CAST 2017

CAST 2017

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Silvius, William, Brendan and Adam: a multi-roler's perspective.

Blog post number seven. Cast member Adam Mirsky (second year English student at Emmanuel College) talks about multi-rolling and the daunting experience of being offered a role on CAST. 

With so many characters, Adam can never be quite sure who he is playing.  

With so many characters, Adam can never be quite sure who he is playing.  

 

30th January 2016. Around 11pm. My phone rings. Tentatively, I thrust my sweaty palm into my right-hand trouser pocket and bring out the phone. Unknown number. “Who can it be?” I think, as my hand trembles from the phone’s vibrations. And also from fear. I breathe deeply and summon up the courage to press the green phone button. “H… hello?” I stutter, anxious and desperate to know who it is. Why are they calling me? For what could they possibly want me? A harsh, gravelly voice echoes through the phone’s tinny speakers. “Do you want to tour America?”

 

Fast-forward just over six months. It’s the start of August and since the frankly sinister experience of Louisa Dales offering me a role in CAST I’ve laughed awkwardly through a number of forced bonding sessions with a cast and crew I don’t really know yet, paid £750 in company fees to perform a play I don’t really know yet and neglected learning any of my lines (which I definitely do not know yet). I’m driving up to Cambridge for a month of rehearsals before we go on tour.

 

The rehearsal process starts mainly in the sun in the gardens of Homerton (the college in which we’re staying for the month) and feels very much focussed on getting the actors feeling comfortable enough in the rehearsal space – there are a lot of drama games – to experiment, have fun, and even take liberties with the text. As an actor who’s multi-roling a lot in the play, this has been really helpful in making some of the smaller parts feel like more than just background characters: the First Lord has become enough of a character to have been affectionately named Brendan by the cast and crew; and we’ve been able to play with the characters so much that the scene with William, who is perhaps the dullest character Shakespeare ever wrote (he essentially just answers yes and no questions for about a minute and is never seen again), has become a comic highlight of the play, if I say so myself.

 

But the play isn’t solely fun and comedy (although it is mostlythat). I’ve spent a long time discussing with Lily Lindon (who plays Phebe, among other characters) how we can play the relationship between Silvius and Phebe to try and minimise the uncomfortable ending for the couple, which essentially celebrates Phebe’s non-consensual submission to Silvius’slove. I’ve also spent hours grinding callouses into my fingertips, desperately practising the guitar in an attempt to do justice to the beautiful original compositions we use in the show (penned by Jamie Fenton). And I think it’s these parts that make our production really good. Anyone can put on a funny voice and costume (as I frequently do in this show) but for me, the scene where Adam gives up all his money to run away with Orlando (a strangely fitting parallel to experience with this tour. I knew it would be fateful playing a character who shares my name!) is a much harder scene to play and having the opportunity to do both in As You Like It is what makes this such an exciting show to tour.

A play about people

In the sixth of our blog post series, assistant director Hannah Sands writes about how As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's most accessible plays in the simplicity and relatability of its stories. Hannah is a finalist studying English at Homerton College. 

 

Hannah Sands

Hannah Sands

 

It was as a ten year-old that I first discovered ‘As You Like It’.  In the lead up to my school’s verse speaking competition, I stumbled upon Jacques’ ‘All the World’s a stage’ monologue. It was not just because I wanted to impress the judges with something more complex, that I left the verses of Roald Dahl’s Dirty Beasts and turned to The Bard, whose work was then quite unfamiliar to me. Instead, even then I could recognise that this was something rather special. As I climbed onto the stage to deliver my rendition, it was with a newfound revelation of acting and theatre in general. I was no longer just a student reproducing a rhyming story religiously learnt off by heart; rather I had here a speech that would allow me to speak directly to everyone in that room.A speech that recognised the consistency of human experience.

