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Two Shakespeares, One Company

Date: Nov 08, 2013


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This is Part I of our series on Shakespeare in rep. Read Part II, on how the team works with period-appropriate designs

"Here's where we were lucky," Bryan Paterson says, although he's speaking of the kind of luck that tends to be created.

Paterson has worked since 1998 as a stage manager for London's outdoor Globe Theatre, which will present as many as six productions in repertory, including three different shows in a single day. "It can get a bit complicated at times," he says. So his latest assignment---a four-month Broadway stint that has brought a mere two plays, Richard III and Twelfth Night, to the Belasco Theatre---is downright leisurely by comparison.

"It's a walk in the park here," he says. And it has been made even easier for the fortuitous circumstances that Paterson mentioned earlier---specifically the ones made possible by TimCarroll and Jenny Tiramani, the shows' director and designer, respectively.

"We did Twelfth Night about 10 years ago, whereas Richard III only opened last year," Paterson says. "So Jenny and Tim were very clever in designing Richard with almost entirely the same sets and props we had for Twelfth Night.  Except for a few pole arms, it's all the same swords and all the same furniture."

But not the same dialogue, obviously, although Mark Rylance's upbeat, rollicking rendition of Richard III's opening monologue almost gives the play the sense of a comedy. Among his costars in both pieces is Samuel Barnett, who plays a reluctant semi-suitor (Viola) to Rylance's Olivia in Twelfth Night and an unlikely would-be procurer (Queen Elizabeth) for the "poisonous bunch-back'd toad" in Richard III.

Barnett, who was last seen on the New York stage in The History Boys, says he much prefers having two different plays to perform on Wednesdays and Saturdays. "It never feels natural to me to do a matinee and then an evening of the same show," he says. "I feel like, 'I've already done this today!'"

However, shifting gears from Viola to Queen Elizabeth or vice versa is not entirely effortless. "I need to completely clear the slate because the roles are so different," he says. "I need to reset my body, my system. Have some dinner, sometimes even take a little nap. It doesn't work if I carry any residual with me" from the earlier performance.

One advantage with these productions from an acting point of view is the flexibility that comes with so few rules. "The ethos that we have, thanks largely to Tim [Carroll], is that everything is up for grabs," Barnett says. "The blocking isn't set. The staging isn't set."

This may be refreshing in today's theatre world, where tech rehearsals can stretch on for days, but it's not exactly new. As Barnett explains, "In terms of the original [Elizabethan] productions, which is what we're trying to do, they didn't have these elaborate sets and elaborate lights. They had their costumes and their bodies and their voices and their interpretations."

Eric Grode is a freelance arts writer and a professor at Syracuse University's Goldring Arts Journalism Program

Photo by Joan Marcus