Category: Backstage


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?

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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 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 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!

Auditions for The Tempest (in a Tempest)

We held auditions for our fall production of The Tempest this past weekend in Frick Park. What started out as a very English spring day (40 degrees and overcast) soon turned into an all-out tempest, with gusts of winds, hail, and rain. Our auditioning actors braved it all though, giving monologues in the rain, with or without umbrellas; ratcheting their vocal performances above the din of traffic and rain hitting the tin roof of the picnic area at the Blue Slide Playground; and good-naturedly slipping and sliding on wet playground equipment to demonstrate the lively spirit of our shows. We promised better weather for our show in September.

But the real hero of the day, in my book anyway, was the director’s wife, who brought blankets so we could stay warm during the four hours of auditions. I may have looked ridiculous wrapped up like burrito, in a borrowed hat, and with two left gloves, but at least I could feel my extremities again!

After auditions we headed over to Art All Night in Lawrenceville, where we were given the Acoustic Stage for half an hour. It was a flurry of monologues, music, and general rough-housing (the PSIP way!). It was our first time attending Art All Night, and I think we’ll be back again next year. We love Lawrenceville!