoe and Edgar Reynolds, and actors like Jim Edmondson, Ricky Weiser and Barry Kraft among many others, formed my ideas of what theatre was and could be and began to give me a sense of how my own life path could fit the parameters of that world. I received training, encouragement, and wisdom at the hands of people who had made a lifelong commitment to the theatre and to the viability of Shakespeare in performance, and I think that by the end of those four years-- even well before the end-- the future direction of my life had effectively been decided. To return to the source of that baptism, and to measure how far I've come against the standards that were set for me then, is emotionally a very powerful experience.



Boulder and Long's Peak, from the southeast

Second week begins

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We're a week into rehearsal now, and have blocked the first half of Henry. The cast is very strong across the board, and it looks like one of the main strengths of the production is going to be clarity and accessibility; nearly the whole play is in verse, and the actors for the most part are speaking it with intelligence and clear purpose. Sean, as Henry, commands the stage effortlessly, and there is fine grounded work being laid down by the actors playing the Chamberlain, Norfolk and Suffolk, Griffith/Vaux, and Buckingham, among others. There's a nice crackle developing in the confrontations between Wolsey and Katherine, played by Mare Trevathan ("a Cornish name," as Pistol would have it). She and I were guest speakers yesterday at a summer-session class in theatre appreciation taught by Noel johnson, a recently retired Shakespeare teacher and community-theatre actor who is having a welcome first taste of acting in a professional company. A majority of the students were bright, interested and asked intelligent questions about the profession and the actor's craft; one query I particularly liked was, "At what point in the run of a show is it best to go see it?" Mare said to avoid opening night; I suggested that the next-to-the-last week is often the strongest, when the rhythms and interplay have settled in comfortably but before some of the sloppiness and self-indulgence that sometimes marks the last few performances of a run.

My thinking and background reading about Wolsey-- my main source is Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII, supplemented by David Starkey's more scholarly Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII-- are subtly changing my perceptions of the character. It is certainly tempting to see him as the villain of the piece; Shakespeare does not hesitate to show him as devious, scheming and power-hungry. But looking at the record, I can see that he was in a completely impossible situation. He was trying to serve two masters; his primary allegiance was to his King, who had raised him to unprecedented executive power and great wealth, but he also felt bound to the service of Rome (he was himself twice in the 1520's a candidate for the Papacy), at a time when the current Pope was fatally weakened and wholly intimidated by the Emperor Charles V, Katherine's nephew, who was dead set against the granting of Henry's divorce. Wolsey's position was untenable; he had neither enough influence with the See to get the King what he wanted, nor enough distance from Rome to countenance severing the English Church's ties with it. I think the circumstances dictated that his efforts were doomed to failure from the first. Not a good man, certainly, and perhaps he deserved his disgrace; but ultimately I think his fall was due to factors beyond his control. Which is to say: such justice as he received was more poetic than directly merited.

Beginning work

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Well, exciting though the travel has been and however powerful the nostalgia that attends my return to Boulder, the real point is the work and the work has now begun. I'm three days into rehearsal now, and the emphasis has been mostly on Henry; we've read through Three Musketeers and I've blocked one of my scenes, but yesterday was an eight-hour shift on Henry VIII in which we read the first half through for the second time, and then blocked the first few scenes, up to the party at Wolsey's in which the King first meets Anne Bullen (Shakespeare's spelling of "Boleyn'). Sean Tarrant, the actor playing Henry, is an impressive figure: at 6' 6", he towers over everyone else in the company-- including me, and I'm unaccustomed to being towered over! (Though conveniently, Shakespeare's stage direction for Henry's first entrance describes him as "leaning on the Cardinal's shoulder," and that seems to be working just fine; Sean's Adam's apple is directly on a level with my eyes.) It occurred to me yesterday that his casting as the King is felicitous; all contemporary accounts describe the young Henry as a consummate Renaissance prince, handsome, energetic, athletic and uncommonly tall, with a love of sport, the chase, music and dancing. Sean is held in high esteem by his peers in the company, and carries himself like a man who knows that people look up to him-- though as he joked to me, "They don't have much choice, do they?" He seems to me to be the analogous figure at CSF to what Henry was in his own court: the center of attention, the talented, charismatic figure regarded with respect and a certain awe.

