Tuesday, March 31, 2015

On Copyright

Julius (Charles Hargrave), Leo (Tim Keo) & Rusty (Valerie C. Kilmer)
Talespinner Childern's Theatre (2015)
Steve Wagner Photography
But do not think we stole these tales
For that would make us thieves.

- from "Rosalynde & The Falcon"
There has been a lot of talk lately about copyright, following the Blurred Lines decision … actually, whenever the subject of the Blurred Lines decision comes up, the conversation is generally high-jacked by people who just want to keep emphasizing what a terrible song Blurred Lines is.

The fact is, copyright is a bizarre legal concept when it comes to art, imitation and appropriation. The Blurred Lines verdict is bad, because it imposed a penalty based on a mood or feeling - a groove, if you will - and not on any specifically defined melody.

Rosalynde (Rose Leisner) & Roland (Ryan Hardge)
Culver City Public Theatre (2019)
Likewise, Sam Smith didn’t even bother to fight a potential copyright challenge from Tom Petty et alia when it was brought to his attention that the chorus of his Stay With Me has the same seven notes in the same order as part of the chorus of Petty's Won’t Back Down. Whether or not you think this is a fair decision depends a lot on whether you are over or under the age of 40.

In Rosalynde & The Falcon which opened this weekend at Talespinner Children’s Theatre, there is a running gag about copyright violation (I know, right?) in which one character, after mentioning a familiar song title, begins to sing that song but gets interrupted with the warning “Copyright!” before reaching the legally-punishable third note.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the text of Rosalynde & The Falcon includes samples from or allusions to the following works and artists. See if you can find all of them:

  • Rosalynde by Thomas Lodge
  • Gamelyn by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and King Lear
  • Sneewittchen AKA Snowdrop AKA Snow White
  • Goldilocks
  • Robin Hood
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Lewis Carroll
  • Simon & Garfunkel
  • Woody Allen
  • Cole Porter
  • Jack Kerouac
  • MC Hammer
  • Battlestar Galactica*
  • The Firesign Theatre 
... and, of course, The Marx Brothers.  
"You may want to sneak back to see it again ... just to make sure you caught all the jokes." - Christine Howey, Cleveland Scene 
UPDATE: Culver City Public Theatre presents Rosalynde & The Falcon in Carlson Park,  July 13 - August 4, 2019

*Further update: We had actually cut the "Battlestar Galactica" joke before the show premiered in 2015. You be the judge: 
RUSTY: President Rosalynde!
LEO: (aside) "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again."
JULIUS: (aside) Mister J.M. Barrie.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Great Globe Itself: Middle School

Three Globes (Hudson Middle School)
We pushed the tour schedule back a few weeks this year, from a mid-February start to one at the beginning of March. Afforded an additional week of performances, we searched for additional high schools and soon discovered March is a terrible, terrible time to add special events to a high school calendar. It's all testing, all the time, or preparation for same.

So we turned to middle schools. Most of our tours are suitable for all audiences. Double Heart was a romance, and spoke frankly about some very personal issues (see Time Out review for details) so it stands out as an example that may have been inappropriate for adolescents. However, some material may not interest a vast audience of 11-to-13 year olds. Our Agatha Christie tour was very popular, but would it have held their attention for an hour?

We will never get to find out. But the decision was made months ago to bring two middle schools, in Cleveland Heights and in Hudson, onto the tour schedule. It just so happened they followed one day after another this week.
Monticello Middle School
Monday afternoon's performance at my own daughter's school, Monticello Middle School was very lively. The entire school was invited - over five hundred kids - and when the characters of Clement (2005) and Sam (1936) made their entrance through the house, it was as though every kid popped out of their seat. In their post-show comments, numerous students remarked on how funny they found the play, and many asked us to return some time in the future.
Hudson Middle School
The entire eighth grade at Hudson Middle School joined us on Tuesday, and our contact teacher there, Mrs. Lawler, had used our Teacher Preparation Guide to bring her kids up to speed on the history and issues related to The Great Globe Itself. After the performance, she gave me a tour of her classroom and all the different projects they had created, related to the production.
Romeo & Juliet Globe (Hudson Middle School)
Students have been very generous with their praise in their written evaluations:
"I liked the mixture of humor and seriousness."
"The actors were very good!"

"Overall I enjoyed this play and I would totally come to another play."

