A New Year’s Wassail Wish for You

Here’s to you as we celebrate with a toast to “Good Health” in the New Year and a lively rendition of the traditional Gloucestershire Wassail. The word ‘wassail’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon toast, “be thou healthy (hale)”, to which the correct response was a hearty “drink healthy”. Shakespeare makes references to it in several of his plays like Antony and Cleopatra where Octavius Caesar, speaking to Antony disapprovingly says, “Antony, Leave thy lascivious wassails.”

Wassailing originally involved going door to door singing carols, however it could just as easily become less cheery when the carollers requested alms and drink or, after having received their drink, then became rowdy. This is the meaning of wassail most often found in Shakespeare, as in Hamlet’s speech:

“The King doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.”

It is also with drink and “wassail” that Lady Macbeth plans to confuse the guards around King Duncan, thus allowing her husband a chance to kill the king. Other wassail references include Falstaff, who compares his portly stature to that of a “wassail candle,” since he, like candles, is made of “tallow”. In Love’s Labour’s Lost Berowne, last seen talking about Christmas, also describes Boyet as “wit’s peddler, and retails his wares / At wakes, and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs”.

While the drink known as “wassail” at modern holiday feasts is often made of mulled cider, historical wassail was completely different, more likely to be mulled beer. Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops, hence the origin of our expression “to propose a toast.” By the way, those who ended up with toast in their cup were considered the lucky ones! Here’s the first stanza of the traditional carol, which dates back to the Middle Ages:

Wassail! wassail! all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

And so to all of you as we begin 2012, “Be thou healthy, wealthy, happy and wise, with your cup overflowing with goodness and pies.”


ISC brings back Hamlet in the ISC Studio in January

Were you among the more than 25,000 people who saw Independent Shakespeare Co.’s Hamlet in Griffith Park this summer? If not, you’ll get another opportunity to see the Dane in action as ISC brings back its version of Hamlet, starring David Melville and all your favorite players, next month. It’s an up-close and intimate way to experience the play, which will be produced in the ISC Studio January 21 – March 4, 2012. Click Here for tickets.

You can also check out some great images of the cast created by Sarah Airriess (like Melville as Hamlet pictured right) in ISC’s Photo Album Here.

See what you missed…

The Porters Announce Cast for Troilus and Cressida

The Porters of Hellsgate have announced the cast for Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s rarely produced and beautifully diverse “problem” play, to be directed by Charles Pasternak. The play opens The Porters’ sixth season and runs January 13 – February 19, 2012 at The Whitmore Theatre in North Hollywood.

Leading the cast are Alex Parker and Taylor Fisher in the title roles. along with Jacques Freydont (Pandarus), Napoleon Tavale (Hector), Jesse James Thomas (Paris), Sean Faye (Helenus), Tim Portnoy (Aeneas), Kate O’Toole (Cassandra), Dana DeRuyck (Andromache), Andrew Herrera (Agamemnon), Eddie Castuera (Menelaus), Eliza Kiss (Helen), Matt Calloway (Achilles), Dylan Vigus (Ajax), Thomas Bigley (Ulysses), John Moskal (Nestor), Adam Schroeder (Diomedes), Frederick Hamel (Patroclus), and Gus Krieger (Thersites). Understudies are Christina MacKinnon (Cressida) and Sean Faye (Thersites).

The Greeks, in a quest to regain the beautiful Helen, have been encamped on the beach of Troy for seven years with no exit strategy, and no plan to form one. Discontent and disunity rages among their camp, while Hector, eldest prince of Troy and commander of its armies, continues to defeat them in the field and hold them to the beach. The Porters focus on the cyclical nature of possession and lust, centering on an exploration of value, the endeavor for honor and eternal canonization, and the furious discussion that rages within even the warring nations of today — what is worth fighting for? What is worth dying for?

The Whitmore Theatre is located at 11006 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601. Click Here for tickets. www.portersofhellsgate.com.

A Noise Within Founders to receive A.C.T. Award

Congratulations to A Noise Within Founders/Artistic Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, who are being honored with the inaugural “Contributions to the Field Award” by the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), the Tony Award–winning theatre company and home of one of the top training programs in the country. The Elliotts, whose acclaimed classical repertory theatre company is currently celebrating its 20th Anniversary season in a new, state-of-the-art Pasadena venue following a $13.5 million capital campaign, are among an elite group of A.C.T. alumni and supporters to be honored by the prestigious company at its Conservatory Awards Luncheon on January 24, 2012, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. 

The Award honors artists who have contributed significant leadership in the field of theater locally and nationally beyond their role as actors. Others being honored at the luncheon include Annette Bening, Elizabeth Banks, Frannie and the late Mort Fleishhacker, and The William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

For more information about the Awards Luncheon visit www.act-sf.org/conservatory_awards_luncheon. For tickets to the inaugural event, contact Luz Perez at (415) 439-2470 or lperez@act-sf.org. For more about A Noise Within go to www.anoisewithin.org.