 

 

This is the fundamental feature of Shakespeare’s plays that we continue to enjoy today. Though his stories have been transferred from numerous settings and different moments in time, they continue to explore the diverse but underlying familiar pattern of human life. For CAST, one of the biggest and most enjoyable challenges was to create a production of ‘As You Like It’ that fully accommodated our understanding of identity today. Working with Marthe (the Director) has been an absolute pleasure. Marthe’s vision for the play is bold in so many different ways as she has decided to come at the text with a modern take on gender fluidity and sexuality. In many productions, such topics can be barely touched upon. Often the comic climax simply comes from Rosalind dressing as a man, Phoebe falling in love with her (without realising that she is actually a woman only disguised as a man) and Orlando carrying out his prescribed courting practices on Rosalind, dressed as a man pretending to be a girl. For such productions, it is the deviation from ‘socially prescribed’ identities and expected relations that intend to prompt our laughter, suggesting there is a conventional route in romance. CAST’s production however, celebrates the character’s individual confusion and uncertainty. In our show, thereis no such thing as error in the Forest of Arden, only experience. As the characters leave behind the monochrome court, they embark upon anindividual transformation, as they fall in and out of love, along all sorts of different paths.

 

Marthe and I have worked very closely with the actors every step of the way. In rehearsals we have endeavoured to make sure that relationships between characters are natural, and that every impulse seems spontaneous, allowing us to bring to stage something that is honest.  One of the struggles a director can face is communicating their envisaged understanding of a certain interaction to the actors. Both actor and director will use the same words such as ‘love’, ‘energy’, ‘intimacy’, when trying to establish a common understanding, however these words can mean very different things to each of us. Though it sometimes means we repeat tiny moments again and again until we are all happy, it has been incredible to witness moments emerge in the rehearsal room that I did not first see in my head.

 

‘As You Like It’ is a play about people, and CAST’s rendition shows people set free from all expectation and restriction, interacting with one another, in whatever way they like it. 

The Directors at work.  

The Directors at work.  

As You Light It

Next up in our series, lighting designer Sam Payne talks about what brought him to lighting and the design of the show. Sam has just graduated from Christ's College with a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and is about to undertake a master's degree in the same.  

 

Sam Payne, master of light

Sam Payne, master of light

 

When I first tried out lighting design at the end of my first year as a Cambridge undergraduate, I thought I'd hate it. Not only did it seem really hard to do well (student theatre can be very hit-and-miss), but it required a patience and attention to detail that I thought I would never possess. That first show, Hedda Gabler, went better than expected; it wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it worked. Every show since then has been an incremental improvement on the last, and As You Like It represents my final design of undergraduate life. In some ways I've come full circle; both shows feature a design influenced by nature and the encroaching forest, for instance. In other ways, however, this tour represents the end of a journey for me through Cambridge, and I couldn't ask for anything more fitting.

 

Sam enjoys fairy lights, garlands and long walks in the rain

Sam enjoys fairy lights, garlands and long walks in the rain

The preparation period for this year's CAST tour of As You Like It has gone by in a flash. It seems almost unbelievable that just four weeks ago Jamie (co-Lighting Designer) and I were sitting down to go through the script (line by line) and the director's notes to flesh out an initial design plan. Since that first conversation, supplemented by a lot of online coordination, we've succeeded in creating a lighting design that fits with Marthe's (Director) vision for the play, achieves everything we set out to do, and is capable of being implemented on a touring show that doesn't have the capacity to tour any lighting equipment of its own. The focus of our design has been emphasising Shakespeare’s contrast between the monochrome of the court and the vibrant colour of the Forest of Arden. Working with our wonderful production designers, Abigail and Eleanor, has been crucial to creating the monochrome, sombre court, filled with harsh and cold light, as well as the colourful and more changeable Forest of Arden.

Having never worked with a co-Lighting Designer before, I'd be the first to admit that I was very nervous coming onto this project. In reality, however, it's been an absolute dream working with Jamie. Every idea that one of us suggests is taken seriously, and the final design is a product that we are both very proud of. Whilst there are bits of both of us in the finished product, I would challenge you to separate out my influence from Jamie's; as a result of our collaboration it's something entirely different, and it's much stronger for that. This is one of the best lighting designs that I've worked on in Cambridge in the last few years, and I hope that all of our audiences are transported from their seats to the austere monochrome court, and the colourful, unfamiliar Forest of Arden. Watch out for those lights peeking out from the forest floor through the trees in particular!

Most importantly, of course, I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and love of lighting design in theatre with students throughout our tour in the workshops CAST provides; hopefully we'll be able to encourage some of them to try out lighting design themselves.

The Forest of Arden in Spooky Lighting mode

The Forest of Arden in Spooky Lighting mode

Thoughts on Celia - Alice Carlill

For the fourth in our series of blog posts, actor Alice Carlill writes about her thoughts on her character, Celia, and tells us why she is not just a supporting character. 

