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Richard III Podcast and Reformer Article

My kingdom for a Lexus!

Aug 9, 2013 (hour 3) William Shakespeare’s historical play, Richard III, opens its weekend run at New England Youth Theatre tonight. Director David Vann and NEYT publicist Jessica Gelter discuss the process of adapting the play to a modern-day corporate boardroom setting and look at the fall program schedule. David even (almost) convinces me that the character of Richard III has elements of tragedy in his narrative!

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The Bard's 'Richard III' runs at NEYT

Posted:   08/08/2013

Thursday August 8, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- "You have never seen anything like this before," says Jerry Stockman, lighting designer for "Riii@NEYT: New England Youth Theatre's Summer Shakespeare Program 2013 presentation of Richard III."

This play will be a wild collage of British history, intrigue and drama presented in a multimedia theatrical presentation. The audience will begin its experience walking into the NEYT lobby, which has been converted into an art and history museum detailing the convoluted story of the 15th century English monarchy. Adding to the exciting technical flair of this production will be the projected videos, which bring ghosts of the past into the present.

Welcome to a world where gaining power trumps ethics. To what lengths will one man go? What disreputable means will further him towards his end? Murder? Intrigue? Marriage?

The NEYT senior company tackles another of Shakespeare's cynical, dark and challenging works. Under the direction of David Vann, with Keely Eastley, they will bring the morality of a 400-year-old play into a biting, contemporary context.

Facebook is abuzz with posts from these students about the love affairs, power plays and betrayals of the English royal court during the Plantagenet Dynasty.

"Richard III" performs at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for these performances are $10 for adults, $8 for students.


Enchantment press

Inside a rehearsal of Brattleboro's Theatre Adventure Program

By Becky Karush
Updated:   04/10/2013 07:35:53 AM EDT

Theatre Adventure Program actors rehearse a scene at the West Village Meeting House. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Wednesday April 10, 2013


It's a whirl of costumes as the 18 members of the Theatre Adventure Program's Adult Troupe prepare for rehearsal at the West Village Meeting House in West Brattleboro.

Rhinestone-studded cowboy hats. Tall chef's hats. Tiaras. Fedoras. Leather jackets. Tuxedo tails. Capes. A pink ball gown. A pirate's gold chain. A floor-length rain jacket. A dapper sport jacket over cool white turtleneck. A fire hose.

The troupe is just days from its performances of the original play "Enchantment" -- 10:30 a.m. on April 11 and 7 p.m. on April 12 at the Meeting House -- and the energy in the room is big.

Shelley Bevins, playing the "Firefighter-Clown," races from person to person and mimes spraying each

with a fire hose ingeniously figured from a vacuum cleaner tube. Her face is beaming, her delight palpable when her "victims" wipe the deluge of water from their brows.

Katharine Breunig slips into a dapper tuxedo jacket with tails, her lacy cravat billowing from neck to stomach, as befits her character, "Beethoven." Nathan Hirth makes a spectacular "Cinderella" in a fabulous tiara pink gown. Chantae Samuels stomps her boot-clad feet as she becomes the pirate also known as "Evil Hawaiian Queen."

Since 2004, TAP, a program of Brattleboro's New England Youth Theater, has offered theatre arts classes for children, youth, and adults with disabilities, while also welcoming a smaller number of typically developing students. The classes


culminate in fall and spring productions, along with a summer theatre arts seminar. "Enchantment" will be TAP's 30th show. Prior to the program, there were no theatre arts activities for people with special needs in the region.

Early spring sun floods the Meeting House's Main Hall, turning everyone into crisp silhouettes as they gather slowly near the floor-to-ceiling windows. They form a loose circle that completes when Zach Teller, the "Handsome Dude" in sport jacket and turtleneck, steps forward so that he is between Laura Lawson-Tucker, one of the troupe's two directors, and Leif Pfaff-Powers, a fellow actor currently playing "Elvis-Cook."

"Welcome, everybody," Laura says. Her voice is clear and resonant. "Let's look around to see who is here."

The entire troupe turns watchful and quiet immediately. They know each other well by now, having worked together from 9 a.m. to noon every Thursday morning since January 10. All but one have been members of previous TAP troupes, too.

But this is more than a social group, more than a collection of people who spend time together. Even without the costumes, their attention and commitment to each other, to the warm-up exercises Laura leads and to the rehearsal as it begins, mark them as something different.

These women and men are actors.

