Interview: Todd Lerew Offers Insight into America’s Shakespeare: The Bard Goes West

First Folio

First Folio on display in America’s Shakespeare: The Bard Goes West. Photo courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark but, in Los Angeles, Shakespeare lovers will find all the joy that they can wish when the Library Foundation of Los Angeles opens its newest exhibit: America’s Shakespeare: The Bard Goes West on November 17 at the Central Library. The show is a partnership between the Library Foundation, the Los Angeles Public Library, and Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and will not only offer a look at his incredible legacy worldwide but show how Shakespeare’s impact was felt here in California.

The highlight of the exhibit is a First Folio (1623) from the Folger’s collection which will be shown alongside an incredible array of rare documents and artifacts from the Folger and other local organizations. Some may even surprise you.

I was curious what it takes to bring such a monumental exhibition to Los Angeles so I spoke to Foundation Program Manager, Todd Lerew, for a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

todd-lerew

Todd Lerew

Back to the Beginning
“Initially it was the Folger who approached the library a couple of years ago about bringing their America’s Shakespeare exhibit out to Los Angeles,” says Lerew. “We really wanted to put more of a California perspective on it becuase we like to approach all of our projects through a Southern California lens and what it means to the people who live here. We also wanted to make the exhibit accessible to everyone. That’s why these programs are free to the public.”

Lerew says one of the biggest overarching goals of the show is to demonstrate that Shakespeare is for everyone. “You may not think you know anything about him but you use phrases he created all the time, like ‘dead as a doornail,’ ‘forever and a day,’ and ‘wild-goose chase.’ He’s everywhere. We wanted people to see that Shakespeare is a bigger part of their life than they may have realized.”

One of the ways the library intends to show how Shakespeare has influenced California is by the interactive digital map they have created. “It not only contains theatres and venues and places where you’d see Shakespeare and groups that are putting it on,” says Lerew, “but also references to Shakespeare found throughout the city. For example, the area around Hermosa Beach was originally called Shakespeare Beach and you can see that on the map.”

Shakespeare Society of America
“I first learned about Shakespeare Beach through the Shakespeare Society of America, which was founded by Thad Taylor in the early ’70s,” says Lerew. “He used to have a little hidden theater in West L.A. called the Globe Playhouse designed as a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.”

Little known fact: SSA’s Globe Theatre was the first to stage all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays in succession from 1976-1979, in 48 months. They repeated the complete Canon again from 1981 – 1984, in 38 months. Thad passed away in 2006 and, the following year, Thad’s nephew, Terry, relocated the society to Moss Landing in Monterey, CA where it still exists today.

“Thad was a really interesting character. We found a lot of fascinating information about Shakespeare in LA through his organization and were able to borrow some great artifacts from them as well. They have a massive collection of rare items that includes museum and visual art pieces, theatre archives, photographs, props, posters, reviews, and many other unique pieces.

Lerew says, in the eighties, Thad tried to get the city to change the name back to Shakespeare Beach but was ultimately unsuccessful. Still, proof exists of the developers’ early intent.

“We have a plat map, which is a kind of blueprint map, from the original plans when the Red Cars opened to the beach. [The Red Cars, run by Pacific Electric, were part of a transit system consisting of electric trolleys, cars, and buses that made up the largest electric railway system in the world at the time.] The developers called it Shakespeare Beach because they wanted to create an artist or writers colony in that area so all of the streets were named after writers – Hawthorne, Tennyson, Ruskin. By the 1920s, the name Shakespeare and almost all of the other authors had disappeared and the streets were renamed with numbers. But, thanks to the Shakespeare Society of America and Hermosa Beach Historical Society, we have the plans from the early days as well as an incredible photograph of the beach that shows a red car and a couple of men in suits by a sign that says, Shakespeare Beach: Plots Now for Sale. It’s a beautiful piece.”

