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Q&A with Tonya Lynn

Our Q&A with fight choreographer Tonya Lynn in 2014 for As You Like It.

Tonya Lynn is an actor, fight director/choreographer and youth theater teacher, and holds a M.A. in Theater and Performance Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. She has provided fight direction for many Pittsburgh area theaters and universities. Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks’ 10th anniversary production of As You Like It is her 20th Shakespearean choreography credit.

Interview by New Place Collaborations intern Lydia Aceto.

 

 

 

 

Charles Fight

As You Like It, 2014 Rehearsal

Q: Is there a difference between choreographing fights for comedies vs. fights for tragedies?

A: My general approach for choreographing fights is the same, regardless of genre – you have to start with the text. Who are the characters? What is the reason for the fight? What does the dialogue tell us about what happens? All the good journalistic questions that actors and directors have to ask during the rehearsal process are part of my preparation as well. All fights have an internal story, and the genre of play (comedy vs. tragedy) comes out in the process of how that story is told. The comedy and tragedy elements all become clarified in that question of “what happens when they fight, and how does it occur?”  There’s always an objective that the characters are trying to accomplish, and obstacles that prevent them from doing so; both comedy and tragedy can be found in the specificity of the tactics and techniques used by the characters to accomplish their goals within the fight.

 

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Romeo and Juliet, 2013

 

Q: Some of the fighters in Romeo and Juliet appeared, how would you say this, somewhat less than noble in their fighting tactics. I thought it really suited their characters and the show. What thoughts go into choosing a fighting style for a character?

 

A: Thoughts on the fighting styles come first from the script and plenty of dramaturgical research, but also through conversations with the director and actors, as well.  When looking at “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare gives us a lot of information about how Tybalt fights through dialogue in the rest of the play; given that Mercutio delivers some of this information and does so while mocking Tybalt, that tells us that Mercutio’s style needs to be informed differently.  Historically, Shakespeare is making topical references to fencing masters who were popular at the time the play was written, so research can tell us some additional information about the real people who are being referred to, and that information can be worked into the preparation as well. Romeo’s fight with Tybalt erupts out of emotion – and we know from the rest of the show how impulsive and driven by his emotions Romeo can be, so that also needs to be reflected in that character’s fighting style.  The director may have an aesthetic preference for the production which then will also affect choreographic and staging choices. Actors will have input as well, since they know the character objectives most clearly. It all goes into the mix, and the end product needs to serve the overall story being told. I synthesize and distill all of the information to help shape a character-driven series of physical moments which serve the overall story being told by the production.

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Romeo and Juliet, 2013

Q: What are the challenges and benefits of staging fights that are performed outdoors?

 

A: PSIP fights are unique! It’s just about as complex an environment to choreograph in as you could possibly find, due to all the variables. With no stage, we’re dealing with uneven terrain; in the outdoors, there are the weather elements to consider; without a set area for audience seating, the fights need to work from all viewing angles, especially given that the seating areas will change based on the weather elements (no one wants to sit in a mud puddle, or with the sun glaring into their eyes!); and then all of these variables are multiplied by the fact that the production travels to different parks each week! The fights need to be able to adapt to the different locations and weather situations, and that’s always something I bear in mind when putting the choreography together. These challenges have really pushed me to grow as a choreographer – since I can’t rely on all of the tricks that work on a traditional proscenium stage, I’ve been researching and exploring techniques that work in the round and up close to the audience as a part of my own training, and have found my work developing more creatively as a result. For the audience, it’s rare that you get to see such intense physical performance being done so very close to you – and I’ve seen some great responses to some of the climactic moments in past productions!

 

Guest post by Tempest Director, Alan Irvine!

The heart of any story, whatever art form or medium it is told in, is the characters. Something happens to someone, and they react to it somehow. They change; they don’t change; they live; they die… In my work as a storyteller, when I get stuck, when I hit a place where I can’t figure out what happens next, it is usually because I don’t know the characters well enough to know what they will say or do. The solution is usually to take
time out, explore the characters, find out more about them, and when I come back, the next step in the story is obvious.