"This play was fun to see instead of being in class."
 Our performance at Monticello concluded just as the school day concluded, so there was no opportunity for a a Q&A, except for  few students who didn't need to catch a us and stayed behind to chat with us.
Hudson Middle School
At Hudson we had the opportunity for a nice long talkback. I asked a few warm-up questions related to the production before letting the students as whatever they want from me and from the acting company. One questions I asked on Tuesday was, "If you had to describe this play to someone who has not seen it, what would you tell them?"

There was an awkward silence, with a few giggles, before a student in the balcony raised his hand. He spoke in a thoughtful, cultured, if put-on voice ...
"The play ... (he took a considered pause, more giggling from the audience) ... was about the magnificent Globe Theatre ... (another measured pause, more outright laughter from the audience) ... a place where men ... dance together ..."
And then we all just lost it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rosalynde & The Falcon: Stumble-Through

"Rosalynde" company with Movement coach Stephanie Wilbert

It has been a long winter. On February 10 I attended the first read-through of Rosalynde & The Falcon. The next day I began rehearsals for The Great Globe Itself, which has been on the road for two weeks. This afternoon I had my first opportunity to return to Rosalynde, and to sit in on a rehearsal.

Rosalynde is based loosely on Shakespeare’s As You Like It, or maybe something close to a parody of same. After all, the basic storyline had been well-worn before Shags got to it. A young woman fears for her life and escapes to the forest, disguised as a man. There she meets a band of outcasts and has an adventure.

In the folk tale Snow White she falls in love with a prince. In my story, she becomes one.

When we were discussing the season, Ali asked to add a parenthetic title, and suggested A Topsy-Turvy Tale of England. All the plays this year are denoted by parentheticals as to their origins. The Silent Princess (A Turkish Folktale) or Prince Ivan & The Firebird (A Russian Tale of Magic).

At first I was confused, and also afraid. I was afraid audiences would think this play is, well … English. No doubt this is because my heritage is mostly English, and I don’t go around trumpeting that fact because it’s like saying your favorite flavor is vanilla or your favorite color is white.

But that’s ridiculous. The play is based on the work of the greatest playwright ever, who was English. There’s also a lot of Robin Hood in it, he was certainly English. We all saw the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics, right? A tiny island nation faced the world and said, you like culture? We made that.

I am reminded of the 1996 Doctor Who movie, which takes place in San Francisco. Introducing The Doctor to someone, his American companion explains his demeanor to a friend by referring to him as English. The Doctor thinks for a moment and says, “Yes. I suppose I am.”

So, yes. I suppose it is. Rosalynde is an English tale!

There have been many suggested edits to my original script since rehearsals began, and I have agreed to all of them. What I wrote is a comedy, somewhat broad in nature, borrowing from many familiar comic tropes. True to form, the artists at Talespinner have built the work with great music, dance and movement. What works, what is funny, stays. What is only funny to David gets cut.

Settling in for the beginning of today’s first-ever “stumble-through” of all scenes performed together, in order, is\\they began with an old English “whistling song” and I couldn’t help be reminded of the opening of Disney’s animated Robin Hood. And that was a very good sign.

Rosalynde & The Falcon opens at Talespinner Children's Theatre on March 28.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Great Globe Itself: Week Two

Full house at University of Akron!
The first, full six-day week of performances is almost at an end. Our gentlemen have performed The Globe across all counties, from Oberlin to Cah-hoga Falls, with stops at libraries and retirement communities, for one audience of nine earlier this week to a packed room at the University of Akron Student Union Thursday afternoon.
Every couple of years Great Lakes has had the opportunity to present the outreach tour as part of the university's annual Shakespeare In The Spring programming, and were all delighted to learn there would be cake.

During the performance, one of our hosts was inspired to create an impromptu sign, reassuring students that the meatballs were harmless:
Get it? If not, you haven't seen the show yet.
We had a great discussion afterwards, debating whether the show does or does not include ghosts, and James contributed to the eternal humiliation of John Fletcher. 
Down at The Globe.
Response to this new work has been very positive, and there were dudes at the show yesterday who were virtually crying during the dance scenes. Here are some random comments from the U of A:
Q: What did you enjoy most about today's performance:
"The entire performance was outstanding."
"The actors are just funny guys."
"The jokes about (Cardinal) Wolsey."
The Wolsey bits? They're the best part of the show!

Many thanks to Dr. Hillary Nunn who coordinated our tour stop, and all those who organized the event, it was a beautiful Spring-like day in so many ways. The van is loaded up, and today we wrap up this second week of the tour at the Cleveland Sight Center at 1 PM. Join us!
Say cheese.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Great Globe Itself: Talking Heads

Inspiration comes from many places. Last Wednesday night, at Workshop Players, it became a bit of a running joke during the discussion, exactly what the inspiration for this play had been?