Alice Carlill as Celia in the forest (left), disguised as Aleana; Celia in the court (right) 

Alice Carlill as Celia in the forest (left), disguised as Aleana; Celia in the court (right) 

Alice Carlill – Thoughts on Celia

Celia: supporting actress, loyal friend to Rosalind, daughter of a usurping Duke and eventual wife to Oliver. Right? Technically, yes – but she is so much more than that.

When I accepted the role of Celia, I was determined she would not ‘just’ be any/all of the above. This did not only stem from my personal aversion to wet, weak female characters – a staging of Celia with which I am well familiar, and which I feel is both boring and textually incorrect. Read Shakespeare’s language and a sassy, bold and self-assured woman emerges:

…let my father seek another heir!
Therefore devise with me how we may fly,
Whither to go, and what to bear with us;
And do not seek to take your change upon you,
To bear your griefs yourself and leave me out:
For, by this heaven, now at our sorrows pale,
Say what thou canst, I’ll go along with thee.

Examine the verbs: ‘devise’, ‘fly’, ‘go’, ‘bear’. Examine her affectionate, but imperative command that Rosalind allow Celia to share her grief. And examine, perhaps most bold of all, her rejection of family and status for the love of her cousin. Celia is no wet woman, and I was not going to disgrace Shakespeare’s words or the character by playing her thus.

Certainly she is not as immediately comfortable as Rosalind or Touchstone in the forest. But it is she who advises fleeing the court for the rural haven, and she settles in happily enough, pronouncing that now-infamous line – ‘I like this place/And willingly could waste my time in it.’ Neither is she as wordy as her cousin, but that is not to say she is stupid – quite the opposite, as she, Rosalind and Touchstone demonstrate in their bantering exchanges. In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I believe that the text is the ultimate source to which Shakespearean actors must refer themselves, and I am not playing a Celia who is inconsistent with the woman the bard wrote (except, perhaps, in the provision of feminist literature in those scenes where she is onstage but not saying much – look out for the likes of Woolf and Wollstonecraft).

This production of As You Like It has embraced the ambiguities of gender and sexuality that are there in Shakespeare’s text. However, in terms of Celia’s relationship with Rosalind, it has not been played with any of the queerness that directors sometimes bring to it. For me, it was important that their friendship be played straight, ratifying and embracing the female bond that is at the heart of the play. It is rare that such female relationships are so central to a text even today, and, what with our production team being so overwhelmingly female, it would be a sin not to honour that. To this end, Celia does not remain the silent woman post Act IV, spoken for by her husband. Shakespeare’s text must be the starting-point for any production, but that is not to say it cannot be played with to accommodate its vision; it is the plays’ timelessness, after all, that has contributed to their continuing success and longevity. Ultimately, Orlando and Oliver may come and go, but Rosalind and Celia are forever.

A View From The Wing

Third in our blog series is a post from production designer and stage manager Eleanor Mitchell, a finalist studying English Literature at Pembroke College.

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When I heard that this year’s CAST tour would be As You Like It, I knew I had to be involved somehow. I first read the play aloud with a friend and fell in love with its vibrancy, with the energy that springs from its series of almost incongruous events and its crashing together of tender romance and bawdy comedy. Having developed stage management experience from working on various productions whilst at Cambridge, I was eager to bring my love of taping, risk assessing and cue calling on tour and applied for the role of stage manager. I was so thrilled (and a little perplexed, although far too excited to question it) to be offered not only stage manager, but also the role of production designer along with Abi, our fabulous education officer.

I have just arrived home following a month-long rehearsal and preparation period in Cambridge and so far I am loving the challenge of fulfilling both roles. Stage management is all about organisation, planning and logistics; you’re responsible for the safety of the cast throughout the performance and for ensuring that the show runs smoothly, which can mean anything from calling cues correctly to pre-setting props. With all the practical thinking this requires, I’ve found the opportunity to also have a creative input in the show greatly rewarding. Working with Abi to design the set and costumes has been so much fun; it has involved bartering with fabric shops in London, the joys of absurd yet perfect charity shop finds, and a considerable amount of sewing – a skill I didn’t possess before CAST! We’re really proud of the two worlds we’ve managed to create within the play, particularly given the practical limitations that designing for a touring production entails. Our UK previews gave us the chance to make further improvements and also challenged me as a stage manager, providing a taste of what will be required of me when working in entirely unfamiliar venues on tour. I feel ready now to embrace these challenges on tour and I can’t wait to put into practice everything I have learned over the past month.

