Twelfth Night, Third Post: First Rehearsal

Wednesday, December 26, 2007, 3pm: First rehearsal. Always a treat, because you’re guaranteed to be in a room full of happy artists. Why are we happy? Because we have JOBS.

And this first rehearsal was a treat in more ways than one: upon entering the company’s third-floor rehearsal space, we were greeted with a fantastic spread of goodies. I’m sure none of us needed more food, after a week of holiday face-stuffing, but starving artists will never turn down munchies, so we all dug in. Well, I don’t know if we ALL dug in, but I sure did. The selection was a plateful: cookies, candy bars, yogurt pretzels, veggies and dip, chips, somosa-like meat n’ veggie pies (I may or may not have eaten two), and a fruit bowl. We were grateful for the nourishment, because we were staring down the barrel of a long afternoon. Here’s a breakdown:

All of us — cast, crew, design team, voluteers — sat at a circular formation of tables that filled the expanse of the rehearsal hall. Paula Suozzi greeted us as both Artistic Director and director of this production. She chatted for a while about the play in a way that made her passion for it evident. She called Twelfth Night “the most human of Shakespeare’s comedies” and emphasized the collision of comic and tragic in the play, which illustrates the amazing human capacity for love, joy, and laughter even as we grieve for the loss of loved ones. I suppose it’s not unlike flying: finding some freedom from the earth, despite a constant awareness of a downward pull.
She challenged us to remain aware of the tragedies surrounding the characters in this play – shipwreck, loss, unrequited love – while also embracing all of the comic and romantic elements of the story – mistaken identities, trickery, new love. Because people are like that. We feel everything at the same time.

After Paula’s injection of inspiration, it was time for the set, costume, and sound designers to share their contributions to the production with the rest of us. Our scenic and lighting designer, Noele Stollmack, showed us a miniaturized model of her beautiful set (it’s about the size of a shoebox, and proportional to the dimensions of the actual stage space at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center in Brookfield). I don’t want to reveal too much – I hate spoilers – but I will say this: our set is abstract enough that Illyria (the setting of Twelfth Night), could exist at any time, in any part of the world, but specific enough to make it absolutely clear that if there’s one thing we know about Illyria, it’s this: it’s a city on a coast, right on the water. It’s going to be stunning.

Costume designer Mara Blumenfeld then showed us some renderings of our costumes, along with some picures (magazine clippings, etc.) to help us see the inspiration for her (and Paula’s) ideas. As with the set, our costumes are classy and somewhat modern, while being slyly evasive of a specific time or place. Our sound designer, Josh Schmidt, was not present (he’s in New York opening a new musical version of the The Adding Machine, which originated in Chicago*), but we were introduced to John Manno, a musican who will be playing an instrument onstage, live, during our performance, to accompany the singing clown, Feste (played by the exceedingly-talented Robert Spencer, whose previous roles at Milwaukee Shakes include Prospero in The Tempest and Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing). John Manno played for us, while Robert sang a few songs from the play. Pretty magical stuff. I’m not going to tell you what this mysterious instrument is, just yet… if ever. Like I said, I don’t like spoilers. Maybe later I’ll let you try to guess.

Overall, all three designs feature a duality that echoes the collision of comic and tragic in our play: magical yet human, realistic yet dreamlike. Like most coastal towns are, when you think about it.

After these presentations, we took a break, swallowed some more food, and then sat down to read through the play, as a cast, for the first time. It sounded great. Paula has assembled a team of actors with a real knack for making the poetic text clear, comprehensible, and human. We’re a sizable cast, so rather than go through all the names, here’s a link to our cast list: http://www.milwaukeeshakespeare.com/twelfthNight/cast.lasso. If you’re a Milwaukee Shakespeare regular, you’ll see a nice combination of familar and new. And I’ll tell you this – to quote an old teacher of mine, “There’s not a clinker among ’em.” It’s a talented bunch.

After our read-through, Paula and our marvelous text coach, Gale Daly, offered some reflections about our reading, and spoke about about the company’s approach to the text. It seems to me that different Shakespeare companies have different ideas about speaking Shakespeare’s text, and I really like what Paula and Gale have to say about that. This is a conversation for another post, though, and my fingers are tired. I’m off to get some lunch. More later.

I’ll keep you posted,


* FYI, Josh Schmidt’s The Adding Machine:


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