How to Take a Hit

Kate Jones

One of the first plays I saw in Stratford was Othello, and while not Shakespeare’s most violent play, there was plenty of on stage fighting. I’ve always found the concept of stage fighting interesting—how it’s choreographed and how the sounds are made without anyone actually being hit. So I was looking forward to the morning of our stage combat workshop. 

We had the opportunity to learn from two of the actors that were in some of the plays we’d seen earlier: Johnathan Sousa and EB Smith. When we got there we started out by getting into pairs. Before we actually did anything, we learned there are three s’s of stage combat: safety, story, and speed. 

Safety is obviously the most important aspect, with the story of the fight coming next. The last part of stage fighting to acquire is speed, so since we were only there for about an hour none of what we practiced was very fast. 

The first thing we learned was how to “punch” someone. We had learn how to cue our partner by holding our dominant hand out to the side in a fist. Then we focused on an imaginary parrot on our partner’s shoulder, and aimed the punch at the parrot so that we didn’t accidently actually punch the other person. We also learned that whether the punch looked realistic depended on the positioning. For example, in a place where there are people surrounding the actors, it’s necessary to swing your arm past your partner’s face so that everyone in the audience feels like they saw the punch. 

However, my favorite part of this workshop was learning how actors make a punch or slap sound like someone is actually being hit. This is accomplished by a knap. Knaps are made by one of the actors hitting themselves in a way that the audience can’t see. The examples we were shown included clapping hands or slapping the chest. After a few times practicing our punches, we learned how to “slap” someone. This was very similar to punching, just with a flat hand instead of one curled into a fist. 

I had a lot of fun practicing this, even though I wasn’t particularly good at it. I have a tendency to lean backward to punch when my partner “punches” me, which makes it a little less realistic looking. But it was a lot of fun to do and see how my partner reacted to my punches/slaps. She had really good reactions and made the experience a lot of fun.

The last thing we learned was how to make it look like we were dragging someone around by their hair. At first I was really nervous about this because I wasn’t sure if it involved my partner actually touching my hair. Luckily there wasn’t anything like that needed. Instead, Person A would place their fist on top of Person B’s head so it looked like they had a fistful of hair. However, the actual power behind the movements comes from Person B, who grabs onto their partner’s hand and is the one that moves and makes the hair pulling look real. 

I had a lot of fun practicing this one, especially because of the different ways this particular situation could be played out. For example, because there my partner was significantly taller than me, she sat in a chair for this one so that it looked I was dragging her off the chair by her hair. Another pair had one of them sliding across the floor, and they played it out really well so it was a lot of fun to watch.

Props & Costumes

Amber Todd

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This is the famous jacket in the Stratford archive center. Which was worn by Christopher Plummer where he played Henry V at the Stratford festival in the 1950s. William Shatner who was Plummer’s understudy also wore this jacket when it was his turn to play Henry V one evening. This jacket is known as a famous relic to the archive center.

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There were so many costumes we got to see on our Archive and Costume Warehouse tour. We learned that the costume designers create a great amount of detail to their costumes. For example this is a jacket worn for The Tempest. You can see how great the detail is by the buttons of the jacket and the feather like design on the body of the jacket. Each thread in this coat is thought out so carefully.

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Another great example of the detail used in these costumes is this wedding dress which was from Taming of the Shrew. You can see that the small sequences come together to make a bigger pattern. Each sequence is so precise. You can see from the photo how lights on stage will create a shimmering look for this gown. Creating a calming yet animated ambience for the audience.

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As well as costumes, there are intensive and unique props in the archive center. Here is a chandelier that would fit into anyone’s budget. It is made out of tape, plastic spoons and dollar store wine glasses. We were told that the props department has to be creative, and think outside the box to get a job at this festival. I would say that this chandelier does the job. On stage you would never know that this chandelier is made out of spoons.

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Lastly here is a image of our class getting the opportunity to try on different costumes during our costume warehouse tour. We all had a blast putting on different jackets and imaging ourselves in these roles that the costumes were made for.

