Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Hot Ice, and Wondrous Strange Snow...

by Marcella Kearns

STRANGE SNOW. When I hear the title of Stephen Metcalfe’s play, I think of war. And comedy. An odd juxtaposition on the surface, but other than the surface reasons — that the play features veterans of war and verbal wit — here’s why: The same phrase appears near the end of William Shakespeare’s comedy A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, a play packed with juxtapositions of opposites and extremes. 

Metcalfe draws his inspiration for the title, he says, from the possibilities and gentleness of snow. (See Michael Wright’s director’s notes when you come to the performance!) Nevertheless, the connection to MIDSUMMER is undeniable and, to me, endlessly evocative.

A tenderer take on Theseus and Hippolyta, as they,
like our protagonists, forge their path through strange snow...
War and comedy. Both SNOW and DREAM open after a conflict and dip into the potential for love. At the opening of DREAM, Theseus, Duke of Athens, addresses his intended, the Amazon queen Hippolyta, with a stark acknowledgment of what has transpired prior to the action of the play: “I woo’d thee with my sword,/ And won thy love doing thee injuries...” (1.1.16-17) He has taken her to Athens without her consent, but plans to wed her “in another key,” shifting the tenor of their initial encounters to “pomp” and “reveling.”

Hippolyta doesn’t have much to say in the first scene. Indeed, some productions of the play have introduced her as a prisoner, clearly unwilling—caged, cuffed, or at the very least staring daggers. Others have from the start softened Theseus’ words and her portrayal to imply that history is history, her assent is assured, and their conflict now is only how to interact with each other in this new “key,” as spouses. 

The beginning of this play, for Theseus and Hippolyta, is aftermath, an attempt at a different path. An extreme shift, like many others: deep young love and passion flipped to disgust and hate, and vice versa, due to fairy mischief. Artisans trying their hands as artists. Fairies altering the very seasons of the earth with their own ferocious conflict. (Anyone recently encountered a 65-degree temperature swing in a day?) 

Most notably in this vein, when Theseus calls for entertainment at his wedding, the piece he chooses is one performed by men of Athens — the tragic story of lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. Why does it catch his attention? The company of performers’ description promises “very tragical mirth.” How can those two things coexist? “Merry and tragical?...” he exclaims. “That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!” (5.1.58-59)

There’s that phrase. Hot ice, strange snow. What apparent opposites can coexist.

Listening to rehearsal for STRANGE SNOW across the hall tonight, I hear it. Actor Marques Causey seems to be developing Davey, a Vietnam veteran, as generally soft-spoken (in part, perhaps, due to the character’s constant nursing of a hangover), while Ken Williams’ Megs, fellow veteran, roars with life and urgency. (I even hear him singing as he strides down the hall to his rehearsal call.) 

Within each of these characters a paradox exists: Megs, pouncing voraciously on any joy, welcoming word, kindness, or company, is prone both to utter gentleness and sudden, almost unconscious violence upon himself. Davey pushes company away in one second and runs headlong towards it in the next. 

As Krystal Drake plays her, Davey’s sister Martha, rounding out the cast of characters, defies expectation by accepting a beer for breakfast when she appears to be the most buttoned-down of all. She chooses to embrace rather than shrink from possibility, even as she calls herself a coward. And she sometimes unaccountably, but courageously, stays present for Megs and Davey rather than walking away.

All of them, both within themselves and in relation to one another, are walking paradoxes. Frozen and thawing both.

Martha (Krystal Drake), Megs (Ken T. Williams) and Davey (Marques Causey)
each grapple with the paradoxes of their lives in STRANGE SNOW.
Listening, curious, I find myself this rehearsal night considering what else they share. For some, common ground lies in their history with one another. Megs and Davey claim membership in a fraternity which only those who have been to war can ever know. They share, moreover, a specific wound and loss from their tour in Vietnam. Siblings Martha and Davey, on the other hand, have known the same steep family expectations, pain, and alliances. No surprise on those counts.

For Megs and Martha, however, and the renewed acquaintance of Megs and Davey, this story offers what Shakespeare’s comedy offers: that history has the potential to be history

Not something to forget — on that note I wish to be very clear. I refer to history that can be held in memory without forever freezing the character who’s traversed it. Not unlike Theseus’ wish for his marriage to Hippolyta, however flawed or hopeful any production paints the portrait of that relationship, life for these three in STRANGE SNOW continues. And with it, the potential, at the very least, for something new.

Here’s to the seasons altering.

STRANGE SNOW runs Feb. 22 to Mar. 17 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. Now through Feb. 23, you can take advantage of our Hot Ice Presale and SAVE 25%! Use the code "Hot Ice" in person, via phone at 414.291.7800, or through our online box office.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Meet the Cast of STRANGE SNOW!

compiled by Matthew Reddin

In STRANGE SNOW, by Stephen Metcalfe, a single spring day changes the lives of three lonely individuals -- each isolated from the world by their own personal traumas. Right now, director C. Michael Wright and our cast are working hard in the rehearsal hall to bring these characters to life -- but we're going to take a moment to remind you where you might have seen these three actors before!

Marques Causey as Elegba in THE BROTHERS SIZE.
Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Marques Causey is returning to the MCT stage after appearing in THE BROTHERS SIZE last season as Elegba, and in 2009's PICNIC as Bomber. A native of Milwaukee, Marques received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has since worked with many theater companies in the area including Renaissance Theaterworks, Forward Theater, First Stage, In Tandem Theatre, Children's Theater of Madison and Door Shakespeare.

