Jamie Ann Romero and Quincy Dunn-Baker read “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by Kyle Malone.
By John Moore
The Denver Center Theatre Company’s 9th annual Colorado New Play Summit will include a reading based on the novel Benediction, completing author Kent Haruf’s trilogy of rural Colorado tales, all adapted for the stage by Eric Schmiedl.
The Colorado New Play Summit previously introduced Haruf’s “Plainsong” in 2007 and “Eventide” in 2009, both of which went on to full productions on Denver Center mainstage seasons.
By John Moore
Of interest to anyone who just attended the Denver Center Theatre Company’s world premiere of the play “Just Like Us”: Moments ago, House Speaker John Boehner ruled out any action in the House on immigration reform this year.
"Just Like Us," adapted by Karen Zacarias from the book by Helen Thorpe, is the true story of four Denver high-school seniors who were born in Mexico, two with documented status and two without. It closed on Nov. 3.
The following news report comes from CNN:
Although only 10, Charlie Korman (Tiny Tim) is about to perform in his fourth “A Christmas Carol” for the Denver Center Theatre Company. Photo by John Moore.
By John Moore
Tuesday was the first day of rehearsal for A Christmas Carol, which is being staged for the 21st time by the Denver Center Theatre Company. It opens Nov. 29 in the Stage Theatre.
This version, adapted by Richard Hellesen, again stars Philip Pleasants as Scrooge, with Mike Hartman (“Death of a Salesman”) as his understudy. The cast includes John Hutton as the ghost of Jacob Marley, Phamaly Theatre Company veteran Leonard E. Barrett Jr. as the ghost of Christmas Present, Charlie Korman as Tiny Tim, Leslie O’Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig, and familiar names including Kathleen M. Brady, Douglas Harmsen, Stephanie Cozart, Jeffrey Roark, Michael Bouchard, Jake Walker and Benjamin Bonenfant. (The complete list follows.) In all, the cast numbers 37.
From left: Actors Adriana Gaviria, Cynthia Bastidas, Yunuen Pardo (fromt) and Ruth Livier.
By John Moore
The Denver Center Theatre Company’s world-premiere play Just Like Us takes place against the backdrop of both local and national politics. But audiences are discovering a human story that does what theater does best: It makes the political personal, engaging and even entertaining.
Kim Staunton, a 13-year veteran of the Denver Center Theatre Company, is currently playing Linda Loman opposite Charlie Robinson for the South Coast Repertory Theatre in California. Staunton soon will return to Denver to perform in “Sylvia” at the Lone Tree Arts Center, and then in the Denver Center’s world premiere of Marcus Gardley’s “black odyssey.’ Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR.
By John Moore
Kim Staunton is being celebrated in Costa Mesa Calif., for her portrayal of Linda Loman in the American theatre classic “Death of a Salesman” for the South Coast Repertory Theatre. And she credits, in part, her 13 years as a guest artist with the Denver Center Theatre Company.
“I think all the work I have been allowed to do at the Denver Center really prepared me to play Linda Loman,” Staunton said Monday. “I am so proud of my time with the Denver Center that it makes me cry.”
By John Moore
An ill wind has blown from North Carolina to California this month as two major Shakespearean festivals have announced they are either closing or suspending operations. But the latest sign of the apocalypse for Shakespeare festivals as an industry did not gust through Boulder.
By John Moore
At the Denver Center, we are building a wall … and this is just the start of it. Assistant technical director Josh Prues has allowed us to watch as crews have constructed what will become the primary set piece for “Just Like Us,” a Denver Center world-premiere commission adapted by Karen Zacarias from the acclaimed book by Helen Thorpe. Directed by Kent Thompson. It’s the Denver-based story of four high-school students divided by their immigration status. Check back until wehave photos of the completed wall! The play opens Oct. 4 at the Stage Theatre. Call 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org
By Sylvie Drake
Perhaps because we’re all in love with love to some degree or because we know the story so well, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet is never far from the general consciousness or the pantheon of great plays. If anything, it may suffer from overfamiliarity, but the many versions of this story—in music, opera, ballet, theatre, film and musical comedy—reaffirm a persistent interest.
Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC) Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson says “everybody identifies with Romeo and Juliet and in some sense almost everybody wants to be Romeo and Juliet because [they embody] the emotional surge and intensity of the teenage years and the absolute kind of decision [we make] to love another person.
Besides, Shakespeare’s play is a tale of endless dramatic possibilities. It has fights, feuds, parental and societal intolerance, death and suicide—all the euphoric joys and profound problems that still bedevil us today.
So how do you approach staging something as well-worn and yet so vital and endlessly fascinating without retreading other people’s concepts?
“That’s the big challenge,” says director Scott Wentworth who staged the production you’re about so see. “Everyone has a scenario in their head. But Romeo & Juliet is a deceptively rich play. It’s not a closed room; it’s a mansion with many rooms.”
Shakespeare famously was never terribly interested in the process of coming up with a good story. If one existed that met his needs, why reinvent it? The origin of Romeo & Juliet was a novella by the prolific 15th century Italian Matteo Bandello, translated and transformed into a narrative poem by Arthur Brooke as The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562) and recycled several times thereafter. It resurfaced in prose in 1582 in William Paynter’scollection of stories The Palace of Pleasure, which included other Bandello novellas and provided Shakespeare with handy additional plots, or partial plots, with which to enlarge his canvas (among them Twelfth Night and parts of Much Ado About Nothing and Cymbeline).
In spite of this varied provenance, Romeo & Juliet, written sometime between 1591 and 1595, is most readily identified with Shakespeare. And because it is so familiar, directors—Wentworth included—love to mine for fresh aspects of the story.
“One of the things I like to do with a Shakespeare play is to look at the end and ask, ‘what does he want to leave us with?’ With Romeo & Juliet, he wanted to leave us with the sense of a generation that sacrifices its young. That spoke to me. Equally interesting to me (and I think to Shakespeare) is the notion of Verona, of that culture. In many ways Shakespeare was always writing about Elizabethan London—for and about his world. Looking at it that way illuminates parts of the play that are often downplayed: how the society functions, what the economics are, how love and marriage figure into this world.”
Wentworth chose to set the play around 1600. In his view, the Montagues and the Capulets are venture capitalists. “Like Antonio in The Merchant of Venice,” he says, “they’re making money in business.” This aristocracy is cash poor, but owns land it sells off to the new money so it can continue to rule, while the new money loves to brush up to the aristocracy for snatches of reflected glory.
Exploring a love story in that context becomes more interesting, because it is not just about two individuals. It becomes political and cultural,” says Wentworth. “The sexual politics are important, which is part of the reason why I was not very interested in doing a modern production where the restrictions wouldn’t be as profound. To fully experience the play it’s helpful to understand the world it was written to represent.
“Shakespeare’s plays exist on two story-telling planes: narrative or horizontal and vertical or mythological. In the 21st century, we tend to be more comfortable with narrative or realism, and less interested in the vertical or mythological story that Shakespeare was interested in. At the end of King Lear, when Lear walks on with the body of the dead Cordelia, it’s an action in a narrative; but it’s also an image of tragedy with a capital T.”
Design may be one way to encompass the mythological: “I’ve asked the designer to abstract the space so it’s epic and not solely realistic,” he continued. “I wanted to have a realistic costume world but a scenic world that would provide access to the mythological story. You can do realistic acting on it—and we will when the text takes us there—but when the text seems to be saying that this language, this moment, is more mythic or psychological, we’ll have access to it in a way that a realistic setting might not give us.”
This marriage of realism and abstraction—opening up the play to engage more universal or bigger ideas and invite the audience to join the actors in that exercise—is the goal. Romeo & Juliet may be about the tragic love affair of two children, but it is also about the difficulty of achieving deep love in any world that puts up obstacles at every turn.
“With a play this rich,” adds Wentworth, “anything we can do to stretch an audience’s ability to listen by giving it the tools with which to do it, will broaden the experience for that audience. It’s in how we costume the actors, how we light and stage the scenes, how we use the music. It’s not about me telling them what I think the play’s about.
“My job in coordinating these many elements is to help people actively create the play they see—in collaboration with the actors, in the moment that they watch the play—so that they might totally engage with the production.”
