Category Archives: Shakespeare

Twitter Talk

At DreamWrights, you know me as Michelle Denise Norton, Founder and Director of Theatre Under The Trees, apprentice costumer and yawner through 8 am meetings. On Twitter, I am @mdnightmaverick, insomniac, enthusiast, conversationalist, In the Bleak December author, artist, animator, camera ace, director of Shakespeare (+ shorts), @blinkkittylove, etc.. Twitter has enabled me to collaborate with people across the country, make friends internationally and have a community of support I might otherwise be lacking as a freelance writer, artist and theatre professional.  I have heard people express puzzlement and dismay over social media, but it can be a valuable tool to have available.

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The first thing to remember is that Twitter, where I spend most of my internet time so my focus will be there, is talk.  #justtalk if you want a hashtag. It is you interacting with other people, in shorter snippets perhaps than if you were interacting over tea in the same room, but it is still conversation. The rules of common courtesy still apply. Trusting your instincts is still essential.  But so is having some fun and finding like minded spirits who may inspire you.

People may try to sell you industry jargon and there are those using social media who are more corporate bot than individual, but the people you want to connect to are the ones who will talk to you.  Because whether you meet someone in person or on line, it’s talking and shared experience that create a connection and those connections can be a strong part of your network as an artist.

I have gotten paid jobs via Twitter.  I follow theatres, actors and directors in places other than America.  I read reviews of shows being done in places like China and add that to my general theatre knowledge and inspiration pool. I am currently researching the all female Takarazuka Revue in Japan to add some texture to how I approach Rosalind in As You Like It this summer. I share the things that I find interesting and enjoy when others do as well.  When I have a free Thursday afternoon, I participate in the HowlRound* weekly moderated Twitter discussion.

So, here are my guidelines:

  1. Stay Safe. If someone makes you uncomfortable, block them. Immediately.
  1. #hashtag. They’re fun.  Every show I direct, I create a specific hashtag so people can follow the progress on Twitter or my blog.  It started with Merchant of Venice aka #merven.  For As You Like It, I’ll probably stick with the short and simple #ayli.  My favorite so far was #EPHvSYR, which represented our soccer mad take on Comedy of Errors.  It’s a good way to organize thoughts.  It’s also a good way to find people to follow.  I sometimes read through #theatre or #Shakespeare posts to see if anything interests me.
  1. Don’t just promote your projects. Interact. Retweet someone else’s project every once in awhile.  Share things about what you’re doing, watching, reading…yes, even eating.  Behave like yourself while remembering that Twitter especially is a public forum.Don’t be afraid to talk to people — or ask for help.  I read somewhere that Twitter is like a party where you could walk up and talk to anyone. I think that’s a good analogy.
  2. Tempest Storm

    And if you’ve built a connection with someone, asking for help is the same as asking any other friend or colleague.  Part of why the dance in The Tempest worked so well was that I asked @KristynBurtt, a Los Angeles based entertainment reporter and dance aficionado for advice about choreographers who might work with a jazzy score.  She suggested Bill T. Jones and my research into his career and life gave me the vocabulary to have the conversations I needed with Kim Greenawalt, my choreographer — I’d kept in touch with her on Facebook after she performed as Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream…double social media score.

2012 Mid Summers Night Dream
  1. Pictures boost interest.  Take a shot of rehearsal or the script you’re working on or a half built set.

Have fun. Be yourself.  Find organizations and people who interest you and follow them.  Talk.  Learn. Laugh.

*HowlRound is ‘a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community’ based at Emerson College in Boston.

Michelle Denise Norton, Creative Engine

DreamWrights’ Shakespearience

This spring, DreamWrights Youth and Family Theatre is offering a new experience… a Shakespearience!  The teaching artist for this experience is Billy Wolfgang, founder of OrangeMite Studios where Wolfgang has been involved in 16 different Shakespearean productions.  He promises to bring not only directing experience to our workshop, but more specifically, Shakespearean acting experience. “Getting participants involved in many different scenes will be the key to our success.  Students will be involved in material from a variety of plays to give them a broader view of Shakespeare’s work.  We will then use that knowledge and apply it to the comedy play we produce as a class.”

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Teaching Artist, Billy Wolfgang

By looking at him, you might not recognize Wolfgang as a lover of the bard. He’s young, hip, and enthusiastic. Wolfgang says that his love of Shakespeare had to grow on him. “It wasn’t something I was born loving.  And, unfortunately it wasn’t something I discovered a love for in high school.” Wolfgang says his love of Shakespeare didn’t start until he was committed to a Shakespeare performance. Wolfgang remembers, “Then, and only then, did I discover what all the Shakespeare ‘hype’ was about – finally I figured out why we had to read it in English class.” It was through the production of Shakespeare’s work that he was fully able to understand and appreciate it.

