Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Behind The Scene: Music for Emilia

With Othello opening on Friday, we thought we'd give you an inside look into the production. We asked our own Kati Grace Brown, who is playing Emilia in this production, to share with us a bit of her process in preparing to step on stage. Here's what she had to say:

Using music to mentally prepare for a performance is not a new idea- I actually stole it specifically from Kelly Criss Felten when I had the pleasure of sharing a dressing room with her in The Tempest in 2009 when she performed the role of Miranda for a week. Kelly is an actress whose work I have admired since before becoming an apprentice in 2007, so when I saw her listening to a playlist on her iPod that she had specifically created for that role (I believe “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid was on there… J) I really wanted to try it out for myself. It has turned out to be an incredibly useful tool for me, particularly when I am cast as characters that I judge to be very different from myself. Naturally I am very silly and not inclined towards stillness or calm of any kind. Backstage of Twelfth Night, for instance, I could frequently be seen laughing maniacally at the monitor (at jokes I’ve heard a hundred times by this point), throwing my shoes at people or climbing into the bottom shelf of the props cabinet (a feat that I am particularly proud of.. just don’t tell Cindy). Something about the rehearsal process of Othello, however, leads me to believe that I am going to have to stay a little more somber during the run of this show- especially since there are four apprentices in the cast who deserve a better “good example” than being pelted with a Grecian sandal. So I’ve chosen songs not always based on their lyrics (though sometimes I am struck by how perfectly a lyric from the 2000s can resonate with my character from the 1600s) but by the mood of the piece and the emotional response that I have when I hear them. The cover of “Somebody That I Used to Know” actually came on while I was at yoga class last week, and I could not get it out of my head when thinking about the frustration and the depth of sadness that Emilia feels as her marriage disintegrates around her for reasons that she doesn’t know much less understand. “Better in Time” by Leona Lewis captures the core belief that Emilia holds every time she interacts with Iago that, “maybe this time it will be different.” Spolier: it really never is, at least if we’re defining “different” as “better.” Our director, Laura Cole, has worked with me a lot in previous roles (Sylvia in Two Gents and Miranda in Tempest) of cultivating “beautiful stillness” in my approach to movement onstage, so a few songs are geared towards eliciting that feeling: “Cathedrals” by Jump Little Children and “Mad World” from the Donnie Darko soundtrack. There’s no rhyme or reason to the order of the songs- I just put the list on shuffle when I start getting ready, skipping anything that might not speak to me at that particular moment. Additionally, I also spent some time putting together a post-show dance party mix for the ladies’ dressing room that I’m looking forward to unveiling after the Preview Thursday! Because, let’s be real, if any ladies in Shakespeare deserve some silly dances moves and a drink or two, it’s Desdemona, Bianca and Emilia.

And here's her playlist:

Crimes by Damien Rice

Poison & Wine by The Civil Wars

Maybe I Like it This Way by Lisa Ostrow

Mad World by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules

Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson

Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri

Hide & Seek by Imogen Heap

The Girl in the Other Room by Diana Krall

Flightless Bird, American Mouth by Iron & Wine

Better in Time by Leona Lewis

Addicted by Kelly Clarkson

Freewheel by Duke Special

Bruised by Ben Folds Five

Closer by Joshua Radin

Cathedrals by Jump Little Children

#1 Crush by Garbage

Somebody That I Used to Know by Madilyn Bailey & Jake Coco

From Kati Grace and everyone at the ASC: Thank you! And we hope to see you at the tavern!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Directing Othello: A Few Thoughts from Laura Cole

The beginning of the fall season here at the Tavern is always an exhilarating time, but particularly for the staff in our Education Department which, of course, is my home base. With school being back in session and educators looking to us to bring Shakespeare to their classroom, things around here are about to get delightfully chaotic (hey, we’re artists: we thrive on organized chaos!). Each fall is another chance to be better educators, better mentors and better guides for our students, and we are ready to embrace the challenge. It really is a job like no other: once you see a young person discover the power of Shakespeare’s language for the first time, believe me, it’s hard not to be hooked.