They stretch, shake out their limbs to the best of their ability and play a game called "Zing!," passing the word from person to person around the circle as a way of heightening concentration and cooperation. Parents and support professionals, individuals who assist the actors, participate fully in the games.

Then Laura calls places. Co-director and stage manager Darlene Jenson readies sound cues at a computer in the back of the room while doing several dozen other stage managing tasks simultaneously. With a focused hubbub, the actors find their off-stage stations and wait for the play to start.

Susan Mandell, a member of the troupe for the past

six years, enters upstage left at the top of a long ramp. She is resplendent in a cowboy hat and sparkly shirt, as is Danny Sullivan coming in just behind her, his shirt even sparklier.

These two "Rhinestone Cowboys" walk halfway down the ramp. Susan begins to deliver her first speech: the chorus of Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy."

Laura stops them there. This entrance needs to be magnificent. Susan works on her gallop, on directing her attention to the audience, on acting the lyrics while she sings them. Danny, with the help of several thoughtfully enthusiastic support professionals, practices miming lassoing and talking on the phone.

The action starts, stops at moments that need to be punched up or re-blocked or just done again, starts again, stops. When an ethereal Sarah May enters as the "Magical Figure" who transports the Cowboys into allegorical dreams, everyone sighs a little at the loveliness of her graceful gestures and robin's-egg blue costume.

Movement, halting. Thinking, action. Attempts, mistakes. Listening, asking. Stumbles, applause. The rehearsal moves like a life, one with great humor and heart, with patience and a love of excellence.

Jane Barron and Julia Kondracki act out teasing and ridicule as the "Rough & Tumble Cowboys" who mock the Rhinestone Cowboys for loving glitter and glamour. In a dream sequence, Jenny Rainville's "Loretta Georgia May" and Brian White's "Edward Cullen" dance like it's nobody's business -- they're that good. Liz Cutts makes a majestic and otherworldly "Queen of England" (with Carol Nilges as her devoted "Lady-in-Waiting"), as does Adam Crocker as "Dr. Who."

"Frank Sinatra" shows some classy moves in Erin Ansart's cool-cat interpretation, while Ben Milkman's "Elwood" goes the appropriate amount of Blues Brother crazy. Meanwhile, Evan Cross as "Pirate Jack Sparrow" and Josh Blaushild as "Pirate Captain Rich," alongside the indomitable "Evil Hawaiian Queen," are indeed as mean and boisterous as you'd hope pirates to be.

The characters tumble along as the play explores themes that TAP staff discovered were important to troupe members. In the TAP process, the story is born out of character studies the actors begin in September. The staff creates the script around those characters and the actors' interests.

In "Enchantment," the guiding themes are that everyone is welcome at the table for who they are; that all ideas are heard; that differences bring unexpected and delightful possibilities; and that imaginations inspire greatness. These are the values the actors live on and off the stage.

At the rehearsal's midpoint, just after Frank Sinatra has bested Captain Rich with the power of his singing, the Magical Figure returns to send the Rhinestone Cowboys into another dream. With an elegant wave of her arm, she transforms the scene to a place where the characters will make room for everyone to succeed, where cowboys glitter and pirates bake pies.

First, though, the troupe takes a break. It's hard work to make something extraordinary, and everyone is looking forward to snacks.

The Adult Troupe of the Theatre Adventure Program warmly welcomes all to attend their performances of "Enchantment" on Thursday, April 11, at 10:30 a.m. and Friday, April 12, at 7 p.m. at the West Village Meeting House. For more information about this production, and the Youth Troupe's performance of "The Jungle Book" on May 9 and 10, contact Laura Lawson-Tucker at 802-257-7024 or Darlene Jenson at 802-254-9528.

To support the Theatre Adventure Program, send donations to NEYT, 100 Flat Street, Brattleboro, Vt., 05301. Learn more at


Titus Press

Shakespeare’s crazy, violent, bloody world
NEYT’s Senior Shakespeare Summer Camp presents the bard’s first tragedy

According to Jessica Callahan of New England Youth Theatre, Saturday’s matinee performance of Titus Andronicus is cancelled “because we can’t get all the blood cleaned up between the end of that show and the start of our evening show.”

