Archive for April, 2013

I’m not entirely sure when I started wanting to do a Shakespeare Burlesque show.  Shamefully, it may have been inspired by this song.

Because I’ve always found it hilarious that the last line of the chorus (You’ve had a lot of dick, but you ain’t had mine) is, in my opinion, the best way to sum up Sonnet 135.  This is funny to pretty much just me and my best friend from Shakespeare camp but, whatever.

I think this got me thinking about songs that would work for Shakespeare inspired burlesque acts; Dig Ophelia by Rasputina, Blood on my Hands by Veruca Salt (for Lady M,) I Could Never Be Your Woman by White Town (for 12th Night or As You Like It) And that was all well and good but a Shakespeare show without Shakespeare’s words is… kinda like going to New Orleans and not eating or drinking.  Sure, it’ll be pretty, sure you’ll probably have a good time, but you’re kind of missing the best part.  So why not have the burlesquers do Shakespeare scenes between acts, or even as part of the act?  THAT is a show I would want to watch.

And then 4 years later I got up the nerve to actually do it.

So I started thinking about what Shakespeare characters my burlesque friends would play really well. I’m not someone who thinks you need a TON of training to be able to act Shakespeare.  I think if you can act, and you take the time to learn what all the words you’re saying mean, and you connect those words to your own experience and say them honestly, you will do a good job.  This is not to say that doing Shakespeare is easy, but you don’t need years for training at the RSC to do it.  Honesty, passion, knowing what the hell you’re talking about, these things will get you far.  Especially if you are cast well.

I chose the performers I did largely because I knew they had strong theatre backgrounds, I liked the work they did, I liked working with them and they had confessed a deep and abiding love for Shakespeare.  For casting, I had some ideas but, for the most part I let people cast themselves.  That way I knew they were doing something they would be passionate about.  To my mind, passion is one of the most important components of art.  I have seen a great many potential trainwrecks actually succeed based almost solely on passion. When I was 22 I was part of Shakespeare and Company’s month long intensive and the first thing they have you do is a monologue of your choosing.  They encourage you to bring a monologue from a part that you would never normally be cast in but, more importantly, something you *really* want to do.  Watching people do those monologues is the best proof on the planet of just how deeply Shakespeare’s words can resonate in people.  I wanted to bring the passion and emotional rawness that I saw there into this show.

And also I had to have a sword fight because, dude, sword fight.

Once I got everyone on board, we spent quite a while hashing out who would do what and in what order.  I made some suggestions and I nudged people here and there but I tried to push people as little as possible.  I wanted them to make their own choices and I wanted to trust these people as artists in their own right.  Because that’s what they are.  I don’t subscribe to the AUTEUR idea of theatre.  Sure, I sometimes HAVE A VISION but I’m pretty sure it can be made better with the help of people who are as, or in most cases more, talented than I am.

Demented Vision

Once I had a cast and a venue and scenes/monologues cobbled into a script, I had to get to the hard part.  REHEARSALS.

Now, if you’re a theatre person, you’re thinking “Well, yeah, rehearsal. Duh. That’s what you do.” But if you’re a burlesque person you’re thinking “OMG REHEARSALS?!? With, like, OTHER PEOPLE?! Are you nuts?” I may be exaggerating, but only a little. Burlesque performers (and rappers and storytellers) are by and large, solo performers and they’re solo performers for a reason. Not because they’re jerks or anything but because they’re very independent, often introverted, and have weirdass schedules. Some have day jobs, some have night jobs, some work weekends, ALL of them have gigs on random nights and weekends and all of them are CRAZY busy.  This is New York, if you’re not busy 6 nights out of seven, you’re a fucking wuss.

And have I mentioned that I am not a planner? I am not. I am not a planner at all.

I am an agent of chaos.

Luckily(?) most of the ideas I had for duet/group scenes/acts were 86ed pretty quick for the above reasons so people were mostly left to their own devices. BUT I wanted to have at least one group rehearsal where we ran through the whole thing, worked out some kinks, made sure no one was using the dreaded SHAKESPEARE VOICE (discussed more thoroughly in my post, Shakespeare UR Doin it Wrong) Otherwise we would only have one shot at this and I didn’t just want this show to be good, I wanted it to be fucking phenomenal.

So after the fifth panic attack I had just *thinking* about trying to schedule this rehearsal it occurred to me I DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE! I know people, organized people, who like me and might want to help me. It occurred to me that I know an actual professional stage manager who’s job it is to be good at things I am bad at. And she seemed to think I was pretty groovy and, it turned out, was also a HUGE Shakespeare nerd. So she agreed to help me, thank freaking God. For legal reasons, I don’t think I can name her in this blog but she is a GODDESS. She emailed people and worked with schedules and Lo! she was able to find two and a half hours when we could get all 10 of us in the same damn room together LIKE A GODDAMN WIZARD. It may seem like I’m exaggerating my awe, but I seriously am not. Stuff like this is like black magic to me. I think I would do a better job putting together a car engine than scheduling a group rehearsal. My first year design teacher, who said my greatest obstacle was taming the logistical nightmare that was my life, once said with a sigh

“Well, maybe you’re just going to be one of those directors who depends on the kindness of strangers.” And, by God, he was right.

Things were going well.  My charms cracked not, my spirits obeyed. And then my kneecap went rogue and dislocated itself, putting me out of commission.  Even right after it happened, when I was still screaming from pain and the horror of having your kneecap suddenly be where no kneecap should be, one of the loudest voices in my head was saying “This can’t happen.  Not now.  Not with Bardlesque in three weeks.” I thought about postponing. But I had a venue, a great cast, some press, a few people had even bought tickets already. More importantly, the show was not about me. It was my show, sure. And I’d been thinking about doing it for four years. But it was no longer just *my* show. It was *our* show.  And our show was going to be fucking awesome.

Besides, I could still act. I figured out a way to do my Hamlet act and I could do my scene from As You Like It. If no one saw my As You Like It Striptease, well, the world would keep on turning. They would still see Nasty’s Lavinia Act and Rita’s Lady M act and Iris’ Henry V act and and and and, really, this show is going to be amazing. These are talented people and I trust in their genius.

So I guess what I learned is that the people in my life are my greatest resource. It is unlikely that I’ll ever make money or qualify for a grant or be hired by Hubertus Bigend to travel the globe and spend tons of money creating the worlds most depressing burlesque show.* BUT I will always know awesome, talented, people. And I will continue to meet and befriend more. And if I can shut up the stupid voice in my head that thinks I have to do everything myself, I can work with those wonderful people and get a show that’s way better than anything I could do all by myself.

For reals, come see this show.  It’s this Friday.

Bardlesque Flier

*obscure William Gibson reference