Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What is Love?

Hannah Vassallo and Dominic Marsh in Tristan & Yseult.
Love is a powerful emotion. It can send even the most reasonable person into a state of insanity—especially when a love potion is the cause. In Tristan & Yseult, love is the driving force behind this ancient myth and through it Kneehigh unabashedly explores its many states.

Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo, Kneehigh company actors who portray the title characters, took a few moments during rehearsal to answer a few questions with us. They share their thoughts on love, their favorite moments in the play and what they look forward to during their stay in Costa Mesa:

In one sentence, how would you explain the story of Tristan & Yseult?

Dominic Marsh: Tristan & Yseult takes a hard, honest look at the wonder, the beauty and the ugliness all inspired and informed by the state of love—including the lack of love and the loss of love.

Hannah Vassallo: Tristan & Yseult is a story about love with its many colors and shades.

Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo.
What has your experience been with Kneehigh like?

Marsh: I have worked with Kneehigh on three occasions in the last four years. The company has a fantastically freeing and exciting approach to devising theatre. It’s whole-hearted, risk-taking, sexy, anarchic, ridiculous, childish, profound and fun. What's not to like?

Vassallo: I joined Kneehigh in October last year. I was drawn to the company through their amazing and beautiful ways of storytelling and their use of such broad creativity of all kinds that truly ignite senses and inspire audiences. Working with Kneehigh is inspiring, creative, fulfilling and fun! The best is brought out of us and harvested to create their beautiful productions.

Why do you believe love is so compelling in storytelling?

Marsh: It's like a fire. Everyone is drawn to it. No one understands it. It's full of wonder but dangerous. It’s colorful, but very hot. It's always dancing. And you have to fan the flames or it might burn out. See what happened? I was compelled to answer this with a little story!

Vassallo: Love is something that we all experience in life in its broadness and depth. It is a part of life that fuels us and creates journeys and pathways and through it our own personal stories. No two are ever the same. We are fascinated by other accounts of love and enjoy finding connection and empathy within stories that demonstrate this fundamental human emotion.

How do you feel what people are willing to do for love?

Marsh: Love is beautiful and terrifying—and people will do beautiful and terrifying things to get it.

Vassallo: I feel that like this play, love is vast and full of colors and shapes. We are all looking for love, to be fulfilled and to strive for happiness. People will go to great lengths to achieve it and often don’t realize the strength of what they will do to push boundaries to achieve love in their lives.

What’s a favorite part of performing this production of Tristan & Yseult?

Marsh: I like skipping round the audience launching balloons at them before doing a sand dance and then pretending to be an opera diva hitting the money note... What? It's nice having a breather from Tristan's intensely tragic journey!

Vassallo: It’s really difficult to pick a favorite part of the show. I do love joining in with the band and pretending that I’m as cool as them!

Why do audiences have such a strong response to this production?

Marsh: I think there’s a universal experience when people feel the thrill and the heartbreak, the simplicity and the complexity, and the absence of love; it is a profound and fundamental part of every person's life. This production awakens the recognition of what love has done—and can do—all amidst an intoxicating mix of comedy and tragedy.

You’re in Costa Mesa for five weeks—what is on your “must-do/must-see” list?

Marsh: I've discovered the most wonderful thing in my first week here. I believe it's called sunshine. As a Brit, I intend to explore this phenomenon...

Vassallo: While I’m here I want make the most of having escaped the British winter—a trip to the beach is at the top of the list right now!

See Dominic Marsh and Hannah Vassallo on stage in Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult. The show is on the Segerstrom Stage through Feb. 22. Grab your tickets now before they’re gone!