But how, may you ask, does the interrelationship of fate and character move the play? How much does the one interfere with or influence the other?
“Interesting question,” Wentworth muses. “There’s an intricate and delicate relationship between fate or whatever you want to call it, and character. In the early stories on which the play is based, fate played a bigger role than in the Shakespeare. Wagner said that Romeo & Juliet is the exemplar of the Liebestod, the deathlove or lovedeath.
“It’s one of those German words that doesn’t translate well, but the connection between love and death is at the center of these kinds of stories. Fate in a way is the cumulative energy that a whole society creates. Romeo and Juliet just happen to bump into each other; the letter does not get delivered because of an accident; Romeo’s arrival before Juliet wakens at the end is terrible timing. If Juliet had had the imagination and maturity to be Rosalind [the feisty heroine of As You Like It], wear trousers and join Romeo in Mantua, she wouldn’t have died.
Because fate plays so heavy a hand, a lot of scholars think of Romeo & Juliet as a lesser tragedy than the so-called great later tragedies—the Hamlets, Macbeths and Lears—but Shakespeare was true to the genre. The individual character writing is incredibly astute. The creation of Juliet is a miracle. The nurse is a full portrait of a person. In this type of story, Time and Fate, with a capital T and a capital F, play an active role.”
It is also possible love itself was the driver. Could Shakespeare have been in love at the time?
“He may well have been. Whatever it was, it ignited that thing that he does and engaged his genius. He was able to create the greatest love story in the English language. That’s why to this day his plays always feel so real. They’re not always realistic, but they always feel real.”
This article was originally published in Applause program magazine.
By Sylvie Drake
Little known item: The Irving Berlin song that comes closest to epitomizing Christmas, the song that evokes glistening tree-tops, children listening for sleigh bells in the snow—that song—was written by Irving Berlin in the late 1930s sitting by the pool at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa under a full, hot sun. The first verse was a tongue-in-cheek barb at a wealthy Los Angeleno pining for a traditional Christmas under palm trees and in 80-degree heat.
Berlin smartly dropped the joke, the verse and the irony—a good thing or “White Christmas” might never have made it to the top of the nation’s emotional chart—as it did. But then this immigrant son of impoverished immigrant Jews from Siberia was nothing if not shrewd.
Talented, too. He may have acquired his love of music from his father—a cantor forced to work in a market to keep his wife and six children alive. And yet the son played piano only by ear (lessons were not on the financial radar), living his entire life with an astonishing absence of musical performance skills.
“I heard Berlin play the piano, back in vaudeville days and found his harmony notably inept,” wrote Alec Wilder in his 1972 book, American Popular Song. What Berlin had instead was what Wilder calls “some mastery of his inner ear” that enabled him to compose melodies “with his natural, intuitive harmonic sense at work in his head, but not in his hands.”
Other things he had were an innate doggedness and a nose for opportunity that rarely steered him wrong.
As an unsupervised kid on New York’s Lower East Side, this young scrapper hustled junk for pennies, sold newspapers, joined gangs briefly and eventually left home after his father’s death to try to make it as a singer on the streets of the city. He got himself hired at various cafés around the Bowery, including the Pelham, doing parodies of popular hits. A rivalry among establishments triggered the writing of Berlin’s first hit: “Marie of Sunny Italy,” earning him the grand sum of 37 cents—and prompting a name change from Israel Baline, the name he was born with, to Irving Berlin. (Some say it was a printer’s error that Berlin chose not to correct.)
But in 1911, he wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band and the country jumped. More than a million copies were sold in a matter of months. Irving Berlin was off and running, branching out, writing musicals that are still in the Broadway lexicon (Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam), movies (the incomparable Top Hat among them) and a host of songs now forever woven into the American psyche: “Easter Parade,” “Supper Time,” “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “How Deep Is The Ocean,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” “Let’s Face The Music And Dance,”“Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
In the end, it was poverty that proved to be Berlin’s best teacher. He learned the value of money early and to the point of stinginess.In an article for City Journal, Stefan Kanfer relates that as Berlin hawked newspapers on a downtown pier in 1901, he was accidentally knocked into the East River by a loading crane, rescued “and packed off to Gouverneur Hospital for further ministrations. An hour later, as the young newsie slept, a nurse pried open his clenched hand. In it: five copper coins. He remained tight-fisted for the rest of his 101 years.”
