The idea of the “acting company” has evolved over the years since Shakespeare’s day, but the closest organizational method that exists today is the ensemble-based theatre company... While everyone and anyone is invited to audition for each of our shows, we have a core group of ensemble actors who serve as our “company members,” involving themselves with artistic direction and the administration of Shakespearemachine, which creates a culture of democratic decision-making within the company. You may remember a bit about acting companies from your high school English classes, but if you don’t, read on for a little more information about how traditional acting companies functioned back in Elizabethan England.Read More
In this edition of Behind the Scenes with Shakespearemachine, the directors Halee Shutt and Nick Tash interview Minelli Manoukian (Coriolanus) and Chase Francis (Aufidius) in a round table-style interview.
Who is your character in relation to the show?
Chase Francis: My character’s name is Tullus Aufidius, and he is the general of the Volscian army and the antagonist to Coriolanus on the battlefield.
Minelli Manoukian: And I am playing Coriolanus, the tragic hero of the show.
Are there any challenges in this show that you are have enjoyed tackling?
C: I guess I can start with saying that I’m the kind of person that really struggles with ensemble work, so this has been a really great challenge for me--frustrating, but fun. Trying to work with other people, and to feel their energy, and work with that has been quite trying.
M: With that I’m the exact opposite. I’m so used to being a part of the ensemble that being by myself I’m like “No, don’t look at meeeee”
Nick Tash: So it scares you a little bit, being front and center?
M: A teensy bit, yeah especially because Coriolanus is so opposite of me in everything from body movement to mannerisms and language--all of it is a challenge, but it’s so much fun.
C: I will say that is what makes it fun though. Finding parts of yourself that are still you but it is a part of you that you don’t inhabit.
M: Oh yeah, definitely. And I’ve found parts of me that certainly are Coriolanus-like, I can definitely justify his actions and justify everything I’m doing as him, as my character.
How are you alike, or not like your character?
C: I relate to him a lot in that I relate to the underdog feeling that Aufidius has. Definitely he’s undervalued in comparison to Coriolanus and so I definitely related to that right away. Where I didn’t feel quite so in common with him is in how quick he is to bro down with Coriolanus. I’m a very suspicious person, I’m not as trusting as he is, to just change how quickly I feel about someone.
How is doing your fight scene?
M: SO good.
M: I LOVE the fight scene.
C: What I loved is that you (Minelli) picked up the fighting right away. Because I had done a little bit of it before, but it seemed like after the first time we did it, we had it down. And that was a completely new experience for me. And it’s great because you’re aggressive so it makes me better. So you improve my performance, so I enjoyed that.
N: Well you’d never done anything like that before.
M: Nooo, I’d never done anything like it before.
Halee Shutt: Do you like it?
M: I LOVE it. It’s so much better than regular choreography.
N: Were you nervous beforehand?
M: I was a little bit nervous, but I was more nervous that I was going to somehow injure myself or Chase in the process, but I didn’t, so yay.
C: Well that’s a constant fear with stage combat I think. And it made me feel better when you said you were a dancer because when I was in Dekalb’s show choir I learned how to pick up choreography quickly, and when I moved to stage combat I learned it that translated right away.
N: It’s just steps
C: It’s pretty much the same thing.
M: I think it’s even a little bit easier than regular choreography. With regular choreography you have to make sure you’re matching up to the beats, you’re coordinating your hands and your feet, and in this one you have more control and fluidity in your movement.
H: You’re syncing with each other and you’re thinking with each other.
M: It’s like a tango. But yeah I was so excited about it, I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the whole time we were learning our fight choreo.
Were there any physical preparations you had to do to get ready for your role or working with masks?/ How do you like working with masks?--Do you enjoy it, is it fun, is it hard?
C: I enjoyed the masks quite a bit. It has been challenging for me, because I had a hard time letting go and just doing it. I’ve been finding, that as we’ve gotten more into running the show, that I’ve been able to channel the mask a bit more.
N: Do you think that’s because you have to partly relinquish the use of your face?
C: I don’t think it’s that.
N: For a lot of people it is, but for you it’s not?
C: No I think it’s made me more aware of the way I move. Because I’m the kind of actor that moves way too much with his arms and legs. So it’s brought more awareness of that to me, so I have more control over that now, which I enjoy.