I See Dead People

Desiree Ritchie

Okay, the title is a little misleading, I didn’t really see dead people, but we did get to meet some of Stratford’s finest Ghost Tour guides, Euphemia and Edward, who really played the part (and they played it well). Having never been on a ghost tour before, I had no idea what to expect aside from of Stratford’s haunted past in some historical sites. Euphemia and Edward, our spooky tour guides (pictured below) began with the Thomas Edison cafe, where Thomas Edison himself lived upstairs in the quaint apartment above the cafe. Edison was only 16 when he lived in the space, obtaining the job of a telegrapher. When things went south, Edison left Canada never to return again. *enter scary ghost boo here*

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Our next stop on the tour was St. James Anglican Church. The church was grand and beautiful, having gravestones in the grass leading up to the main doors. As we stood eerily outside of St. James, Euphemia and Edward informed us of premature burials that took place back before modern medicine was introduced. Euphemia did a fantastic job of not leaving out any details — people bashing their skulls in trying to escape the coffin, bloodied fingernails, literally killing themselves after already being presumed dead, and cursing those who did so. She informed us of inventions to alert the living that the buried was, indeed, still alive, such as string connected to the coffin that could be pulled to ring a bell, or even telephone lines connecting to the cemetery’s office. Can you imagine calling a main office saying hello, yes, there has been a mistake…

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As we strolled through one of the residential neighborhoods, Euphemia told us about the homes here and their ghostly history. Looking at the homes, one would never think about a young woman taking her life, where her soul still lingers scaring small dogs forcing their owners to pick them up over the porch step, or about small children mistaking a ghostly figure for a childhood friend.

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This ghost walk was not necessarily what I expected, but what can one truly expect having not experienced it before? I must admit, I enjoyed hearing the stories from Euphemia while her death ridden husband strummed away on his guitar to set the mood. Stratford is a remarkable town filled with history at every turn. It is only right to have the stories told as a performance!

The Festival Garden

Brian Ebright

The first time I passed the garden in front of the Festival Theater, I barely noticed it because I was focused on the Shakespeare statue.

The second time, I tried to figure out if the design spelled something.  It was not Shakespeare and it wasn’t Stratford so I gave up trying to decypher it and just enjoyed its beauty.

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Walking out of the Festival Theater after seeing the thought provoking To Kill A Mockingbird (spoiler – no mockingbirds were killed), I overheard someone asking one of the attendents about the code for the flowers.  He said that the flower designs represented the plays.  He had to pull out his copy of the maintenance and housekeeping book – his “bible”   to describe the images.

Take a closer look at them.  According to the “bible” the images are (left to right):

Pair of Legs in High Heels

Rocky Horror

 

Snake Brooch

Snake Brooch

 

Bottle Beside a Glass

Bottle and Glass

 

Map of Italy

Italy

 

Marching Bass Drum Player

Bass Drum

 

Imperial Eagle

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Kind of like the negative space white arrow on Fed Ex (trademark), the images are easy to see when you figure out what you are looking for.

The lady who asked the attendant about the flowers had not seen all of the plays, so she did not get some of the images.  Being the brilliant and observant WSU students that you are, I am sure you can correctly connect the play with the flowery icon.  When you do,  please settle a bet between my wife and I about the map of Italy flowers.

Lets Do it Again

By: Kirsti Toms

Today, all of us students got to partake in a workshop to learn the “Time Warp” dance from the Rocky Horror Show. And when i say this was an amazing experience, I mean it was AMAZING! Especially for all of us “Rocky Fans”. The workshop was taught by Gabriel Antonacci, who is currently acting in the Rocky Horror Show as one of the Phantoms, as well as Ed Gammidge in The Music Man.

 

He was one of the most excited Actors we had talked to, and he really knew what he was doing. Some of us came into the workshop feeling a little intimidated, as dancing is not always for everyone. Yet, instead of feeling awkward or unsure, Gabriel made sure that us learning the dance was nothing short of a blast.

 

We started the workshop out with some stretching (Because you should NEVER be dancing without stretching first), worked on the dance, and then took turns performing it for each other in small groups. If anyone has seen The Rocky Horror Show, the one dance they would definitely want to learn is the Time Warp. In the song, the lyrics basically tell you some of the steps that you will be doing as you dance, however, learning this routine was much more difficult than you would expect as it is fast paced and well, if you are not a dancer, it may be more crazier than you would like to be doing.

When we got through the part of the dance we were learning, we were all in good spirits and so glad we had gotten to do this workshop. Learning this dance was an incredible experience for me, as I have looked at the characters in this show with admiration since I first watched it. Feeling like apart of the cast, even if it were for a few minutes, was something I will never be able to forget. We spent a few minutes at the end asking Gabriel to tell us more about how he got into his acting career and his favorite parts. I can say that he definitely inspired everyone in the room, and he even made me feel as if I wanted to drop everything and start acting like him.

 

At the end of this, we got to not only meet and talk to an actor who is in the Rocky Horror Show, we got to learn one of the most iconic dances in theatre, and we even got a work out in.

