The Final Countdown

It’s that time of year again, friends. We are one week away from our annual summer Shakespeare production! This year’s play, Much Ado About Nothing (no, not the Much Ado in the park with Lily Rabe — the OTHER Much Ado in the OTHER park), is one for the whole fam. For real. Tons of laughs, dancing like you’ve never seen at Smith Street Stage, and a live band! Don’t take my word for it though, you should definitely check the facts in person. Preferably at a performance. Want an idea of what you’ll be seeing? Check it:

 

I don’t think I’m speaking out of bias, but I am in the play (this blog post brought to you by one Sophia Tupy: Summer Assistant and “Ursula” in Much Ado). Here’s the info, just in case you missed the online invite:

These are clickable! Expand away, dear reader.

 

As we gear up for our tech weekend (that’s theater speak for that time we start to include the smart people who add all the lights and/or sound for the show, among other things), there is a lot to celebrate already with this play. The company has been working incredibly hard, dancing their butts off, and creating a seriously lovely piece of theater. And yes, I mentioned the dancing twice — knew it wouldn’t get past you — because we worked really hard on it, and it will be fantastic. This is surely one for the books, especially since (drum roll) we finally got our 501(C)(3) status!

It’s official, y’all.

 

This recent (and very exciting) development is a good reminder, being so close to the show. We really are doing this for the people of Carroll Park — our audiences — not for the cash. It’s a community experience, and as of this weekend the whole Smith Street Stage community will have a hand in making this show happen. A lot of energy has been put in by a lot of hardworking, talented people, and I can guarantee the ease and joy of the performances will reflect that. Plus, who doesn’t love free shows, right? So if you missed Lily and Hamish, come see the same play in a different park with (mostly) different people! For no money!

 

Bring some seating (because rain can happen), and bring some friends — see you soon!

Sincerely — Sophia Tupy and the Smith Street Stage Summer Assistants

(So much alliteration! We could be a band! The possibilities…)

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“Summer’s Lease Hath all too short a Date” -Shakespeare

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The cast and crew of Julius Caesar- what a ride!

The cast and crew of Julius Caesar- what a ride!

And so does Julius Caesar. If there’s one thing the fourth Summer of Smith Street Stage has taught us, it is that time is fleeting, as are amazing interns. For those of you devoted blog readers, you’ll be sad to hear that the accomplished Katie, our esteemed student assistant has completed her Summer program with Smith Street. As with all our talented young artist/assistants this Summer, she and her charming posts will be missed.

The world's best assistant team, we could not have done it without them!

The world’s best assistant team, we could not have done it without them!

With the staff seasonally depleted of fresh faces and our Caesar cast moving onward and upward to their next artistic challenges we here on the Smith Street Board can’t help but miss the good old days, and by that, we mean last month. The thrill of alarming the neighborhood of Caesar’s death night after night, a cold beer after the show at The Jakewalk, the maintenance workers who were frightened of our prop coffin, little kids sheer delight at fight call, and another Summer of storytelling with new friends… Man that was the best, right?

Sorry Park Staff! We promise it's all pretend, really!

Sorry Park Staff! We promise it’s all pretend, really!

Of course, we’ve been aided in our wallowing with the amazing stills that staff photographer Chris Montgomery has taken of Julius Caesar and our Brooklyn audience. Man, that guy knows how to rub it in.

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Our Artistic Director, Beth Ann Hopkins, showing the Love!


Record breaking audience numbers!

Record breaking audience numbers!

A Woman of the People!

A Woman of the People!


Speaking of our patrons, you know, the picnickers who show up in 94 degree heat and were unfalteringly attentive? Those amazing people? Well, they nearly doubled in size this Season. What? YES! close to 2,000 people saw our show! I suppose the word is out, great Shakepearan plays are being staged in Brooklyn’s most charming park, and they’re free to boot! Looking at these pictures serves as a reminder to us just how great this Summer has been. When we stare at them, everyday… Anywho! check out more of Chris’s pictures when you’re liking us on facebook, which you should do now. Right now. You did it? Okay cool. Hey man, thanks for supporting the show, it means a lot.