M: I love working with masks, it’s like my favorite thing in the whole entire world, and it’s easier for me to be Coriolanus in a mask, than not in a mask. I think it allows me to separate myself from myself, so I’m not worried or in my own head about “how do I look doing this?”, or “how do I look not doing this?”, or “do I look like a complete idiot?”. Instead it’s me, playing the mask--that mask is its own entity.
C: It gives you a sense of separation from what’s going on.
M: Yeah, it does--which helps me connect everything that I’ve been trying to put together.
N: That’s interesting; you say it separates you a little bit. It gives you a little bit of a distance between you and what you’re doing?
C: It removes--because I’ve always been one of those actors that has the voice in my head constantly judging me while I’m acting and it removes that.
H: I think it’s interesting that simultaneously mask work allows you to distance yourself from that judgmental ego that we all have, but also allows you to more fully inhabit the character.
What have been the best moments of rehearsal so far?
C: I’m just going to dive in and be a little selfish; my favorite part was working with you two [Nick and Halee], one-on-one with Aufidius’s monologues and scenes. Because it gave me a chance to do what was in my head, and allow you guys to do what you as directors do, see what’s going on, and direct it towards what you want. So I felt that synergy between myself and you two, and that was something I enjoyed very much.
M: I guess I’m going to have to go with doing the combat and fight stuff. Because I always enjoy doing things that I’ve never done before. Because last time [when I was in Comedy of Errors], I would have said that, in the process of rehearsals, mask work was my ultimate, most favorite thing in the whole entire world. But yeah, I think that it’s something I’ve never done before, it’s something that I NEVER thought I would do--because you don’t really have the opportunity, and most women don’t, to play a male character. And there’s not a lot of women with fight scenes.
N: I just wanna dig in a little bit deeper --can you single out one moment or a revelation, or a personal discovery you had during the process?
M: It’s not part of our show, but reading the full script [of Coriolanus] and delving into it before we got our rehearsal text, the moment that I love most, my revelation was thinking about what makes Coriolanus actually go through to run for consul. And in the full production of the show, and this isn’t in ours, at the very end of the war with the Volscians Coriolanus talks about how he wants to save one person out of all the Volscians, this one beggar person that sheltered him, and I think that person--that act of kindness from someone that was so beneath him, for me, that was the moment that I was like, “I think that’s why I’ll run for consul, maybe these people beneath me aren’t as terrible as I thought they were.”
N: So you’re using a piece of the text that was originally part of the text, but now using it as subtext.
M: Yes, exactly that. Even though in the end, he can’t change who he is as a person.
In this edition of Behind the Scenes with Shakespearemachine, our intrepid interviewer Minelli Manoukian sits down with cast members Brock Ireland (Menenius Agrippa, a member of the elite Patricians) and Darby LeClear (Volumnia, Coriolanus' mother).
So both of you are new to Shakespearemachine so how did you hear about the company?
Darby LeClear: Through Nick and Halee—we went to school together. I am really excited about it because it’s new, fresh work in town and so I wanted to get involved if I could.
Brock Ireland: Halee called me... and said that [they] wanted to work with me so I was like okay let’s see what this is about.
D: Who wants to work with you?
B: I couldn’t tell ya, but Nick wanted to. I don’t know if he receeds that statement yet. But yeah, it’s exciting, I think its something different that Fort Wayne hasn’t offered yet.
How has working with the masks been?
D: I had done something like it before in college (IPFW) with Jeff [Cassaza], so it’s exciting to revisit it and figure out how it relates to Shakespeare. It’s very different, it’s not your traditional “Here is how you act”, it’s forcing you to step outside yourself and take on the qualities of the mask which is very interesting. You don't realize how much you rely on your face until—
B: You don’t have your face?
D: Yeah. Like how do I physically embody it—like down to my toes— how do I become this character?
B: It’s always fun doing mask work too because you don’t realize how much of your body you don’t use when you rely on face acting.
D: We had some really good nights of the mask work, it was interesting when we broke up into group, seeing people’s interpretation of the masks—even two people had completely different interpretations of the same mask. It’s just so creatively invigorating.
How are you like your character, or even not like your character? Are there any similarities between you?
B: I’m like my character in that he can be sassy if he needs to be but he’s also very like sit back and observe. I’m not like him in the fact that he’s very fatherly and I’m not like that at all. I’m normally the one being parented by others. I like that he’s got some good one-liners, some zingers, in there. He’s fun.