The DreamWrights Shakespearience will include a look at Shakespeare’s work in different genres and acting out some famous scenes from Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Cymbeline, and others.  Students will learn the importance of verse and how to use it to their advantage, to aid with their memorization. “To say that the dialogue isn’t difficult would be a disservice to those participating as an actor or as an audience member,” Wolfgang explains. “So we will unlock and make it understandable to all involved on both sides of the process.”Wolfgang promises a lot of movement and laughter in the workshop. “Together we will take the text off of the page and make it real for each other and for our audience.  We will laugh and we will move.  Movement and kinesthetic activity are an extremely vital part of the experience.  The movement will be one aspect that will help us with the text, and together they create a complete ‘Shakespearience.’  Also, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare without a little sword fighting!”

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A group of Shakespearean performers at OrangeMite Studios

Shakespeare has many layers of comedy in his plays.  Even Shakespearean plays that aren’t supposed to be funny (like histories or tragedies), are still quite funny.  Wolfgang explains, “This was done intentionally, of course.  Shakespeare was an entertainer first and foremost – he wasn’t writing material to be added to high school English textbooks, he was writing to make people come back to his theatre year after year, he wanted them to have fun.”

Who doesn’t love blatant Shakespearean insults?! “Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch.”  Wolfgang explains, ”We might not know what all those bizarre words mean, but trust me, ‘puke-stocking,’ for better or worse, gets an audience every time.”

Wolfgang promises that the jokes will jump out at you, one way or another. “Silly one-liners may be great, but they don’t necessarily demonstrate Shakespeare’s real comic genius, which is the fantastic, witty and comic exchanges between characters.  The silly mix-ups of mistaken identity or the goofball clown character interacting with a serious and angry lord always prove to be fun moments.”

DreamWrights Shakespearience Billy Wolfgang
Wolfgang performing

The DreamWrights Shakespearience begins March 2 and runs for six Wednesdays: March 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 and April 6 (6:00 pm – 8:00 pm) and six Saturdays: March 5, 12, 19 & 26, April 2 and 9 (9:00 am – 12:00 pm). Participants in this exciting and playful performance class will explore Shakespearean text with the body, voice, mind and imagination, learning how to play with verse effectively in order to communicate story with an audience and portray the intriguing characters presented in one of Shakespeare’s comedies. The class will culminate with a performance of a 30 minute Shakespearean comedy. Beginner and experienced players are both welcome! Ages 10 – 16. Cost is $270. Spaces are limited. Register via phone at 717-848-8623 or online at www.dreamwrights.org.

An Interview with Theatre Under the Trees Director, Michelle Denise Norton

Director Michelle Denise Norton sat down with DreamWrighters to answer some questions about Theatre Under the Trees. You won’t want to miss a performance. There are three performances left! July 31 @ 6:30pm William Kain County Park, Aug 1 @ 6:30pm Codorus State Park, and Aug 2 @ 2:30pm at DreamWrights Youth & Family Theatre. Admission is free!

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DW: What is Theatre Under the Trees?  

MDN: Theatre Under The Trees is a branch of DreamWrights that tours the comedies of William Shakespeare in local parks.  Admission is free.  

DW: When/How did it get started?

MDN: In 1998, I wanted to direct an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the DreamWright’s Board agreed to support it.  The first year was a success and we have continued evolving over seventeen years.  I like to say I want to direct a show I’d love to sit in the audience for.  We aim to show people why Shakespeare still draws audiences after more than 4 centuries.  And to remind the world that Shakespeare wrote comedies as least as well as he wrote anything else.  I am amazed and very grateful that so many people have volunteered their time and talent for a program I feel so strongly about.

DW: How has it changed over the years?

MDN: Well, I took a year off, only to discover I missed it terribly and everyone still talked to me about Shakespeare anyway. <wink> Each year is really different.  I have learned to plan just enough ahead that I am ready to see who auditions and build the show from there.  Some years have different needs. The last time we did The Tempest, I knew I wanted to create a storm with dancers so I started discussing the show with a choreographer several months in advance.  But what we were able to do started from the people who showed up at auditions to share their talents. 

DW: What is your favorite performance and why?

MDN: I have two. One was a dress rehearsal of the original production of Twelfth Night and it was just a beautiful night outside, listening to one of Shakespeare’s best plays, done well by people enjoying the challenge. The actors had responded to every note I’d given them. Everything clicked.  It was perfect. The other was sitting in the grass at Sam Lewis Park watching Merchant of Venice.  One of the actresses had missed the previous performance due to a family emergency. I’d had to perform in her stead and when she came back, the entire cast had a new energy.  It was amazing.  Plus, I could sit in the grass in casual clothes rather than being onstage in a sweater, skirt and pantyhose.

DW: How is Shakespeare challenging and rewarding?

MDN: It’s rewarding for me because I get to see some of my favorite characters, vibrant, on stage, having new dimensions thanks to the actors who make them live.  The challenge is taking a random group of people and merging them with a play I’ve picked far in advance.  It can be a little scary the night between audition days.  

