Managing the Bard and Puppets

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Stage mangers often go unrecognized, doing behind-the-scenes chores to make sure that the show runs smoothly. Because of stage managers, props are never lost, cues aren’t missed and the curtain rises and falls (generally) on time. Robin Longley, stage manger for Spoleto Festival USA’s production of Shakespeare’s  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” has an added element to watch over, puppets. Check out what he does and what it takes to make the magic happen at each performance with the Bard, puppets, and festival-goers.

“Midsummer” is a well-known work, how would you describe this interpretation of the classic?
Longley: It is a smart, sexy, inventive, rude and slightly crazy version of the Shakespeare classic. And it’s got puppets, lots of puppets, in it.

Some people maybe reluctant to see Shakespeare, in what ways does this production make the work more accessible?
Longley: I think the time spent in rehearsals delving into the meaning of the text is very well rewarded in the performances given and the story is really clear.

What would you say were some of the highlights of the production process?Longley:Unpacking the puppets that Handspring Puppet Company had shipped to Bristol in on my first day on the job in January has to be up there. There’s also nothing like doing the show for the first time in front of an audience – you learn where the laughs and the rounds of applause generally are – we keep tweaking the show too, so there are new funny bits for the Spoleto audience that the people of Bristol never got to see.

What were some of the more challenging moments for the production?
Longley: From a stage management perspective, every day can be a challenge: from the scheduling of rehearsals that may clash with costume fittings, or trying to work out where a noise is coming from in the building during a quiet bit of a performance, to how to do the show with an actor who is throwing up in the toilet.

How does doing a festival production differ from a longer running production for a theatre’s season?
Longley: Normally you set a show up, and come in and do the set up at the same time every day and do the show at the same time every night. At Spoleto, logistically everything is different. There are four different show times; we have to pack the set, costumes, props, puppets and some of the lighting equipment away every few days for the Opera; every day there are chamber concerts on the front of our set which means the local crew have to move some of our floor sections to get a piano or a marimba or a harpsichord in (Spoleto has an excellent crew by the way).

Tell me a bit about your background as a stage manager and working with the festival?
Longley: Back home in the UK I am a freelance stage and company stage manager. I have worked in many of the UK’s best, in my opinion, producing theaters up and down the country since training in stage management and technical theater at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. I became attached to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” after working with Tom Morris on his recent production of Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons,” which played in London’s West End and toured the UK from December 2011 through to May 2012. Tom asked me to work on “MSND” while we were still touring with that and I was somehow able to fill the gap with work (and also become a father to my daughter Olive in July).

Have you worked as a stage manager for other Shakespeare productions? If so, how does this production differ from the others you’ve worked on?
Longley: I have worked on “Julius Caesar” for Birmingham Rep; “Richard II” for the Royal Shakespeare Company; “Much Ado About Nothing” for Regent’s Park Open Air Theare, London; two productions of “Antony and Cleopatra” for the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter in the title roles, and Chichester Festival Theatre, with Michael Pennington and Kim Cattrall. I have never done one with this few actors or this many puppets.

How would you describe “Midsummer” to someone who is unfamiliar with the play?
Longley: It is a love story with an hilarious subplot involving ‘rude mechanicals’ (to quote Puck) that culminates in a performance within the play of Pyramus and Thisbe with some of the finest stage clowning I have ever had the pleasure of stage managing.

Using everyday objects for music on command

I took my 13-year-old daughter to a contemporary music concert this weekend, one in the Spoleto Festival’s Music in Time series, organized by Resident Conductor John Kennedy. It featured a program of recent music by the New York City-based composer Nathan Davis, who creates conceptual soundscapes inspired by natural and not-so-natural phenomena. It might seem heady for a young teenager, but I see no reason why young people should not be exposed to this kind of music — before their tastes become calcified by age and prejudice.

—Adam Parker

BY ZOE ALESSANDRA DE LUCA-PARKER
Special to The Post and Courier

The first piece by Nathan Davis in the Music in Time series concert on Sunday was “Bells.” The composer told everyone to take his cell phones out and dial a number, then an access code (there were four, labeled Astral, Cryptic, Telegraphic and Tintinnabular) of your choice. While in most concerts the music comes from the stage, Music in Time makes music come from every direction, filling the whole room with different sounds.

