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TOPIC: Concept for Performance

Concept for Performance 3 years 7 months ago #5192

  • rusty
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I am in pre-production of Much Ado About Nothing and whilst I am forming much of the image of what I would like to see I wanted to post here to invite any ideas and learnings people have had with this play, and also to invite any feedback or critism of my initial ideas. I am partically interested in feedback that stems from a performance view-point but happy for any and all responses - you never know where a great idea will come from!

When I was approached to direct this play I had some hesitations as it had become one of my least preferred of the Bard's plays. I had not studied it in any great depth and my experiances in viewing it all tended to be very light-weight and often boardering on pantomine farce. I typically lean to the Tragedies and histories. In studying the text I'm finding a new love of the play but in doing so see it in a much harsher and darker light than the productions I've known. I'll outline my ideas.
1. Setting: I have decided to set this in 16th C Itally during the Goldern Age of Spanish rule. I find the story carries clear aspects of a male dominated society, clear social standings and an overt protection of honour (both male & female). With these rules I have decided that modernisation will not add value to understanding as I would be forced to re-establish these aspects in a new time. The play will be performed in an old stable (including exposed rafters and saw-dust floor) that is part of a winery during the regions popular wine festival so the added novelty of a period play also seemed a good positive.
Benedick: I want to keep him as a rough soldier. Not of the same breeding as Don Pedro or even Claudio, and to present him as a real soldier rather than an officer (as Pedro & Claudio). Arregant and boastful but charismatic throughout. I really would like to take the flirting out of the initial exchanges and keep it as two people overly sensitive to each others barbs. I will use the roughness of him to make his acceptance of love very arkward and comical. My experiance of productions usually include a foppish character whose exchanges with Beatrice are obviously love from the very first scene. My biggest concern in this is the potential loss of comedy but I have a talented actor here that I beleive will be up to the challange. Without a good actor I think this could be too much of a risk.
Beatrice: My most undeveloped character. I have an agreement with the actress that we need to develop the backstory for this girl as we are both troubled by her sudden change of direction and acceptance of love and loving. Early self-deception is point we agree on and this will be fleshed out during rehearsals. Any ideas for this complicated character will be greatly appreciated.
Claudio: He will start as a likeable lad, if not on the arrogant side though but will really lower his colours firstly with the jealous reaction to the Prince's wooing of Hero on his behalf and then post the wedding scene. I have cut some of the late scenes banter between himself and Benedick as I don't want to let him off the hook with our modern audience too easily. As always with performance, some text has to go and I saw this as some of the more confusing and less valuable to story.
Borachio: Following a test of this concept in readings I have merged Conrad & Borachio (helping me keep cast numbers down with less doubling) and Borachio becomes this amazing character, drunk, aggressive and naughty but somehow quite loved by the audience. His 'discovery' scene with Conrad becomes a drunken brag ramble direct to the audience.
Dogberry & Verges: I am yet to cast these roles and in reality the actors I get will help determine final direction. I am looking at Dogberry as someone well out of their depth trying overly hard to intimidate anyone on a social level equal or lower to them, but making a right fool of himself trying to impress anyone above him. In some ways, more of the child trying too hard to impress than an outright fool. Again, pending age of actors, I am considering Verges to be the 'retiring' constable, grumpy and short of temper. Dogberry is embaresed by him whenever around superiors and tries to lift his own standing by putting Verges down.

Ok, there's the more important of my ideas. I am looking forward to rehearsals to flesh these out and I am mindful that my darker aspect to this play may comprimise the comedy of it which would be a failure. I am hoping instead to raise the complexity of the comedy with more realistic characters. Thanks in advance for any advice/ideas/feedback.

Russell
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 7 months ago #5196

  • Ron Severdia
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HI Rusty,

Sounds like an interesting approach. Here are a few of my personal thoughts and reactions:

Setting: I think this setting could work well.

Benedick: The rough soldier serves to gives him an even longer character arch to travel to when he becomes almost giddy with love. If played right, it could be very funny.