However, this fall I also have the distinct pleasure (and challenge) of directing Othello for the first time as a part of our Evolution Series. For those of you who don’t know, the Evolution Series is a multi-year project in which the ASC will produce all of Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and histories in roughly the order in which they were written. This kind of project is an educational journey for the company and the audience—just one more way that we at the Tavern are actively finding new ways to inspire and engage our patrons. Also, it hasn’t been done before, at least to my knowledge. And that’s just cool.

On a personal note, it also happens to be my favorite. Don’t tell the other plays, okay?

Othello, of course, fits into the tragedy segment of the Evolution Series (if you are hoping for some light laughs, this ain’t it.) Along with King Lear, Macbeth (both coming later this season) and Hamlet, Othello is considered one of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies. Othello, however, is unique in the scope of its plot. Unlike the other three, many critics consider Othello a “tragedy of character.” This is not a play about affairs of state or the line to the throne. This is a domestic story, a personal tale about the inner workings of a man and a marriage. The story itself is highly structured: there are few sub plots, if any. Each incident in this play is directly linked to the ever-increasing fears of Othello and the evil machinations of Iago. All roads lead to Rome. (Or in this case, Venice.) Shakespeare does not allow us to veer off course: Othello’s trajectory is set and all we can do is hold on tight as our hero descends into deeper and deeper dismay. I’ve tried to capture that dynamic (the hurdling-like-a-freight-train-to-its-ultimate-conclusion kind of dynamic) in my staging of the play.

And, of course, there is Iago. More so than Lear’s daughters, or Claudius or Lady Macbeth, Iago is a villain of unparalleled evil. He is positively diabolical and, for the audience, deliciously so. His closeness to Othello, and his dubious reasons for deceiving the man he calls “friend,” makes the tragedy all the more compelling. Perhaps the best word to describe this play is: intimate. And witnessing it as an audience member is both unnerving and exhilarating. I believe it may be the most painful of all the tragedies, for the green eyed monster is never far from any of us, is he?

The ASC is very fortunate to welcome back Victor Love to tackle this hefty role. You may recognize him as Caesar from last season’s production of Julius Caesar. If you didn’t catch that, then perhaps you recognize him from one of the hundred of credits on his resume (see below for a taste of what he’s accomplished.) He is an amazing actor, and will surely make my job as a director look EASY!

Mr. Love has accumulated an impressive body of work throughout his long career, with roles in television, film and theatre. Some of his past credits in film/TV include: Bigger Thomas in Native Son, Hank in The Hank Gathers Story, Miami Vice, Different World, Batman Returns, LA Law, Will and Grace, Gang Related, HBO’S Spawn and The West Wing. He has even been the voice of a few really cool cartoon characters. He was in the cast of A Few Good Men on Broadway and his regional credits include: Camino Real at The Shakespeare Theatre, DC, Richard II at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Black at The Williamstown Theatre Festival, Playboy of the West Indies at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, Public Ghosts: Private Stories at the George Street Playhouse and Cymbeline at the Arena Stage, Washington, DC.

You won’t be able to tear your eyes away from this play and the captivating actor in the title role. It’s a big, heartbreaking, epic web of a story that you can’t help but enjoy watching unravel.

See you at the theatre!

Laura Cole, Director of Education and Training

Monday, July 22, 2013

Meet the Interns!

We asked Jennifer and Caitlin, our two college interns for the Shakespeare Intensive for Teens program, to introduce themselves and talk a little bit about their experiences this summer. Here's what they had to say...

Jennifer Latimore:

My name is Jennifer Latimore and I am a rising senior at the University of Georgia, pursuing a dual degree in Theatre and Mass Media Arts. Acting has always been a passion of mine and during my college career, I have learned a plethora of techniques. More importantly I have learned countless things about myself, one of which being my comfort zone. As I push these limits in thought and action, I realize that every opportunity is a chance for growth. My most recent role as Lady Macbeth in University Theatre's production of Macbeth let me explore the multiple facets of what it means to be human. This was a chance to go outside my comfort zone and question everything about the human morale and what that meant to Lady Macbeth. As much as I love acting, I love being able to share my knowledge and love with others. The Education Internship at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company lets me do just that.