Leal, charming the audience for donations!

Leal, charming the audience for donations!

Thank you, we love you, tip your waitresses!

Thank you, we love you, tip your waitresses!


Well, nothing left to do but enjoy these last days of Summer, and look ahead to next Season. At least we’re facebook friends now, so you can come to our off season shows and fundraisers and keep up on the latest Smith Street Stage News. Of which there will be plenty! Just you wait….

– Smith Street Stage

“I, your glass”: What doing outdoor Shakespeare will teach you about life

Dear friends and followers,

Thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you who have already treated yourselves to a night of Shakespeare at Carroll Park in Brooklyn! For those of you who are now thinking, “Oh man! I wish Katie’s thanks were directed at me right now!”, you have 4 more chances to include yourself in that group! July 11, 12, 13 and 14th are our last 4 performances of Julius Caesar, and you should get there by 7pm and share in the political intrigue with us!

 

In the days off between shows, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that this weekend will be the last time I get to do this particular show with these particularly wonderful people. As Cassius will tell you, indulging in reflection has the tendency to “modestly discover to yourself, that of yourself which you yet know not of.” And it is in that spirit that I have learned a very important life lesson, which I will attempt to convey through anecdote. This is what people call a parable, I think.

 

“I was sitting outside Park House at Carroll Park, stroking my signature summer sweat-goatee and running lines with Joby Earle, our supremely talented Brutus and a supremely wonderful person to boot, when I felt an eery premonition. Was there a bug on me? Was it about to rain? No. I assuaged my paranoia with a swig of iced coffee. Then it happened. A squirrel pooped on Joby’s script. I froze, terrified of the fact that 1. I was going to have to find a way to tell Joby that there was poop on his script and 2. I was being pooped on (in that order of priority). The man has been on Broadway, ladies and gents! And I failed to protect his script from an assault by a dyspeptic squirrel.

Somehow I think Shakespeare would have appreciated the direct dichotomy of high- and low-brow in a single moment. On one hand, “In we do meet again, why we shall smile, if not, why then this parting was well made”. On the other hand, potty humor (a brand of humor that both Joby and I discovered we share, thank the gods). In a twist of fate, the squirrel had merely managed to ruin about the only page in the script on which Brutus has no lines.

What I realized after the fact, after finding a new spot for running lines, after Joby had assured me that there was no poop in my hair, and in fact, after getting the chance to perform with my crazy talented cast for an audience so supportive that they came out against the recommendation of every weather report, I had the thought that if I had been pooped on, getting to do this show would have been worth it. The experience of doing this show outdoors under the unpredictable and beautiful open sky, of having to trust my own ability to work under conditions that are beyond my control, of working with an insanely talented company of actors and directors with equal parts passion and playfulness are daily sources of inspiration. Every night I go to work and risk being pooped on…so what?! Every night I also have the chance of seeing the sky turn pink while Brutus and Cassius exchange their final goodbye. I have the chance of seeing fireflies courting each other and cloud castles drifting by and heat lightning flashing, witnessing the strange perfection of a scenic design that will only ever occur once, and be totally different the next night.

Joby Earle and Jonathan Hopkins under our one-night-only proscenium arch.

Joby Earle and Jonathan Hopkins under our one-night-only proscenium arch.

What I learned, ultimately, was that I want always to do the kind of work which would make being pooped on worth it. I found one such extremely worth-it experience at Smith Street Stage, and will forever be grateful for it.”

It’s no “Good Samaritan” or “Prodigal Son”, but it is my firm belief that the lesson gleaned stands as valuable in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) the true events of the story. Thanks for reading!

Adieu for now,

Katie

“How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over!”

Friends and followers!

Our fearless leaders Jonathan and Jess watch at tech rehearsal.

Our fearless leaders Jonathan and Jess watch at tech rehearsal.