Something new to me in the new regime at Boulder is the idea that Henry is to be performed indoors. The University Theatre building was already here in the sixties-- though It's doubled in size since then, with far more office and shop space and two gorgeous, spacious studios for rehearsal-- but the Shakespeare Festival is now using it for performances. In addition to the traditional three shows performed outside in the venerable Mary Rippon amphitheatre, where I did all my early Shakespeare acting, there are now two indoor shows scheduled as well, and Henry VIII is one of them; so that, a little strangely, my only outdoor performances won't be in Shakespeare at all, but in Dumas. But it appears that Henry, which after all probably had a run at the Blackfriars in Shakespeare's own time, is going to do very nicely indoors. The play's emphasis is on subtle political maneuvering and intrigue rather than battles and physical action, and the greater intimacy of the 400-plus-seat indoor space may be more conducive to the kind of subtlety we're striving for than the larger Mary Rippon. I like the set design-- there's a big, broad central staircase that comes swooping around a curve upstage to disgorge the action at center, and that blind entrance suggests intrigue and eavesdropping that seems appropriate to the jockeying for position and politic manipulation that constitute much of the play's action.

These thoughts led me to an insight last night that is hardly earth-shaking, but was the first time I'd articulated the distinction to myself: that Shakespeare wrote nine medieval histories and only a single one set in the Renaissance-- this one. Given that, it's hardly surprising that it should be so different in form and style to all the others I've done before.

The View

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...and I can see the Flatirons from my apartment

(at least if I go onto the balcony and lean out a bit)

First days

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I was interviewed over the phone a couple of weeks ago by Mark Collins, a reporter for the Boulder Daily Camera, and the feature article he wrote appeared in the Entertainment section Sunday, the day I arrived in town. It can be read online at: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/2008/may/30/csf-actor-completes-the-canon

I took advantage of arriving earlier than expected by dropping by an evening rehearsal of Macbeth, in which Phil Sneed is playing the title role. They were mostly working fights and murders for the first couple of hours. Stage combat was always a hallmark of the Festival when I worked there; Lew Soens and his disciple Ed Stafford had researched Elizabethan-era dueling manuals and contemporary accounts to develop their own system of techniques in rapier-and-dagger, sword-and-buckler, single rapier, broadsword, quarterstaff and so on. I had served as (uncredited) fill-in fight director in the summer of 1973, when neither Ed nor Ricky Weiser (who was an accomplished fighter in her own right) was available. It's good to see that the tradition is being carried on; Geoff Kent, who is also playing Macduff, is the current holder of the position and it's clear from how he runs his rehearsals that he's very knowledgable and creative. I watched some work on the banquet scene: they're puzzling over whether to have Banquo's ghost stalk the stage invisible to the guests, or have Macbeth "hallucinate" him altogether, with the actor perhaps seen elsewhere, perhaps on an upper platform. It reminded me that Al Nadeau's production in '68 featured an invisible Banquo, and I didn't feel it was a good idea at the time; but perhaps being able to see the actor elsewhere in the space, as they were experimenting with, might make it work.

Monday noon I had my first meeting over lunch with the Henry director, Jim Symons, whom I took to immediately. He is older than I'd expected-- ten years older than I-- and he's just broken Jim Sandoe's record for productions directed at CSF-- ten, I believe. He's been on the staff of the UC drama department since the 80's. A bit of a throwback, in a way that's refreshing to me: someone with academic credentials and a lot of hands-on Shakespeare experience, who knows the canon well and doesn't seem to labor under the compulsion to give the plays contemporary "relevance" or postmodern spin. It was that kind of director that I acquired my Shakespeare chops under in the old days, and though contemporary theatre practice often denigrates the "academic" approach, I've always thought it had a lot to offer: solid storytelling, understanding of the characters and the historical context, and deep respect for the values of the language. I'm hoping these standards will still obtain for the Festival at large. It's a good sign that the theatre now employs a voice-and-text specialist, whom I've yet to meet.

Arrival

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I got into Boulder late Sunday afternoon, after a couple of long driving days. I recommend the drive across Nevada on Highway 50 for anyone who's never seen the Basin and Range (and by the way, I also recommend John McPhee's book of that title, which describes the geology of how the landscape got that way). Desolate country, the towns 60 or 70 miles apart; you repeatedly cross broad flat dry valleys with dust devils spinning on the dry lake beds, then climb a rocky spur of the mountains to a summit (not too high in the early going, in the four-thousand-foot range, but rising to several passes in the mid-7000's as you approach the Utah border), only to descend the other side and repeat the process-- ten or twelve times as you cross the seemingly endless expanse of the state. You have to have a certain taste for bleak and stark...

Highway 50 and the Toiyabe Range, central Nevada

Highway 50 and the Toiyabe Range, central Nevada

My plan to detour to Aspen and Leadville came to nothing, as I learned when I left I-70 at Glenwood Springs that the 12,000-plus Independence Pass between them was closed. Given the amount of driving I'd already done-- and the current state of gas prices-- I had little appetite for retracing my steps over 30 or 40 miles, as I would have had to do. So I opted for an earlier arrival, and encountered the latest eerie development in my Boulder saga:

Karyn Casl, the company manager (also an actress in the Festival) phoned me in the morning as I was leaving Green River, Utah to give me directions to the townhouses where the company is putting me up. I had stayed in Festival housing last summer when I visited Boulder, so I thought I knew where the condo complex was: at Broadway and Marine streets, a few blocks downhill from the theatre. But Karyn informed me that the company uses two different townhouse complexes, and that I was going to be in the other one: she named an address. "That's funny," I said over the phone, "that address seems strangely familiar."