“We’ve been able to make some fascinating connections like these through Shakespeare Society of America. Thad created another unique Shakespeare installation in 1984 when the Olympics came to town. He built a gigantic metal sculpture of Shakespeare holding the torch that hung outside his theater and he designed a beautiful poster with a quote from Romeo and Juliet that said, This is the Place where the Torch Doth Burn.”

mww2According to Lerew, the Folger’s artifacts represent about half of the show but ten additional California-based institutions have contributed materials as well, including the State Library, the Hollywood Bowl Museum, the archives of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Warner Bros. collection at USC, the San Francisco Public Library, and others.

One of his favorite items is “an incredible gigantic poster from the California-Panama Pacific Exposition that took place in Balboa Park in San Diego a hundred years ago. It’s hard to describe but it is a huge poster with giant orange letters talking about five hundred children in costumes for the Shakespearean Pageant. It’s a really wonderful piece and an interesting bit of California history.”

Shakespeare Goes Hollywood
Because Shakespeare was a big part of California history, the exhibit also focuses heavily on Shakespeare in Hollywood and how he came out west. Costumes from several classic films will be on display. Among them: Alan Bates and Glenn Close’s royal finery from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 Hamlet and an arm cuff that Marlon Brando wore in Julius Caesar.

“The costumes are great because they are so visual. We have a staged set as part of the exhibit where people can do a character activity and read a couple of lines on stage if they want to. We’ve also built huge stage sets behind several of the display cases to illuminate some of the themes of the show. For example, there is a large section about Abraham Lincoln and the Booth family. Of course, John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, is there but his brother Edwin and his whole family were also Shakespearean actors. They came out to California to perform Shakespeare’s plays in the mining camps during the gold rush. Edwin’s granddaughter, Edwina, lived up in Northridge so CSUN has some of the family archives. Through them, we were able to get the recording of Edwin Booth reading a speech from Othello. You can hear that in the Lincoln section where we have a big backdrop of Ford’s Theatre. We also have a Pioneer Theater in another section, and Arden, which was the home of Helena Modjeska, the great Polish actress who settled in Orange County. I could go on and on.”

lisa-wolpe

Lisa Wolpe

ALOUD Authors Series
Two literary programs have been announced on the library’s ALOUD Authors series that takes place in conjunction with the exhibit. The first will feature distinguished theatre director, Peter Sellars, in conversation with Ayanna Thompson, Professor of English at George Washington University on Shakespeare Now: Race, Justice, and the American Dream on January 19, 2017. The second is a discussion between world-renowned Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro and Lisa Wolpe, Producing Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company titled Shakespeare in America on February 16, 2017. Reservations for both can be made in December.

While the main exhibit will take place at the Central Library downtown, Lerew says 23 of the neighborhood library branches will also be presenting their own programs as part of the Shakespeare event. Approximately a hundred such programs will take place across the city presented by groups like the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, and Swordplay LA. A Microsite highlighting the Central Library exhibit currently links to all the branch calendars where you’ll find these companion programs listed as they are confirmed. Click Here to go to the site.

“I’m really happy that we are able to display some of the Public Library’s own Shakespeare collections in the exhibit so people can look through a small sample of the resources we have here,” says Lerew. “Shakespeare is the only writer who has his own Dewey Decimal number. I think that’s so fascinating. You walk through the stacks here and you see why because it goes on for rows and rows. We’ll have books in the show that people can take downstairs to check out to really stress the connection between these fabulous display items you can’t touch and the incredible resources that you can.”

Lerew acknowledges that some serious scholarship has gone into curating the collection for the show. “It’s a pretty serious survey of the different ways that Shakespeare has come to this country, including some of the very earliest objects or records of Shakespeare appearing in the new world and the different ways Shakespeare has been used to lend voice to people talking about war. It’s absolutely something that scholars of Shakespeare will not want to miss.”

