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On Revivals with Kat Hermes

Kat Hermes discusses the opportunities and challenges in reviving past productions in new venues.

Hello, blog readers!

Here at Pigeon Creek’s Acting Blog, we try to give you an ongoing, behind-the-scenes look into our rehearsal and performance process for each of our four yearly “main stage” productions. We just wrapped up Macbeth last week, and pretty soon, you’ll be reading all about Measure for Measure, which we start rehearsing tonight (!) and which opens June 20th at Dog Story Theater.

In addition to our four main stage productions, each year Pigeon Creek produces several special projects. These include our “Bard on the Run” experiments with short rehearsal periods (usually 2-3 days per show), staged readings, command performances of scenes, school workshops and, for the first time this February, entries in the Lake Effect Fringe Festival.

This month, we have two such projects: one was a revival of our LEFF entry, a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest using Shakespearean staging conventions that we performed just this Friday at the Red Barn Playhouse in Saugatuck, and the second is a revival of our Bard on the Run production of Twelfth Night, which we will perform at The Rose in Blue Lake on May 25th.

Remounting productions we’ve already done is always an interesting experience. Often we’ve had weeks or months between performances, usually we’ve rehearsed or performed an entirely different production in between. Sometimes there are members of the original cast who are unavailable and have to be replaced. This means that we can never quite just pick up the production where we left off, and a revival production often feels entirely different from the original.

Some things don’t change; obviously the words are still the same (though digging them back out of the recesses of memory can be surprisingly difficult), and… well, and that’s basically it. Sometimes we use the same props and costumes (we did for Earnest), but just as often we don’t. Our costumes for Twelfth Night were mid-20th century, but The Rose is a replica Elizabethan playhouse, so when we perform there we perform in Renaissance costumes, which causes a major difference in logistics (quick changes, etc. have to be replotted), in the way we as actors are able to move, and in the look and feel of the production both from the inside and out.

When remounting plays we’ve already performed, we often spend as much time re-adjusting our staging to fit a new space as we did staging it the first time. Both Twelfth Night and Earnest were originally performed at Dog Story Theater, a black box which we configure as a thrust, which is our “default” staging configuration, but revival productions are can be performed in very different spaces.

Performing Earnest in a proscenium theater like the Red Barn required re-thinking everything from how we set our furniture to what angle Algernon and Cecily’s first kiss should take place on. Since PCSC typically performs with minimal set, using folding chairs or acting blocks when actors need to sit, we found the stationary couch and chair we used in Earnest presented challenges on a proscenium stage that I (at least) haven’t though about negotiating since college. As obvious as it seems in hindsight, we had to adjust to the fact that when someone is seated on a couch, they can’t subtly move to “counter” another actor who steps in front of them the way a standing actor could. With the audience only in front of us, rather than on all three sides, a standing actor stepping in front of someone seated could cut them off from the entire audience.

The Rose will present those of us in Twelfth Night with an entirely different set of challenges. PCSC has only worked in that space once before (for last summer’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and the Twelfth Night cast has several members who have never performed there. Because of the two large pillars that support the roof above the stage, The Rose has some sight-line issues that are unique amongst our usual venues. And because it is a replica Elizabethan playhouse, its design based on Shakespeare’s Globe in London, it provides a chance for us to perform not only with our usual Early Modern staging conventions (universal lighting, audience contact, etc) but to work with a version of the actual architecture for which the play was originally written. Our challenge there is not just to adjust to fit the space, but to make sure we are taking full advantage of the opportunities it provides.

Personally, I love revisiting shows I’ve already performed and bringing them back to life. I think we learn something from every production we do, and with two productions between me and our original BoTR Twelfth Night, there’s a lot that I’ve discovered that I’m interested to apply to Viola. There are also some scenes that I can’t wait to play again just because of how much fun they were the first time!

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