Before beginning my stay at the Tavern, I knew that a challenge had been set forth; a complete submersion in the administrative and teaching aspects of a theatre company. It was a challenge I was nervous about, but also one that I knew would expose me to fresh ideas and creative opportunities. I did not know what to expect from the administrative portion of the internship, seeing as I had never been exposed to arts administration for an extended period of time. In order to have a job in the theatre though, I knew that knowing how a theatre is run was an invaluable understanding to have. In addition to arts administration, fostering a passion for Shakespeare in young students was an opportunity I could not pass up. I reminisced on the countless theatre camps I attended during my summers in high school and how much those impacted my life. This internship was the perfect opportunity to witness the power of theatre camp and also play a role in the exploration and discoveries the students would make during their month at the Tavern.

As I finished my administrative duties, I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed my responsibilities. I got the chance to put my organization skills to good use and learned just how important time management and punctuality are in the work place. I also got first hand experience with grant writing, from the research, writing and proofreading all the way to sending off the finished product. It is imperative that we continue to fight for the arts; that was the main understanding I took away. While there are many artists and educators who understand the power of art, the battle to keep the arts a relevant and necessary subject still continues. I will continue the fight to keep arts alive and with my new administrative knowledge, I now know the most effective ways of doing so. Moreover, my current work in the education portion of the internship has shown me a completely new way of thinking. It's one thing to just tell an actor what to do on stage, but it's another to guide them to figure out their own new directions and think for themselves. This technique is used in the summer camp classroom and each time I observe the directors using it, I am baffled by its effectiveness and strive to do the same as I interact with the students. In short, these students are being taught to think and deduce. Not only does this make them better actors, but better people as well; people who can think for themselves and depend on their own instincts to make decisions. As I finish out the last leg of this internship, I will continue to help students push their own boundaries and stretch their creative abilities. This opportunity has been nothing short of what I expected; a chance to grow in passion, in exploration and in knowledge.

Caitlin Cain:

Last spring, I participated in Furman University’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. My professors gave many lectures about properly interpreting Shakespeare’s text by delving into the folio, deciphering the difference between prose and verse, and most importantly, understanding how tiny linguistic changes such as grammar and spelling could completely alter the meaning of a phrase. It was always fascinating to read Shakespeare’s work in a classroom setting, but this newfound love of his text and style inspired me to apply as an intern for the “Shakespeare Superheroes” and “Shakespeare Intensive for Teens” programs at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company.

After receiving the offer to work with high school students, the anticipation was that I would mainly observe the kids and work as the communication bridge between the students and instructors. I did not have any formal expectations because I had never worked with the age group before, and had no concept of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s teaching methods. Prior to my internship I received acting training from numerous directors, but had never been introduced to “Original Practice” in the theatre. After the first week of observing my teaching artists Andy Houchins and Jennifer Acker, I realized that every single play I performed in thus far incorporated Stanislavski’s method of the “Fourth Wall” (including my two collegiate leads, Theresa in Circle Mirror Transformation and Delia in Beautiful Child). The Tavern’s idea that the actors could use the audience as scene partners was an astounding and foreign concept to me. Through an example exercise led by Andy and Jennifer, I realized that a scene is more engaging for me as an audience member when the two actors directly address my presence in their scene.

Another huge discovery made during the process was the manner in which the directors asked questions to instruct the student actors, and just how powerful this teaching method can be to creative students. In my experience, directors would tell me what to do and explain why they made decisions, but never before had I seen students making their own discoveries based on pointed, inspiring questions. I was so grateful to have this experience working with the Atlanta Shakespeare Company this summer and observing some of the most passionate and talented teaching artists I’ve ever met. During my internship, I was exposed to so many different theatrical methods and exercises that I will definitely utilize in my own future education endeavors!

Above: Cast members of the 2013 June SIT production of 'Love's Labors Lost.'

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What the heck are the Ides of March?

Hayley Platt, a member of our 2013 Apprentice Company and our resident Classical Civilization scholar, explains the definition and legend behind the Ides of March.

