What’s next for Propeller?
We were sitting in the Power Center late yesterday afternoon, watching the changeover from Richard III to Comedy of Errors, and Caro MacKay, executive producer of Propeller, was talking about the shift from Richard’s stark black/white and blood-red world to the trash-strewn, gaily lit, exuberant world of Comedy. “We’re putting some color in the set now,” she said, as stagehands hoisted a panel of graffiti-sprayed shingling onto the big rock ’n roll truss that frames both productions.
MacKay said the idea behind Propeller’s environment for Comedy is “what we call ‘British lager louts.’ A Costa del Sol vacation, where Brits wear silly hats and spend the day drinking lager and hanging around the beach.” She chuckled. “Costa del Ephesus!”
This afternoon was your last chance to visit—at least in Ann Arbor. (The company will do a six-week run at Boston University’s Huntington Theater later this spring.)
A few behind-the-scenes tidbits:
· It’s not a stretch to think of the chorus members as hooligans—soccer fans (witness the jerseys) whooping it up far from home.
· The setting itself is a piazza in the 1980s, a period “quite close to us and probably the height of all this silliness,” MacKay said.
· Designer Michael Pavelka came up with the design of the graffiti himself, then hired a crew of real graffiti artists to render it. But before they agreed to lift a spray can, they made Pavelka swear it was his own design—it’s part of their code of honor not to copy another graffiti artist’s work.
MacKay talked briefly about what’s ahead for Propeller after its international tour of Richard III and Comedy of Errors winds up in August. While here in A2, Propeller received the welcome news that it had received three years’ funding from the British Arts Council—“which means we’re good for four more years,” MacKay said. “We can breathe.” (The news was bittersweet, though, as it came coupled with the announcement that 206 other British arts organizations had received no funding. Many would be forced to close.)
Propeller will reconvene in September and start work on next year’s touring shows, still to be determined. “There’s always one play Ed wants to do,” MacKay said of director Edward Hall. “He struggles a bit to find the other.”
Once they’ve picked the shows, Hall and Pavelka will come up with a set that works for both and begin rehearsals. The 14 members of the current company will get first-refusal rights for the next troupe. It’s a key part of the way this most democratic of theater companies works.
Sometime in the future, Hall wants to do his own cycle of the Shakespeare history plays—the three Henry VIs, Henry V, and Richard III. The working title is Blood Line. MacKay says they’re not sure when they’ll do it, “but we’re working toward it.”
A2 audiences who reveled in the RSC’s first residency here back in 2001—which gave us the three Henry VIs and Richard III—may find this news as tantalizing as I do. UMS, are you listening?
Daily Propeller Updates: Links to all the stories from our guest bloggers
Our guest bloggers, Leslie Stainton and Jen Leija, will be blogging all week long on the UMS Lobby. I’ll be compiling links here to each of their stories so that you can easily follow all their reporting from the week. Hope you enjoy! And, please, feel free to comment because Leslie and Jen would love to hear from you.
- Meet Our Guest Bloggers
We’ve asked two community members, Leslie Stainton and Jen Leija, to cover all the Propeller events and report about them here. Our bloggers will have behind-the-scenes access and will bring you recaps and reporting from all of Propeller’s performances and residency activities.
- People Are Talking: Richard III and The Comedy of Errors
Tell us what you thought! This is the place to comment on the performance, and hear what others are saying.
- In Closing, An Open Letter to Propeller
You are a company of talented, passionate, dedicated, vocally gifted, really good looking men who make Shakespeare into something brand new while somehow getting closer to the root and core of the text and than any production I’ve ever seen.
- What’s Next for Propeller?
Sometime in the future, Hall wants to do his own cycle of the Shakespeare history plays—the three “Henry VI”s, “Henry V,” and “Richard III.” The working title is “Blood Line.” MacKay says they’re not sure when they’ll do it, “but we’re working toward it.” A2 audiences who reveled in the RSC’s first residency here back in 2001 may find this news as tantalizing as I do. UMS, are you listening?
- Propeller: Was there a doctor in the house?
You bet. In fact, there were no fewer than 35 of them at Friday night’s performance of Richard III—med students and house officers, all part of the UM Medical Arts Program, a joint UMS–UM Medical School initiative designed to enrich physician training through exposure to the arts and humanities
- Propeller: In an Age of Tweets and txts, Musical Signposts
I suspect it’s the music as much as anything that makes me want to see—to hear—these plays more than once. I suspect that’s the part of Propeller’s work that will linger the longest with me after the company packs its bags and heads back to London tomorrow (may they return!).
- Richard III Recap: Taking Sides
Propeller gives us Shakespeare inside out – covered in blood and steeped in the realities of humanity, that begs us to question who we are. And why, however unwittingly, we side with the diabolical murderer after all.