The Time I Was a Fashion Icon

Lydia Shigley

On Thursday we went down to the Costume Warehouse, where we had recently been for a tour of the archives. The second time walking in I was still amazed by the vast quantity of costumes that were being held inside the warehouse. They ranged from all colors which was amazing and you could see tinges of sparkles lighting up the fabric in certain pieces.

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The tour guide told us all about shoes, which surprised me how complex shoes for plays really were. Shoes had to be specifically designed for the stage. And dance shoes were a whole different story. The heels of women’s shoes had to be reinforced for their safety. The bottom had to have a goulash material in order for them to not slip. Everything was about safety. The warehouse reminded me of going to a thrift store, since it was not only filled with the smell of slightly musty (but still beautiful) clothing, but it also had props outlining the shelves, making it feel like a store that sold used furniture. I got to look at beautiful props made from wood, creating that Elizabethan feel.  I even turned the corner to meet eyes with a prop straight out of a horror film.

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The end part was the best part. We reached the end and were presented with an array of costumes hung up on racks and a hat rack off in the corner. Just being able to touch the material felt like an experience in itself. Some of them were simply cotton while others were this rich velvet material that just felt amazing against my fingertips. At first I tried on a red velvet jacket, which I wish I could own. I would definitely walk out in that.

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And then, they found a costume that actually fit me perfectly, which is rare for me because I’m really small. I tried it on and looked like the tackiest Disney princess you could image. It looked like one of those Halloween costumes you’d get as a child when you wanted be some type of princess, but especially wanted to own the fact that you were wearing pink and purple. I ended up also getting a hat to go with it and took it up a level to looking like a munchkin out of the Wizard of Oz. All in all, it was a great experience and I was glad I was able to go.

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Using Both Sides of the Post-It Note

Desiree Ritchie

Liza Giffen, the Director of Archives in Stratford, Canada, or more importantly, a firey Scottish woman who will talk the livin’ Scotts to ye! Liza offered tons of historical facts about the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, along with her own knowledge of the archives here in Canada, which is the LARGEST single theatre archive not only in North America, but in the world. Walking in the doors of this warehouse, you experience an overwhelming amount of costumes ranging from simple white button up shirts, to women’s gowns from the mid 18th century. If you continue walking, you’re met with a massive room full of what Liza likes to call “her babies.” They are hand picked costumes by Liza herself and each has a story behind it, which is why it is part of her personal favorite collection. These costumes are absolutely incredible, and also Liza says, “They don’t just look perfect, they ARE perfect.”

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Going into the archive, I had no idea what to expect other than a lot of fancy costumes and some incredible props, but Liza gave us her take on what it was to be an archivist, I learned there was a lot to this place — it is a historical gold mine! Not only are there the costumes and props we all know and expect, but there are prompt books, news cuttings, loads of furniture, just to name a few. Her job definitely keeps her busy. She made it clear, “We use both sides of the post-it note!” They can trace almost anything back from 1953 in this warehouse.

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As our talk with Liza progressed, she mentioned something that I really took to heart. The archives are not only there to consider the good of the production that was put on way back when, but also to acknowledge the bad and to recognize what can be changed, and more importantly: TO LEARN! She loves the news cuttings because they counter one another. The critics have vastly different opinions from one another which is not only comical, but interesting, “Reviews are not the gospel…critics write with their heart of joy, or they write from a bad day with indigestion. We must look at critics critically.”

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Talking with Liza may have been one of the more informational meetings I’ve had on this trip. For one, she taught us to never argue with a Scottish woman- you will always lose. Two, always ask questions and get to know the history of where you are. Learning about the archives here and how much work goes into collecting, sorting, organizing, and pulling from the past not only helps artists to learn, but it allows them to create, and that in itself is important.

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Art in Stratford

Amber Todd

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This plastered art work is done by a local Ontario artist, Svava Thordis Juliusson. Juliusson had a collection of mixed media artwork at the Stratford Art Gallery. Her collection is called Ourborous etc., (bitter is her name). Juliusson was trying to mix some political ideas as an expression of art and color without being obvious of what the art represented politically (according to the artist biography in the gallery). She uses line, color, shape and abstract form to confuse the audience and make them question what they are looking at and why. This collection had art made of paintings of bronze, plaster, aluminum, wood, and fabric.

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Susan Schelle also had a collection at the Stratford Gallery. Her collection was about nature, weather and the effect it has on us. Schelle explores a mixed-media style where she plays with forms and the way a viewer may look at the artwork. Schelle’s work was interesting because when you changed angles while looking at her work, the art would suddenly change and what it was at face-value becomes much more. This collection was meant to represent the natural environment and how it impacts human environment. Schelle was born in Ontario but has has work shown in Rome, Italy and in many museums in Ontario, including a sculpture at the Toronto Airport called Jetstream.