The exhibition will also include a Lost & Found at the Movies series with titles to be announced. The Library Foundation is partnering with CAP UCLA for their performances of Forced Entertainment’s Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare which runs December 6-11, 2016 at Royce Hall. For more information about these fascinating performances go to cap.ucla.edu.

library-photo

AMERICA’S SHAKESPEARE: THE BARD GOES WEST
November 17, 2016 – February 26, 2017
Library Foundation of Los Angeles
Central Library, Getty Gallery
630 West Fifth Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90071
More Info
Admission to the exhibit is free to the public
Programs are free unless otherwise noted

In addition to the many programs and special events that will be part of America’s Shakespeare: The Bard Goes West, the Library Store will have a number of fun and quirky wares with a Shakespearean twist for sale.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

Christopher Hoag’s Cinematic Approach to Creating Music for Shakespeare

For the past seven years, composer Christopher Hoag has conjured up battle scenes, storms, romance, and adventure with his music for Kingsmen Shakespeare Company’s annual summer festival. If you’ve seen one of their productions, you know how beautifully his rich orchestral scores enhance Shakespeare’s text on their outdoor festival stage. He’s back again this year writing music for two shows: the currently running Henry V, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening July 15. Here he talks about the process of bringing the world of Shakespeare’s plays to life with music.

Chris Hoag

Christopher Hoag

Chris, you’re working with director Michael Arndt on Henry V. Where do you find your musical inspiration?

The reasons why the director and I make the stylistic choices we do for the Kingsmen scores are always varied. Sometimes it’s the period, sometimes it comes from a conceptual approach to the play. In the case of our Henry V, it was a combination of both. The score really stems from Michael’s idea to put the Chorus in modern times as a documentary narrator/TV reporter, and the actual events of the play proper in a more period setting. I had to bridge those two worlds. So I thought it would be fun to do a very electronic sounding score; one that’s still dramatic and orchestral in nature, but using predominately electronic orchestrations towards that end. The score is really an homage to the electronic scores that I grew up with in the 80s by composers like Vangelis, Michael Stearns, Tangerine Dream, and Wendy Carlos. It’s been great fun exploring these sounds both in a modern and period context.

The electronics also have a tendency to be a bit cooler and removed emotionally, which I believe reflects Michael’s interest in how modern media portrays serious events through a sometimes very aloof and self-serving lens. Ultimately, much of the play is about war; the triumphs and the tremendous tragedies. And those things are also major points of reference for the music.

Are there particular cues or sequences we should listen for?

I feel very fortunate in that I am often asked to write an “overture” for the Kingsmen shows. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned thing to do, but as a composer it’s a great opportunity to stretch out and to musically “set the emotional stage” for what you are about to experience. It’s also very helpful for me to draw from it as I go through the process of scoring the rest of the play. The overture for Henry V states the main motifs that recur numerous times throughout the show.

Beyond that, I’d suggest listening for the “Once more unto the breach” speech which goes into the siege at Harfleur. I love scoring dialog. It’s a delicate thing, but when it’s working there’s nothing better for me personally. And this is such a rousing and powerful speech. Here, the music is constantly building and modulating, but never quite resolving….until the final charge into battle.

Of course, aside from the director, it’s always a hugely important thing for the actors to be okay with the music I write for them. And in this case our Henry, played brilliantly by Ty Mayberry, asked for a copy of the music so he could work with it. The cue is in two parts and it’s built in such a way that Ty has plenty of room to play. It’s a good example of the wonderfully collaborative nature of this company.  More

Working with Suzuki Master Teacher Ellen Lauren on A “California” Midsummer Night’s Dream

The cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photos by Michael Lamont

The cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photos by Michael Lamont

A very special production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on stage right now at UCLA, presented by the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. It features second- and third- year M.F.A. students from UCLA TFT’s Department of Theater and is unique because it is being directed by Ellen Lauren, co-artistic director of New York’s SITI Company and UCLA Visiting Associate Professor.

For the past 30 years, Lauren has been an associate artist with the Suzuki Company of Toga (SCOT) based in Japan under the direction of Tadashi Suzuki. A faculty member at The Juilliard School of Drama at Lincoln Center since 1995, she is also a recipient of the TCG Fox Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement, and founding member of the International Symposium on the Suzuki Method of Actor Training.

