Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Bard on the Beach 2015

A different configuration for the stage this year, but still simple, and able to represent numerous locations.

A different configuration for the stage this year, but still simple, and able to represent numerous locations.

Last year’s Bard on the Beach was a bust for us – we were ready to go and be entertained on Sunday morning, but it turned out we had tickets for Saturday afternoon. Oops.

This year we almost missed the boat completely. With visitors throughout the summer, it was always an option, but superseded by other events. Lucky for us, Middle Weasel asked about it with just days of performances left, and we ended up booking tickets for the final performance of the season.

The play we booked was “A Comedy of Errors”, one that none of us had encountered before. The production had transformed the setting into Steampunk, and we were all excited to see how that would work. As the photo shows, the set was all brass and cogwheels, with steam and clanking, grinding sound effects from five minutes before the start of the show. The characters wore great outfits – goggles, metal-accented limbs, eyepieces, Victorian styles.

The story concerns two pairs of identical twin boys, who are separated in a shipwreck, and are then amusingly mistaken for and by each other... over and over again.

The story concerns two pairs of identical twin boys, who are separated in a shipwreck, and are then amusingly mistaken for and by each other… over and over again.

It’s no surprise that the performance was excellent. The production values are high, and this was the final performance of the 26th Season of Bard on the Beach – you don’t get longevity like that with mediocre work. But it felt like the last night was giving the performance some extra zing. The actors were clearly having a lot of fun with their roles, and there was more than a hint of in-jokes being played throughout.

The Weasels try out a Steampunk look.

The Weasels try out a Steampunk look.

As always, I was mesmerised by the fact that a simple set – in this case a walkway above and two side entrances plus a central doorway – could be so many locations. I wanted to film the proceedings and post it on the Lazy Bee website to show other playwrights what is possible with a minimal set and a wild imagination. Of course, the person I should be reminding about it is ME.

The evening closed with a brief ceremony to mark the end of the season, with the Artistic Director inviting all the cast, crew and volunteers onto the stage. Each brought a candle, and the AD recited Prospero’s closing speech from “The Tempest” – the lights went down, and the candles were blown out.

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We’ll be coming back next year – Romeo and Juliet is on the schedule, and Middle Weasel is studying that this year. Come along to Vanier Park and see it with us – there’s no better way to see Shakespeare!

A Perfectly Useless Hobby : Part 2

The Shakespearean Vader Helmet: Another insane project begun.

The Shakespearean Vader Helmet: Another insane project begun.

It’s nearly the first weekend in April, and that can only mean that FanExpo Vancouver is just around the corner. After last year’s triumph with costumes for the weasels, I was determined not to be left out this year. But the Mando Armour had defeated me. Too many attempts to rebuild had left me dispirited and I abandoned it, leaving the helmet on the shelf with my other projects.

WP_20140829_004Unfortunately for my sanity and the well-being of the family, I had a new bright idea. For my birthday, I received a copy of Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean Star Wars.

Worse still, only a day or two later I was wandering through Value Village when I found a Darth Vader Voice-changer helmet, on sale for only $6. Clearly, this was a sign. I must make a Shakespearean Darth Vader costume!

Adapting the helmet was stage one, and something I could do in short bursts. This was, after all, only September, and there were many months before Fan Expo. The rest of the costume would be easy to put together in the months to come.

I took the basic helmet and added extra flanges at the end. Just so I could use the word "flanges".

I took the basic helmet and added extra flanges at the end. Just so I could use the word “flanges”.

WP_20140907_006 WP_20140918_002Years ago, my Dad had a tool that could measure a curve. It was a brilliant thing, but I don’t have one, so I used estimation and an iterative construction and redesign method to create the crest. Mrs Dim says this is actually “Bodging it with trial and error.” She may have a point.

WP_20141001_005Once I’d added the crest, I smoothed over the joins and sprayed it with gloss paint. I also sprayed the helmet itself with an artist’s acrylic gloss to make it shine like the movie helmet does – the plastic used for the kids’ helmet is actually too matte.

WP_20141006_002It took a while to find the gold filligree for the decoration. Amazingly, there aren’t many options for self-adhesive gold decoration. I tried all the obvious places, but eventually found something that would do at Michael’s, the craft store. It comes on a roll like selotape, but since the design winds around on itself, it’s much harder to remove from the backing. There was much cursing as I patiently applied each piece, then went back and stuck it back down again a few minutes later. And again a few minutes after that. Then I spent several days finding more bits of gold glitter everywhere.