Beatrice: Depending on the capabilities of your actress, I'm not sure if the "self-decption" will read well to the audience. The fun in watching Benedick & Beatrice is that they're both essentially the same. They're both terribly smart and witty—much more so than anyone in their world—but their potential downfall is how stubborn they both are. I think this is really important to get across. They love each other from the get-go and have had a history of love before the play starts. In Act 2, Scene 1, Don Pedro and Beatrice exchange the lines:
D. PEDRO.
Come, lady, come, you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.

BEAT.
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one. Marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your Grace may well say I have lost it.

There has been some brushes with love between them, they got dangerously close, and, each afraid of getting hurt, has pushed the other away via their "poniards." She thought she was in love with Benedick and misread his soldierly bravado as one who just looks as women as conquests, so she was "smart enough" to get out of that potentially heartbreaking situation. So I think there's much more fun for the audience if we see the two of them walk that tightrope of stubborness between love and disdain.

Claudio: I don't know what you cut, but don't cut anything that lowers the stakes or reduces the tension of the potential upcoming fight between Claudio and Benedick.

Borachio: Interesting take. I'd be curious to see how your actor handles this.

Dogberry & Verges: Spot on with the observation. They are "tolerated" by the upper-class (it would be difficult to find someone more dedicated their their job in these parts of the country) and they are a good Abbot and Costello or Batman and Robin. Dogberry is arguably the greatest role of the show for a character actor. I've personally done Benedick and I think if I ever have a chance to do the play again, it would be Dogberry.

Break a leg!
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 7 months ago #5197

Rusty-

I just saw a production of Much Ado, and I was thinking about a few comments that might be helpful:

I noted that in your post you didn't mention Don John. He's certainly one of the more underwritten of Shakespeare's villains, and many of the productions I've seen pay him very little attention or paint him as straightforwardly evil. But I think the text would support a reading/performance in which Don John is in love with and/or had feelings for Hero -- thus providing motivation for his actions (hurt his brother, Don Pedro--who also seems to have a thing for young, attractive women--and break up the Claudio-Hero union out of spite/jealousy). Just a thought.

The production I just saw also collapsed Conrad/Borachio, and it worked quite well.

I definitely agree with Ron -- the text (strongly) supports a reading of a previous Beatrice-Benedick relationship that somehow went sour and/or never quite got off the ground. (In addition to the quotation Ron provided, cf. Beatrice "I know you of old")

Those are the things that come to mind at the moment. I'll post again if I think of anything else.

-Chris
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 6 months ago #5199

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Thanks for taking the time to give me some feedback and your ideas Ron & Chris!

Ron, given you've played Benedick before and still ok with the harder soldier idea is good - I was looking exactly what you said, creating a bigger journey for him to travel. The cuts I made for Claudio/Benedick are only the lighter humor attempts by Claudio to Benedick before the challenge and then prior to the second wedding in last scene - agree with you I would be daft to cull the tension between those two. The characters are evolving already with early rehearsal to be Claudio the officer soldier and Benedick the soldiers man - suiting the individual actors quite well.

Chris, thanks for looking out for me - your reviews are great BTW. I left the wonderful Don John out because he is settled in my mind already. I have a love for the underwritten villains/harder characters (not long ago finished performing Bollinbrook in Richard II which I loved). I've seen and in all truth enjoyed productions with the feelings to Hero aspect but for this one I'm not going that way - and I take your warning on pure evil which I don't think gives him justice. I'm playing him as a caged wild animal, outwardly calm but inwardly anxious to escape and hurt his captors before running away. A drive for this is to give context to his sudden flight (which is handy for staging as the actor will double as Dogberry) and I'm running with the idea that he had pre-determined he would soon leave Messina even before he heard about the wedding that gave him a good excuse to hit back at most of his abusers first. The relationship with Borachio (I've performed the collapsed role in an outdoor production and it worked really well) becomes very testy and he will range from being polite while Borachio serves a purpose and threatening when he tries his patience too much. Picking up on your last point I will be keeping the tension of Pedro having some attraction to Hero. Balthasar (collapsed with messenger, singer roles) will be played by a young attractive girl as a page to Pedro - as a small aspect only to the total play there will be some tensions there as Pedro treats her as page 'with benefits' on the long campaign - this allows for some lightly pointed digs from Balthasar to her employer ahead of the the Heigh Nonny Nonny song (and fits the song nicely too). We've run this scene and this interpretation and it already is looking fun.