That judgment may be a bit harsh. As one of the most patriotic of American composers—which Berlin turned out to be—he refused to profit from his patriotism and gave away the proceeds of “God Bless America” (surely the most patriotic—and profitable—song of all time) to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America in perpetuity, while contributing royalties from other wartime compositions to the Navy Relief, Red Cross, March of Dimes and various bond drives.
The first public performance of the song “White Christmas,” was reportedly by Bing Crosby on The Kraft Music Hall in December 1941. Its appeal was immediate and re-affirmed a year later when Crosby sang it in the movie Holiday Inn. “White Christmas” spent 11 weeks at the top of the charts and the 2007 Guinness Book of Records lists Crosby’s recording as the biggest hit single of all time with an estimated 50 million copies sold; double that if you count all versions, including albums and CDs.
The song re-emerged in 1954, in the immensely popular movie that bore its name, White Christmas, again featuring Crosby, this time with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. So what took the film so long to become an all-American stage musical?
“Two things,” offered Denver Center Theatre Company Artistic Director Kent Thompson, charged with directing the production in The Buell Theatre. “First, the presence of David Ives and Paul Blake as the writers. What works really well in the musical—better than in the movie—is the storyline involving the two couples. You now have real character development throughout.
“The other thing is they’ve pulled out the inappropriate blackface minstrel number that was in the film, as well as a couple of other scenes, including the war scenes (good in the movie but difficult to do on stage), and made the general’s granddaughter, Susan Waverly, what she was supposed to be, but was not cast as: a nine- or ten-year-old girl, who’s worried about her grandfather losing the inn. She doesn’t understand it, because she thinks of him as a hero, and she has trouble talking to him because he’s a military man and he’s gruff.”
The change in Susan’s age allows the song “Count Your Blessings” to have an entirely different effect than it had in the film, where it was sung to a 16- or 17-year-old. “It’s significant,” said Thompson, “because you begin to see the bright side Bob Wallace, the good-hearted side of him.”
The movie’s instant scene changes, achieved through the camera’s magic, are actually aided here by the flexibility of theatre—in particular the finale, in which, in the movie, the general’s troops show up more or less spontaneously and all of the inn is transformed into a grandly festive dining hall in fewer than 24 hours without a glint of effort on anybody’s part.
“In the theatre, the audience becomes the troops,” Thompson said, “and the general addresses to the audience that wonderful speech where he’s completely moved and surprised by what his troops have done for him. Even Bob Wallace talking about him is more specific about why he admires the man. It works really well and, in that sense, does things the movie can’t.”
And then there are the major dance breaks.
“Blake and Ives have taken the strengths of the movie,” Thompson continued, “and tailored them into this very 50s type of musical with these big, exciting tap numbers and these big jazz or Broadway dance numbers. And, of course, it has the wonderful Berlin music. Patti Colombo, who has been choreographing for a decade or more and has a long history as a Broadway dancer, including being in the original production of A Chorus Line, is doing the choreography.
“Because they wanted to keep it under two-and-a-half hours, Blake and Ives had to streamline the story and focus more on the central six characters and on Susan, the little girl. That sharpens and clarifies the story. We’ll have a 21-piece orchestra and our musical director this time is Gregg Coffin.”
But above all, Thompson emphasized, “the book is loaded with comedy and romance. It’s all about heart.”
Republished from Applause magazine.
A packed house of 500 patrons just saw the final reading at our 2012 COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMIT. Based on the novel by JANE AUSTEN, with Book & Lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow and Music by Neal Hampton, SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL was a lovely conclusion to our three-day new play festival.
If you haven’t seen the interviews, please tune in to get a glimpse at what happened during this extraordinary event:
BRUCE K. SEVY, Director of New Play Development, Denver Center Theatre Company
Mark your calendar for next year’s Summit Feb 8-10, 2013.
Wow! A combined 125 hours of rehearsal have been put into preparing for our COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMIT, which begins tomorrow! Plus we are officially SOLD OUT. (If you want to come and don’t have a ticket, you are still encouraged to head down and check for available seats.) But at this point we have DOUBLED the number of “industry” representatives over last year.