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Hopping Onto a Stage Near You—Actors and Musicians for "Edward Tulane"

THE CAST: Brad Culver, Ann Noble, Nicholas Mongiardo-Copper and Sylvie Mae Baldwin.
The four actors in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane harmonize quite well—in addition to their acting talents, they all bring musical skills to this tale of the little china rabbit (Julianne Argyros Stage, Feb. 6-22). One newcomer and three South Coast Repertory veterans come together for this Theatre for Young Audiences production. Sylvie Mae Baldwin (The Traveler) plays viola and makes her debut at SCR. She’s had a lifelong love for acting, dance and music and has portrayed everything from an eyeball to a Shakespearean character. Brad Culver (The Musician) was in last season’s production of James and the Giant Peach. He plays bass. Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (The Man) is a TYA veteran, with a half-dozen productions at SCR under his belt. He plays guitar and other instruments. Ann Noble (The Woman) most recently was in SCR’s TYA production of Anastasia Krupnik. She plays ukulele!

Find out more about these artists and buy tickets.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Bizarre Love Triangle

Hannah Vassallo and Dominic Marsh in Kneehigh's Tristan & Yseult.
Want to Know Even More?

If you just can’t get enough of this legendary love story—here are some further reading and viewing options:
Kneehigh’s own take on itself. Visit the company website.

"If this show doesn't make you fall in love with theatre, there's no potion on Earth that can help you." The Guardian (UK)
Chances are you’ve heard music from Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. Even just the first 12 minutes might ring a bell or two, with its sad, sweeping melody that mixes with the longing of the strings and the foreboding wind section.

If you’re attending a performance of Kneehigh’s adaptation of Tristan & Yseult expecting to see a dusty old opera, you might go home disappointed. The production you will see is the literal definition of “spectacular.”

First, you’ll need to forget what you know about the actual story of Tristan and Yseult. Wait. You don’t know about Tristan and Yseult? Well, pull up a chair.

Mike Shepherd, Hannah Vassallo, Kirsty Woodward and Dominic Marsh.
There are several versions of the Tristan and Yseult legend to choose from; however, the story always starts with an uncle, a nephew and a pretty girl. After defeating an Irish knight, Tristan goes to Ireland to bring back the fair Yseult for his uncle, King Mark, to marry. Along the way, Tristan and Yseult ingest a love potion which causes the pair to fall madly in love, thus making things a tad bit … well … awkward.

In Other Words: Reviewers Love Kneehigh

New York Times
“Tristan & Yseult” is equal parts exaggerated whimsy and overwhelming rue. It presents romantic passion as a force that makes lovers levitate (and I mean literally) and then sends them crashing to the earth.

New York Daily News
The British Kneehigh Theatre company puts its vivid and inventive stamp on a legendary story of star-crossed love.
If this story sounds familiar, it might be because Tristan and Yseult is a precursor to the renowned tale of the Knights of Round Table. Remember The Lady of the Lake with Lancelot and Guinevere? This is a love triangle that is just as juicy as the Arthurian tales of old.

Setting this adaptation of Tristan and Yseult's bizarre love triangle apart from all other incarnations of the story is Kneehigh itself. You'll see for yourself in their performances at SCR. Kneehigh describes themselves as having “built a reputation for creating vigorous and popular theatre for audiences throughout the UK and beyond..” And with their critically acclaimed production of Tristan & Yseult (originally created in 2004), Kneehigh launched itself onto the international stage.

In their words: “This is the original tale of forbidden desires, broken hearts and the agony of choosing one human being over another. Seen through the eyes of the 'Unloved', Tristan & Yseult blends comedy, live music, grand passion and tender truths, in an irresistible night of love.”

The New York Daily News had high praise for this production:
"The visually and emotionally intoxicating “Tristan & Yseult” takes you on a journey, which, as love itself often does, goes from happy hijinks to hapless heartache."
This highly inventive, electrically charged account of love gone wrong has toured internationally, making American stops at major theatres including Berkeley Repertory, the Guthrie Theatre and St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York. Blending acrobatics, live music and unconventional story-telling, Kneehigh’s production is an exhilarating take on a vintage yarn. So, come in, sit down and join us in the Club of the Un-Loved. We guarantee you’ll never look at love (requited or otherwise) the same way again.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

First Night Audience Deeply Moved by "The Whipping Man"

On Friday, January 9th, First Nighters and their guests gave The Whipping Man a rousing—and sincerely felt—standing ovation.