It happened! We opened our play last night! Thank you to all who came out for our first performance of Julius Caesar. We held for rain at one point, which could have been a real downer, but our audience stuck it out, and we had a great show. Also, how many times can Cassius talk about baring his bosom to the thunder stone while it’s actually starting to rain?! That’s one of the challenges but also the supreme joys of outdoor Shakespeare—chance plays a huge role in every performance, and every once in a while…it’s magic. Speaking of which, a rainbow came out as we were preparing to re-start the show—that’s all the proscenium we need!

This process has involved text work, memorization, researching historical context, choosing when to ignore historical context, blocking, developing relationships between the characters, designing costumes, composing music, publicity campaignsTech Rehearsal, choreographing stage fights, designing and gathering props, designing programs and posters, building concession stands, late nights rehearsing at our home in Carroll Park, and so many other things. So when I say in a generic way that a lot went into this production…that’s what I mean. And what makes it worth it is seeing the community welcome us and support us. Seeing our friends and family come out to Brooklyn (“Wait, there’s a G train?!”). Seeing families come out to the show, whose kids are seeing their first Shakespeare play, and who GET IT! Those kids know when something is funny and when something is dangerous. And they now have a relationship with Shakespeare and with live theater that might continue for the rest of their lives. That makes it so, so worth it.

So thanks for your support! We’ll see you out there!

Adieu,

Katie

“Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?”

Happy Monday!

11 DAYS UNTIL OPENING NIGHT OF JULIUS CAESAR! We’ve moved some of our rehearsals outdoors to Carroll Park to start getting a feel for the space, and it’s definitely starting to feel real. We started working on our epic battle fight sequences this weekend. And because I know that you can hardly wait to see the final product, here’s a little rehearsal photo blog. Consider your appetites whetted!

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Can’t wait to see you out there, too, in less than a fortnight!

Adieu,

Katie

“From the Purpose of Playing”

Hello Friends and Followers,

We’re three weeks away from our opening night (June 28th) for Smith Street Stage’s production of Julius Caesar! THREE WEEKS, YOU GUYS! Rehearsals are well underway, and our fearless Artistic Director, Beth Ann Hopkins, is heading up the effort to publicize our show. Getting press is a tricky game, my friends, especially when there are so many things out there trying to grab our attention, and so in order to be heard amidst the din we’ve had to ask ourselves “WHY?” a lot. Why should people come see OUR Julius Caesar? Why is this story important now?

Why should people see theater?

Whoa! That developed into a young actor having an existential crisis pretty quickly. But it’s a good question. Besides the fact that our Caesar is going to be relevant to our own time, where political divisiveness is reaching crisis level, and is going to be filled with crazy good actors, here is why I think it’s important for you to come see our show, and go to the theater in general.

We live in an age where technology is at our fingers’ ends all day, every day. This is not a bad thing. It’s convenient. It’s efficient. People have the means to know so much about the world around them, and I think that’s awesome. But also, people are forgetting how to have a conversation. The more digitally connected we are, the less we feel connected to other people. Going to the theater means turning off our phones for 2 hours and sitting in a room, or a park, with other people, friends and strangers alike, and thinking and crying and laughing together. And that is a rare and special thing.

Visiting my dad at work! (Backstage at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in 1999)

Visiting my dad at work! (Backstage at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in 1999)

I went to the theater a lot even as a kid because my dad was an actor. I saw a lot of Shakespeare plays. Before going to the show, my dad would sit me down and we would talk through the play together. Who are the characters? What happens to them? Why do they do what they do? There are no stories better for inspiring a kid’s imagination, I promise you. I learned a lot from the plays themselves (“What’s a bodkin?” What’s a gabardine?” “Where’s Elysium?”), but most importantly, I had a lot of really great conversations with my dad. We made each other think, he by introducing me to the greatest plays ever written, and me by plaguing him with questions (“Why does Othello get so jealous?!”). Whether it’s with your parents, your child, your friend, or your lover…I promise that a Shakespeare play will give you at least one great conversation starter.

Plays are maybe the one art form that cannot be turned into clips, thumbnails, or memes. They can’t be minimized. They can’t be played in a separate window on your computer while you also check your email. And believe me, I love watching the latest episode of Mad Men, or maybe even The Voice, while I’m also cooking dinner, but it’s important to remind yourself how to focus all your attention on one thing for little while. I think it’s easy to feel scattered when your attention is constantly being split a hundred ways. So Treat Yo Self! Treat your mind and your soul to a trip to the theater, because it will improve your mood, your life, and the way to connect to the world you live in.