D: I guess I would say…Volumnia is a lot…she’s not cold. She cares about her, and she cares about her son and that’s kinda her thing. And I feel like, I hope that I’m much more empathetic as a person, but I can relate to her drive and her ambition. And her being a woman in a society that she’s in she can’t do the things that I think she wanted to do herself so she’s sort of “stage mom”-ing Coriolanus. And that’s a little overbearing but I think she has good intentions. I think she wants him to have the life that she couldn’t and to be someone worth talking about, and someone worthy of honor. I would say her ambition is what I’m trying to tap into, and what I relate to, because I’ve got a lot of things I want to do and I have no idea how to do it myself, so I try to mom my friends and be like “You’re gonna be great!” while I’m panicking on the inside.
How’s it been learning lines?
D: Oh lord.… It’s not even that it’s Shakespeare, I can’t use that excuse because we just did Midsummer, together, as opposites. But it feels different, probably because it’s a tragedy, and Midsummer was a comedy. So the language is a little less frivolous and a bit more functional and utilitarian. It’s very like “war!” and “angry!” and Midsummer is very poetic and flouncy. Even Midsummer in form is a lot more poetic in structure and this is a lot funkier even in the form.
B: I think that doing Shakespeare before you get used to scanning everything and it falls into that rhythm, and this whole script, none of it falls into that rhythm so it makes memorizing that much harder because it doesn’t feel right in my voice so it’s not clicking in my mind
D: I mean nobody talks like this these days, but as far as scansion goes, it’s something more realistic—it’s language. It’s not strict poetic language. So we’re wondering how do we work with this Shakespeare that doesn’t sound like Shakespeare? It gives a good mood to the show, because the show itself is so riotous and chaotic and the language not being so pretty and neat gives it a type of mood.
What do you think of the directors' approach to running the show?
B: I think it’s always fun working with different directorial styles. Because coming from a college setting, you’re always working with the same group of directors and coming to this, and working with someone that you’ve never worked with before, is refreshing. It’s fun to try new things and you’re always finding out new things about yourself and working with some familiar people in that process you end up discovering parts of yourself that you’ve never had the chance to discover before and I think that’s very rewarding. You’re like ‘oh wow, this is fun, who knew I had this in me?’.
D: It’s also exciting because I’ve worked with Nick and Halee in the past on the collegiate level, so it’s fun to see them directing and to see my friends doing such exciting things. It’s great so see someone my age, or a group of someone’s my age, doing new, exciting theatre and taking risks and being bold in their choices.
B: It’s exciting to see something new that really has you going ‘wow, who are these crazy kids’. You appreciate what Fort Wayne has created and grown up with, but now it’s starting to branch into this weird, mask-y thing. Because you go to those big cities and there’s always some kind of experimental theatre happening. I think it’s awesome that this type of theatre is available to us now.
What’s been your favorite moment of rehearsals, or throughout the whole process so far?
B: I enjoyed the whole mask prep. I always love watching people discover things and come out of their shells. Like there’s those quiet people where you’re like ‘oh I don't know what they’re gonna do’ and then they go out there and they’re a completely different person. That’s always rewarding to see, people coming out of themselves and becoming comfortable with their setting so that they can make super fun and awesome choices.
D: I think one of my favorite couple of nights was when we were doing mask work, but not with the neautral masks—we were using the actual expression masks. And we were doing them in small groups so we got to perform in groups of three or four, and then got to watch the other group perform—cause everyone would look at themselves in the mask and become the character and interact with the space—but once people got to interact with each other it got insane. And there were some that were sad, but there’s this one that I’m specifically remembering—I think it was Nol and Jordan—and they were so over the top into those characters and it was so beautiful to watch. They were so committed and you could tell—it didn’t look like Jordan and Nol.
B: It’s like I was saying about people coming out of their shell.
D: It’s amazing to see how colorful people can be, and what parts of themselves they can draw out to become those characters. I really enjoyed doing that kind of work. It’s exciting to do such creative work with a group that you trust and know are going to be there with you. Because Nick and Halee respect us and give us creative reign - it feeds the ensemble mentality, and I love that they work as an ensemble. They’re down in it with us from the start to the finish.