But the enthusiasm didn’t end with their applause. Playgoers had the opportunity to talk about the gripping drama with its artists (including Director Martin Benson and actors Charlie Robinson, Adam Haas Hunter and Jarrod M. Smith) during the Cast Party, co-hosted by Antonello Ristorante.

The Honorary Producers (Barbara Roberts & Brooke Roberts-Webb and Mary Beth Adderley) weren’t able to attend First Night but will have the opportunity to see the play and congratulate the artists soon. Until then, First Night conversation was glowing, as were the reviews which followed.
  • “A powerhouse … anchored by two crucial ingredients—compassion and … faith.”—OC Register
  • “Exceptionally riveting drama … Richly structured, depth-layered performances.”—Huntington Beach Independent
  • “Multi-dimensional story…brought to life in incredibly dynamic ways.”— Splash

Having trouble viewing the slideshow? Try watching it here.

"The Whipping Man": Milestone Production for Composer Michael Roth

Michael Roth
Roth’s Moments—Fond Theatre Memories

“It’s not so much that I have favorite shows, as much as there are moments from a lot of productions that I remember where all of the elements—including what I was doing—worked really well together and created a moment that was unique.” Those theatre moments for Roth include (in chronological order, with some of his thoughts):
John de Lancie and Marnie Mosiman in
Man and Superman, 1990.

Man and Superman George Bernard Shaw, 1990-91) – “At the end of the first act, as a prelude to Don Juan in Hell, I used Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” as the cast danced offstage, leaving Jack Tanner alone, to end the act. It rocked in a pretty great way, and was funny and sort of eerily beautiful, too.”

The Education of Randy Newman (Randy Newman, Michael Roth, Jerry Patch, 1999-2000): “We developed a piece that Randy was very much a part of and it continued beyond SCR. Randy learned a lot about theatre working with us, for which I know he’s grateful, and personally, I got to play two hours of rock’n’roll piano every night. The play was called by a reviewer, ‘a graduate course in what songwriting can do, and how smart theatre people can make ideas into events that move, amuse, and engage us.’”

Mr. Marmalade (Noah Haidle, 2003-04): “I recorded the score, as I often do, with my dear friend the great guitarist Peter Sprague, at his studio. Peter, when he recorded the first guitar part, counted himself in, saying, ‘One, two, three.’ It sounded so perfect for the play to have someone count and then start to play that we kept it, and it started and ended the play itself—I loved it so much, I’ve used if for a few other projects as well, though none so special as the world premiere of Mr. Marmalade.”

Sight Unseen, Dinner With Friends, Brooklyn Boy (Donald Margulies, 1991-92, 1998-99, 2004-05): “Three world premieres, two directed by Daniel Sullivan, and all of them moved to Broadway or off-Broadway. I’m very proud to have written the scores and collaborated with Donald and Dan.”

Nothing Sacred (George F. Walker, 2006-7): “I translated the stage directions into Russian, and the cast sang them as change of scene music. At the end, the stage direction says the characters are “Sitting, chuckling, eating apples—blackout.” I had the two actors sing those words in Russian, and somehow it did communicate a sense of their going on (and the Russian Revolution maybe). Music can do that.”

Misalliance (George Bernard Shaw, 2010-11): “There’s a plane crash just off stage, and using the sound of a lawn mower and embellishing it slowly (with the help of LCS), I almost made you think an old plane traveled slowly from the parking structure, entered the Segerstrom house left, traveled across the stage and slammed into a crash box off stage left—a pure sound design moment, not bad.”

