Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

"At Stratford, on the twenty-second of April,
Year sixteen-sixteen..."

I'm still on a Edgar Lee Masters roll but I'm always willing to come back to my man Will.  In the theatre department, we are currently holding auditions for A Midsummer Night's Dream and it irks me that I won't be here to play my dream role of Moth. Luckily, also in honor of the 450th birthday of Mr. William Shakespeare, I had Hulu's newest series to satisfy me in the long wait for his next play to be written. 

Complete Works - an original new Hulu series created/directed/acted/written/produced/bought the duct tape that probably held set pieces together by Lili Fuller, Joe Sofranko and Adam North. Straight out of college, making their own production company (Kingdom for a Horse Productions), these graduated theatre dorks decided to spend over three years making this, based on their own experiences with Shakespeare. I'm already hooked and I hadn't even watched the teaser yet! 

I'll confess that I would have never had even heard of this show (I'm a netflix user myself) if the creators hadn't contacted me personally* - as it turns out, I have readers. And what kind of theatre dork blogger would I be if I didn't support people making their own work like I want to when I graduate?

"Complete Works is a new, 5-episode half-hour comedy series set in the world of a collegiate Shakespeare competition. Hal, a naive Shakespeare-obsessed Midwesterner, makes it to the final round only to discover that even theater geeks can be cutthroat."
First impression: Although I've already passed my first through eighth birthdays and my twelfth too, I want a Shakespeare birthday party. Masks required. I don't care that my birthday was last week - let's throw me and Will Shakes a Much Ado About Nothing party (it's funny, because I want to have much ado about not even my birthday). 

In the first three minutes of the first episode of Complete Works, I was having flashbacks to high school, where my ninth grade English teacher praised me in our read-aloud sessions of Romeo and Juliet (I was Juliet and yes, it was also my birthday) and then to getting my own college acceptance letters (the big letters vs. the small ones!).

Minor spoiler/second impression: as much as I enjoyed poor Yorick's cameo, it was Yorick's skull being thrown against the dorm room wall and the subsequent cleaning up that had me hooked. And then (bigger spoiler): "She was shot. She was milking." Done. DONE. I've poured the wine and set aside the time to binge-watch the next five episodes, ignoring the pile of laundry on my bedroom floor.

Okay, from taking Acting for Media this semester and having a video major for a roommate, I have to appreciate the well-shot and edited scenes. Nicely lit, great sound quality, very professional! I mean, yes, it's Hulu, I expected it to be, but knowing that Hulu had nothing to do with the original filming, I'm more impressed. 
- nitpick: this is the American Shakespeare Competition so why is it set in Italy? Anyone? Bueller? 

Once the series starts getting into the actual Shakespeare - it's easy to say that Complete Works is to Shakespeare what Glee and Smash did for musicals. But the show's style feels more...raw. It kind of has a 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee vibe.

I have to add that I enjoyed every actor's performance (both in character and in Shakespearean character!) - special props go out to Joe Sofranko as Hal, who was the focus of the pilot and happily carried it the full twenty-five minutes.

In the reception scene, where we met most of the (I'm assuming) main cast, I'll admit that my first reaction (based on appearances alone) was "they are such musical theatre actors". The pretty, if quirky, faces; wide smiles - MT casting at it's best. However, I should not judge based on appearances: the well-casted cast, although probably are all musical theatre BFA graduates, are well-versed in Shakespeare and film acting. And in the show's own words referring to one character, "My god, he's British." Because, as we all know, Brits got us beat when it comes to Bill Shakespeare. 

Although, that's not to say that the Shakespeare wasn't well-used, particularly in assigning Lady MacBeth's monologue to the blonde girl who will clearly be the ambitious one, aka the bitch according to Hollywood standards. And the names? Regan? Oliver? Hal?! The writers clearly know their Shakespeare and chose to write about it in a refreshing, contemporary way that avoids all arguments on whether the Earl of Devonshire something or other actually wrote the plays.

Based on the pilot episode alone, I do have to say: I wish the writers could write relationships as well as they do the Shakespeare. I thought the briefly shown Taylor would be a role bigger than her childhood cameo. And the competitors' interaction - it came too close to the stereotypical and sometimes true side of Smash-style levels of MT bitchiness that I have surprisingly easily avoided in four years of college theatre. Since it is only the pilot episode though, I'm not giving up yet - Regan, Leo and Hal show awesome potential for kick-ass character development and I will give bonus points to anyone who can casually bring up The Rape of Lucrece (although I cringed when Pauline claimed not to know Lavinia from Titus Andronicus - how can you not?). I do have hopes that the rest of the cast will break free of their pre-written stereotypes post-pilot, even with such short episodes (and an even shorter season, already available in full on Hulu Plus and Hulu, in case you are a non-Hulu user like me).

