Interview with a Prince pt 2

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Thanks for joining us for part 2 of my interview with Maddy Schilling.

Maddy not only played our own William Shakespeare, but also was faced with the challenge of Verona’s prince, who–when he is on stage–is usually emotionally overwrought in some way.  He is either scolding the Capulets and Montagues for their feuding or is finding that this war has killed more of his kinsmen (he looses two during the play–Mercutio and Paris–who each sided with the opposite family).  At first, Maddy struggled to portray him.

She explains, “at the beginning I would hunch over and gesture with my arms and I wasn’t as firm.  I was definitely more of a woman playing Escalus.”  Maddy sites several things that helped her to find the Prince within herself.

The first was character analysis.  To help his students connect with their roles, Parker gives them a sheet to fill out that includes over fifty questions.  Some questions make sense, like “What are your character’s relationships like?” but some are more odd, such as “what kind of animal would your character be?”  It also includes a question about “leading centers”– a famous concept which Parker borrows from Michael Chekhov.  The theory behind it is that people are led by their intellect (head), emotions (heart), needs (stomach), or desires (groin) and that this comes out physically–with the person’s gestures and movements matching their corresponding motivations.  Maddy was able to use these questions and techniques to discover more about the inner life of this very public man.

“Escalus tries to lead with his head because he always tries to be a logical, rational man,” she explains.  “But sometimes it’s with his heart.  When he can’t control a situation, and when his family members are killed, it’s his strong emotions that lead him.  I perceive Escalus as a character who is very refined and firm around his subjects, but he’s very introverted. I am definitely more introverted, so maybe that’s why I perceive him that way.  I like making connections to my characters,” she muses.

“It’s almost like a part of him has rubbed off on my personality now.  So, I can tend to be a little more firm at times, my parents have pointed out that my posture is better.  I almost never have good posture,” jokes Maddy.

I ask her if being introverted and in the theatre is a challenge for her.

She agrees that it is.

“Shakespeare has to be very talkative and sociable.  It’s a challenge for me to be super outgoing and talkative, but I guess being in theatre helps with social skills.  It does help to get into character, though.   I’m not sure why.”

But character analysis is only one part of becoming the character.  Now that she understood Escalus internally, Maddy had to learn how to portray him on stage.

Since Shakespeare was never known for writing an equal number of parts for women and men in his plays, Parker does a lot of cross-gender casting.  This means that a lot of girls have to play men (I myself only ever played one female role in all my time with Parker).  So what we have begun to call “Mandate Man-Dates”–extra coaching for girls playing male roles–have become a regular occurrence.  Since I had some experience in this area, this was one of my jobs.

“Going on the Man-Dates definitely helped in becoming a man.  You’ve played Escalus,” she says to me, “so that was very helpful.  You taught me different mannerisms–” Maddy breaks off and laughs at her own unintentional joke: “haha, man-erisms.”  These mostly included learning to walk and talk so that the audience can suspend their disbelief that the person in front of them is portraying a man.  Obviously, it can be very difficult to convince the audience that someone is a different gender.  This does’ have to be a problem, though, as long as the audience isn’t distracted by an actor’s actual gender.

Lastly, Maddy found Parker’s practice of having his students meditate helpful.  A mishmash of many different techniques, it involves the actors imagining themselves becoming their characters and playing them perfectly.  As odd as it may sound to some, Parker has found that this “imaging” really aids his students.  I’ll vouch for it, it really works.

“The hardest part of Summer Shakes is really getting into the character emotionally and then utilizing that to connect to the other characters on stage–so its a team effort–its very emotionally draining.  This aspect may be the most difficult, its the most enlightening,” she concludes.

What Maddy likes best, though, is Summer Shakespeare’s mission:  “We’re bringing Shakespeare to the eyes of people–both cast and audience–who might not ever have the chance to see it.”

It is this idea that keeps the program alive.  It’s what drives us all–Maddy, the rest of the cast and crew, and, especially, Parker himself.

 

 

Special thanks to Maddy for talking with me!

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Interview with a Prince pt 1

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Hello, folks!

Bet you didn’t expect to hear from me again!  I took off for a week of vacation, but now I’m back.  This week I’ll be posting an interview that I took earlier this week, but haven’t had the time to put up on the blog because there were always so many things to write about! I had some other really great interviews to upload too, but sadly, the recordings and notes that I had on them have disappeared into the nether-sphere of memory-hardrive-thingies that I don’t completely understand.

Anyway, lets get started.

Meet Maddy Schilling, who just finished her Freshman year at Appleton North High School.10534080_10152539382099720_4596956560928871932_n

When Maddy first moved to Wisconsin from California three years ago, she felt as if she were moving to the rural wastes of Farmersville.  A big-city girl moving to the Midwest, she feared the worst.

“I was scared because I thought I’d be the only kid at school who didn’t know how to milk a cow.” She laughs as we sit together in the empty band room, before our last performance.  “I was going to be the only girl without pigtails and overalls and everyone would drive a tractor to school.”

The last thing that she expected was to end up, eventually, at Appleton North High School, with its award-winning theatre program and visionary director.

Although she’d never been to a Summer Shakespeare production, she joined the cast for R&J.  Maddy had played several small roles in North’s productions over the year, and all of her theatre friends had said how great Summer Shakespeare was.

Over the next few weeks of learning about Shakespeare, the English Renaissance, and the Victorian era, her excitement grew.

Then came casting.

Romeo and Juliet is a play with few female roles and many for boisterous men.  So, for a petite, introverted dancer with long curly hair like Maddy, her odds for a named role would seem to have been slim.  After all, she was also a first-year student who hadn’t had very much experience with larger parts.

So her surprise is understandable when she was given the roles of Prince Escalus–the authoritative and stressed-out ruler of Verona–and William Shakespeare himself.

I’ll explain about the latter (stay tuned for part 2 about the former).  One of Summer Shakespeare’s most important and longstanding traditions is to have each performance introduced by a student playing the Bard himself.  In the first year of the program, Parker wrote a speech for Shakespeare that has–in one form or another–lasted to this day.  At intermission, the actor goes out in costume to hobnob with the audience and sign autographs.

“When I saw ‘Shakespeare’ on the cast list, I had no idea what that meant.”  Maddy tells me.  “I thought I’d be reading the prologue, which the Chorus read.  I was not expecting this huge wonderful monologue written by Parker.”

Many students have heard the speech so many times that they can recite its jokes by heart.  The role is often given to experienced actors who are familiar with the character Parker has created for the Bard.

After talking to a student who had played Shakespeare several years ago, Maddy began to understand the tradition that she was a part of.

“I definitely felt honored,” she says.  “Getting into that costume, you think about all of the people who have come before you and how they perceived Shakespeare.  It connects you to the past.”

But what Maddy has enjoyed most about her summer here in the theatre is the community.  She had known the students from Appleton North, but–through the program–created friendships with students from several other schools.

She shrugs.  “Summer Shakespeare brings people together.”

“What I really like about the Summer Shakes community–and the theatre community in general–” she continues, “Is that there are a lot of people who are very accepting of each other.  If you think you did a horrible job on stage, or you think you’ve messed something up, they will tell you that they’ve done that before and will give you loving advice.  It’s very nonjudgmental and comforting.  Being an actor, you are going to have people in the audience constantly judging you and your performance, so to have people who know how you’re feeling and know your anxiety and know how to deal with it is very welcome.  Mistakes are almost welcome sometimes because without mistakes you can’t further develop your role and yourself.”

 

Part 2 is coming soon!