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?


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 Antonio, Andy Kirtland!

I’m a journeyman. I have lived and worked in Chicago (3 years), Cincinnati (1 year),
New York City (3 years) and toured the east coast and mid-west before coming to
Pittsburgh last fall. I’ve a working relationship with the New England Shakespeare
Festival since interning there in 2002, and have come to embrace the First Folio Cue-
Script Technique as the basis for all my work with Shakespeare. My girlfriend, Elizabeth
Ruelas, and I have formed the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, teaching workshops in
that technique, and directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Two Gentlemen of
Verona for the Unseam’d Shakespeare Company.

This is my second production of the The Tempest. My main responsibility in the last
one was to work the revolve on the stage. I had to step in and play Sebastian when the
actor playing the role had to miss a performance, and when the wife of the actor playing
Alonso went into labor I had to learn his role in 3 hours.

In this production, I play Antonio, about as unsympathetic a character as can be found in
Shakespeare. To win a Dukedom, he puts his brother and his baby niece in a leaky boat
and sets them out to sea. Once marooned on a desert island, when he’s sure no one is
looking, he leaps at the chance to kill his king in order to put a weaker man on the throne
to avoid paying tribute. I look forward to the fun of playing an unabashed, unapologetic
baddie. It is not an opportunity I’ve had in the past.

First Production Meeting

This past Sunday we met for our first production meeting with our Director – Alan, Artistic Director – Jennifer, Assistant Director – Jo, Stage Manager – Lori, Costumer – Lisa, and Propsmistress – Sara (yours truly). We’re still in the very very early stages of production (obviously), but I’m very excited about what’s to come! We have some terrific concepts floating around. Lisa, our costumer, had some really exciting design concepts to show us. We’ll be revealing more later, but I can promise you that the designs will really catch your attention!

Our next priority is putting together a photo shoot for our posters and postcards which will soon be floating around Pittsburgh. I’ll be back soon to let you know how that goes, but I hear there’s some lightning on the agenda!