PLAYWRIGHTS who are expected to attend include: Jeff Carey, Steven Cole Hughes, Terry Dodd, Richard Dresser, Lauren Eason, Lauren Feldman, Marcus Gardley, Judy GeBauer, Kirsten Greenidge, Jeffrey Haddow, Neal Hampton (composer), Samuel D. Hunter, Luciann Lajoie, Carter Lewis, Leslie Lewis, Felice Locker, Lisa Loomer, Robert McAndrew, William Missouri-Downs, Michael Mitnick, Steve Moulds, Henry Murray, Philip Penningrot, Max Posner, Theresa Rebeck, Eric Schmiedl, Helen Thorpe and Karen Zacarias.
DIRECTORS expected to attend include Hal Brooks, Sam Buntrock, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Mike Donahue, Pam MacKinnon, Art Manke, Christy Montour-Larson, Ethyl Will (music) and Justin Zsebe.
THEATRES represented include Actors Theatre of Louisville, Arena Stage, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Contemporary American Theatre, Creede Repertory Theatre, Curious Theatre Company, Dallas Theatre Center, Indiana Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Lincoln Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, New Dramatists, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Primary Stages, Page 73, Soho Rep, South Coast Rep and Third Law Dance Theatre.
Our New Play Summit is relatively new compared with others around the country. Now in our seventh year and under the leadership of Artistic Director Kent Thompson and New Play Development Director Bruce Sevy, we have quickly created a new play festival that is attracting attention. National Public Radio is continuing its interest. American Theatre magazine will cover the festival. And we’re delighted that the American Theatre Critics Association will once again hold its Winter meeting to coincide with our event.
Despite the long days and intense work, there is a feeling of anticipation as everyone gets ready to welcome our local and national guests. The excitement is palpable! We will see what tomorrow brings.
And we’re off! More than 100 playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, actors, stage managers and other key staff gathered this morning to kick off the DENVER CENTER THEATRE COMPANY's seventh COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMIT.
Five readings of new works in development, plus two full productions of new plays and the ever-popular Playwrights’ Slam will be experienced by theatre industry representatives from across the nation, local and national press, and local theatre patrons.
The casts are assembled and the work has started on the second floor of our Newman Center. Here’s what you can expect coming up Feb 10-12:
SENSE & SENSIBILITY
Based in the novel by Jane Austen
Book and Lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow Music by Neal Hampton
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Music Direction by Ethyl Will
by Michael MItnick
Directed by Sam Buntrock
Dramaturgy by Douglas Langworthy
Multimedia Design by Charlie I. Miller
THE HAND OF GOD
by Richard Dresser
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
by Lisa G. Loomer
Directed by Justin Zsebe
Dramaturgy by Liz Engelman
GRACE, OR THE ART OF CLIMBING
by Lauren Feldman
Directed by Mike Donahue
Dramaturgy by Liz Frankel
Stay tuned for a daily recap of our work in development.
In anticipation of the Denver Center Theatre Company’s upcoming Colorado New Play Summit (Feb 10-12) and to coincide with the world premieres of THE WHALE and TWO THINGS YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT AT DINNER, the DCPA blog talked with Artistic Director Kent Thompson about new plays and new play development.
DCPA: You’ve selected 3 brand new plays to produce this season. What was it about these plays that convinced you to stage them?
Kent Thompson, Artistic Director: Great writing—all with lots of humor yet serious issues underneath. The Whale is the best new play that I’ve read in years—improbable leading character (600 lb. man) desperately trying to re-connect with his estranged daughter. The Whale starts so dark and troubled and ends up very moving, even redemptive. Two Things You Don’t Talk About At Dinner does the reverse—starts as a comedy. Sort of reminds you of those (in hindsight) hilariously dysfunctional family holidays we’ve all experienced. But it reveals a sobering truth about the US today—even with our closest friends and families we can’t talk about politics and religion. Great Wall Story is like one of those news room caper movies of the 1940s—except this one is based on a real journalistic hoax that happened in Denver!
DCPA: Since we are the first audiences to see these plays in full production, what should we expect?