Great ideas on the big relationship of B&B. The other line that grabs me is the 'I would he had boarded me' which always stood out as open for alot of interpretation. You are both right, there needs to be something there somewhere to give justification to the sudden conversion to accepting love. I've scheduled alot of workshop time for my troubled lovers to find the balance that my actors can produce.

Again, thanks for the feedback - I really appreciate it.

rus
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 5 months ago #5216

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I am doing the same play; opening in about three and a half months. Thanks for the input. It is invaluable. I would make one comment. On the first pass, Dogberry strikes me as the kind of character much beloved of Bardolts but incomprehensible to audiences. With a slathering of class attitude or a funny accent like Keating in Branagh's much ado, and bemused boredom, the creeping plague of Shakespeare now days, is the result. What to do?
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 5 months ago #5218

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Hi John,
Thanks for your message. Dogberry is a challenging character to define. I have a natural learning to naturalistic presentations of characters and Doggers really challenges this approach of mine - to the point where I have decided I am working against the character and their role in the play. I think it's difficult to avoid some form of 'characterisation' with him but you need to set the extent of how far you want this to occur. I think there are alot of approaches to the role and most are valid so I can only share what thoughts have ran through my head in approaching the role.

Much Ado is a comedy and must be funny. In the first half of the play the comedy is driven by the lead actors but from the entrance of Doggers they switch to drama. Doggers carries the comedy from this point onwards. Prior to deciding on style of comedy I needed to cast the role (being in a near bard wasteland I knew I had to work with what I could get). Thankfully I have a strong character actor to work with. A key tenent in my presentation of the play will be established social structures and levels and while they are occassional blurred they are always present and made clear when need be. I have not run with Doggers as a fool, rather promoted beyond his competence. He is keen to impress to his superiors that he is of their level and this eagerness is a driver for his comical use of language. Being in the position of Head Constable for a long time he is confident in his status but up until now has probably never had occasion to play such a visual role in Messina. I am using his confidence to provide a comical ignorance of any socal status rules, leaving Leonato and Pedro unsure how to deal with him (other than wishing he just went away) and Borachio/Conrade openingly dismissive of him. As a flip side I am playing Doggers as putting down Verges (two men ride of a horse) to Leonato in an attempt to create an us & them with Leonato.

So I have tried to avoid an abstract character with Doggers and sought humour from a blend of directly laughing at the flustering of Dogberry and also at the discomfort he causes those he speaks to. He is a self-confident man who can't see his failure to connect with others in this production.

Best of luck with your production.
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 5 months ago #5223

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I am thinking the end of World War II. You get a frankly sexualized culture that is still oppressive. The clothing is sharp in outline but flexible. The men are clearly ascendant miliarily. Its accesible to most audiences. If I could find a Hoagy Carmichale tune to put Nonny no to, I'd be fly'n. There's all that verbal flirting that fits the sexual sparing of Shakespeare.


Any comments?
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 5 months ago #5224

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HiJohn,

Post war was the only modern options I considered so in keeping with theory of 'audience accesibility' it would be a good choice. My initial thoughts are that post WWI may be better - but as I write this I realise I am working from an Australian/European experiance, whereas American involvement was vastly different between the two wars, possibly reducing benefit of older dating.

