Thursday, July 21, 2011

Masks and Magic!

Contributed by Holly Conroy

For ten years, I’ve relished our few weeks of intense preparation, then performances of Shakespeare in the Park. It’s always a treat to reunite with the folks at the heart of the company and to make new friends among each year’s volunteers, staff, and cast.

For ten years, it’s been my job to recruit ushers, set up the “house” for each performance, and see that those candles are lit to guide our patrons to their cars.

For ten years, mine has been the first face theatre-goers see when they arrive for our show—that’s me, taking tickets at the homemade ticket booth. I love Water Works and delight in seeing patrons return year after year to share the experience.

This year, for the first time in a decade, I’m taking on a job in addition to my house manager tasks and I’M HAVING A BLAST! Lucky me! I’m working with mask-maker extraordinaire Nina Barlow, helping to produce the masks that will be an integral part of our sure-to-be-fabulous Tempest this summer. In the process, I’m learning about myriad new materials and techniques that are just…So. Much. Fun!

Fun, yes. But Nina takes her masks very seriously. Masks have ceremonial significance in cultures worldwide and I’m pretty sure Nina knows about ’em all! When she makes a mask, every element is well considered, well executed, and imbued with meaning. Don’t think “Halloween,” think “art.”

And the process is mind-boggling. Check it out:

Step one: each actor who will wear a mask has their face cast in the same plaster material a broken limb sports!

Step two: wet plaster is poured into the face casts, to produce a positive version of each of them.

Step three: masks are sculpted over the positive casts from celluclay, thermalplastic, or papier maché—not the newspaper version from our youth, but sturdy brown paper soaked and softened in flour paste that’s been boiled to creamy consistency.

Step four: after drying, details may be added by combining materials.

Step five: more drying, then trimming edges and sanding.

Step six: surfaces are smoothed with modeling paste.

Step seven: surfaces are coated with gesso, a primer.

Step eight: acrylic paint is mixed in a range of colors (at least three and as many as six or seven…or more!), then airbrushed on layer by layer to enhance dimension.

Step nine: three or four layers of matte varnish are applied to protect the masks from weather—we’re in the park, after all!

Step ten: the inside of the masks are painted black.

Step eleven: the inside gets varnished, too.

Step twelve: padding is added for the actors’ comfort.

Step thirteen: the mask is fitted to the actor with an elastic or Velcro strap.

Step fourteen: Nina performs a ceremony with each mask before “sending it out into the world.”

Ah, but that’s just the simple masks! The more fantastical shapes or those with added special effects get even more complicated. Who knew?! My own involvement has been with the simpler processes, but it’s been a fascinating and rewarding experience, nonetheless. Now for the magic that will happen when the masks meet the actors and our patrons in the park… I can’t wait!

Note: The mask you see here will be raffled off during the run of The Tempest! You have a chance to own your very own Nina Barlow original!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Kid's Eye View of Water Works Theatre

Contributed By KidsAct! Student Jarod Clark

“I love Shakespeare in the Park; it is the best thing in the world.” I have said this on multiple occasions over the many summers I’ve been involved with Water Works. One of my favorite parts of Shakespeare in the Park is KidsAct!

KidsAct! (and Water Works Academy) are acting camps for grades 1-12. All of the teachers make it the best acting opportunity that you’ve had and probably will have. You learn three acting talents along with dance, sword fighting, improvisation, and Shakespeare.

My name is Jarod Clark. I’ve been in KidsAct! for five summers. Two years ago I even had the chance to perform in the main production. I was the first child actor for Water Works when I was cast in Macbeth, Water Works Professional play, last year. I worked in 3 fight scenes and even had a big death scene. It was cool … though my mom thought it really weird that she had to watch my death all those performances.

But now, more about KidsAct! ….
In dance, our awesome teacher, Frannie – who was also the director of the Commedia del’arte production last year -- choreographs the greatest dances and puts great music to them. Like last year we danced to Michael Jackson, and this past year she topped it off with a routine to Lady GaGa’s “Telephone.” Can I tell you that this was one cool dance?

In sword fighting and Shakespeare our awesome and favorite teacher Thomas comes all the way from New York City to work in KidsAct! My friends and I are all psyched that Thomas is coming back this year. In Shakespeare, he teaches us how to speak the words in Shakespeare. And what the particular scene means and how we should portray it.

In Improvisation (aka “Improv”) our teacher Kinicki plays games to keep our energy flowing through our bodies. We play fun games that show we know how to make up stuff up on the spot. Sometimes it’s really funny.

KidsAct! teaches great stuff. And it’s really fun to be part of each summer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

KidsAct! … Offering More Than Just a Week at Camp

Contributed by KidsAct! Parent Jenni Clark

Five years ago, I dropped my son off at KidsAct! for the very first time. A week at “camp” in a park where he would learn sword-fighting and meet other kids who liked theatre … that was a nice idea. A week without him wandering around the house that didn’t “break the bank” – even better. I didn’t expect more than that.

The first day I picked him up, he was excited. He was quoting Shakespeare, learning improvisation, discovering the first steps of swordplay. He was hooked. And I was thrilled. The next year he played Romeo in the Balcony Scene of Romeo & Juliet. The next summer there was a Swordfight from Macbeth – and an actual chance for him to PERFORM in the show. Year Four … another swordfight, improv and a cool dance to a Lady Ga Ga tune. Now it’s not me asking Jarod if he’d like to go to KidsAct!… it’s Jarod asking me when it starts!

Last summer, Jarod said to me … “Shakespeare in the Park is the coolest thing in the world.” It’s so much more than just “a week at camp” for him now. It’s transferred from the Park to the “real world.” It’s given him the skills he needs to speak in public. It’s given him confidence and the ability to stand up in front of adults and talk. And they listen!