Because I had originally been inspired by my mentor Bill Condee and his emphasis on theater architecture, coupled with my own undergraduate experience performing largely on the university’s thrust stage.

Only my original inspiration had actually been inspired by John Vacha’s account of young Sam Wanamaker, and how his work in Cleveland in 1936 had inspired a lifelong dream of creating a new Globe Theatre.

Except I was really actually originally inspired by the idea of Mark Rylance’s three-man Tempest, and my desire to see three men perform a warm-up dance call to BAD II’s single The Globe.

Every one of these things are true, inspiration comes from everywhere. However, each individual scene did not begin to properly take shape until I gave each of them a title from a song by Talking Heads.

Arthur was the first to catch this, as each scene has a heading in the script – Burning Down the House, Once In a Lifetime and This Must Be the Place. Each of these phrases are spoken during the play, as part of the dialogue, so audiences aren’t even supposed to notice it.

What’s the point? None, really. I like Talking Heads. I am particularly fond of This Must Be the Place. Only recently did I search David Byrne’s description of what the song means, it’s one of the few love songs the band ever created, and it is composed entirely of non sequitrs, unrelated phrases people in love might say to each other, entirely out of context.

But once I knew that the first scene would be about (spoiler alert) the original Globe Theatre burning to the ground, I noticed two other of their singles were could be said to describe the action of the following two scenes. This made writing them easier, gave the action of each of specific focus. The titles were a touchstone, the scenes aren't actually about the songs.

We had a great performance at Beachwood Public Library this afternoon, the audience was very generous and responsive. I live the libraries, there’s such a diverse age range in the audience. Tomorrow we travel to Kendal at Oberlin, performance at 7:15 pm. Please join us.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Great Globe Itself: Opening Week

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
- Leonardo Da Vinci
The tour has opened, The Great Globe Itself is on the road. We have had warm and receptive audiences at Talespinner Children's Theatre in Cleveland, Workshop Players, Inc. in Amherst, and Berea-Midpark High School. There have been many laughs, some surprising, but all received with great enthusiasm from the acting company.

This was evident from the final dress rehearsal, for which we crammed about a dozen close friends into the rehearsal room. It was surprising to me how much of the written work was actually funny (nothing can be proved to be funny until a human being actually laughs at it) but also how successfully our performers are selling it.

From the first, the strongest reaction we have received are for the accents, especially the Original Pronunciation. However, OP is not the sticking point I was afraid it might be. The opening moment, when characters from all time periods represented in the work enter, introduce themselves, and their words overlap, hopefully give the audience an indication that OP will not be the lingua franca of the entire show.

There are several moments in which the actors use, move into or move out of the audience space. This has been a unique challenge in every venue, and one I was looking forward to seeing. At Workshop, a tiny space with audiences on three sides, it is almost as though we were in the Globe itself, and as I have experienced in tours past, the actors had great fun throwing the blocking out the window, to use the entire playing area.

High school audiences can be a little logy when the performance is first thing in the morning. They folks are Berea-Midpark were polite and receptive, laughing more quietly to themselves than out loud, until Mark Antony's oration, when they seemed to wake up and buzz and feed James's performance with response and applause.

Marion L. Steele High School Thespian Troupe #1422 (2015)
Since we began attending Workshop Players as a stop on the tour, Valerie Farschman has brought her drama club to see the show, every year since 2010. This year, however, we were also happy to see students from Garfield Middle School (Lakewood) in attendance. Each group of students came prepared with great questions about the production and our acting company.

One sixth grader, a girl my daughter's age, was very curious about the conclusion of the performance. Why does the retiring artistic director say he is "surrendering his power"? We discussed how (spoiler alert) the character of Prospero surrenders his power to leave the island at the close of The Tempest, so too an artist must eventually abandon their work. I was struggling to remember who said that bit about how art is never finished, merely abandoned but I couldn't remember who that was, he probably wasn't very important.

In the play, during the 2005 section, we make reference to a certain British science fiction program that was "rebooted" that year. Why? Because time and space are themes of the production, and as every scene is about what happens before the house opens, I was trying to think of small talk that night pass between to modern, professional actors.

I knew this brief conversation might get a few chuckles from our younger audience members, but I wasn't prepared to see them practically bouncing in their seats with giddy disbelief and excitement. It's as though they were watching this play about all of these things they may have never seen before, and suddenly the characters were talking about them.

Great Lakes Theater 2015 outreach tour The Great Globe Itself continues through March 31.