So that was the easy bit. And there’s a pretty good argument that says I should have stopped there. After all, I had a Mando Helmet, a Scout Trooper Helmet, two Clone Trooper helmets, and a Hiccup Helmet from “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Weeks of work, snatched five minutes at a time, resulted in this replica. Not for Halloween, or Fan Expo, just...because.

Weeks of work, snatched five minutes at a time, resulted in this replica. Not for Halloween, or Fan Expo, just…because.

Maybe I should have just said “Helmets are my thing.” They’re easy to display, fun to make and everyone can try them on with no real effort.

But I was ambitious, and more than a little jealous of the fun the Weasels had at Fan Expo last year. This Vader costume would be a big hit. And besides, I only really needed a breastplate and a decent cloak. Plus, look, I had a miniature Vader head already, if I sprayed it silver and mounted it on the hilt of my SFX Vader lightsabre….

Yes, I already had the lightsabre why do you ask? Don't YOU have a lightsabre at home?

Yes, I already had the lightsabre, why do you ask? Don’t YOU have a lightsabre at home?

So fine, I would make the whole suit. I obtained a pair of simulated leather leggings. I already had suitable boots from my Mandalorian outfit. With a black undershirt already in my wardrobe, all I needed was the breastplate and cloak.

I went to work on the breastplate.

The majority of the plate is a foam tile designed for flooring. I shaped it a little to bulge impressively over the manly chest I haven't got, and topped it off with some halloween costume armour for the neck and shoulders.

The majority of the plate is a foam tile designed for flooring. I shaped it a little to bulge impressively over the manly chest I haven’t got, and topped it off with some halloween costume armour for the neck and shoulders.

I checked back with the original illustration….

I needed more gold decoration. The chains were easy enough to come by, at Michael's again.

I needed more gold decoration. The chains were easy enough to come by, at Michael’s again.

I haven't added the chains yet.

I haven’t added the chains yet.

Since the breastplate cuts off at waist height, I checked out the original Vader costume at ILM in San Francisco. The illustrations in Doescher’s book are a little light on the full-length shots, but here’s what the original Vader looks like from the waist down…

Clearly, this was something else I would have to reproduce....

Clearly, this was something else I would have to reproduce….

Adding that extra detail turned out to be a good idea, since it gave me a belt I could use to hang a scabbard from, allowing me to carry the lightsabre without having to …er…carry it.

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I’m guessing you’re waiting for the photo of me wearing the whole rig and posing impressively. Well, there isn’t one of those right now. There’s still work to be done – I have the material for the cloak, but haven’t converted it from curtain to cloak yet. What there was, this afternoon, was some fairly intense discussion on whether this was a useful hobby, because every time I come away from working on the latest project I am frustrated and angry. Mrs Dim points out that hobbies are supposed to be satisfying, or relaxing. She points to her gardening, which is incredibly restorative and has the bonus of producing actual food. Why do I pursue an activity that doesn’t even make me happy when I’m done?

The honest answer was that I don’t know. This is something I want to do. More than that, it’s something I want to be good at. As long as I can remember, I have been fumble-fingered, which sounds daft coming from a juggler. But I couldn’t build models. My woodwork made my CDT teacher shake his head sadly. My DIY is done on the “Measure twice, cut once, buy more, get someone else to measure…” method. Practical crafts are not my thing.

But I have always been fascinated by the behind the scenes footage of the guys building the models of the Star Wars spaceships or the miniature scenes from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. I see the people of Weta Workshops building real Elf and Orc armour and weapons and I long to have a go at that. I tell myself it’s lack of time, or lack of proper materials, or tools, that someday I will be GOOD at this. Maybe that’s true, or maybe I’ll be hopeless at it forever, no matter how much filler I use, or whether I ever get my 3d printer and vacuum former. On the other hand…. I wanted to build a Mandalorian helmet, and I did. I wanted to build a Scout Trooper Helmet, and I did. I wanted to build a Hiccup Helmet, and I did. Now I’m building a Shakespearean Vader suit. They may not be the best, they may not be perfect, but they are real, and here, and they are here because I made them. It’s probably time I took some satisfaction in that achievement, instead of just hoping it’ll be better next time.

See you at Fan Expo Vancouver.