So, I’ve been asking the cast to do a lot of character work in rehearsals. We often start working with having everyone get into character and just walk around. I ask them to talk to each other – sometimes about things related to the play, sometimes not. One day they had to talk to each other about their favorite place on the island. Another day to discuss their favorite event in the Olympics (which, of course, meant they had to think what
event their character would choose as their favorite. Can’t grab your copy of Shakespeare and flip through it for the answer! Have to know your character well enough to figure it out.) When we went to Arsenal Park, everyone had to wander around in character and find the spot in the park that their character was most attracted to.

I have been fascinated by what comes out of this. I love listening in to the conversations – no one ever has any trouble speaking in character about whatever. It has been particularly fun to give characters who do not interact in the play the chance to talk to each other. We have found out a lot about the relationships between Prospero’s three daughters, by having them talk with each other. Or, in some cases, having one character refuse to talk to the other two. We have found out things about characters that have changed the way I want to stage some scenes. When we explored Arsenal Park, for example, we discovered that Miranda likes to be able to see everything going on around her, but also to be able to duck safely out of sight if needed. So maybe we can’t start a scene with Miranda sitting out in the open where anyone could sneak up on her. We found out that Ariel loves to be up as high as possible (makes sense for a spirit of the air), so now I’m looking for trees and other high spots that we can have her climb and perch on.

We are also starting to develop different takes on some characters – Adam Huff, who plays Sebastian and Stephano, will be leaving after the first two weekends. Other members of the cast will be picking up those roles – and we are starting to explore how their versions of the characters differ from Adam’s versions in some key ways.

I love watching this cast really bring these characters to life in such fascinating ways – and can’t wait for the audience to see them as well. I wonder what Caliban thinks about the Steelers?

Guest post by our Ariel, Allison Wagner!

Greetings!  I’m Allie—here to play the part of Ariel.  Thanks for stopping by to learn more about our production of The Tempest.  Delving into Shakespeare’s text and discussing his characters always results in rich and rewarding discoveries. Welcome to the conversation—may many a spirited dialogue emerge from this blog and all the other opportunities PSIP provides for audience/artistic team interaction.

Ariel, our spirit in service to Prospero, is often described as delicate.  What a lovely adjective!  In terms of Ariel, to be delicate is to possess a nature sensitive enough to absorb the subtleties of the world around you.  For much of the play, this spirit is “no tongue, all eyes” (4.1.60).  Through conscientious observation, the shipwrecked are always kept safe and led carefully through the plot laid out by Prospero.

Ariel, being so in tune with nature, senses right from wrong on a universal level.  Long ago, a fear of Sycorax’s wrath could not sway this spirit’s moral stronghold.  Prospero reminds us of this in Act 1, “thou wast a spirit too delicate/ To act her earthy and abhorr’d commands,/ Refusing her grand hests” (1.2.272-74).

Let it be a lesson to us all that a delicate spirit should not be confused with weakness.  Great strength lies in staying connected to your intuition and attempting to keep others safe from harm.  Therefore, we must never underestimate those who “do their spiriting gently” (abridged 1.2.299).

Oh and I’m supposed to say a little bit about myself in this post, too… Fine🙂

I’m a mover.  Born to run, jump, tumble, twist, twirl, climb and paddle my way through this life.  Perpetual motion propels me through the week to Chatham University (Adjunct Lecturer: Yoga & Relaxation, Creative Movement), University of Pittsburgh (Production Manager: Shakespeare-in-the-Schools), Schoolhouse Yoga, X Shadyside, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and PNC YMCA (Yoga Teacher).  All this so I can spend as many weekends as possible back home with those who mean the most:  the Wagners, Breslins, and Maddens of Duncansville, PA.