And you can treat yo self FOR FREE at Smith Street Stage’s Julius Caesar opening on June 28th!

Thanks for reading,

Katie

“Speak the speech, I pray you.”

Ah, the first read-through. The cast is meeting for the first time. The great work is beginning. No one has yet embarrassed themselves with their pronunciation of the first folio text! It’s a glorious day!

Our first read-through of Julius Caesar!

Our first read-through of Julius Caesar!

Having been on board with Smith Street Stage since April, fundraising, starting this blog, and watching the casting process, it felt like Christmas morning to get to the first read! Hearing the play out loud is a great reminder that the rehearsal process cannot just take place in your own head. As many times as I might hypothesize about whether a modern day Calphurnia would more likely be a Kitchen Nightmares viewer or a West Wing viewer, the real work happens in the room! With other beautiful humans! How lucky we are!

Our preview performance is in exactly 4 WEEKS, so bring out your Advent Wreath (I know you’ve longed to have another occasion to use that thing) and mark your calendars!

Now go thy ways and enjoy some beautiful summer weather!

-Katie

“What’s In A Name?”

Hello Friends and Followers!

This summer, my mind is going to be completely consumed with Caesar! Having gone through the casting process and getting ready to begin rehearsals, I am rereading and reexamining Shakespeare’s play, and learning more about the Roman empire than I ever thought I would after I finished the Rome unit in my 6th grade World Civilizations class. Suddenly, Caesar is EVERYWHERE!

Caesar Salad

Yumm! I bet Calpurnia made this classic Caesar Salad for Julius after a hard day running the world’s biggest empire.

1. Caesar Salad: Not, in fact, named for Julius Caesar, but named after restauranteur Caesar Cardini who is said to have invented the salad in the 1920s. There is a story that says that Cardini invented the salad during a Fourth of July rush when he ran out of everything else in the kitchen and had to improvise! So while this salad may not be directly related to our play, it does have a certain amount of mystery and controversy surrounding it, just like the historical facts of Julius’ life and death!

I’m just a poor orphan girl…OR AM I?!

2. Anastasia: The best non-Disney animated movie from the 90’s. What’s not to love about this one? Great music! Meg Ryan’s voice! Fantastical retelling of an historical legend! Speaking of which…Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a retelling of a historical moment that had been retold and re-interpreted by many writers before him. Shakespeare’s version is true to certain source material, but he also wrote rich and complex characters and rewrote certain aspects of the story. Also, Anastasia’s father was the “Tsar” of Russia, a political title that comes from the name “Caesar” (as does the “Kaiser” in German). Now, seriously, go watch this movie again. You probably haven’t watched it since 2001, unless you’re like me, in which case you watched it in the past 4 months (and should still treat yo self to another viewing).

3. Macbeth: You have gotten so overwhelmed with all these Julius Caesar updates, that you want to go back and read another one of Shakespeare’s fantastic tragedies for a little variety! When you get to act 5, MacDuff will reveal that he was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped” right before he cuts off Macbeth’s head! Suddenly, you’ll realize he’s talking about being born by Caesarian section! You’re responses will probably be, in this order 1. C’MON MACDUFF! TMI! and 2. OH NO! YOU CAN’T SEEM TO ESCAPE CAESAR NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY!

See what I mean? Guess the next best thing would be to order a Caesar salad to be delivered to your apartment, get Gladiator on Netflix, and count down to opening night of Julius Caesar in Carroll Park!

Adieu for now,

Katie

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Scene Wherein We Play In”: Casting Julius Caesar

Hello Friends and Followers!

If watching A Chorus Line when you were 12 years old is still the biggest influence on your understanding of casting...READ ON!

If watching A Chorus Line when you were 12 years old is still the biggest influence on your understanding of casting…READ ON!