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These two photos above are from the gallery store in town, Indigena Gallery. Although all of this artwork can be bought in this gallery, I came into the store and learned a lot about the artwork. The photograph of what looks like a dancing bear, is actually carved as seen by the naked eye. Native Canadians carve this out of soapstone, which is a native rock up North. The bear looks like it is dancing, but actually he is stretching. The natives are interested in the forms of the bears when they stretch because it looks like a dance.  The second photo you see is actually carved out of bone, which you can tell by the bone marrow. The lady at the gallery told me that it is most likely whale bone. She also told me that they have special shipments of art work come in from up North only on plane every three months. Most of the work comes from Nunavut, which is extremely North.

The Time My Professor and I Exchanged Blows

Sarah Gann

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Don’t worry, I’m not actually hurt in this photo. Nor did we really hit each other. It’s all this little thing called stage fighting.

One of the many aspects I love about this trip is that we are able to go behind the scenes and learn all about what it takes to put on a show. Our behind the scenes events include tours, talking to actors, and workshops. During the workshops, actors teach us how to make the magic we see on stage. Friday night, during A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, there were a few scenes where someone was slapped or hit. I had wondered how they made it look and sound so real, but I didn’t have to ponder about it for too long! On Sunday morning, we headed over to the Stratford Normal School to learn all about the art of stage combat.

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We had the fortune of having Jason Sermonia (pictured in the green shirt in the center) teach us all about combat. Jason is portraying Clarence Clayton Hix in The Music Man and a phantom in The Rocky Horror Show this year and has previously performed at the Tony Awards. During this hour long workshop, Jason did a warm up, taught us how to stage a slap and punch, and then answered any questions we had.

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Learning how to stage fight was incredibly interesting for me, as I have a black belt in tae kwon do and have trained in combat since I was a freshman in high school. You make a fist and distribute your weight in a similar manner to actual fighting, but your motions must be made larger in order to be seen by an audience. To practice punching and slapping, we were partnered up and given a chance to learn the movements step by step. I was partnered with Dr. Mejia-LaPerle (hence the title of this post), but I also worked with Amber while Jason was going around the room to make corrections. We practiced sliding our hands across a plane as to not hit our partner, creating the sound (called a knap), and having a reaction. As you can see by the photos, we were all having a lot of fun with it.

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Towards the end of the workshop, Amber and I demonstrated how we had learned to slap each other, while Brian and Diana showed off their punches. This workshop was an amazing experience, as I got to practice acting again (to the point where some people were worried I was legitimately hurt) and learn something I had not done before. Plus, how often do you get to ask your professor “do you want to punch me or should I punch you?”

The Heart of the Festival

Productions at the Stratford Theatre Festival are held at four unique theatres. Avon Theatre is a rejuvenated vaudeville theatre with a classic proscenium stage. It boasts a classical neo-classical architecture and its downtown location gives it a perfect traditional “night at the theatre” feel. Tom Patterson Theatre is a small venue picturesquely seated on the banks of the Avon river. Its 360-degree stage provides and exciting and rare experience for the audience as well as an intriguing challenge for the performers and crew. Studio Theatre, located behind Avon on George Street, is known for housing newer and more experimental material for the festival. The furthest seats from the action in this venue are still close to spitting distance. All of these different locations provide unique advantages and disadvantages for both members of the production and the audience. The most impressive of Stratford’s venue for me, however, was certainly the Festival Theatre. As a thrust stage, the audience gets a more dynamic perspective while not restricting the production with especially difficult sight blocking. It was the first venue to house a show for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival way back in a time where it was actually not a building but one of the largest tents in North America. We had the pleasure of receiving an exhaustive tour of the theatre’s inner workings (unfortunately pictures were not allowed). The history of the place is clear right away just by walking into the lobby. Busts of former festival directors and priceless artwork depicting many who worked with the festival are scattered about. If you are feeling adventurous during intermission you can find years and years of history before you make it back to your seat for the second act. Just outside the theatre is a beautifully tended garden. A captivating sculpture of William himself overlooks (sculpted by members of the festival’s properties department) an impressive assortment of labeled herbs and flowers. Only at the Festival Theatre does fanfare from the balconies promote the beginning of every performance and the end of each intermission. These traditional touches compliment the classic plays the stage is normally graced with. Every theatre is a wealth of personality, and the heart and history of the Stratford Theatre Festival is apparent at Festival Theatre.

 

-Andrew Puthoff