KT: Terrific performances—and new, edgy ideas. If you like to see funny, relevant, emotional, and sometimes dark new stories, come see them. Maybe the new plays are the Showtime/HBO shows of our season.
DCPA: Why are new works important to Denver audiences? To theatre in general?
KT: These new plays are part of our contribution to the whole field called “The American Theatre.” We’re trying to create new stories that stick in your mind—unforgettable memories. Denver sees these stories BEFORE they go on to New York, Los Angeles, around the country, even the world. I hope we can create a play that becomes a classic—so my grandchildren are forced to read it in high school!
DCPA: So every play gets a start somewhere. Which plays that have started in Denver have gone on to big success?
KT: Lots—The Laramie Project, Quilters, Black Elk Speaks. More recently, Octavio Solis’ Lydia (Yale Rep, Mark Taper Forum in L.A.), Jason Grote’s 1001 (New York, California, DC and elsewhere), Mama Hated Diesels (all over the country).
DCPA: What are commissions and why do you offer them?
KT: We contract a playwright to write a new play—occasionally on a topic/book/etc. (Plainsong, Eventide, Just Like Us). More often, the playwright chooses what to write about. We offer to support playwrights so that they have time and resources to concentrate fully on writing. In return, we get the option to produce the world premiere.
DCPA: How many scripts are sent to you in a year?
KT: Hundreds. From agents, directors, producers, other theatres. We read and read and read all year long.
DCPA: What is the process for play development?
KT: Depends on what the play needs. Most often, we bring together a director, a dramaturg, the actors, and the playwright to work on the play for a week and then hold a couple of public readings—when the playwright gets to hear the play in front of an audience. This nearly always accelerates the process of revisions and making the script ready for production.
DCPA: So you have this annual Colorado New Play Summit. What is it and why should I care?
KT: At the Summit each year we produce 2-3 world premiere productions and do public readings of 4-5 others. You should come see how plays are created—from first draft through production! Plus, theatre professionals and press come from all over the U.S. to see this annual event. It shows off Denver, Colorado and DCTC.
DCPA: Apart from those companies devoted exclusively to the development of new work, how does the Denver Center compare nationally in regard to the number of new plays it produces each year?
KT: We produce 3-4 new plays and musicals a season out a total season of 11 to 12 (depending on the year). So a quarter to a thirdof our season is made of mew plays. Most major regional theatres produce 1 or maybe 2 a season—so Denver is where it’s happening in American theatre!
The Taming of the Shrew has been a paradox of late.
Despite harsh feminist critiques over the past 40 years (in fact there are many who feel the play is so deeply misogynistic that Kate and Petruchio should be banished from the stage for good), Shrew remains one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. How can this be? Artistic Director Kent Thompson, who is directing the play this season, views the play not as merciless gender warfare but as a battle of equals, “the kind of fight between two people who are outside the norms of conventional society…Two people with larger than life personalities who fight their way through their romance and end up being in love.”
To stage his reading of the play, Thompson sought out a period when roles were well defined and rather inflexible. He landed on the 1950s, a time of conventional role models for men and women—women could keep house while men brought home the bacon. Katherina is too strong-willed and intelligent to comfortably fit into a housewife’s apron, and Petruchio is too wild to settle for a gray-flannelled businessman’s life. So in this version, Petruchio is a cowboy from Texas, while Katherina (or Kate) is a fiery Italian-American who works in her father’s restaurant in Chicago.
The play takes place in an imagined America with U.S. place names changed to the Italian cities of Shakespeare’s text. Scenic designer David Barber has dreamed up a large map of the country that will hover over the set, lighting up to show the travels of the various characters. The main playing area rests on a 22-foot-diameter revolve to keep the story’s many scenes flowing smoothly. To the left and right of the set, billboards set the period by displaying iconographic 50s’ advertising art. Watch for this: as “a little extra added kick” and to lighten the mood, Barber is sneaking clever Shakespearean references into each of the signs.
Speaking of scene changes, composer Gregg Coffin will be composing brief songs based on Shakespearean text set to 50s-style music. This is the great period for Italian-American singers: Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett to name only a few, so he’s got plenty to work with. And expect some country western sounds to accompany Petruchio’s visits to his ranch deep in the heart of Texas. Coffin is also going to have a bit of fun “Elvis-ing up” the scene in which Lucentio, disguised as a music teacher, gives Bianca a lesson.