What were the Ides?

The Ides were simply part of a numbering system for the Roman calendar: the Nones referred to the 5th or 7th, the Kalends the 1st, and the Ides the 13th or 15th depending on the month. The Ides of each month was sacred to Jupiter, the father god or supreme deity of the Romans. In modern times, the Ides of March has become best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE. Caesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the senate, in an assassination involving as many as 60 conspirators led by senators Brutus and Cassius.

Ancient Roman writers Plutarch and Suetonius [pictured above] both cataloged the life of Julius Caesar, and both inspired Shakespeare’s play. The assassination of Caesar at a meeting of the Senate after a soothsayer's warning to "beware the Ides of March" has been famously dramatized by Master Shakespeare. And indeed, according to Plutarch a certain ‘seer’ did warn Caesar to be on his guard against a great peril on the 15th of March. When the Ides had come and Caesar was on his way to the senate-house, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: “Well, the Ides of March are come,” and the seer said to him softly: “Aye, they are come, but they are not gone.”

The Roman biographer Suetonius identifies the seer as a haruspex named Spurinna. A haruspex was like an augurer (augurers could determine the will of the gods based on the flight of birds) except that a haruspex was focused on ‘reading’ the liver of a sheep rather than birds.

Suetonius describes the scene this way: “In his way, some person having thrust into [Caesar’s] hand a paper, warning him against the plot, he mixed it with some other documents which he held in his left hand, intending to read it at leisure. Victim after victim was slain, without any favorable appearances in the entrails; but still, disregarding all omens, he entered the senate-house, laughing at Spurinna as a false prophet, because the ides of March were come without any mischief having befallen him. To which the soothsayer replied, ‘They are come, indeed, but not past.’” (Jul. 81)

Plutarch's Parallel Lives catalogues the order in which senators dealt Caesar’s wounds during the assassination. For example, in Plutarch the senator Tillius Cimber (also known as Metellus Cimber) takes hold of Caesar's toga with both hands and pulls it away from his neck, which is the signal to attack. Plutarch also describes Casca as striking the first blow: "First, Casca struck him on the neck with his sword, a blow neither fatal nor deep, for naturally he was nervous at the start of so terrific a deed of daring, so that Caesar turned about, grasped the knife, and held it fast.” (Plutarch, Parallel Lives, translated from the Greek by Louise Loomis, 1951)

Shakespeare takes his prompt from Plutarch in having Casca issue the first blow: Casca’s line “Speak hands for me!” (III.1.84) indicates that he is the first to stab Caesar. Interestingly, Shakespeare changes the part about Metellus Cimber. Rather than pulling Caesar’s toga away from his neck, in Shakespeare’s play Cimber simply distracts Caesar with a petition, allowing Casca to strike.

Like Shakespeare, for our production we’ll be using Plutarch as a reference for our assassination scene but may not wholly adhere to his description. Check out the show next month to see our very own depiction of the most famous Ides of March!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Making of the Shakespeare Evolution Series

As we embark on the Tragedies segment of our Shakespeare Evolution Series with Titus , people have been asking how we settled on the chronological order for all of Shakespeare's plays...not to mention how we decided what counts as a ‘tragedy’ or ‘comedy’ or ‘romance.’ Well, here’s the truth: since Shakespeare never left a personal record of exactly when he wrote each play, that lack has left everyone guessing about the order for the last four hundred years. Probably dozens of proposed composition orders exist in the Shakespeare scholarship universe, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Part of the fun involves arguing over which play goes where.

But a producing theatrical company eventually has to settle on an order, and we knew that we needed to just pick one list and stick with it ‘till the end. Ultimately I suggested that we rely on the composition order presented in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works (2nd Edition), because I studied under one of that book’s editors in grad school and could email him personally to make sure that the order still makes scholarly sense. When I received the go-ahead back from him, we had our list. Not everyone in the world agrees with this chronological order--in fact, not even all of our company members agree with it. I’ve overheard some great debates. Again, every chronology is debatable, and debates are part of the fun.