Guest Post by our Trinculo/Gonzalo, Connor McCanlus

Hello! My name is Connor McCanlus and I’ll be playing Trinculo and Gonzalo in the upcoming production of The Tempest. I’m a Pittsburgh native and graduated from Clarion University last year. I’m so excited to work with the amazing Adam Huff again, especially in such a fun company as Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks. I think the style of outdoor, environmental performance is going to be such a unique challenge. When I learned that Adam was the Stephano to my Trinculo, I knew I was going to have an amazing time!

Since returning to my home town, I’ve been getting into the improv scene here in Pittsburgh. I started at Steel City Improv Theater, a gem of an institution in the North Side. I continue to intern and take classes as well as perform on a house team, Field Trip, as part of Totally Free Mondays. I am also an original member of The LuPones: Musical Improv, who were just selected to perform in the Del Close Marathon this summer at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City and I’m so thankful for the opportunity. I also host a musical theater sing-along show at Backstage Bar called HELLO DONNY: A Showtunes Sing-Along! which runs the last Wednesday of every month and you should check it out. When I’m not acting, improvising, or singing, you can find me working at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

Guest Post by our Ferdinand, Garrett Storm

I just graduated in May with a BA in Theatre from Point Park University. I’m all about classical theatre, so I’m very excited to be playing Ferdinand. I get to fill the ever mandatory role of the Shakespearean lover. The totally absolutely love-at-first-sight Shakespearean lover. I’ll-lift-thousands-of-logs-for-your-love-so-don’t-be-sad-about-me Shakespearean lover. But then again, that has to be tempered pretty constantly with the loss of my father. It’s a weird emotional balancing act. Or roller coaster. Or something else suitably shifty and shaky.

This will be my first experience acting outside. I’m looking forward to the ups and downs of that. I don’t know if we play rain or shine, but I’d be so down for a “Tempest” appropriate show in the pouring rain. I’m also looking forward to working with Adam, Connor, and Tonya on another Shakespeare show (the first being “Hamlet” with Three Rivers Theatre Company).

Guest Post by our Stefano/Sebastian, Adam Huff!

Hello all! I am Adam Huff. I am originally from the North Huntingdon area, just a short drive away from Pittsburgh. I graduated last year from Clarion University of Pennsylvania where I earned a B.F.A in Acting and B.S. in Mass Media Arts and Journalism (focused on PR/Advertising). I have also studied acting with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA through their Summer Training Institute program. Last year, I was honored to work with Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks as Slender/Dr. Caius in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Some of my upcoming credits include various characters in Unseam’d Shakespeare’s Shakespeare in the Raw and Laertes (Hamlet, Poor Yorick’s Players). To support my acting habit, I’m currently working as a bartender for a club in the McMurray area.
For this year’s Shakes in the Parks production of The Tempest, I will be playing Sebastian and Stefano. Sebastian is the brother of Alonso, the King of Naples. Without giving too much away, Sebastian is a greedy fool and is eager to go along with anything with which he thinks he can get away. His main concern is himself and his…inheritance. The other character I’m playing is Stefano. Stefano is King Alonso’s steward. Stefano is a servant without much money or power of his own and is greatly distracted by booze and expensive things, not unlike the modern college student. Throughout the play he seeks to increase his supply of shiny things and, of course, more booze.
What I’m looking forward to most is you all of course! Shakespeare intended his audiences to be actively involved in the show, not stuck behind a fourth wall. Don’t worry, we’ll try not to pull you up on stage, but it is an absolute blast to have direct interaction with the audience. With a production like The Tempest, no doubt there will be hiding in the audience, sneaking around picnic baskets like a Shakespearean Yogi Bear, climbing in trees, dogs barking at actors, small children wandering onstage for a scene, LARPers battling it out on the hill near the stage, and all of the other unpredictable obstacles that make acting in the parks an absolute blast! And I’m supposed to cope with all of that while wandering around drunk (Stefano) or plotting my next move in this game of thrones (Sebastian…see what I did there)? It will be a challenge that I eagerly accept!

Guest post by our Alonso, Jeffrey Chips!