MDN: From a directing standpoint, I try to forget a lot of what I’ve done before so I can discover things again with a new cast.  It’s a group challenge to work out the meaning and dynamics of each play and relationship, as well as the physicality required by comedy in the Theatre Under The Trees style. With Shakespeare, we have to pay a lot of attention to the language, but the reward is the wonderful pictures Shakespeare created that the actors get to paint for the audiences.  

DW:   How is performing outside different then in a traditional theatre setting?

MDN: Performing actually started outside, with the Greeks and their theaters with seating cut into the sides of hills for better acoustics.  And in Shakespeare’s time, theaters lacked roofs and were open to wind and weather.  For our actors, we spend a lot of time building our voices and becoming aware of the mechanics of projection.  Changing locations for every performance brings unique challenges.  We learn to be flexible. We rehearse outside as much as possible and have tech and dress rehearsals in people’s backyards, weather permitting.

DW:     How can/ does weather play into your performances?

MDN: We stop for lightning.  The rest we mostly adjust to.  Everyone who has done Theatre Under The Trees has at least one good weather story. It’s always fun to hear people recalling their rain/hail/wind adventures for newcomers.  

DW: What’s the best thing for you about Theatre Under the Trees ?

MDN: The people I’ve met.  

DreamWrights’ New Bardolator

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To those who know me well, it is no secret that I am a bardolator. What is a bardolator, you may ask? A bardolator is a lover of all things Shakespeare! When I noticed Shakespearean Stages was being offered as a summer camp at DreamWrights, I was so excited to help out in any way I could. Getting kids and teens excited about Shakespeare is something that I think is so important, and I was happy to step in and assist this week of Shakespearean Stages camp. (Kelsey Markey is the actual instructor of this camp and is also a fan of the Bard!)

I am not sure how this love began, but my British heritage has certainly played a role (no pun intended) in my fascination with this legendary British playwright. Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to travel and visit family in the UK, and on my last go-around, I was lucky enough to celebrate my birthday in no place but Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Shakespeare was born in this little town along the Avon River in April 1564. He lived with his parents, Mary and John, and seven other siblings in a large home on Henley Street. When he was 18, he married Anne Hathaway and remained in the family home (middle right) even after they had their three children: Susanna, Judith, and Hamnet. Shakespeare died in 1616 and is buried under the altar of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford (bottom right). Above the inscription, a placard promises a curse on any who disturbs his grave.

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To me, Shakespeare’s hometown is not just a tourist-trap. It is the place where a man was inspired to put pen to paper and translate the most essential pieces of the human condition into writing. His language may be convoluted, outdated, or downright superfluous to some, but the ideas that he expresses in his 38 plays and 154 sonnets speak to the flaws in all of us– in any time– as human beings. At times, we are all consumed by the destructive ambition of Macbeth or the hesitation of Hamlet. We are as impulsive as Romeo in first love, and we channel Cordelia’s unconditional devotion in our own families. We all know those two “enemies” who, like Beatrice and Benedick, mask their true feelings for one another behind insults and banter.

I suppose I ask — in defense of William Shakespeare– that in theatre and beyond, we get past the differences in vocabulary, sentence structure, and culture of his plays. Instead, focus on the fascinating thread of humanity that weaves centuries of people together. If you allow this to happen, you need not travel very far: you will feel a connection with Shakespeare as profound as crossing the threshold of his home.

Hannah Kohler, Summer Camp Intern

 

You Could Be Part of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Summers are a busy time at DreamWrights.  The theatre is always bustling, with camps and shows nearly every daylight hour and many of the evening ones.  Theatre Under the Trees is my contribution to that activity and I’m very excited about this year’s show: Twelfth Night.  Twelfth Night tells the story of shipwrecked twins, focusing on Viola as she searches for a safe haven and falls in love with the Duke Orsino, who she has come to work for.  Viola finds herself disguised as a boy, running errands for Orsino, trying to convince the Lady Olivia that Olivia should listen to Orsino’s pleas of love, when Orsino’s love is what Viola wants to reserve for herself.  Once you mix in the other members of Olivia’s household:  her cousin, his gullible friend, the steward, servants and Feste, the fool, who sings both merry and melancholy tunes for both Lord and Lady, you get a play that catapults you from one silliness to the next.

Twelfth Night may well be my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays to direct.  The story is straightforward, there aren’t a lot of extraneous characters and the mischief and misunderstandings have so much comic potential.

If you aren’t familiar with Theatre Under The Trees, we are a touring show, taking our performances to local parks.  It’s really a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.

Auditions will be held Tuesday, May 26 and Wednesday, May 27 at 6:00 p.m.  Ages 7-Adult may audition, and there is no advance preparation required. We need actors, singers, musicians and crew. Performances will be held July 24th through August 2nd.  Check the DreamWrights website for locations.

Michelle Denise Norton

Founder and Director, Theatre Under The Trees