The challenge will be the situation between Pedro & John, and I guess you have an option of contrasting an officer versus a civilian - John doing very well during the war years and now losing his influence with the return of serving men. The Home Guard in their death-throws as Dogberry, Verges and the watch is very appealing. Thinking as I type here but I would err on making it as close to, if not immediately at the fall of the war to capture the relief and excitement to help the comedy (???? Don John as a spy or inteligence - no-one trusted them!). The challenge in modern settings is rationalising the male 'honour' system that drives the wedge between Benedick & Claudio to the point where they will duel. Maybe by being at the confusing period where men are transitioning between behaviour norms from the battlefield units to general society will give you a vehicle here. The period gives you a good acceptable range for the girls, Hero shy & modest, Beatrice worldy and witty & Margaret the sexually free-thinker.

With Nonny you can aim for a sarcastic (female perspective) tone of men can't be trusted, or a bawdy (male perspective) tone of false sexual bravado.

Hope there's something in these ideas for you.

Cheers,

Rus
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 3 months ago #5248

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I'm in the middle of post-production blues and wanted to thank everyone for their kind help and ideas for staging Much Ado. We completed our indoor winter production to great success, good reviews and brought the bard's work to many people who have never seen it or though they hated it - general public has always been my target audience in preference to academics. We performed in an old stable of a McLaren Vale winery (sawdust floor, exposed beams and unfortunately unreliable heaters some sometimes very cold) to small audiences ranging from 30 to some sellouts at 80. I thought I wold capture a few items that worked really well in case they can be of asssitance or interest to anyone else who is looking to stage this play. We have been invited by the winery to restage this play in December (our early Summer) as an outdoor performance to large audiences which is a great result for the younger actors in the cast.

Run time was cut back to 120min max and we collapsed Conrade & Borachio, Leonato & Antonio (with some lines to Margaret) and Ursula and Margaret into single characters and each case worked well. The collapsed Borachio delivers a drunk bragging discussion to the audience before being arrested (this will work especially well outdoors) and in what I thought was the biggest risk, the discussion between Antonio and Leonato ahead of the challenge to Claudio became a slow solo challenge of Leonato to the audience to not judge his temper unless they had the same experiance as him. We worked-up a real blow-his-top temper on Leonato (driven by absolute loss and grief) at the wedding scene and then used the subsequent new monologue to walk a fine line between turning the audience against Leonato (as a cranky, bad tempered man) to letting them see the pain he feels through his eyes and understand how big the impact to his world these events have been (it's too easy to keep him comedic and although we did this early we also introduced some temper early as a lead-up to this reaction). He (non-verbally) begged forgiveness from Hero in the last scene which as a touching moment of the play.

We set the play in Messina and performed (with different abilities albeit) in italian and spanish acents, dressing in 16th centary costumes and I felt this brought more passion and moodiness to the play than in an anglo-saxon presentation. I will repeat this aspect in the subsequent show.

The advice I was given about backstory between Beatrice & Benedick stood very true and I'll encourange anyone thinking of the play to read that advice. Due to casting restrictions I was unable to hit the aim of an obviously related Pedro & John (my Pedro was cross-cast) and I think that is another piece of advice that should be heeded. Establishing the light hearted comedy in the lovers is vital from the very first scenes and creating a real scene of competing alpha males in Claudio & Benedick helped. We had competition between Beatrice and the expanded (naughty) Margaret role which really gave Beatrice alot to develop her character against.

The comedy in the first half is witty but with the arrival of Dogberry we just let farce off the lead and it made made a great conterweight to the dramatic scenes. On relection I now have more confidence to let the farce of Dogberry go further and not worry as much as I did about context of his character. We ran with a man keen to impress but promoted well above his station and intellect.

Thanks again to all for your input
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Re: Concept for Performance 3 years 3 months ago #5249

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Rusty,
glad you have a good production. We are a month away from opening. We are outside too but its summer here. I haven't conflated any parts but we ran into a lack of men. So we converted Leonato and Antonio to Leonata and Antonia. Balthazar also got changed to a woman. The result is oddly successful. Leonata makes a remarkable sort of mother. There is one scene that doesn't work too well, in which Ant, Claud and Ped are badgering Ben about being in love, but everything else sings along. The scenes in the church and the street with Ant, Leon, Ped and Claud work particularly well.
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