Originally published in The Commons issue #164 (Wednesday, August 8, 2012).
By Richard Henke/The Commons

BRATTLEBORO—Is Shakespeare breaking bad? That’s what Keely Eastley, who compares one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays with the popular cable crime drama, contends.
This weekend, Aug. 10-12, New England Youth Theater (NEYT) presents Titus Andronicus in a production directed by David Vann from the Birmingham School of Acting in England, with the vocal coaching of Eastley, from the Yale School of Acting, who now teaches in Boston.
The play stars 17 youths who are participating in NEYT’s Senior Shakespeare Summer Camp. Evening performances on Friday and Saturday are at 7 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
“Like the television series Breaking Bad, Titus Andronicus is a dark violent show but with humor in it,” Eastley said. “It was Shakespeare’s first tragedy, and in some ways a lot more melodramatic than his later work. For those expecting a sophisticated drama with great internal analysis of character and motivation, Titus may come as a shock.”
Jessica Callahan, one of the founders of the NEYT Alumni Association, says that Titus “is all about revenge and is so incredibly bloody, the director is asking the design team to come up with a way to use buckets of gore for the show.”
She describes the plot to prove her point.
“Titus conquers a neighboring country, brings that country’s Queen and princes to Rome, and sacrifices one of her princes in cold blood to appease those souls on the Roman side who have died in battle. The Queen marries Rome’s new Caesar, sends her sons to murder Caesar’s opposition, and rape and maim his betrothed (Titus’s daughter). She captures and beheads Titus’s two sons, has Titus behead himself, and has her husband exile another of Titus’s sons. Titus is then ingloriously revenged upon her, and almost everyone in the play dies. End of play.”
Emma Bliss, who, in a gender switch, stars as Titus, said she found the play to be “very intense and gruesome, with lots of death and sexuality.” But she was quick to add that she and her fellow teenagers in Shakespeare Camp are “having a lot of fun becoming bloody people.”
According to the director, Vann, Titus was “the most successful [play] of Shakespeare’s early career. It is particularly bloodthirsty.”
And if Shakespeare’s audiences are anything like today’s — and, in many ways, it is safe to assume all audiences are fundamentally alike — the very histrionic violence of the play may be why it gained such favor with Elizabethans.
“As Titus Andronicus moves from one catastrophe to another,” said Vann, “events are so sensational and shocking that everything becomes quite unreal.”
He added, “I made the directorial decision in approaching such a piece to overdo the gore until the audience gets to the point that they begin saying to themselves, ‘This is ridiculous.’”
Eastley said she and Vann are presenting the show in a somewhat “tongue in cheek” manner.
“It all is rather absurd,” she said. “Our audience’s belief in realism must be suspended. Shakespeare’s drama is a crazy, violent world where four people die in the space of three lines.”
Like Eastley, Vann sees Titus as very similar to popular dramas of our time. Last week, the director took the cast to see a showing the new Batman movie Dark Knight Rising at the Latchis Theatre, and cast members found the similarities between the movie and their play phenomenal.
“Like in Titus, the events in the movie move from high drama to high drama without giving the audience a breath in between,” said Vann. “It was all fabulously unbelievable. Bruce Wayne must get out of a foreign prison from which escape is virtually impossible to save Gotham City, which is expected to blow up within 24 hours. In our production of Titus, we are consciously playing on the parallels between these two works of popular entertainment.”
“On the other hand,” he added, “I must say that Titus is also quite reflective too much of what is happening today in our violent world, like what occurred in Colorado at The Dark Knight premiere [last month]. Strangely, the play is ridiculous but also true-to-life.”
Sandy Klein, mentor and faculty advisor at NEYT, continued this line of thought.
“It really seems with how we communicate — Facebook, Twitter, comments on news stories and blogs — hate comes out of people so fast, ” she said. “It’s shocking, it’s really shocking, and sometimes I’m just not sure we see what we’re doing — how we’re putting that hate out there."
Callahan said Titus “is such an interesting play because it allows the audience to get excited about both parties’ horrible revenge, but as they walk out of the theater, we hope they will ask themselves, “Was bloody revenge the right answer? Was there another way?"
Eastley said she believes that however “over-the-top” Titus might seem, it still pursues many of the themes that run throughout Shakespeare’s more mature plays. In particular, she sees this early tragedy as a conflict between the concepts of “revenge” and “avenge.”
“Revenge is about retribution, but avenge is about re-establishing some moral order in a disturbed world. Interestingly, in Titus all the revengers die; it is the avengers who survive to build the new world.”
Vann summed up the play by saying that Titus is concerned with “the length to which people will go to protect their own. Now, doesn’t that sound like so many of the international and domestic issues we face daily?”


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