I am also really looking forward to being involved with the brilliant education workshops that Abi has devised. For me, CAST is at its core an educational experience. As an English student and lover of Shakespeare, I’m so excited to have the opportunity to discuss and explore As You Like It with students from the schools we are visiting. I am very grateful to my College for providing the sponsorship that has enabled me to be involved with CAST; I have already found the experience to be an enriching and rewarding one, and I hope it will continue to be so for our audiences and the students we are to work with in the Cayman Islands and America!

Eleanor Mitchell

Eleanor in action as the CAST stage manager

Eleanor in action as the CAST stage manager

A tour manager's perspective: Louisa Dales

In this second of our series of blog posts from members of the CAST 2016 company, tour manager Louisa Dales writes about what CAST means to her. 

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Tour Managing CAST

It was the best part of a year ago now when Josie and I met for coffee to discuss whether we wanted to apply together to tour manage CAST 2016. We didn't know each other particularly well, but nonetheless we agreed it would be a great project to embark on together, and we applied and were given the tour. Josie had been on CAST the year before, but neither of us knew quite what was in store for us in the upcoming year. Despite being a student theatre tour, CAST often feels like you're running a business, because there is so much to do, especially when you're studying for a degree alongside it all. We are a university society, but they entrust the running of the tour entirely to the tour managers - if we don't book the flights, the tour doesn't go! Therefore, there has not been a day since November that I have not thought about CAST for at least five minutes, because there is so much to get done.

Tour managers Louisa Dales (left) and Josie Wastell (right) 

Tour managers Louisa Dales (left) and Josie Wastell (right) 

We were eager this year to expand the tour and add in new venues, as the process of assembling the tour itinerary is much more exciting when you're able to leave your own mark on it, so it doesn't just feel like you're repeating what the tour has done in previous years. The most ambitious addition to the tour this year is our visit to the Cayman Islands, not only because we are adding in an additional country, but because we have so many performances. I can't wait to be able to show a whole new group of people the production that has been so carefully crafted by our production team and our actors.

We have spent the month before we leave for Cayman in Cambridge, preparing the show. For the actors and directors, this has meant 9-5 rehearsals most days, often in the gardens of Homerton College where we've been staying, which has been absolutely beautiful. Our production team have spent the weeks building a portable set, designing our lights and costume, and planning the education workshops that are such a crucial part of our tour, and one of the main reasons I think CAST is such a great opportunity. For me and Josie, the time has been spent visiting possibly every cafe in Cambridge for hours and hours of caffeine-fuelled tour planning! Planning a tour on this scale means keeping in regular contact with our 12 venues, as we organise everything from performance details down to lunch plans, to ensure that we don't get caught out whilst on tour. As our time in Cambridge draws to a close, we run a number of education training days with the entire company to make sure they are all ready to run the workshops, and we have our crucial packing day to make sure everything fits before we fly!

I am so grateful for the opportunity that CAST has given me, and I know the rest of the company feel a similar way. We all contribute financially to come on CAST because it is such a great experience, and for many of us it is preparing us for the future, as CAST is often full of students with goals to work in theatre or the entertainment industry. I am really hoping to forge a career in film and television production, and having the experience of running CAST is invaluable in terms of the skills and abilities it has given me. It has been brilliant to work so independently alongside Josie to create something on this scale, and I know I will treasure my time spent on CAST in years to come. I cannot wait to set off on Thursday for what may well be the most exciting month of my life to date, and I am so thrilled that Cayman will be our first stop!

Putting up As You Like It posters in Cambridge

Putting up As You Like It posters in Cambridge

Composing As You Like It

This is the first in a series of blog posts by members of the CAST 2016 tour about what attracted them to CAST and their role on the tour. CAST is not for profit; members of our team are sponsored or pay to be a part of the tour. We are passionate about Shakespeare and using his works to educate and as a way of building relationships between communities that would not otherwise interact. 