In STRANGE SNOW, Marques will play Davey, a Vietnam vet who's struggling to put his memories of the war behind him.

Krystal Drake as Leading Player in PIPPIN at Skylight
Music Theatre. Photo by Ross Zentner.

Krystal Drake is making her MCT debut in STRANGE SNOW! Her most recent appearance in the Broadway Theatre Center was in PIPPIN at Skylight Music Theatre, where she was the Leading Player. Additional credits include: NUBIAN STORIES (Nuba) at Renaissance Theaterworks, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE (Ensemble) at Children’s Theatre of Madison, THE BED (Ensemble) at Theatre Lila, and BLACK NATIVITY (Mary, Ensemble) at Black Arts MKE & Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Krystal cultivated her craft at UW-Milwaukee where she earned a degree in Theatre, and has also studied acting in Los Angeles at the renowned Ivana Chubbuck Studio.

In STRANGE SNOW, Krystal plays Martha, a high school teacher who tries to care for her brother Davey and finds herself surprised by an instant connection with Megs.

Ken T. Williams as Houston in OCTOBER,
BEFORE I WAS BORN. Photo by MarkFrohna.

Ken returns to MCT after previously appearing in both the staged reading and mainstage production of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN, in the role of Houston. He's also acted in MCT's Young Playwrights Festival Showcase. In addition, Ken has worked with some wonderful local companies including Renaissance Theaterworks, First Stage, Optimist Theatre, In Tandem, Windfall Theatre, Summer Stage, Alchemist Theatre, Cornerstone and Bunny Gumbo Productions.

In STRANGE SNOW, Ken kicks the story off as Megs (aka Joseph Megessey), Davey's fellow veteran who knocks on his and Martha's door to take them out for the first day of fishing season.

STRANGE SNOW runs Feb. 22 to March 17 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre. For tickets, call 414.291.7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Dissecting Directing: Thoughts from YPF 2018-2019

by George Marn & Marie Tredway, compiled by Matthew Reddin

One of the things we love most about our Young Playwrights Festival Showcase is the opportunity we’re able to give to emerging local artists. It’s not just Milwaukee actors who benefit – our directing and design teams are also packed full of talented theatre artists.

Two of those artists are Marie Tredway and George Marn, the director and assistant director (respectively) of THE DIVINE KOMEDY, one of the three plays featured in the Showcase. As they went into tech rehearsals this week, we asked them to share a bit of what they’ve been thinking in the rehearsal room, and what they’ve learned about this piece and about directing. We’ve condensed their responses below – George’s thoughts in blue, and Marie’s in red – to give you a brief fly-on-the-wall glimpse behind the scenes.

These past few rehearsals have been both eye-opening and rewarding, as we've gotten the chance to really fine tune the character moments and tone of DIVINE KOMEDY. I'm always so grateful that we have the cast that we do, and that they've already put in so much work with memorization and character choices. We've added fight choreography, sound cues, and further refined the work we've done at the beginning. Normally I'm not used to having this much time to polish a piece that I'm working on.

I agree with you, George, about our stage of polish versus preparation. Even with such a short allotted rehearsal period, the DIVINE KOMEDY cast is in a great place because of their work put in outside of rehearsals. Their memorization and character intentions are so solid that we can usually fine-tune in rehearsals: fleshing out multi-dimensional characters and working on giving important moments levels. 

That's where some of my questions have come from in the past few rehearsals. Since we're long past working on blocking or memorization, Marie and I having been giving notes on full runs for a while now. I've noticed that I take lots of notes and sometimes I think I'm being too "nitpicky" when I give notes. Do you think being overly specific in notes can be a problem? And when giving notes is it possible to give too many? Sometimes I worry that I might overload our cast. 

I personally don't think specificity is a hindrance. Some people may see it as nitpicky, but the more detailed and thorough a note is, I think it helps an actor. Too many notes at once is a little overwhelming so what I try to do is focus on specific things during a working (start/stop) rehearsal. 

For example, last week I wanted to focus on intentions and objectives. “What is your character trying to change in the other person?” “What's your tactic?” “How does it switch?” So most of our work and notes focused on that. 

Last night we worked on integrating our sound cues helping fill in the different circles of our world – how does Hell differ in Circle Two than in Circle Seven? So my notes included: “How do we use the cues to help visualize and what does that mean for the actors?” We also worked on specific moments in the play – playing up comedic bits, finding the peaks and swells of monologues. 

How far in advance do you plan out your challenges and goals for your actors versus responding to issues in the moment? I really enjoyed the specific rehearsals we had for fight choreography and intimacy.

I try to have a rough outline in my head. For example, I wanted to get blocking out of the way the first session. Then within the first week, I wanted to choreograph all our movement phrases. So I think it's important to have a general plan but because theatre is such a fluid process that's always in flux, plans have to be flexible, depending on what you feel the show needs. Is it missing nuance? Do we need to work on objectives? Do we need to finesse one moment? Gauging how a rehearsal went for the night and utilizing it for planning the next couple of rehearsals is what I usually do. 

Intimacy exercises in particular is something that I like to do a little later on in the process, once the actors are more comfortable with each other and we can focus solely on relationship as opposed to filling out the general framework of first rehearsals. 

MCT’s Young Playwrights Festival Showcase runs this week only: January 10 to 13 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway. Tickets are available now at 414.291.7800 or our online box office.