- Tossing Grenades at Shakespeare—and Other Lessons from Propeller Director Ed Hall
All week long I’ve been hearing people sing the praises of Propeller director Ed Hall. Having now seen Hall up close, in a riveting exchange Thursday morning with a dozen or so BFA directing students from the UM School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, I get what everyone means.
- Sex, Blood, & Body Bags: Richard III Opens at Power Center
Last night, an appropriately powerful Richard III—full of blood and plenty of gore, but also, surprisingly and happily, quite a lot of laughs—opened at the Power Center.
- “The Boys” Are In Town
So I’ve basically been given everything I ever wanted from life: a group of British men, playing Shakespeare, just for me. That is to say that I got to sit in on Propeller’s cue-to-cue rehearsal Wednesday afternoon before attending the opening night of Richard III.
- From the Bard to the Boardroom..
It’s easy to forget that these plays are also about real issues—the kinds of things we grapple with in our own lives. Richard III, for example, asks about leadership. These issues surfaced in Tuesday’s workshop, “From the Bard to the Boardroom,” with the Ross Leadership Initiative at UM’s Ross School of Business.
- A new kind of Shakespeare?
Perhaps the most staggering moment of Monday night’s panel was Professor Rutter’s insistence that the breaking of the fourth wall is pivotal in Propeller’s productions. Simply, that men playing women is not the biggest leap of imagination we all take when we go to the theater, and that if we trust the actors, their craft and skill and dedication, to entertain us, then we will be glad to see actors acting rather than imagining them to be the characters they portray.
- Propeller: What would Brook think?
Peter Brook’s “The Empty Space” published in 1968, has long been a touchstone for anyone who cares about the theater. The book came up last night during Carol Rutter’s energetic talk at the UM Museum of Artabout the Propeller Theater Company and its uniquely “rough” style of performance.
- Propeller: Q&A with UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka
For years, Michael Kondziolka, UMS’s Programming Director, has been my go-to guy for all things cultural. If Michael says see it (as he does about Propeller), I move heaven and earth to heed the call. So I asked him how Propeller caught his eye…
- Caro MacKay, Producer for Propeller, Shows Some Love for Ann Arbor Audiences
Caro MacKay, executive producer of Propeller, will zip into Ann Arbor to see her company in action, but over the weekend she was at home in London, where I reached her by phone. The former Royal Shakespeare Company producer knows us well—she was here for both the first and second RSC Ann Arbor residencies, in 2001 and 2003.
Caro MacKay, Producer for Propeller, Shows Some Love for Ann Arbor Audiences
Later this week Caro MacKay, executive producer of Propeller, will zip into Ann Arbor to see her company in action, but over the weekend she was at home in London, where I reached her by phone. The former Royal Shakespeare Company producer knows us well—she was here for both the first and second RSC Ann Arbor residencies, in 2001 and 2003. I asked her why she wanted to bring Propeller here…
CM: Having done two seasons at Ann Arbor, I know your enthusiasm. But you’re also a tremendously thoughtful audience, and you’re obviously in a university town, so there’s great intelligence there, and I just thought you’d really like this company. Propeller offers something different—it’s very immediate and physical theater, but it’s also very intelligent Shakespeare.
You even decided to premiere Richard III here.
CM: Yes, it’s premiering in Ann Arbor. That’s really exciting for me. I’m thrilled that we’ll be presenting both shows [Richard III and The Comedy of Errors] because you will see the measure of what the company is capable of. And the different actors—they’ll be doing something in one show and something utterly different in the other show.
What was it about Propeller that made you want to get involved with the company?
First, their love of the text. It is there in all the shows. The text is very true to Shakespeare’s text. The second thing is, for me, every really, really, really good director is a great storyteller. And I think the way that [Propeller director] Ed Hall tells the actual story is terrific. That’s what leapt out at me. It’s the clarity—the actual clarity of the story, so that you can follow it. And the energy. Propeller is enormously physical.
Tell me about the ensemble. They’re onstage the whole time, for both shows, which is so intriguing.
It’s very particular to Ed’s work. And it means everybody is in rehearsal all the time. They’re in there all the time, all the day. You’re never only called for the scenes that you’re in. Rather than having just a half a dozen people working lines in rehearsal room, you’ve got 14. Everybody is always concentrated. I just think it is a true ensemble—everybody is looking at the scene that is the play and asking what is that scene doing for the play? What is the story line behind it?
It’s an all-male ensemble. How’d a woman like you wind up being the producer?
It’s quite funny, isn’t it? A girl to be running an all-male Shakespeare company. It took me a little while for me to really go, yes, I believe in this. But after a couple of shows, I got the clue. What you find with just having one sex is that actually you’re listening to the words. Whether you’re a male or a female, you’re just listening to what Shakespeare is saying and asking, what does that mean? That’s what it allows you to do—to scrape away the sexual politics and just listen to the words.