Now, her students are putting into practice the techniques they have been studying with her in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set in California in the early 1930s. It was a time when thousands migrated from the Dust Bowl states to find a new life and it was also a time of innovation and experimentation in Hollywood. For so many, hardship was alleviated by escaping into the dreamlike world of the darkened movie theaters.  More

From Green to Groovy: Nicole Parker gets a ’60s Makeover for These Paper Bullets!

Nicole Parker

Nicole Parker stars opposite Justin Kirk in the west coast premiere of These Paper Bullets! A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at Geffen Playhouse this month. Written by Rolin Jones (Weeds, Friday Night Lights, Boardwalk Empire) with songs by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and directed by Jackson Gay, the show opened to great reviews at Yale Repertory Theatre where it premiered in 2014. Now the Geffen begins its 20th anniversary season with what promises to be a British invasion on stage not seen since the Beatles. Still high on the adrenaline of a full day of rehearsal, an energetic Parker spoke to me about her experience working on the new production. I think you’ll see why the former star of Wicked and MADtv landed the role. This is one all-around great gal.

Nicole, what has it been like working on a brand new show like this one?

What’s great about working on something new is, while the creative team has done a version of the show before, they’ve made sure we know, as the new actors to the piece, that we can make it our own. That’s something you never get when you’re plugging into a show that already exists where you really need to hit the marks and you can give it your own flair but it needs to be what it is. This show isn’t set. Even from a comedic standpoint, I won’t even know whether some things I’m doing will work until we get in front of an audience and they tell me.

Both you and your leading man, Justin Kirk, are new, right?

Correct, which is kind of cool because then we as a couple can find a whole new rhythm. The entire team is so supportive and really just happy to have another opportunity to work on the show and make it better. So many times you don’t get to do that. When you do, it’s all about really defining the story and making sure that it gets told even clearer.

Nicole and Justin

What are your overall impressions of the piece?

It’s really a new, unique hybrid show. Even though the songs Billie Joe has written are stand-alone Beatles-esque songs, they drive the show and fit what’s going on in the plot. In that sense, where a musical will forward plot or character with a song, or even heighten an emotion, it is similar. But it’s only done in a very realistic way with the band – in this case they’re called The Quartos – singing their songs.  More

Rebecca Taichman’s Ever-Evolving Relationship with Twelfth Night

An interview by guest writer Evan Henerson

When the subject is Shakespeare’s bittersweet comedy Twelfth Night, the metaphors and analogies come easily to director Rebecca Taichman, who uses words like “epic,” “complex,” “Mozartian” and “perfect.”

“It’s truly bottomless,” she says. “I thought I knew everything about the play, and I just keep unpeeling layers.”

Rebecca Taichman directs The Old Globe's 2015 Summer Shakespeare Festival production of Twelfth Night, June 21 - July 26, 2015. Photo by Jim Cox.

She speaks from the experience of having already de-onioned quite a bit of the shenanigans of Viola, Orsino, Olivia and company. The production that opens this weekend to kick off the Old Globe’s 2015 Summer Shakespeare Festival is Taichman’s second go-round following a 2009 production at Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC which subsequently moved to the McCarter Theatre. Going back even further, Taichman played Viola as an undergraduate in a production at McGill University while still, in her words, “a pup.” Taichman, who had acting aspirations before turning to directing, does not give her rendition of Viola glowing reviews. “My memory of the experience is that I didn’t understand the play at all,” she says.

The 2009 production, on the other hand, took home glowing notices for both its performances and for its visual palate. The Old Globe opportunity came about after she was approached by the company’s Artistic Director Barry Edelstein who had seen the Shakespeare Theatre/McCarter production and inquired if Taichman was up for reimagining it for an outdoor staging at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.