Costume designer Susan Branch describes the costumes as having a heightened reality: “There are certain icons, like Elvis, that are being referenced. We’ve created the iconic gangster from New Jersey and the iconic cowboy from Texas.” She admits it’s difficult when clothing is described in the play, such as Petruchio’s wedding outfit, and you are setting it in a different period. “How do you take the clothing of the period you’re dealing with and still make the descriptions work?” she asks. “It’s fun to figure that out.”
While Bianca will be dressed as a bobby-soxer (“more frivolous, lightweight, a girly-girl”), headstrong Kate will be much more no-nonsense. She will be introduced working in her father’s restaurant, dressed in functional slacks and flat shoes. Her clothing tells a story of its own—her wedding dress getting soiled on the trip home with Petruchio, the improvised outfit his ranch hands rustle up for her, and finally the beautiful dress that the tailor made for her (the one Petruchio destroyed in front of her eyes).
Although many of us remember the 50s in black and white, Thompson wants this to be a Technicolor production, which really works for Tom Sturge, the lighting designer: “The play is definitely set in the summer, so that lends itself to the hot stickiness of Chicago and the lush, bright sunlight in Texas. Sturge also feels the use of bright color lends itself to comedy: “The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy, and if it takes itself too seriously it will die a quick and sudden death.”
That may have been the problem with the last production of the play he worked on which featured cross-gender casting. “That,” Sturge admits, “was a pretty big mistake.”
For Thompson, Shakespeare’s characters are inherently bold and colorful: “All the characters come right out of Commedia dell’Arte. Gremio, the old Pantalone pursuing the young woman; Lucentio, the handsome young man whose father won’t let him marry; Bianca as the female version of that; and Kate as the shrew.”
At the end of the day, where does Thompson come down on the question of Petruchio’s (mis)treatment of Kate?
“I don’t think that what Petruchio does to Kate is cruel, but he gets close to being not very nice. I think audiences will see the progression of their love, because I think that, even in a play based on Commedia, Shakespeare has planted clues to show that she starts to understand his game.”
In the final, most controversial speech of the play, Kate’s vow of love and possible submission, Thompson believes she’s promising “…what she’s willing to do for him more than making a statement that she’s capitulated completely as a human being, because I don’t think she has.”
This article originally appeared in PROLOGUE, the Denver Center Theatre Company’s subscriber newsletter.
To coordinate with today’s THEATRE THREADS: A COSTUME RUNWAY SHOW, Denver Center Theatre Company Artistic Director KENT THOMPSON explains the importance of costumes.
Costumes at the Denver Center Theatre Company are a vitally important part of theatrical storytelling. At the DCTC, they literally help us create the characters onstage and tell the story better. And what an impression they make!
In an average season of the DCTC, we put 350-400 different costumes onstage. A few we purchase (for contemporary shows), a few we rent from other theatres, some we pull from stock and re-work—with new trim, fabric, buttons, (not to mention re-fitting to the actor now wearing it)—and many we create from scratch.
Here is what is truly amazing—in materials, in the current season we spend about $250 a costume. When you think about the gorgeous costumes in The Liar and the price of buying one outfit for yourself (and everything that entails, from shoes to dress to hat to—in our case—wig), you should ask how do we do it? The answer is simple—we hire the best craftspeople we can. They create patterns from color sketches and then create a garment that fits perfectly on each specific actor. They are brilliant at taking less expensive fabrics and making the most of them. Our head of wigs stitches many wigs from hand. Our head of costume crafts makes masks, refashions shoes, and creates fans, hats, bloody heads, whatever we need! We have one of the best costume shops in the U.S., because of the quality and experience of our staff. And they do it for love of the theatre more than for the money—they could make far more in the TV, film or entertainment industries.
That’s why contribution mean so much. They allow us to fully realize the visions of our costume designers—including the 80+ costumes for American Night!
By the way, we estimate our costumes shops have created between 10,000 and 11,000 costumes since we opened in 1979. Now that’s astonishing!