But that’s not all we had to choose: we aren't just performing Shakespeare’s plays in the order he composed them, but rather performing his Comedies in order of composition, followed by the Tragedies, followed by the late Tragicomic Romances (and at some time in the future, we would love to round things out with the Histories!) This plan demands that we assign genres to each play, and that’s where things get even fuzzier. Part of Shakespeare’s brilliance as a writer lay in his ability to mix comedy and tragedy almost effortlessly. His comedies all contain elements of tragedy, his tragedies all have funny moments, and the history plays have lots of both. As with order of composition, when it came to genres we just had to make a decision and stick to it.

Shakespeare doesn’t seem to have held much personal interest in publishing his plays during his lifetime. Luckily, his friends and fellow company members collected many of his plays after his death and published them together in a book. Scholars refer to that book, first published in 1623, as the First Folio. And while the First Folio as a document is far from error-free, we think it still can tell us a great deal about the way that Shakespeare’s contemporaries viewed his plays, and our company accordingly treats the First Folio with a great deal of respect when we approach his work. In keeping with that respect, for the Comedies and Tragedies portions of our series we’ve relied mostly on the way that the First Folio classifies each play. For instance, modern scholars have trouble agreeing on a genre for Troilus and Cressida, but the First Folio titles it a ‘Tragedie,’ so we’re going to honor that classification (although interestingly enough, Troilus and Cressida was completely left out of the Folio’s table of contents--I told you the Folio wasn’t error-free!) And while Richard III seems much like a tragedy, the Folio lists it as a history play, so we haven’t included it in our Tragedies portion of the series.

But you’ll notice I said we were almost relying on the Folio’s classifications. If we relied totally on the Folio, there would be no Romances portion of the Evolution Series, because the Folio only divides Shakespeare’s plays into Comedies, Tragedies and Histories. Thus, the Folio lists The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale as a comedies and Cymbeline as a tragedy. But we feel that a series always works better as a trilogy (just ask Peter Jackson.) And since the point of the Evolution Series is to show Shakespeare’s evolution as a writer, we thought it’d be neat to show how he perfected the comedic genre, and also perfected the tragic genre, and in his later plays perfected mixing the two genres into Tragicomic Romances. The term ‘Romance’ has been applied in more recent years by scholars--though the genre ‘tragicomical’ must also have existed in Shakepseare’s time, since Polonius mentions it in Hamlet--to describe Shakespeare’s later work, which often mixes the death of major characters with themes of resurrection and reconciliation and, of course, clowns. So we’re straying a bit when it comes to honoring the First Folio, mixing that publication’s genre classifications with a little modern scholarship. Instead of counting The Tempest as part of our Comedies portion, we’ll be performing it again in the final Tragicomic Romances leg along with The Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline, Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen. And that list highlights another important reason to mix in modern scholarship: the First Folio doesn’t even include all 39 plays currently attributed to Shakespeare (including two of the plays I just mentioned,) and we want to do them all!

So the Evolution Series turns out to be a bit like Shakespeare’s work itself: plenty of different influences thrown together in order to, we hope, create some great entertainment. Catch Romeo and Juliet in February for our next Tragedies installment, and in the meantime...we welcome your questions and comments.

~Kristin H.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Intern-Eye View: On Inspirational Kids, and Honesty in Acting

Sarah Palay, one of our Education Interns for the summer, worked in the classroom with the June session of Shakespeare Intensive for Teens. Here she writes about her experience:

As a new member of the Shakespeare Tavern education team, I entered my internship with little knowledge of what to expect. I knew the basics: I would be assisting in the classroom where needed, stage managing the final production, perhaps directing a monologue or a scene. What I did not expect was an experience that left me grippingly aware of the meaningful affect that a four-week Shakespeare intensive program could have on a group of high school students.

The Shakespeare Intensive for Teens (SIT) program allows students to discover themselves and learn what it means to be a thinking, feeling, and living human being in the world of the play. The program embraces what it means to be an individual and constantly encourages students to bring their personal experiences—pieces of themselves—into their work. Mary Russell and Matt Felten led the fourteen students on the four-week exploration, which culminated in a full-length performance of A Comedy of Errors. Matt and Mary chose to direct A Comedy of Errors as a clown show, and they introduced a series of clowning exercises that helped the students create clown personae for their characters...which was interesting in ways I'll discuss later.