Taichman was eager to reexamine and reconnect. “I think there’s a similar heart and it’s told from a similar point of view (as the previous production),” she says, “but it’s also extremely different. The first step was a conversation with the design team on how we could make what we did better and really maximize the outdoor space.”  More

Moving Toward Production – Ministers of Grace

Jordan Monsell has officially opened a Kickstarter campaign for Ministers of Grace: The Unauthorized Parody of Ghostbusters and you can get all the details HERE. Check out the latest from the creators of Pulp Shakespeare and get on the bus. Happy Monday!

Interview: Allison Volk and City Shakes Ponder “To Live or Die” in Life and Art

On Friday, July 11th, The City Shakespeare Company will open a gritty production of Romeo & Juliet that asks: What would you die for? Allison Volk, co-founder of City Shakes who also plays Lady Capulet and Benvolio in the production, offered these thoughts on the subject by members of her company.

What Would You Die For?
By Allison Volk

I asked some of the major players in our production the same question; not what would their characters die for, but what would THEY, the actor, die for? Initially I assumed that everyone would have the same obvious answer, but when I pulled people aside, I suddenly saw how intimately personal the question actually is.  More

Elijah Alexander Goes Deep Into the Psyche of Macbeth

Elijah Alexander as Macbeth. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Elijah Alexander in A Noise Within’s Macbeth. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Stepping into the role of Macbeth is not for the faint of heart. It’s a dark spiral of a ride that requires an actor to completely immerse himself in the evolution of evil within a character. Classically-trained actor, Elijah Alexander, talks about his journey preparing to play the role for A Noise Within and what he’s learned from touring the country in this fascinating in-depth interview.

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known villains. What appeals to you about playing such a complicated character?

E: It is, indeed, a complicated one but a wonderfully complicated one because you get to delve into his imagination and his intuition in a very intense and surgical way. You get to play the spectrum because Macbeth’s journey is both an evolution and a devolution. It’s open to interpretation but the director, Larry Carpenter, and I think that for this production Macbeth becomes more self-actualized as the play progresses and not less. It wasn’t interesting to me to write it off as madness or insanity. That’s too easy. We wanted to discover what it was that Macbeth was becoming as the play progresses. Does he become a tyrant, and if so, is it by choice? Is it by accident? Is it by mystical support? Is it by his own willful intention? What are his choices and what are not his choices. Does he have a hand in his own destiny or not? Those are the questions that this role, and this play, asks and demands of the actor. For any actor it is wonderfully challenging and a lot of fun.  More

Lisa Wolpe’s Rehearsal Process is a Study in “To thine own self be true”

Lisa Wolpe as Hamlet2

Photo by Kevin Sprague

Since 1993, the award-winning Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company (LAWSC) has carved out a unique niche in the landscape of L.A. theater. Led by Producing Artistic Director, Lisa Wolpe (pictured right), it examines contemporary issues and cultural perceptions of women through an all-female theatrical lens. In many ways it mirrors the original all-male playing company for whom Shakespeare wrote, at a time when women were not allowed to perform on stage.

LAWSC once again enters the larger conversation within which it resides with its upcoming production of Hamlet at the Odyssey Theatre. It is an eagerly anticipated event, and an undertaking that offers unlimited new avenues for truth in the exploration of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. I was interested in how this company of artists approaches a play, and although Wolpe was already deep in rehearsals, she graciously offered her thoughts about their work. I hope you’ll find them as compelling as I did.  More

Denise Devin on Researching Richard III for Zombie Joe’s Upcoming Production

Richard III ZJUZombie Joe’s Underground is getting ready to open Richard III on May 10 and what a wild ride it promises to be. The North Hollywood theatre company has become well-known for its action-packed, explosive adaptations of Shakespeare’s classics and director Denise Devin is having a field day doing the research on one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains. According to Devin, she is “trying to go with historically more accurate, age appropriate characters, (except the young princes), and remember the relationships they all had. So my Richard is only 31. There is no reference in the play as to age; it is just traditionally played older. But I am going with a Richard, who in real life died at 32.”

She also plans to add in the prior relationships through directing, not script adds, and says she’s found them to be “much more dysfunctional than any soap opera on television today. When I really dug into them, I couldn’t quite believe it…and the human mistakes made.”  More

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