And that was the sadly short pilot episode of Complete Works. I do need to do my laundry and really need to re-fill my wine glass - but while the laundry is laundering, I have four more episodes to happily watch and see if the rest of the series will live up to my expectations of 4 and 1/2 out of 5 Yorick skulls. 

 *Disclaimer: they contacted me. I responded back of my own free, unpaid will. I'm easily flattered by the thought that people might actually want to read my work.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Boil

If you had told me six months ago, that I would in Louisiana at the stage combat workshop - I would have used my crutches to point and laugh at you probably. I might have even gotten excited. But not nearly as excited I am to be here

among people who love stage combat. I have never seen so many people casually walking around with swords before. Here in Fredonia, those of us who do own weapons carry them concealed inside guitar cases. There, People who sell knives, swords, whips, shields and then the ones buying them will offer to show you how to crack that whip. Taking classes on fighting with handcuffs, on-stage intimacy, quarterstaff with music. In two days' time (the equivalent to which, I would get my one combat class), I had TEN classes.

I walked out of Louisiana Tech with bruises, weapons, friends. As Prof. Steve told us later, the other teachers were impressed with the talent of the Fredonia students, fighting at the top of our level. Even me and Eleah held our own in the Advanced classes, and Scooter and Kelsey, who graduated two years ago, still had the skills. Tom came in second in the fencing tournament and Hananh got the rec for sword and shield renewal. As she said, the bruise on her arm was #worththerec. #worththerec - having one of my fight partners telling me "You don't look intimidating.  You can fight well - which is even more intimidating."

Me, Tom, Eleah, Hannah, Zeb, Kelsey and Scooter and Sarah. I would not have asked to spend this weekend with better people (or celebrated anyone else's birthdays!). I'll blog all my notes and memories later. This is the appreciation post, especially appreciating Sunday:

Where I come from, we do barbeques in the backyard, burgers and hot dogs. In WNY, we usually substitute that for wings. But in Louisiana, for the Boil, they actually boil crawfish and have everyone from the workshop and their families come for a day of aerial skills, knife and tomahawk throwing, violin playing, impromptu fight teaching, pinatas. They were still going strong when the Fredonia crew finally pulled out about nine p.m. to start the drive back. It is the longest drive in my life and I can't wait to make it again.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


As much as I love working with Prof. Steve and my classmates - there are concepts that I have been struggling to grasp for the last couple of years that suddenly clicked when working with other teachers this weekend.

  • Push. Sitting on the ground, have the partner push you three times, only succeeding in moving you on the third try. They take your seat and now you will push three different ways.  Objective is to find three repeatable, clear actions. 
  • Hand-Heart. Like the tai chi finger tips exercise but palm to back of hand; rolling from heart to heart (can switch hands and side of chest). 
  • Rolling on the floor. You need the floor. Floor leads to needing another person. Person leads to people. People into group. 
  • Intimacy: hand-shakes, hugs, hair-pulls, chokes. 
  • Water meets Water. Slow-motion, find different ways to improv "and yes" for actions.
  • Music. Using music to set the mood, tone, rhythm, character of a fight.
  • Meisner. Start with an objective (I want to get away). Choreograph repeatable action. Clean up for mistakes. Combat it (add knaps, angles). Perform!

  •  Stage Combat is a series of magic tricks (knaps, angles, victim control, etc.)
  • "Contemporary violence" = people who don't know how to fight but want to hurt each other.
  • with victims and contemporary violence, it is made up of fear, effort, chaos, actual mistakes. More about getting away than fighting back. See victimization, battered women syndrome (curling up in a ball because fighting back only angers the attacker).
  • The three C's: connection, comfort, control. 
  • Choking should feel like a hug, so the victim is comfortable enough to squirm.
  • Smallsword: Restoration era weapon, following the rapier. Last sword made to kill. Small point, meant for thrusting. Elegant, tricky.
  • Handcuffs affect balance. (hands behind: knee to stomach, turn shoulder away, use other knee to the stomach again) (hands in front: block punch, knee to stomach, elbow to face, hand pulled to side, push to ground behind, kneel over, use knee to break arm).
  • Human Reaction Theory: if an attacker uses a particular part of their body to invade personal space (chest, shoulder, etc.), that body part will be the first a victim will use to reaction with.
  • the difference in pleasure vs. pain is when pleased, displaying the vulnerable parts. Scrunched up vs. opened.
  • Core. Essence, vagina/baby makers, diaphragm muscles, heart, soul, center.