Hello, I’m Jeffrey Chips, and I will be playing Alonso in this year’s production of The Tempest with PSIP. I’ve just returned to Pittsburgh after three years away in Staunton, VA, where I earned an MLitt and MFA in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College. For anyone who saw PSIP’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2006, I played Snout. I’m thrilled to be back in the area and working with this wonderful company again.
My graduate program in Shakespeare and Performance worked in association with the American Shakespeare Center, which meant that for three years, I had the opportunity to witness and work with some amazingly talented people putting together some incredible pieces of theater. In my final year, I served as an understudy on four productions at ASC, among them being The Tempest, which I actually got to perform twice as Gonzalo. Largely because of this experience, The Tempest is a play that sits very near and dear to my heart. It has some great passages. Prospero’s “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” speech might be one of the best passages ever written down by anyone anywhere. And though it’s been cut from this production, I encourage everyone to read Gonzalo’s “I’the commonwealth…” speech in 2.1 and marvel at how, in 1611, Shakespeare was able to foresee the economic and political problems people in the New World would face for centuries to come.
But aside from the great speeches, what I love most about The Tempest is that it is, at its core, a play about fathers learning to love by letting go (though I should add that with talents like Helen Mirren and Olympia Dukakis playing Prospero in recent incarnations, the play definitely speaks to both mothers and fathers). We see from the beginning how Prospero holds tightly to the things he loves (his books, his magic, Ariel, Miranda, and of course his grudges) to the point that he becomes possessive. I suppose he’s Shakespeare’s version of a hoarder. Letting go is difficult and painful for him, and watching him do it is heart-wrenching. The play also features Alonso, the King of Naples, who has recently married his daughter, Claribel, off to the King of Tunis and will likely never see her again, and then has lost his son, Ferdinand, in the storm, believing him to be dead. Though Alonso’s story is not as central to the overall plot as Prospero’s, I find it equally compelling, and (**SPOILER ALERT**) his reunion with Ferdinand deeply moving.
While working on the production of The Tempest with ASC, my wife and I gave birth to our son, Samuel, and the themes of the play suddenly took on an even greater significance in my own life — especially the Alonso-Ferdinand storyline. I’ve seen some phenomenal actors play Alonso (namely Rene Thornton Jr. at ASC and Adam Smethurst with Actors From the London Stage) with great emotional depth and vulnerability. I hope that my portrayal can live up to their example, and I look forward to allowing this great play once again teach me how to be a better actor and father.

Guest post by our Prospero, Michael Mykita

Hello, I’m Michael Mykita, and I’ll be playing the part of Prospero in The Tempest.  This part means a lot to me, mainly because I am so fascinated by the character.  Long before I became an actor I was a magician.  That all started when my third grade teacher brought a box of books to class and told us we could each have ONE to take home.  One of them was a book about performing magic, written in a simple style for children, but with some very clever tricks.  Magic became a fun hobby for years, always in the back of my mind while I was busy doing other things.

By the time I graduated with a degree in Computer Science my fondness for performing had begun to shift.  I still liked performing “tricks” with cards and coins, but my focus became the hidden abilities of the human mind.  A few decades later I had developed my skills to the point that I was able to give a reasonable psychic reading using palmistry, numerology, and other methods.  I began to perform my “psychic house parties” in living rooms around western Pennsylvania and doing readings at proms, banquets, and black-tie events.  My biggest honor was being asked to read palms for a special event by the Edgar Allan Poe museum in Baltimore.

During this time I was also studying acting, and I aimed to develop and perform a show that combined magical elements with an intriguing story.  This led me to write Tea and Spirits, an interactive theatrical séance.  Over time I met several brilliant local entertainers, and together we have combined our disciplines to form the Much Ado Players, a group that does comedy, improvisation, music, and side-show stunts, though usually not all at once.

Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks is an exciting opportunity for me.  Rather than being on stage, I am at my happiest when I’m right there on level with the audience and interacting with them.  I also love the unique challenges that an outdoor venue contains, like noise, dogs, airplanes, Frisbees, and other unexpected interruptions.  I’m looking forward to playing Shakespeare’s ultimate magician for the people of Pittsburgh in the beautiful settings of the city’s parks.

Guest post by our Caliban, Tonya Lynn

I’m Tonya, and I have been working as a freelance actor, teacher, and fight choreographer since moving to Pittsburgh in 2003.  Like so many of us in the arts, this also means that there is a necessary “day job”– since I really enjoy frivolous things like food and shelter–so between my office work and theater work I keep a pretty full schedule.

I got my taste for outdoor theater in college while working on a couple of outdoor productions as a student, and I’ve loved Shakespeare since my seventh grade teacher took me to see a local production–so when I learned about PSIP, I immediately got involved–and have worked in some capacity on every production since.  It’s been a great opportunity to become familiar with some of the wonderful green spaces in Pittsburgh–although I’m still not a fan of the mosquitoes which show up at dusk during rehearsals.  And I’m pretty sure that the sledding hill in Frick Park gets steeper every year, if my weary calves are any indication. Would I trade it for an air-conditioned theater? Not a chance!  You can see plenty of that around here (all of the great theater is one of the things I love about Pittsburgh), and PSIP is a unique, challenging experience for actors, and a surprisingly intimate and personal experience of the play for the audience–all in a beautiful natural environment.  I can put up with a few mosquitoes for that!

This year I have the rare opportunity to play Caliban, a native of Prospero’s island and his unwilling servant. Our production is unusual in having a female Caliban–as a character actress, I’m quite looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime chance to portray this fascinating and complex character. Exploring the impact which the change of gender has on Caliban’s relationships with other characters in the play opens up some intriguing new layers and interactions, while still maintaining the core conflicts and desires which motivate the character.  I’m lucky in that I’ve worked with many of the other actors in this cast previously, and am delighted to work with them again.  It’s wonderful to walk into a first rehearsal and already have a level of trust and friendship with your castmates. I also get the treat of meeting some actors whom I have not worked with before–and sharing experiences as you build a performance together is always a great treat!

Guest post by our Miranda, Tessa Markle!

Hi, my name is Tessa and I’m so excited to be performing Shakespeare this fall! I’ve been a theatre geek since I was pretty young, so getting to perform a classic is something I’m really looking forward to! I remember reading a few Shakespeare plays in high school (i.e. Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar) and being a lot more into it than most of my classmates. Then, in college, being that I was a theatre (and psychology) major, I read a lot more Shakespeare and took a “Shakespeare for Everyone” class too.

I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with Shakespeare — I have to admit, I’m more of a fan of plays in modern English, but I’m proud to say I can at least understand what is being said! — but I do have a few favorites, especially Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’d even put The Tempest up there in the top five, which is another reason I’m excited to be playing Miranda. When I was cast for the part, I was very pleased. I haven’t had much formal classical training, nor have I seen Shakespeare performed live very many times, but I’m more than ready to accept the challenge.

Miranda is an interesting character as well. She falls in love so quickly and for no more than love at first sight, really. (Even if it’s not really her choice, considering Ariel fetched Ferdinand for her.) Although she is relatively passive, she does speak up for herself, such as when she proposes to Ferdinand and says that if he will not have her as his wife, she will die as his maid. I think it will be interesting to play a heroine that at first seems rather passive and straightforward, but we find later is a little more complicated than that.

Complicated characters are, in fact, my favorite to play. I love really dark or deep shows with a lot of character development. One of my favorite shows that I was in is A Streetcar Named Desire. I played Stella, but I’d love to explore the character of Blanche someday. I’m also a big fan of musicals (I know, pretty much the opposite direction in content, but how can you resist them?). Someday I’d love to get the chance to be in a Broadway musical, even just as a chorus member. However, my plan for the near future is to move to LA to explore the possibility of film/television/commercial acting for a few years. Eventually, though, I would like to move to NYC and do more stage acting before I decide to settle down.