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The Folger Spotlight

Jay Dunn's Rehearsal Diary: Very Like a Whale, Peter Sis & Designers

The “Birds” cast takes flight at the Folger

I have been sorely remiss in not urging you to read Louis Butelli’s pre-Henry V blog postings. Two reasons to read them. 1) They are interesting, intelligent and contain interviews with the Henry team 2) You will be seeing a lot of Louis in the upcoming months, both in Henry V  and Twelfth Night, so it will be a great introduction to both him and the upcoming production of Henry V. I should mention that Katie deBuys, cast member of The Conference of the Birds has also joined the cast of Henry V as French Princess Catharine of Valois. From a duck to a Shakespearean French princess — now that is some serious acting range!

Volunteers at Red Hook Initiative after Hurricane Sandy

I’d like to send out my thoughts and well-wishes to my fellow New Yorkers (Lower Manahattan, Coney Island, The Rockaways, Red Hook and more) who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. I live right on the edge of Red Hook and just missed the water coming in. Riding around and volunteering with Red Hook Initiative really gave some insight into how bad the damage was. I urge you to visit and make a donation. Rebuilding will take in the range of years in some places. Donations of food and clothing can also be helpful in some places, but make sure you check in with the supporting organizations before bringing anything. Often they don’t have the resources to help to organize, store and/or distribute your donations.

I have to say, audiences and critics alike are raving about The Conference of the Birds. Tickets are actually moving very quickly and you can get yours here before they run out!

I’m having perceptual vigilance moments (remember those?) every day now. One in particular is a fantastic exhibition on in The Folger Exhibition Hall called Very Like a Whale. Recall the conversation in Hamlet when the Prince of Denmark is messing around with Polonius about the shapes of clouds. Hamlet suggests an idea of what the cloud looks like and Polonius readily agrees to everything Hamlet says.

HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
POLONIUS: By th’ mass, and ’tis like a camel indeed.
HAMLET: Methinks it is like a weasel.
POLONIUS: It is backed like a weasel.
HAMLET: Or like a whale.
POLONIUS: Very like a whale.

Art Preview: Very Like A Whale

The idea of the exhibition (and its correlation to the Hamlet passage) is that the clouds in the paintings and photographs are basically Rorschach tests; we project onto the clouds whatever we want to see, are thinking about, etc. Funny, that. Because all I see are flocks of birds. Talk about perceptual vigilance. The volume on my bird filter has been turned up to 11. This exhibition is pretty awesome. Go see it.

Peter Sis & the “Birds” cast

We had the great delight of welcoming Peter Sis, author of a new illustrated version of The Conference of the Birds, as a visiting lecturer to The Folger on November 2. He recounted his development as an artist and what eventually led him to a book idea for The Conference of the Birds.  More about Peter can be found here. Peter is a humble character, if slightly mischievous and genuinely playful, for an artist so well accomplished.  I loved his talk and his book’s beautiful illustrations have been a personal inspiration to me. Much of performing The Conference of the Birds involves reacting to imaginary forces and landscapes that our characters travel through and struggle against. Peter’s book captures a distinct feel for each one and I have used them as a base landscape for my journey through the show. It is a book that both young and old can appreciate and is on sale at The Folger gift shop. I highly recommend picking a copy up.

On to the ‘Designer Spotlight’ section! First up is Tom Teasley. Many of you may already be familiar with Tom. He is something of a musical DC institution and moonlights as a cultural envoy to the State Department. Tom often worked with us in rehearsals scoring the show. The original music he has composed is mostly percussion, but often has a melodic element, as well. His kit includes crotales, an aquasonic, an ektar, a hang drum, an electronic sampler, an electronic Indian drum replicating thing, a djembe, a cajone, a gong, a tambourine, a shaker, and more.

Tom Teasley at the Folger

Like all of the design elements, Tom’s music not only adds a great deal of texture to the show, but he really does set a tone and rhythm for many of the scenes. The show is big on atmosphere and just as Jen Schriever’s lights and Peter Sis’ book delineate clear changes of landscape, so does Tom’s music. As the one who is driving the rhythm and energy of the journey, he fittingly sits above us onstage, a sort of Simorgh looking down from his throne on high. His music is energetic, beautiful, at times haunting, and so well integrated I can’t imagine the show without it.

Cast of “Birds”

Erika Chong Shuch, our choreographer, is responsible for all of the cool movement you see onstage. Erika has a dance background and worked with [director] Aaron Posner on A Midsummer Night’s Dream before joining our team. As a movement director myself, I was excited to work with a person who approached movement from such a different perspective than myself. I draw on my training at The Lecoq School in Paris. Quick clarification – Lecoq is not a clown or mime school as many think (although we do cover both styles there). It is a school that focuses on theatrical movement, style, improvisation and text through a rigorous structure of devising new work. I should also mention that many of our cast members have movement/choreography/dance backgrounds too. In a process that invited all actors to contribute their ideas for staging and choreography, it was a challenge to find the line between offering one’s ideas and knowing when to hold back when there were too many voices in the discussion. Erika navigated those potentially treacherous waters deftly and without ego. She is a real pro and all the feedback I’ve received on the group movement has been nothing less than effusive praise. And well-deserved!  She has several videos on YouTube well worth checking out.

Thanks for tuning in! And again, check out Louis Butelli’s blog about the upcoming Henry V (tickets here) and please consider helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy!