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November 19, 2010

Dispatch from across the pond: Shakespeare is on the way!


Yesterday was a very important day.  In addition to marking the start of the one week countdown to our nation’s Thanksgiving binge, it was also the opening of Propeller’s production of Richard III at Coventry Belgrade.  Propeller, an all-male Shakespeare company, appears here in Ann Arbor March 30 – April 3, 2011 with both Richard III and The Comedy of Errors.

At the end of last week I took a rather last minute trip to London for a long weekend (Who takes a last minute trip to London you might ask?  Someone with a friend employed by an airline.  The fabulous life is achieved by things like knowing pilots.  And stage managers for important theater companies.  And being granted a vacation day allotment.  Dumb luck and circumstance.).  While there, I was able to pop in on Richard III rehearsals for a couple of hours.

I had recently learned via Facebook that my friend Laura, whom I met while she was the deputy stage manager (DSM) for the Globe Theatre’s production of  Love’s Labour’s Lost (presented by UMS in October 2009) that she would again be touring to Ann Arbor…this time as the DSM for Propeller!  Exciting, right?  So of course, when I found out I’d be going to London, I asked her if I could stop by rehearsals.

Laura gave me a call time of 9:45am on Friday and told me to report to Brixton St. Vincent’s Community Centre where the company was rehearsing.  I asked her for explicit instructions on how to find the place.  Being the well-armed stage manager that she is, she whipped out a spiral notebook and pencil (stage managers never use pens), drew me a map (Exhibit A), and illuminated it with written instructions (Exhibit B).

Friday morning came along, and I found the place with no trouble, even arriving with time to spare, a testament to Laura’s fine directions.  I met a few members of the cast and crew and Propeller’s director, Edward Hall.  The space was very small (read: I couldn’t hide like I had planned), and I was nervous that my presence would be an intrusion.  Turns out my fretting was for naught, as everyone greeted me warmly.  I was met with a cup of tea and questions like…”Is Michigan cold?”  Yes.  “Will it be cold when we’re there?”  Probably.  “Is Michigan like Minnesota?”  They’re both funny-shaped and cold.  So yes, probably.

So what should you as a potential audience member know about this company?  Well, as their website says, Propeller “seeks to find a more engaging way of expressing Shakespeare” and “[mix] a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic.”  In the case of Richard III this means the inclusion of the decidedly non-Shakespearean electric guitar, among other things.  A crucial part of every Propeller production is the music.  All of the music in their shows is either written by the company or sourced from music they know, and they have a tradition of producing most, if not all, sound effects live from the stage.  Jon Trenchard who plays Lady Anne in Richard III (yes, you read that correctly…remember that part where I said this is an all-male company?) and Dromio of Ephesus in Comedy, is also creating and arranging music for both productions.  In two incredibly entertaining installments, Jon blogs about the musical rehearsals for Richard III.  They really seem to know their stuff and think very carefully and deliberately about the musical components of each show.  I didn’t understand half the jargon contained in either post which is pretty solid proof of that. 

Aiming High: the Richard III Requiem Mass

Judgment Day: RICHARD III The Musical?

I was really excited by what I saw – the aforementioned guitar, the triple-duty gurney/throne/horse prop, the costume and stage sketches posted on the walls, the abundance of scythes and other torture instruments (including the thing that looked like it might be used for the extraction of a giant molar), the lovely singing, and, of course, the acting.  Ann Arbor audiences, you’re certainly in for a treat!

Before I leave you with some photos from the Richard III rehearsals, I wanted to offer one last highlight.  I learned from Laura that during the rehearsal day prior to my visit, the group had had an epic four hour long notes session.  So, the bulk of what I was seeing was the company’s rehearsal of some of these notes.  The scenes to be addressed were each prefaced in a humorous fashion by Mr. Hall…some personal favorites: “That went to rat sh*t yesterday.  So let’s put a bandaid on that.” and “Could we look at the other massive car crash?”

(I hope he doesn’t mind that I was taking my own notes!).