In this installment of Behind the Scenes with Shakespearemachine, Minelli Manoukian sits down with Jensen Davis and Tara Olivero, who play the Tribunes to the People Sicinius and Brutus, respectively. They talk about how fun it is to incite a riot. Enjoy!
So what are your characters and who are they in relation to the show?
Jensen Davis: Well I’m Sicinius, I’m a tribune, which is kind of like a senator elected by the people to represent them. So I was one of the common man, that the people chose to speak for them and the public.
Tara Olivero: I’m playing Junius Brutus, also one of the tribunes—We’re the non-rich representatives in the government representing the majority of the people.
What were the first impressions you had of your character?
J: Um, total opposite of me, in that I’m not a politician at all. So it was exciting to play someone who is not like me at all and someone who is more quick-witted and better with words. I think it was also exciting to play the antithesis of the lead, I mean, they’re not the villain, cause they do want what’s best for Rome, they just are really headstrong in that they think that their way is the right way, unlike Coriolanus’s views. So it’s fun, I was really excited to get the part.
Are there any characters in the show that you connect to personally?
T: I really like, on a personal level, Menenius, cause he’s just trying to calm people down. And he has such a way with words and he knows how to work the crowd in such a different way than we (Sicinius and Brutus) do. Cause we’re very much like ‘Violence!’ immediately where he’s more like ‘I can use humor to persuade the people or other rhetorical techniques so that they won’t realize I’m using on them’.
Since both of you were in the last show that the company did, “The Comedy of Errors”, have there been any major differences or changes that you’ve noted from that last show into this one that have excited you?
T: The audience being on just two difference sides this time instead of all four is different—I have to think about things differently when we’re blocking. And the fact that it’s a tragedy so it’s not supposed to be funny is interesting, cause everybody in the show is so funny.
J: That’s true, and I mean there was a fair amount of people who were in comedy in “comedy”, and there are a couple people that I know have been in comedic Shakespeare plays like “Midsummer” in it now. So it’s very interesting watching all these people who I find to be very comedic, very funny, and very well timed play tragic characters. I also just feel more confident and comfortable coming into it cause I’ve already done a Shakespeare show but I’ve already worked with masks so that’s not a foreign element that’s intimidating to me in any sort of way. The mask just becomes an extension of who you are and it’s not something that I feel like I have to worry about changing me or my performance, its just an added element and it just changes your body and your physicality.
What was your first encounter for doing Shakespeare for theatre, and has that influenced you at all for what you’re doing for this show at all?
T: The first time I did Shakespeare theatre was at a program over in London and we did an abridged version of “The Taming of the Shrew”. Because we were only there for three weeks they just got assigned parts on the first day, and we didn’t have to audition or anything. So I got Petruchio completely at random and I thought, “this is good” because I was with a bunch of theatre majors and that was terrifying. Now I feel a lot more confident about it because the first time I was playing Shakespeare I was playing a male character, and that’s why I think I’m more confident at that because I’ve done it before.
What do you think of rehearsals so far?
J: It’s been good work. There’s been no fear going into it, which is exciting y’know? It is a very heavy, intense show with very violent people doing violent things. There’s just been no fear from our directors in staging, they’ve had total confidence in us which I think has definitely influenced it. They’ve been fearless and everyone jumping into it has been diving in headfirst.
T: I’m excited to get back into masks because we’ve taken such a long break from that—‘cause we did all the mask stuff with all the new people and we’ve done blocking for such a long time now—and I just can’t wait to see what they look like, and how our characters are going to move once we have them on.
What’s been your favorite moment of rehearsals, or throughout the whole process so far?
J: I mean the fight call stuff has been a lot of fun, even the little bit that I’ve done so far. And seeing Minelli and Chase fight has been exciting because it’s so different from Comedy in that I was getting beat up in that show for comedic sake so it was very over the top and the damn chicken and everything. That was very comedic and that was it’s purpose. This is very violent in a different purpose—it’s to start a riot, to make a point, it’s a political point, or a message. I just find physical work really exciting so to do that and to see that is my favorite stuff to work on.
T: Just spending quality time with everyone makes me so happy—And all of the riot scenes. I think just the bits with the chorus when we get to do either motions together or extreme choreography are nice just because we get to be connected with everyone else. It heightens the intensity of everything.
In our first installment of Behind the Scenes with Shakespearemachine, Halee Shutt and Nick Tash, co-directors, sit down with Minelli Manoukian (Coriolanus) to discuss the show.