I drove into town, and as I approached the complex the resonance grew stronger. I pulled up to the curb in front of the condos, and dragged out of the back of the car the box that contains my Boulder memorabilia, many of which I've brought along. I kept a diary on my first visit in 1966, and I read the account of my search for a place to live on my first day in town. I had happened on a house belonging to the mother of Donna Bartz, the Festival's costume designer, who was letting out rooms at very low rates ($30 a month!!) to company members. I had written down the house number, so as to pass it on to family and friends who might be writing to me.

It was the same address.

The house is long gone-- this condo was clearly built some time in the eighties-- but here I am, staying in the exact same location I stayed 42 years ago. I found myself actually shivering. I've perhaps made too much of my feelings of return, of the rightness that I feel coming back to The Place Where It All Began and so forth-- but I have to say, this felt uncommonly like the workings of... Fate.

On the Road

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Friday night finds me in Nevada City, having left Berkeley this morning. I'm staying with my old (non-theatre) friends Susan and Jerome,; it's pure coincidence that Nevada City also happens to be where Philip Sneed and several members of the CSF staff formerly worked-- at the Foothill Theatre Company, which had the franchise to produce Shakespeare at Tahoe for many years. Tomorrow's driving plan calls for me to have breakfast in Reno and make it as far as Salina or Green River, Utah tomorrow night.

Apleasant (but cold!) swim in the South Fork of the Yuba near Nevada City

Bracing (cold!) dip in the South Fork of the Yuba near Nevada City

I spent my last evening in the Bay Area seeing the final preview of California Shakespeare Theatre's Pericles, which opens tonight. This is a play to which I feel a strong connection, having directed it in Berkeley in 1979 and at American Players' Theatre in Wisconsin in 1999 (and acted in it in Colorado in 1973, my last season there, in a cast that included Anne and Sam Sandoe, both of whom are to be in Henry). I had mixed reactions to the Cal Shakes version: they got some things very right-- a charming, striking set, a Gower who was compelling and charismatic and had a lovely connection with the audience, a Cerimon scene (the reviving of Thaisa) that struck the right tone of mystery and magic. But I felt the show's success was marred by too many funny accents in the various ports of call, a giving in to the common temptation to play the management of the Mytilene brothel as twisted, unfunny grotesques, and a Pericles who I thought never rose to the stature that the play demands. Pericles is not a particularly strong character-- hence my own inclination to treat him as an Everyman figure, even to the point of dividing the role among three actors-- a man more acted on than acting; and if a single performer undertakes to play his decades-long arc, that actor has a difficult challenge to progress from the unformed callowness of the young prince to the mute despair of the aging king. I think it takes a pretty remarkable actor to bring it off. The production took the play seriously on its own terms, and I afford it respect for that. But it didn't touch for me that chord of deep joy that the Romances, at their best, can offer.

Getting closer

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My leaving for Boulder is less than a week away now, and I'll start rehearsals in ten days. Messages are flying back and forth between here and Boulder as we work out travel plans, make living arrangements and begin to construct rehearsal schedules. I think I'm going to drive via highway 50 across Nevada, famed as "the loneliest road in America"-- I've driven it a couple of times before, most recently in April of 2005 en route to Kansas City for ACT's co-production of The Voysey Inheritance. Driving cross-country has always been one of my favorite aspects of working out of town; I prefer to have my car with me where I'm working, but maybe the real reason I drive is to take scenic routes across the West and see things I've never seen before. If there's time on this trip, I'd like to take a swing through Aspen, a town I've never seen. But with gas prices up over $4.00 a gallon, it's going to be an expensive proposition. I know it will take me at least four tanks of gas to get there, by even the most direct route; I'll be lucky if I can make the drive for under $200 in gas alone, which will eat up a big hunk of my travel allowance. But my wife Jannie will be flying out at the beginning of August to see the shows, and having the car will let us take a bit of a vacation after the season ends. We hope to drive back via Wyoming, and maybe spend two or three days in the Grand Tetons before heading home.

