I have had the joy of spending most of the past month co-directing Much Ado About Nothing with my husband. As we move toward tech week and opening night, I wanted to share a few things about what it’s been like to direct this play, in this time, particularly with someone I love so much by my side for the process.
*On a personal note, it has been a blessing to experience the state of FLOW again, which hasn’t happened for a long time. It happens during a really good class, but that’s less than half the amount of time a rehearsal lasts, and to have hours fly by as I do what I love and don’t think about anything else has been so refreshing. When I’m parenting, I have moments of flow as well, but I don’t think I have ever gone hours just being with my kids without my mind noticing the dozens of things around the house or bouncing around my head that also need to be done (perhaps that is just the environment I’m in, perhaps that is a commentary on my parenting, perhaps it isn’t the type of work than can induce flow… any parents out there who lose hours at a time with their toddlers, please share your secrets!) And in a weird way, having our kids at the theatre with us sometimes and knowing they are being taken care of by someone supporting the rehearsal process other times made this state of flow even easier to achieve because it didn’t feel like I was choosing theatre over them, or fretting over if they’d be ok or understand why we were leaving them so often. They got excited about being at the theatre and being a part of our work.
So now here’s a few thoughts about the show-
*”Serve God, Love Me and Mend”
This is my favorite line in the play. It has been for as long as I can remember. My husband and I love it so much that we had it stamped into the ring bearer bowl for our wedding and I painted it on a canvas for our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. I have closed each of my theatre bios for the past several years with “Serve. Love. Mend.” and I can’t think of anything that better sums up what I believe theatre does. I told this to our cast on the first day of rehearsal. Theatre has always inherently been, at least in part, about service for me. When I was going to school at Pepperdine, we spent a lot of time talking about vocation and what your specific talents were and how you could put them to use for a higher cause. For me, that has always been performing. If you aren’t serving an audience and your castmates/crew in some way, then I deeply believe that there’s too much opportunity for ego to drive your work, and that can kill some pretty great art very fast. LOVE is at the center of theatre for me as well. We asked our cast to find the love in all their scenes, even when it seems like a flippant or surface level clown scene and the love is for a lantern, even in scenes where it appears the scene is about revenge or rage… the scenes are dead without finding the love. One of my colleagues from the theatre where I went to grad school runs a place in New York City called The Shakespeare Forum, which uses the phrase, “Love is the strongest choice” on many of their materials, and I deeply agree with that statement. We talk a lot in acting and directing about bold choices- LOVE, especially in times where cynicism seems so easy to embrace, is a bold, strong, and NEEDED choice. And speaking of cynicism… that final component- mend. Directing this show has been exhausting at times, but I can’t begin to describe how doing it helped me mend in various ways. I believe it has the power to help audience members mend as well. I think often about my high school psychology teacher, Judith Grimes Priebe, who told once class of Xavier girls as they graduated that, “We are sending you out to repair the world” And I like to think that’s what we are doing with our actors on opening night. One way I think we can repair the world? LAUGHTER.
* “Oh she would laugh me out of myself…”
That whole “laughter is the best medicine” saying is not one of my favorites- some laughter is cruel. But the kind of laughter in this show… is medicinal indeed. I can’t tell you how good it was to come in after what was sometimes a rough day and end rehearsal laughing until I cried. One of the things I learned in graduate school that I deeply agree with is that theatre is at its most engaging when it isn’t trying to be film. You can never make things as real as they would be in film, even if you had a crazy budget to work with, so why not embrace the fact that you are in a theatre and ask the audience to play along and use their imaginations?! This is especially true for the way my husband and I approach Shakespeare. We have actors take lines to the audience, we have them “hiding” in ways that are funny because they would be so ridiculous in life but because our performers are willing to commit to those choices, then any audience with an open heart and an active imagination can delight in those moments. Laughter isn’t the only needed part of this show though. There’s also some exploration and catharsis that I wish weren’t quite so poignant as it is.
*”I would eat his heart in the marketplace” This show explores many themes, but some of the more serious notes interrogate whose voices are listened to and whose are silenced, “proof” vs. truth, how much havoc a lie can cause, and the double standards for men and women. They are all themes that resonate deeply with me right now and it is my hope that some of the realizations the cast has had with us about these themes will translate and come across clearly for our audiences. There’s still a discomfort with women expressing anger- if they are they tend to get called some of the names that Beatrice does in the play- harpy, prideful, etc. But there is something particularly poignant about the deep grief and anger Beatrice experiences on her cousin’s behalf that I feel, that I share in, that I think has to be expressed before it can be resolved.
*”Benedick: By this hand, I love thee.
Beatrice: Use it for my love some other way than swearing by it.”
One of the things we talked about a great deal in rehearsals is what it means to be an ally, what it means to have to choose friendship or love or justice over one another because they suddenly don’t co-exist, and how talk and action are miles apart from each other. There are many characters who do a lot of talking, but it is their actions and decision points that move the play forward and gain he audience’s sympathies or criticism. I believe that at the heart of this play is the story of two people who don’t tame each other, but rather choose to tame themselves and sacrifice for the person they love. I think it is why it is a favorite of so many, because it shows that love is not enough to sustain a relationship long term- action and choosing each other are vital
components of a successful partnership. (Also, it’s kind of fun to verbally spar with someone who can also drive you just a little bit crazy…)
*”For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.”- there are so many delightful implications in the word giddy: foolish, fast paced, crazy, confused, fickle, flighty, frivolous, excited… and I think all of them apply to the human condition. I have felt all those definitions of giddy during the past few weeks of rehearsal, and I’m sure tech week will bring even more of those feelings, but what a joy to be human and to get to experience all those emotions in a room full of people with open hearts, talent, and who are ready to share this beautiful story with an audience.
If you are in the metro-Phoenix area and would like to see our production of Much Ado About Nothing at Brelby Theatre Company, you can get your tickets by clicking HERE (and you can get a discount to wave the service fee by entering the code TROMBLEY) Hope to see you there!