An afternoon at Twelfth Night

Screen-grab from YouTube : Go see it in 3D in Vanier Park!

Screen-grab from YouTube : Go see it in 3D in Vanier Park!

I am often surprised by the things my Weasels enjoy, or think about. Last year, I had trawled through the selection of things to watch while I ironed, and found a brilliant film version of “Twelfth Night” (By Shakespeare, in case you were wondering.) Tiny Weasel, and then Middle Weasel crept in, drawn by the sounds of TV, and both watched the film with apparent interest.

So when it turned out that “Twelfth Night” was one of the plays in this year’s Bard on the Beach, we booked tickets. We would have booked tickets anyway, but there was, at least, a reason for choosing this play over “Hamlet”.

Just like last year, I was tremendously impressed. Firstly, the staging is so simple.

Last year's staging

Last year’s staging

With an entrance from the back of the stage and two side entrances, and all props and set wheeled or carried on by the actors themselves, we moved from Hotel, to beach, to Bath house and on. It sounds simple enough, but I read plays every week that struggle to convincingly produce two or three locations on one stage. Like many playwrights, I prefer to find a single location for my action to simplify staging*. Seeing productions like this makes me feel I am limiting my imagination too much. It’s also the definition of what makes theatre a different experience from film.

This production moves the time period to the 20’s with jazz as a soundtrack and Olivia’s House is presented as a hotel. However these details don’t really matter, as the quality of the acting and the singing soon sweep you away into the story. Like many of Shakespeare’s tales, it’s a little unlikely – twins separated by a storm, the girl dressing as a boy to preserve her safety and falling into the service of local Duke. She is forced to carry his profession of love to Olivia, even as she herself has fallen in love with him. Olivia is too deep in mourning the death of her brother to hear talk of love, until she sees the disguised Viola and falls in love with him/her. It’s the classic love triangle. As a subplot you have the officious Malvolio (here the Hotel Manager) tricked into believing that Olivia is in love with him and desires that he dress in ridiculous stockings and smile more. To add to the confusion, Viola’s brother appears, now her true double since she’s disguised as a boy and willingly consents to marry Olivia, who thinks he’s Viola, whom she calls Cesario… You get the picture.

Tiny Weasel found it hard to stay still, but she wasn’t bored. She watched the whole production and followed the story without a problem. It wasn’t updated language, but the original text, and all three Weasels enjoyed it immensely. I’m really glad we went, and we’ll go back again next year.

*It’s true that a director can make the decision to radically alter the staging, but in Shakespeare’s theatre, all these locations would have been presented in the one area, and the impression of each given more through dialogue and mime than exotic set dressing. The Bard on the Beach production is, therefore, very traditional in nature. I believe the onus is on the playwright to communicate the nature of the intended staging. Whether or not the director takes that intention to heart is out of the writer’s control.

Bard on the Beach – Shakespeare in the Summertime!

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I’ve mentioned before how shockingly rare it is for me, a playwright, to actually go to the theatre. Well, one of the features of the summer here in Vancouver is the excellent Bard on the beach productions. Three years in a row we have missed out, but this year, with my parents over from the UK, we were GOING!

Since the show we were booked in for was “The Taming of the Shrew” we opted to take all three weasels. We’d primed the younger two by letting them watch Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, and youngest weasel had also taken part a class presentation of that play too. I was still a little nervous, since it was likely to be a long show…but I need not have worried. The production was hilarious. Funny because of the performers, the handling of the lines, the physical comedy. The acting was impeccable, moving from broad comedy to heartbreaking emotion. It was so gripping that the time flashed by and all too soon we were on our way out again.

The show proved that you don’t need an all-singing, all dancing mobile set to produce an epic show, you don’t need holograms, or explosions to show an audience a good time, and Shakespeare doesn’t need “translating” into modern speech to appeal. Youngest Weasel is eight years old and she loved it.

There’s a big question about the play, though. If I had read it, I think I would have had real problems with Kate’s speech at the end. You know, the one that goes “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee…”. From the text you may think that Petruchio is just mercenary, using some fairly brutal brainwashing tactics to bring his young wife to heel. But in this production it was clear that he was smitten with Kate from his first sight, and his “schooling” was aimed to bring her to the point where she could love him as much as he loved her. In the play, they really stretched the point where Kate reaches out to Petruchio and asks him to take her hand, until the whole audience was practically begging him to reciprocate. When he did take her hand, he kissed the palm with such passion I could feel my wife melting three seats away. As a result, I viewed Kate’s speech with a different slant, though I feel it would have been better directed at both halves of the newly-married couples. The best relationships are built on mutual respect, after all, with each partner trying to love and serve the other more.