Shakespeare Buzz

Help Pepsi Do Good for Theatricum Botanicum and Students
Pepsi is giving away millions of dollars to fund great ideas that refresh the world and you can help. Theatricum Botanicum has submitted an idea to bring Shakespeare “Off the Page” for 2500 students and if it gets enough votes, Pepsi will make it happen. You can read all about it, plus find more great ideas, and vote to help the ones you like get funding here: www.refresheverything.com/theatricum

Have a Dickens of a Time with Independent Shakespeare Co. Three more performances of A Christmas Carol with Charles Dickens will take place this weekend at the ISC Studio in Atwater Village. The show recreates (with a little artistic license) the experience of a public reading of A Christmas Carol, given by Dickens himself. It is based on an adaption the author made of his famous Christmas story and performed by David Melville, with musical accompaniment and dramatic interjections by Mary Guilliams. Expect a performance full of the acting pyrotechnics Dickens was famous for, holiday music, wry humor, and redemption. Appropriate for ages 7 and up. Three performance remain: Saturday, Dec 17 at 5pm; Sunday, Dec 18 at 2pm; and Sunday Dec 18 at 5pm. (This last performance may say that it is sold out but I believe some additional tickets have just been made available). www.independentshakespeare.com

See The Tempest at Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles
Don’t forget to RSVP for the screening of Julie Taymor’s film version of The Tempest this Friday, December 16 at 8pm. Tickets are free with a reservation and can be made Here.  This modern retelling of Shakespeare’s final masterpiece is an exciting, mystical and magical fantasy starring Helen Mirren, Russell Brand, and Alfred Molina. You’ll even get to see exclusive bonus features.

Join Shakespeare Orange County for some Yuletide Cheer
Your friends at Shakespeare Orange County are inviting you to join them for A Shakespearean Christmas 8pm on Saturday, December 17. It will be a warm and evocative remembrance of years past that includes songs and poetry, notions and stories of a simpler time. Enjoy such stuff as dreams are made on through the eyes of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Clement C. Moore, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Ogden Nash – along with traditional carols and personal remembrances. Following the performance you can enjoy a variety of desserts and complimentary Champaign, hot cider and other treats as well. www.shakespeareoc.org

A Noise Within Celebrates 20th Anniversary with Twelfth Night

The Cast of Twelfth Night. Photos by Craig Schwartz

Few have been able to accomplish what the founders of A Noise Within have over the course of their theatrical life in Southern California. 2011 is indeed an auspicious occasion for husband and wife co-artistic directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott as they celebrate their 20th anniversary by christening a new permanent home in Pasadena’s historical Stuart Pharmaceutical building. The building itself is a mid-century marvel designed by Edward Durell Stone, whose distinguished architectural legacy includes Radio City Music Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

To open their brand new sparkling digs they’ve chosen Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Or What You Will a play that was originally written and performed in the early 1600’s for a celebration, and now once again appropriately marks the beginning of another celebration. By setting the play in pre-revolutionary Cuba, director Rodriguez-Elliott capitalizes further on the festivities by adding the color and life of Carribean carnival into the mix and infusing the action with the sensuality and heat of the tropics.

Reversing the first two scenes also allows the production to make its own memorable entrance (and a terrific first impression it is) as Viola washes up on the Cuban shore amid ensemble members creating the magic of the storm. It’s inventive and dramatic, and quite breathtaking really. Even the scene changes have been choreographed with an eye to continuing the drama; their inter-connected patterns of movement, urgency, and grace an extension of the relationships and exotic locale.

Twelfth Night has its fun with love’s complications by weaving together a series of  mistaken identities; Orsino (Robertson Dean) is in love with Olivia (Abby Craden) who falls in love with Cesario, a young man in Orsino’s employment who is actually Viola (Angela Gulner) disguised as a boy, who falls in love with Orsino. The secondary comic plot concerns Olivia’s maid Maria (Deborah Strang) and her rowdy cohorts, Sir Toby Belch (Apollo Dukakis) and Andrew Aguecheek (Jeremy Rabb), and their scheme to teach the haughty Malvolio (Geoff Elliott) a lesson.

Deborah Strang and Apollo Dukakis

The skill of ANW’s resident artists is undeniable and each one makes full use of his or her strengths in this production. Because Strang, Dukakis and Rabb are having a raucously good time on stage, we in the audience do too. Many of the most delicious moments come from these three laying out the plot to torment poor Elliott and then reveling in his misery. Craden is gorgeous in this time period and her extravagent declarations of love add much sturm und drang to Viola/Cesario’s dilemma. Dean captures the absurdity of Orsino in love; Steve Weingartner lends a stalwart quality to Antonio; and Gulner’s Viola is as sincere as she is true. When she is reunited with her lost twin brother, Sebastian (Max Rosenak) in the end, it is an honest and moving resolution for all.

Twelfth Night runs through December 16 at A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA  91107. For tickets and more information call (626) 356-3100 or visit www.ANoiseWithin.org.

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