This March, Jarod did a speech for English and was selected to represent Royal Oak Middle School in the Optimist Club speech competition. And he developed the confidence and speaking skills during those weeks were I dropped him off at “camp.”

For us, KidsAct! is more than a week at camp. Sure it’s Fun, but kids like Jarod can take the things they learn out of the park and achieve amazing things at school. I have to agree with Jarod. Shakespeare in the Park is the coolest thing in the world. As a mom, I see the pay-off in my kid’s eyes. And on his Report Card too!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Working on The Commedia Aladdin

Contributed by Michelle LeRoy, Director, The Commedia Aladdin by Lane Riosely

We had our first read through of the script. I can honestly say that I'm even more excited to get this process started. Not only were the auditions for this show the most fun I have ever had but the cast is great together. Casey is such a charmer. He's going to make you want Arlequin to win. David's Punchin playing the Momma cracks me up every time. Heidi is just so adorable, sorry Heidi but you are, and funny and Jillian's timing is brilliant. I can't wait to get to rehearsals. As I told my cast my mentor and inspiration for being in this business is Jim Henson. So for this show I cast each of the characters as both a Muppet show and Sesame Street character to use as a inspiration for me. I won't tell you who they are you'll just have to see if you can guess after watching the show.

Contributed by Emily Pierce, Stage Manager, The Commedia Aladdin by Lane Riosley

My name is Emily Pierce and I had the honor of stage managing for Water Works' 2010 production of Two Gentlemen of Verona & I will be stage managing the 2011 production of Commedia Aladdin. It is a wonderful organization to get involved with as the people involved are creative & passionate people who come from a variety of backgrounds. There is a lot to be learned from everyone involved and the group comes together much like a family. The audience is very loyal and many tend to brave the elements to see & support the productions.

Stagemanaging at Water Works is a unique experience. The rehearsals are fairly standard with taking blocking notes and making sure the production team knows about anything new that is needed or potential issues. The true challenge comes when the cast & crew move to the park. Anything can happen; from bad weather, random frisbees flying in, train going by, to critters and kids who try to investigate what is going on. Each night all props, microphones, costumes, sound & light boards need to be accounted for and locked away and the set tarped to protect them from the elements. It is a true test of time management, planning, & organization (occasionally being good at Tetris helps too). I love the excitement that comes with outdoor theatre and I think it is a great way to spend an afternoon/evening.

We both can't wait for you to experience our shows this season! See you soon!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Contributed by Jeff Thomakos, Artistic Director & Director of The Tempest

Well it is Mid-March and already things are well underway for Water Works this summer. In fact, we have been working and planning since late last year. The first thing to decide was what the Shakespeare show would be. Hamlet was tossed around. So was Cyrano de Bergerac (not written by Shakespeare, I know, but it would still be great to do, don't you think?). In the end, we decided to go with our most requested show, The Tempest.

I have big plans for this show. The seeds of which started two years ago when we decided to add a family Commedia show to our summer repertoire. Commedia requires masks and I was on the hunt for a local mask maker who would be up to the task. After weeks of fruitless searching, Ed mentioned that he had a mask sitting in his office from a really talented lady named Nina Barlow. (Nina, it turns out, donated some masks for our 2002 art auction fundraiser and Ed bought one). I gave her a call and she turned out to be inspiring. Do you remember the awesomely realistic and bloody severed head of Macbeth? Yeah, that was her.

Ever since then, I have been determined to do a show that would highlight her work and The Tempest seemed like a perfect fit.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and his infant daughter are put out to sea in a small boat and left for dead by his usurping brother, Antonio. As luck would have it, however, they end up as castaways on an enchanted island inhabited by monsters and supernatural beings. Prospero, who also is a wizard of enormous power, ends up becoming ruler of the island. Many years later when a ship whose passengers include Prospero's evil brother and several of his fellow conspirators happens to pass by the island on the way home from a royal wedding, Prospero uses his magic to send a storm to sink the ship and bring the conspirators to the island where he can exact his revenge. Does he get his revenge? Is the boat really sunk? Does he get back home? Come see it and find out.

Monsters? Supernatural beings? Enchanted Island? Yes. Yes. AND YES! Ariel, Prospero's chief spirit, according to the script is a master of disguise. She (yes, she will be a "she" in our production) takes the form of a water nymph, a forest nymph, a harpy, and can turn invisible. There are also devils, mystical dogs, cannibalistic monsters, magical farmers (yep, magical farmers), and actual gods and demi-gods. In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is unlike any other play Shakespeare wrote. Even Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't contain this many magic spells and supernatural creatures.

Yes, masks seemed like the perfect way to bring all of this to life. Nina's work is spectacular and we've been giddily planning, prepping, and designing the wonderful faces you will see this summer. I have the show half cast at this point and have sent the actors that are already signed on to Nina's house to have their faces set in plaster so that their masks can be custom built.

The big question, though, is where do the masks fall in the scheme of things in our production? Are they costumes? Yes. Props? Yes. Some masks will require microphones, so that will put them under sound. Some masks will have LED lights built into them, so that is a lighting issue. Some masks may even be used to create sound. I have never worked a show in which collaboration and coordination was so vital to the production's success. But my team is, as usual, composed of an extraordinary list of great local talent which really helps me keep my hair from going white.

Of course, masks are just one part of the equation this summer. There's also the music, the set, some great new initiatives and programs, the awesome cast, the Daylight Family Show (which will be The Commedia Aladdin by Lane Riosley, in keeping with our magic theme this year), and, then there's what we're hoping to do in the trees…

Stay tuned and believe in magic.