As a soon-to-be graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, I’ve been lucky to have many teachers over the years who have provided insight into what life will be like as a professional working actor. Naturally these insights have ranged from profound inspirational speeches that have filled me with hope to “tough love” that takes the form of veiled insults. Advice is necessary and useful, and it’s useful to have mentors and teachers who are invested in your growth and success, but sometimes it takes a first hand experience in order to turn great advice into practical application.

Here’s a little taste of my experience behind the casting table:

Auditions: Actors submitted to the project and were given a time slot to audition. I got to sit in alongside directors Jonathan Hopkins and Jessica Weiss, artistic director Beth Ann Hopkins, and board member Beth Jastroch, who also directed last year’s production of Twelfth Night. Seeing a billion Shakespeare monologues in the course of an afternoon 1. gave me lots of great ideas for new audition pieces, and 2. taught me a few valuable things about the general audition:

1. Most of the time, it really isn’t about your talent! More accurately, it’s not only about your talent. People have said this to me before, and I thought “Pshaw!”, but then I saw what they meant. Sometimes people are truly excellent, but the vision for the production just doesn’t have a place for that actor. Don’t let that discourage you! If you are prepared and show them a great audition, you are planting a seed for a future opportunity.

2. Fit your audition material to the needs of the project and the energy of the room. We needed to see that actors had vocal power as well as clarity of thought, so when someone demonstrated that in the room, it became easier for us to imagine them in the context of our particular project.

3. Control the conversation. After you leave the room, you don’t want the conversation to be about your inappropriate outfit, or the fact that your headshot doesn’t look like you. So take care of the things that you do have control over so that the conversation can be about your work and where you might fit into our project instead.

Callbacks: Once the directors had narrowed down the actors they had seen to those who fit their vision of the play, they organized a call-back list. Actors were given scenes to read as specific characters. Now Jonathan and Jessica are narrowing down and identifying what they want in each role—the casting process is also a time of creative discovery for the director! Here’s what I learned in callbacks:

1. Casting people REALLY DO want you to succeed. They are waiting for someone to walk in and assure them that they have an Antony or a Portia or a Caesar or whoever…and they’re hoping it could be you! So as an actor, come in with the confidence of knowing that they want you to be the person they’ve been looking for, and you just might be.

2. Prepare. It lets the people casting know that you are a responsible actor, that you are being considerate of their time, and lets them know you care about the project. Being a cool cucumber might make you feel safe in the room, but you leave a bigger impression by taking a risk, showing an interpretation of the scene, and demonstrating through your work that you want to be there.

Feel free to comment/share/cutout for your scrapbook if you’re enjoying the blog!

I commend you to your own content“,

Katie Willmorth

Words, Words, Words: Blogging Smith Street Stage

Friends, New Yorkers, Countrymen!

Summer has finally found New York! The sun is out, and New Yorkers who have been hunkered down in their studio apartments since last November are out doing what New Yorkers NEVER do… meandering! The 10 blocks you have to walk to work when the 1 train decides to run express is no longer the bane of your existence! And the beginning of summer always, without fail, makes me crave outdoor theater.

I grew up around the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, a regional theater that does Shakespeare every summer outdoors. There’s something about it that became like an addiction to me. The gathering together of a community, the way that the air feels right after the sun sets on a hot day, and of course, the plays! The magic of the theater is so tangible in the summer, and in my opinion there is no better time to bring the glorious stories found in Shakespeare’s plays to life.

Luckily for me, I found a creative home for the summer in Smith Street Stage, an up-and-coming theater company based in Brooklyn who produce Shakespeare in Carroll Park every summer. I applied and auditioned for Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins back in March, and I got the chance to sit and chat with her about the company and their upcoming season. After talking to her for about 5 minutes, I knew I was in love…with the company, that is. But also (Okay, okay,  I admit it!) with Beth Ann.  Her passion for the company’s work was contagious and I was thrilled to be offered a position with them for the summer.

Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins with Executive Director Jonathan Hopkins–Romeo and Juliet 2010

I’m so excited to get started with this adventure, and will be blogging my way through our development of our production of Julius Caesar!

Adieu for now,

Katie Willmorth