Mark Collins, a feature writer for the Boulder Daily Camera, called a couple of days ago to conduct a phone interview for the paper. I'm somewhat surprised myself how vivid my memories are of my first summer in Boulder, in 1966; it doesn't hurt that I recently rediscovered a journal I kept the first few weeks of that summer (in tiny, crabbed handwriting-- how insecure I must have been!) and had reread the wide-eyed, self-obsessed musings of the 19-year-old baby actor I was. The company in those days was all non-Equity and had no roles precast-- all three shows were cast in a three-day, almost round-the-clock, very intense series of auditions and callbacks, and by the third day I was a wreck. I'd come with a very inflated idea of my own talents and prospects, and had fantasized about taking the place by storm. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by a lot of older, better actors, who knew their way around a stage a lot better than I did, and I went in 48 hours from expecting to play leads to wondering if I was going to get any kind of speaking part at all. And the summer might have been a real washout, if Jim Sandoe, who was directing Merry Wives of Windsor, hadn't seen something in me and given me Dr. Caius, the French physician-- based probably more than anything else on my being able to do the accent (I was semifluent in French). Anyway, it saved my summer; I felt I could hold my head up among all these brilliant, talented people I'd somehow fallen in with-- and I started to learn. I sat in the Mary Rippon Theatre for hours on end that summer, drinking in rehearsal after rehearsal-- whether they were scenes I was in or not-- and by season's end I really was starting to understand something about performing Shakespeare.

The interview will appear in the Sunday paper on June 1-- the day I arrive in Boulder.

Colorado bound

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My good friend Ron Severdia has asked me to write a blog this summer to be posted from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, where I'll be playing Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII. It's a significant event for me for two reasons.

First, Colorado Shakespeare is where I cut my teeth as a Shakespeare actor, 42 years ago. I came to Boulder as a naive 19-year-old in June of 1966, fresh off my sophomore year at Swarthmore, and embarked on a steep learning curve that transformed my life; I was already aware of an active interest in the theatre and in Shakespeare's works in particular, but it was one among many other interests (classical music, Aegean archaeology, caving and rock-climbing) competing for space in my hyperactive young brain. But I came out of that summer with a new sense of acting as a vocation and a commitment to explore the fascinating world of these amazing plays and the actor-poet-entrepreneur who penned them. That summer led to a lifelong commitment to the Bard's works and many, many more summers of Shakespeare in Colorado, in Oregon, and finally in California, where an almost twenty-year association with the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival-- which is now doing business under its new title, California Shakespeare Theatre (Cal Shakes for short)-- as actor, director and Associate Artistic Director, eventually involved me in productions of all of the 38 plays-- all but one. Which brings me to the second reason this summer is special.

Last July, I found myself, uncharacteristically, with no Shakespeare festival in need of my services. I have passed Shakespeareless summers before over the past four decades, but it's been a rare occurrence; May or June usually finds me with an acting or directing gig coming up at any one of the half-dozen or so festivals that have found use for my professional skills. But summer 2007 found me with time on my hands, and I decided to use the unfamiliar down time to take a road trip and visit my friends around the West who were more fortunately employed. A two-week swing took me to see shows in Portland and Denver, as well as friends who were performing in the companies at Ashland, Oregon, and at CSF in Boulder.

I was in the latter city visiting my friend Julia Motyka when we met the new Artistic Director, Philip Sneed, walking across the CU campus. I had met Phil once or twice in recent years; he headed the Foothill Theatre Company, who in turn had operated Lake Tahoe's summer Shakespeare festival for several seasons. We had talked in general terms about my working at Tahoe sometime, but the conditions had never been just right. Now, in the course of a friendly conversation, here was Phil telling me of his plans for the 2008 season: he was going to produce Henry VIII, the one Shakespeare play in which I've never performed.

Needless to say, my interest was piqued. I had been looking for a production of Henry VIII since 1988, the year I had knocked off my last-play-but-one, Timon of Athens. (In fact, when I had appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy! in 1993, Alex Trebek had been kind enough to appeal on my behalf to anyone planning to produce the play!) I was pleased to find that the interest was mutual, and in due course an invitation arrived to join the CSF company for the 2008 summer season, to play Cardinal Wolsey in Henry and a small role, M. Bonacieux, in The Three Musketeers.

So this May finds me preparing to leave for Boulder, more than forty years after I began my Shakespeare apprenticeship there and thirty-five since my last appearance on that stage, as an actor in the 1973 season. Something more than nostalgia, I think, accounts for my excitement at this prospect. Very few actors are ever afforded the privilege of appearing in every single Shakespeare play in production. My old friend Barry Kraft, whom I first met in Boulder that same summer of 1966, is the only actor of my personal acquaintance to accomplish this feat, having polished off his canon with a production of The Two Noble Kinsmen in Ashland some ten or fifteen years ago-- and I have smarted all these years under the knowledge that he got there first! I would love to hear from readers who know any other members of our particular little fraternity, or who might themselves have achieved this unusual distinction.

I intend to write two or three times a week about my trip to Colorado, my experiences with the company there, and the fulfillment of what has been one of my lifetime goals. I hope you'll share the journey with me...