Is there anything about the show that made you super excited? Like set design, or the cast?
Nick Tash: The set probably. The idea of what we're going to do with the it and the staging and the timeliness of it all, out of all the shows we could have done. We do like to do shows in audience configurations that don’t get done a lot here. I think it’s interesting, and I think it ends up creating challenges that are more creatively satisfying.
You talk in your mission statement about audience immersion—do you think the staging helps with that?
NT: Yeah, we’re getting there slowly I think. A lot of that has to do with how developed we are, so the further along we get the more versatile we can be. But I think, cause I think people see Shakespeare around here in a proscenium, that the more the audience can surround the action the more engaged they are in it. In the actual Globe Theatre it was set up like a modern thrust stage where the audience got to surround it about 3/4 of the way around and I think we get closer to that when we play with our audience arrangements. This one seemed appropriate for an alleyway because you have two opposing sides so we have two opposing entrances. I think that the opposition has a nice tension for the audience. And another important part of [our decision to stage the show this way] was that the audience will also be able to see other audience members—like the audience themselves serve as a background to the action—cause it’s a play that’s about the public and this way they’ll feel like they’re involved in the action too.
What’s been your favorite rehearsal or moment so far in this process?
NT: Well the read through was nice, finally having everyone together. It’s hard to pick just one moment; I’ll have to think on it.
Halee Shutt: Gosh, I don’t know, probably one of two things. I always love when we introduce mask work to people who haven’t worked with masks before. I personally find that to be one of the most thrilling things that we do as a company, watching people just let go of their inhibitions and play. I think that watching it free people up from the outside looking in is wonderful. So the rehearsal process as a whole so far that’s my favorite thing.
NT: Actually I think I can answer now. I feel that tonight was my favorite night because we actually had everybody there and it felt there was a crowd energy that was getting there and you could feel the rumblings of it. It made me very excited.
HS: I was going to say that too. I think our opening is gonna be pretty cool.
NT: Yeah I agree with you overall. Blocking wise tonight was my favorite and then the mask stuff, I wasn’t even thinking of any of that before. But the masks are a fun part.
You’ve spoken before about the themes of the show and how relevant they are, but for the people aren’t familiar with Coriolanus, what are some of those themes that people can look forward to finding inklings of throughout the performance?
HS: I think there’s definitely a sense of general unrest and political unrest that weaves through this entire thing. This is a time of war for the Romans, it’s a time of tension overall both in the political sphere and for the common people because they are up against basically a war on hunger. There’s poverty for, I would wager in the way we’ve set it up, a good portion of the Roman citizens. Most of them are living in poverty when we begin the show.
NT: It’s a class war. It’s Plebeians versus Patricians and I think that’s still the case today in a way. A lot of people see the play either as an argument for Democracy or against it. I think that we come down on the side “for”. But it’s more complicated than that because of some of the characters and their actions.
HS: Yes, so that for one. And then, I suppose another is the title character of Coriolanus and his journey from being a good soldier, and just a patriotic soldier and citizen, into the political sphere and how that kind of causes turmoil for him, his family and the people of Rome. I think that it’s an interesting journey to watch.
So if you could play a character in the show, who would you want to be?
HS: I don’t know. I actually think a lot of people that are familiar with the show find Coriolanus to be revolting, but I admittedly find him interesting. I don’t know if it’s because I find mean characters interesting? [laughs] Him and Menenius are almost polar opposites but they’re probably my two favorite characters in the show.
Are there any other challenges that you’re looking forward to challenging from now until the end of the show?
HS: I think something about our approach, which I find intriguing but will be challenging once we put it all together, is the constant presence of the common people. We have taken a stance as far as our approach to this show where truly there is always some kind of commoner onlooker, and I’m interested to see how keeping that thread woven through the show pans out when we’re putting it all together as a whole. The other thing is, because we’re doing some of the combat literally and some not at all, I think that our interpretation of it on stage has already proved challenging. But I truly think that [in the direction] we’re heading, it’s going to be pretty cool. So that all is most definitely a challenge but I think will also make an interesting statement.
We sat down with the good people at Fort Wayne magazine to talk a little bit about the origins of the company and a little bit about future projects.
Check it out at the link below:
Welcome to our brand new website! So glad you could join us.
On this page, we will be posting news about the company and updating you on rehearsal progress.
Watch this space!