We’ll definitely be back for more next year.

Talking out of my….hat

Why are they all standing? Are they about to leave?

So, on Sunday I’ll be giving a talk to the good people of SMP Dramatics. In my defence, it was their idea. The Chairman emailed to ask if I would come along to their AGM and talk “about the life of a playwright”. Now I come to think about it, maybe they’re expecting me to give a bio of Shakespeare or Pinter…Uh oh!

SMP are a special group because they’ve been extremely helpful to me. Long before we met, they performed a couple of TLC pantomimes here in Vancouver (on the North Shore) and when Steve and David came to visit last year, we saw the posters for the SMP production of Fawlty Towers, which Steve and David had just finished producing with MKTOC. When Steve saw the name of the group, he recognised them as previous customers. We got in touch, and were invited along to one of the rehearsals (since Steve and David would have returned to the UK before the performances.) It was a very pleasant evening, reminding me of the fun and cameraderie of a community theatre company, and Steve and David got to run through some of the moves they had developed for their production.

Naturally we talked to the good folks there about projects past, present and future, and I mentioned “Merely Players“, saying how I was pleased with it but unsure if it was worth taking further. SMP kindly agreed to stage a reading of the play and give me their feedback. I talk about that experience in THIS post.

But now they’ve asked me to come and talk, and I’m finding the same issues with writing the talk as I do about writing this blog. The life of a writer is much like the life of a plumber. The actual work isn’t that interesting. In fact,maybe that’s not fair. I guess sometimes the life of a plumber can be quite exciting, with flooded houses, exploding toilets and gushing washing machines. Hmm, maybe I’ll retrain… Where was I? Oh yeah.

The life of a playwright is just regular life, only with some time spent writing plays. But writing plays is just sitting at a keyboard, daydreaming and taking dictation. Maybe if I was one of those playwrights who turn their grim life experiences into plays, if I was a refugee who had to work thirty seven hours a day making ping pong balls in a underground sweatshop in Littleknown, Exoticville, then made my way to freedom aboard a boat made from rice paper, maybe then my life would be worth talking about.

But I don’t write about that.  Some days I can’t help feeling a complete fraud (back to the discussion of FEARS, here) because I write plays that are aimed to entertain. Some of them have questions at their heart, ideas that I wanted to explore, like “The Red Balloon” and “A Time for Farewells“, but that doesn’t mean I have some mystic method. I don’t summon the Intergalactic Hivemind during mystic yoga sessions to inform the questions at the heart of my work. I wish I did, because then at least I’d have something to do on the days when I haven’t the faintest idea what to write next.

The point I’m edging towards in this increasingly desperate sounding post is that I’m going to talk to SMP about Community Theatre, which sounds like a dumb idea. After all, they’re a Community Theatre group, aren’t they? Surely they’re pretty familiar with the whole thing. Well, yes, they probably are. But I want to talk about why I write for Community Theatre groups instead of trying to write a play that’ll be put on in the West End of London and leave the critics faint with ecstasy. Obviously one reason is that my publisher has a marketplace almost entirely composed of Community groups and schools, though there’s nothing to stop a professional company buying a script there. No the main reason is that I have spent time in Community Theatre. I remember the joy of a good play, the feeling of infinite possibility granted by an empty stage. I remember that part vividly, the feeling that you can make this space into anything, anywhere and people will believe it. For the length of a play, your audience will come along with you on your adventure. All they ask is that you put your heart and soul ito the performance. and you know what? Most of the time that’s what you get with Community Theatre. People are there because they love it, not because it’s another tick on their equity card, or a third-rate part they had to take when they didn’t get the lead in Hamlet again.

Yes, people in a Community Theatre group may fight like a bunch of cats in a sack over all kinds of things, but when it comes to the production EVERYONE puts their heart and soul into it because that’s why they’re there.

What drives YOU to write? Have you had any experience with Community Theatre? What organisations helped you recover afterwards? Do you know ANYONE who has bought my book “Writing a play for Community Theatre”? What organisations helped them recover afterwards?