What immediately struck me about the SIT students was their insatiable appetite for knowledge. These students thrived on information. While many students groan at the thought of conducting an in-depth analysis of Shakespeare’s works, these students cheered when they discovered they were about to delve into a three-hour class centered around the structure of Shakespeare’s text. The students digested any and every piece of information they could get their hands on and yearned for more. This attitude permeated the classroom for seven hours a day, five days a week. Every activity was a precious link to discovery. It was not only the students’ abilities to process and apply information that was invigorating to watch, it was that they craved knowledge, depth, and specificity in their work. They were continuously striving to learn and improve, a feature that I have found rare amongst many of my college peers.

Their steadfast commitment to understanding sometimes reminded me of my own work as a young actor. I observed students as they attempted to find the “right way” to play the character or to say a line. In searching for what was right, students seemed to allow the fear of being wrong to block their creativity. But when the students stopped searching for what was right and freed their minds and bodies to explore, they discovered a far more personal engagement to the text and their characters, which resulted in the creation of truly compelling pieces of art. Various acting teachers and professors have often told me that I limit myself in the creation of something magnificent when I become paralyzed by the fear of being wrong. And while I understood what these professors were saying, the ability to watch the SIT students—miniatures of myself—battle with the same sort of fears that I have experienced reinforced this idea in a new way.

The clown work that Matt and Mary folded into the SIT curriculum particularly encouraged the students to free their minds and bodies and to release into a state of pure playfulness. The first week of the program, each student was presented with his/her very own red clown nose. The clown nose acted as a gateway into the play, and through multiple different clowning exercises, students came to cherish this little red token and the permission it granted them to release their inhibitions. As a newcomer to clowning myself, I found that my expectations of clowning certainly did not match the realities of the art form. Initially I thought, “I’ve seen the occasional circus. I know how clowns behave. They make us laugh with their over-the-top reactions and exaggerated gestures—that’s all there is to it.” I was WRONG. As Matt and Mary introduced clowning to the students and me, it immediately became clear that this art form was exceedingly different from what I expected. The secret? To clown effectively, one must be painfully honest. That means stripping away any emotional masks you might have created based on what you think your character should be feeling, and allowing whatever emotions you’re truly feeling to shine through. Discovering truthfulness in clowning was not an instantaneous effect, but rather a process—a process that produced a camaraderie amongst the students defined by trust. Over the four week intensive fourteen students, two teachers, and one intern went on a very special journey of self-discovery.

Being ‘honest’ on stage sounds easy enough, right? Well, not exactly. In order to be honest on stage, you must begin by being honest with yourself. Having experienced the necessity for honesty in my own acting work, I can testify that this is no easy task. It is incredibly difficult to stand on stage and to experience what it means to be vulnerable. I saw in these students a powerful struggle to embrace vulnerability. And when these students found those precious moments of vulnerability in their acting, they created something magical, something untouchable, something that was real and honest and uniquely theirs. The positive effects of this candidness certainly shone through in the final production—the students created a wonderful, honest, and fun rendition of A Comedy of Errors—yet the effects of this honesty extended far beyond a fabulous production. Through their willingness to express themselves honestly, these fourteen students created a haven, a place where they felt free to be themselves, express their individuality, play with one another, grow alongside one another, encourage each other, help each other, praise each other, critique each other, love each other.

The theater is a powerful place—it is a place of transformation. The Tavern’s Shakespeare Intensive for Teens takes a group of teenagers and allows them the opportunity to transform. But what I found unique about the SIT program is that the transformation not only occurs on the stage. I expected to watch the students transform into living incarnations of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, but what I did not expect was to witness the students finding new incarnations of themselves. I found it incredibly moving to watch these students grow, learn, and emerge as confident, articulate, powerful human beings ready to conquer. I am honored to have had the privilege to work alongside two incredible teaching artists and to learn alongside fourteen brave, mature, and introspective students. My experience here has truly been inspiring!