The Whale, Rest (Samuel D. Hunter, 2012-13, 2013-14): Roth is proud of his recent work on two Samuel D. Hunter productions, The Whale and Rest. Roth was delighted to find out that Hunter had studied music composition and was sensitive to how contemporary musical choices could deepen the impact of his play. “My music and sound is heavily influenced by American composer John Cage—his use of silence and how elements sound all go into a composition. Sam was very appreciative of the Cagean elements of my score for The Whale, especially the prepared piano. In Rest, the sound of the door was a realistic sound element that took on almost iconic importance. I actually filmed what an automatic door would do, foleyed the sound and showed the new film to Martin.”
Michael Roth sits in a room with keyboards, multiple computer screens and even more equipment set up in South Coast Repertory’s recording studio. He’s composing the music and sound for The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez, directed by Martin Benson; it is Roth's 55th production at SCR over a quarter-century.

American Theatre Magazine described Roth's work—including his chamber music, opera and music and theatre, film, and more than 200 projects for theatre—as “music one could imagine Charles Ives composing had he lived long enough to encounter rock-and-roll and beat poetry.” Roth’s many projects include work with PBS, Disney, Canada’s Stratford Festival, collaborations with Culture Clash, Sarah Ruhl, Des McAnuff, accompanying Alicia Keyes, Tom Stoppard, two recent projects with Christopher Plummer (The Tempest and Plummer's one-man show, A Word or Two), and many projects with Randy Newman, including their acclaimed SCR collaboration, The Education of Randy Newman (2000), for which Roth was music director, arranger and pianist.

“I am a composer who creates and exploits a lot of sound in my work, so I don’t see them as separate jobs; sound is always a ‘musical gesture.’” Roth adds, “Thrilling as it is to work as often as I have with great directors, actors and designers, the most joyous part of what I do is to get to work with great musicians. They bring a skill set, imagination, and passion to every note you write that inspires and never ceases to amaze me.”

SCR is a special place for Roth—it’s where he first got to work with a computerized sound system back in 1988, when Benson directed Roth’s first SCR production—the award-winning production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It included a 30-minute pre-show where Roth changed the “sound picture every 30 seconds. That was the first time I was able use the computer as a compositional tool in a theatre space, something we pretty much take for granted nowadays.”

Kandis Chappell and James Sutorias in SCR's 1988
production of The Crucible.
Roth adds, “Martin and I have such a good relationship, and I'm grateful that he trusts me to bring a certain sensitivity to what he’s working on.”

Benson enjoys working with Roth, saying, ‘Michael is a gifted composer and musician who does fabulous work. I appreciate that when his work calls for music, he brings live musicians into the studio to record.”

Roth’s work often has caught the attention of Orange County Register theatre critic Paul Hodgins. “Michael’s stylistic range is astounding,” Hodgins says. “He shows a chameleon-like ability to create a score that is perfect for the context.”

Libby West, Sue Cremin and Rob Nagle in SCR's 2014
production of Rest.
For The Whipping Man, Roth has been intrigued by several characteristics.

“For example, in the play, it’s raining all the time, so I had to find ways for the rain to be present without being a distraction. And there are the Jewish themes in the play, as well the Civil War—all of these come together in the score, including the use of the Shofar, recorded voices, strings, trumpet, and piano—all in the rain.”

Roth worked tirelessly in SCR’s studio for The Whipping Man, using the multiple keyboards—computer and musical—in the room.

“When I’m not doing a gig somewhere, I try to compose as much as I can every day. That is what I really like and it's my job—to write,” he says.

He’s never one to be still for long. Roth’s upcoming projects include a chamber music/theatre treatment of Beckett’s Imagination Dead Imagine—which he describes as “my most personal piece, Beckett himself gave me permission to set his text”—a sonata for toy piano, to be premiered in LA in the spring, and a new opera for YouTube.

Find out more information about Roth and his work online. http://rothmusik.wix.com/rothmusik

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