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Passion Play

A few words with those who know Shakespeare best

passionplay3When it comes to Shakespeare Santa Cruz, there’s much ado about something. Year after year, the revered company brings William Shakespeare’s words to life on our side of the western world. This year, season 26, features two Shakespeare plays, one play by J.M. Synge and another by Samuel Beckett. And at the endgame of this season (with the holiday show) artistic director Paul Whitworth will take a bow and move on to his next endeavor.

The summer season delivers four compelling shows: “Much Ado About Nothing” directed by Kim Rubinstein, “The Tempest” directed by Kirsten Brandt, “The Playboy of the Western World” directed by Robert Moss and “Endgame” directed by Peter Lichtenfels.

Shakespeare’s “Much Ado,” a romantic comedy, is a story about a couple—Claudio and Hero—and their tricky love affair. Meanwhile there are the happenings of singles Benedick and Beatrice. Beckett’s “Endgame” chronicles two bickering men: the blind Hamm and his helper, Clov. “The Tempest,” also by Shakespeare, is about Prospero and Miranda, who are stuck on an island as fate befalls them. Finally, “The Playboy of the Western World,” written by Synge, tells a story about Christy Mahon, a man who claims that he killed his father. Rounding out the season is what SSC calls its “Fringe Show,” this year being “The Mock-Tempest.” The show highlights the work of SSC’s interns and is a creative adaptation of “The Tempest.”

But behind all the powerful directors, the stunning costumes, the exquisitely crafted sets and the outstanding performances by the actors, there are two people who help to make it all happen. They’re the linguistic duo of Michael Warren and Christine Adaire. Warren, who works as a textual consultant, has been a SCC contributor since the company’s inception in 1982.

“He is one of the foremost experts on Shakespeare, as a scholar anywhere in the world,” notes Marcus Cato, managing director of SSC. “He’s a dramaturgical resource for us, and an expert on the text. … It’s critical to have someone in the rehearsal room who knows the text that well.”

Adaire, a SSC newbie this year, flies in from Chicago to offer her skills as a vocal coach and dialogue instructor to the company. These behind-the-scenes Shakespeare aficionados are the thread that keeps the language connected in the plays. They give life to an old text, meaning to archaic words; and they help the actors slip into dialects and accents with ease. The reason why it all makes sense? Warren and Adaire. GT caught up with the two wordsmiths. Take note of their words:

MICHAEL WARREN

passionplay1WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SERVE AS A TEXTUAL CONSULTANT TO THE FESTIVAL?

It’s a very loose term. I’m basically the local scholar in residence. When they want to ask me questions, I’m there to answer them. And then I serve as the dramaturge for one of the plays. I answer questions from the director, and sit in on rehearsals. I give them help about what the lines mean. There’s a whole sequence in “The Tempest” that discusses the widow Dido and it sets up problems for actors and audiences … and we get into a big discussion about it. Sometimes the speeches are hard to understand. I’m generally there as a resource. I’m just doing “The Tempest.”

FOR PEOPLE WHO AREN’T TERRIBLY FAMILIAR WITH SHAKESPEARE, HOW DO YOU SUGGEST THEY PREPARE FOR ATTENDING ONE OF THE PLAYS THIS SUMMER?

Just simply read the play. Read an edition which has got good glossaries in it. That will help you understand the words. There are plenty of introductory books out there that have strengths and weaknesses. It’s not a bad idea to read a plot summary.

FOR THOSE WHO MIGHT BE INTIMIDATED BY SHAKESPEARE’S LANGUAGE, WHAT CAN YOU SAY TO ALLEVIATE THEIR INTIMIDATION?

Patience and trust. Listen to the actors speak. The fact is it’s not scary. There’s an assumption that everyone is getting everything. That’s not true.

CHRISTINE ADAIRE

passioplay2AS THE DIALECT AND VOCAL COACH FOR SSC, WHAT EXACTLY IS YOUR JOB? WHAT DO YOU DO?

The bottom line is to make sure that the text is understandable for the audience. It’s really about helping them realize the text through the voice. In addition to hearing the words, the audience gets information through the actor’s voice. It’s kind of like in movies, with the soundtrack. You hear a certain kind of music, and you know it’ll be a dangerous part of the movie, or a creepy part of the movie. Audiences react in that way to the actor’s voice. It penetrates on intellectual levels. Just like music, there are different frequencies [with the voice].

WHEN DO YOU START WORKING WITH THE ACTORS AND HOW DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?

I did a lot of work on “The Playboy of the Western World” before coming here. I had to research what the sound was of a particular part of Ireland. I listened to recordings of people from that time, and from that part of Ireland. The playwright spent a lot of time on the North Western coast of Ireland. Geography affects the sound of how people speak. It’s a very desolate part of Ireland, lots of rock, very little soil, and what’s interesting is that the sounds there are very hard, so their lips don’t move much and their jaws are tight. The consonants are really hard, like the landscape. It’s stony.

I did my research and came in and taught the actors … the sounds of this province of Ireland. … In listening to how the actors are speaking, the audience gets another layer of information.

I sent all that information and CDs out to the actors before rehearsals and was in touch with the director to know what his special needs were.

When we’re rehearsing it, I’m in the room and what happens in rehearsal is negotiation, because if [the actors] really sounded the way these people do, no one in the audience would understand what anyone was saying. So it’s picking and choosing authentic sounds, and modifying others.

ARE YOU THE DIALECT COACH ON ALL FOUR PLAYS?

passionplay4My big job is “Playboy” because of the dialect, and with all the other plays, I’m mainly listening for clarity of the text, making sure the words are understandable.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS THAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE WITH THE ACTORS?

I’m really there to support them. And I have a voice class two times a week with the interns. I’m really there as a resource for everyone. I want to serve the play and I’m there in service of the actor and the director.

WHAT ARE A FEW OF THE KEY INGREDIENTS THAT MAKE AN ACTOR SUCCESSFUL IN A PLAY, FROM A DIALECT AND VOCAL POINT OF VIEW?

I think for me it’s the whole idea of allowing what you’re thinking and feeling to come out through the words, so that the voice is almost transparent. You don’t want to necessarily hear the voice, but you want to hear what the actor’s intention is.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s summer season runs July 19 to Sept. 2 at UC Santa Cruz, in the Festival Glen and on the Mainstage. “Endgame” opens on July 20, “Much Ado” opens on July 21, “Playboy” opens on Aug. 2 and “The Tempest” opens on Aug. 3. Ticket prices vary.

{ic_info}Visit shakespearesantacruz.com or call 459-2159.{/ic_info}

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