First up in this series of blog posts is Jamie Fenton, our musical director and composer, who explains his inspiration for the music in As You Like It. You can listen to his songs here: https://m.soundcloud.com/jjwfenton/blow-blow-thou-winter-wind-megan-gilbert-joe-pitts

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Composing for As You Like It

The day I finished my last exam in high school, I took a train with two friends to Shakespeare’s home town to see an RSC production of As You Like It. I didn’t go because I was a massive fan of the play - I’d never seen or read it before - but because British singer-songwriter Laura Marling had written the score. At this point in my wild, unrestrained youth, I was more in love with Laura Marling than with Shakespeare. About an hour into the play, however, I started a new love affair with As You Like It. Of all Shakespeare’s plays, it’s the most unashamedly fun. After we emerge from the doldrums of the court, we enter a weird kind of forest-based sketch show, where scenes, characters and songs burst onto stage without any excuse beyond their unfailing capacity to entertain and linger. I got on the train with a guitar, because that was the kind of thing you did when you were a young member of an aspiring folk duo who wanted to look edgy. Since then I’ve got on various other trains with the same guitar, always in part wondering whether I could write a score to As You Like It. This tour then is in some way a childlike piece of wish fulfilment. But it’s more complicated than that, because I absolutely could not have written a score to As You Like It in 2013, the year I left school. When I started working on this show in early 2016, I still wasn’t sure I could do it, but I was sure I could try. In my three years at Cambridge I’ve written a fair few songs, been in a successful if mildly controversial musical comedy duo, composed a score for a stage production of Of Mice and Men, and written a sea-shanty for a Famous Five parody. Only after all this did I feel just about ready to give As You Like It a try.

The director and I discussed what we wanted from the songs in the script, and decided we wanted a bit of a mixture - acoustic, alternative, traditional, trendy - a festival atmosphere. The forest of Arden is a fairly spontaneous place, welcome to all-comers, from Jacques to William (a contrast made clear in our production), so I let the lyrics do the work and point me towards a mood for each song, rather than trying to hit on something consistent. I’ve ended up with a bittersweet Under the Greenwood Tree, a moody Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind, a driven, hot-under-the-collar version of The Horn, and a knees-up setting of It Was a Lover and his Lass. I’ve tweaked some of the traditional lyrics here and there, and worked with the cast to hit on some harmonies, and I think we’ve ended up with something that’s fun to sing, and fun to listen to. I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to have a stab at these songs, and leave my small mark on Arden.

I’m also thrilled to be bringing the play to schools, and to be helping run workshops on reading, acting and staging Shakespeare. I’m starting a Masters in American Literature this year, and hope to continue on to teach English, so I’m excited for this opportunity to engage students with a surprisingly tricky text. Our company is a talented and enthusiastic bunch, and I hope we can deliver some inspiring workshops and a funny, questioning, breathless trip into one of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies.

Jamie Fenton

September 12 2015

Today we are doing our get in at the Glema Mar Centre at Madisonville Community College. It is a huge space- maybe even bigger than the Florida ones. Yesterday we drove from Nashville and arrived at the hotel after a fantastic day out in Nashville. Some of us went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, some to the Jimmy Cash Museum and some just went shopping and drifted in and out of the honky tonk bars. Highlights include the incredible ice cream and dancing to live country music in Robert’s with quite a large audience. It was a great day and just what we needed after a day at the theatre before. The show at Columbia had a great reaction and then we travelled to Nashville School of the Arts. Nashville is an awesome place but the school is a bit on the edge. Having said that, the students at the school were awesome, really friendly and interesting to talk to- there was quite a ‘Glee’ vibe.

Finishing at Columbia

Finishing at Columbia

 

We did several workshops and one performance to which lots of people came. The drive from Columbia to Nashville was a very long one, but we are getting used to the driving and how much we can each do before having to switch. Some of the actors are losing their voices and some people are a bit ill- but we’re managing to find quite a few places which serve salads and veg. Driving over the border into Kentucky was quite a drastic change. The wooded hills and mountains were quickly replaced with flat farmlands. The Madisonville hotel is nice and we spent some time stretching out in the pool after the drive from Nashville. Not entirely sure how many people will be at the show but hopefully they will enjoy it. Tomorrow is our longest drive of the trip, to Frostburg.

Laura Sedgwick/Tour Manager/Saturday  12 2015