~Sarah Palay

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Actor Interview: Doug Kaye on Playing Shylock

Veteran Tavern company member Doug Kaye is no stranger to Shylock: he's played the character three times and earned a Suzi Awards nomination for his last Shylock on our stage. Over the course of his career--which includes a 'Merchant of Venice' with our company back when we were still setting up stages at the Excelsior Mill, in 1986--he has performed more roles in 'Merchant' than in any other Shakespeare play. It's safe to say he knows the play pretty well. Kristin Hall recently sat down with Doug to ask his thoughts on one of Shakespeare's most controversial and complex characters.

What have you discovered about this character over the three times that you’ve played him?

It hasn’t changed my opinion of the character. I love getting into the language, the language is wonderful, and discovering what things these speeches actually do impart. I think I’ve realized this time that a lot of what Shakespeare puts in the trial scene for Antonio to say against Shylock is the same kind of thing Antonio himself has been doing to Shylock, and all of the Jews of Venice, up to that point. Total hypocrisy. Another thing I’ve realized this time is that Shylock would have had a better chance at getting further in his trial if he had used the argument that he uses in Act 3 Scene 1--but he wastes that argument on Salerino and Solanio, who are bigots. If he’d used that argument on the Duke and even Portia, he’d have had a better shot.

Have you focused on different aspects of the character each time you’ve played him?

Actually, one of the reasons I’ve been disappointed with other Shylocks in the past is that there’s been too much of a consistency throughout the entire play, there’s no arc. They start off with determination and keep it. What I discovered the first time I did it and have continued to explore over the years is the fact that every scene that Shylock is in--and there’s only five of them--every scene is a different aspect of this guy’s character, there’s a little different part exposed. And in the beginning scene, even though the treatment he’s gotten from Antonio really gripes him, he’s trying to shove that to the back of his mind. He’s trying to make friends and do this favor for Antonio, take as he says ‘a doight of usage,’ ‘not a speck of interest’ for this loan. When he sets up this horrible bond he says it’s a joke...and it really is a joke, he has no inkling that he’s going to be able to collect on it. And I think the most sinister aspect of why he comes up with this bond in the first place is so that at least for the time Antonio has this loan out, Shylock will have that this bond in his hand and be able to say to himself ‘I have Antonio in my back pocket, look at this.’ But he doesn’t dream that it’s ever going to come to fruition. And even when he comes to court, he refers to it as a “losing battle.” He doesn’t think they’ll let him get as far as he does.

So you think he goes all the way to court mainly to make a point?

To teach a lesson. But then, when he realizes that they’re going to actually let him do it...wow. And that’s when he goes too far. That’s when he steps over the line. His determination, his fury appears when his daughter has betrayed him.

For your Shylock, that’s the turning point?

That’s the turning point. It’s two weeks before the bond will be due at that point. Salerino and Solanio say that Antonio’s ships are in trouble, and they have to think that things are looking bleak for him since so many things are going badly for him. But it’s still two weeks away. [Shylock] tells Tubal, “Fee me an officer. Bespeak him a fortnight before.” You know, ‘We’re still two weeks away but get me that officer, because I want to jump on this if he’s not able to pay.’ Antonio becomes the scapegoat. Even though Shylock’s already got a legitimate gripe against Antonio’s behavior towards him, it’s the final encouragement of Antonio and Bassanio’s friend, who has stolen away his daughter, that pushes him over the edge. And it becomes ‘one bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’: the two, Lorenzo and Jessica, have escaped, but the bird in the hand is Antonio, and that’s where all Shylock’s revenge then goes.

That’s a really interesting point--people talk a lot about how Shylock, as the foreigner, becomes the scapegoat for all the Christian characters. But you’re saying that Shylock also uses Antonio as a scapegoat for all the bad stuff that happens to him.

Yes, the ultimate bad stuff. And of course in Shylock’s mind, [Jessica’s abduction] is Antonio’s fault as well. As far as he knows, Antonio has been baiting all of his friends to treat Shylock and his people badly.

If you still haven't witnessed Doug's portrayal of Shylock, you still have two more chances this weekend on January 26 and 27.