The second piece, “Weather Rock,” had many different parts to it. It had a violin and a cello each with one thin string hanging off. The players pulled the strings to make amazing, stuttering sound a little like the wind. The percussionists used various objects, including rocks to make a very interesting gravelly sound.

“On speaking a hundred names” was a piece for a bassoon, one of my favorite instruments. It changed from something classical to something exploratory and seemingly accidental, but all very much done on purpose. The bassoon player, Ryan Wilkins, also played the same note in many different ways. I enjoyed this piece very much because I liked the effects created by the playing and by the technology that enhanced it.

The next piece was “Crawlspace.” This piece was the most fascinating to me because the composer took a microphone and placed it on the keyboard of his laptop computer, then took a camera and showed what he was doing. Sometimes he would hit the keys, moving the microphone around to different spots on the computer. The result was robot-sounding, and very dynamic, with many sounds created at once.

The last piece was called “Skryzp Skzryn.” It was a string quartet that started very high and, as the piece proceeded, went lower and lower. I liked this piece because it showed how the instruments change sound and the instruments’ range. All four of the instruments would do things at different times.

Nathan Davis makes music from sounds that are natural or created by common things. Another composer might be inspired by these sounds and attempt to transcribe them for instruments, but Davis uses the sounds themselves, along with regular sounds from instruments, sometimes transcribed electronically.

This show was definitely one of the most interesting shows I have ever been to. This show was for everyone to enjoy.

Brazilian Jazz in the Lowcountry

Photo Courtesy of Tessa Blake

Photo Courtesy of Tessa Blake

Leah Suárez & Duda Lucena graced the night with Brazilian jazz during the Jazz Artists of Charleston 6th Annual Jazz series. The duo treated the Lowcountry to several bossa novas, sambas, and other jazz standards with a Brazilian twist.

Soft and mellow vocals filled the intimate venue at Father Figaro Hall and gentle plucks of the guitar strings by Lucena and bass by Ben Wells set the tone of the night for the May 26th performance (view video of performance here).

For more info about the series: www.jazzartistsofcharleston.org

 

 

Spoleto makes way for a Groovement

Spoleto Festival goers were treated to a Groovement on Sunday afternoon at the Farmer’s Market in Marion Square. (Click here to view the slideshow of their performance)image[5].

Charleston-based hip-hop group, Groovement, and it’s children’s counterpart, the Groovemini’s, performed a medley of hip-hop original dance numbers which included moves to songs by Wiz Khalifa and Drake.

“We’re having fun,” said Alternese Griffin, the founder and choreographer for the two groups. “We’re showing the crowd what we have to offer with hip-hop dance.”

She said the older group’s performance was inspired by letting loose and “going mental, absolute insanity.”

However, she wanted to teach the Grooveminis a more positive message, so, she choreographed a dance based on working hard and playing hard and the resulting success you can achieve as the rewards.

“We always want to educate the kids, and dancing is a good way to do that,” Griffin said.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 3 Southend Brewery

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(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

Situated on the corner of Queen and East Bay, the Southend Brewery is a cavernous entity not far from Charleston Harbor and the Battery. Monstrous copper fermentation tanks dominate the backdrop upon entering the restaurant, with vaulted, workman style ceilings. Rustic and warm, this was the perfect place for Round Three. S&G Southend 2

Nic’s picks: After the disappointment that was round one, and the slightly better effort by our round two locale, my spirits were high going in to round three. It was short lived.

Again, the shrimp and grits came out expertly served in a shallow bowl, but covered with a thick, cream based gravy. While I know shrimp and grits isn’t the most health-conscious meal, the gravy makes it so much heavier than it needs to be.

The grits were so-so. They had good texture and good cheesy flavor, but they weren’t anything special, and th gravy just overpowered any subtle flavors the grits conjured up. Tasso ham makes another guest appearance, and it was flavorful and smoky, but again it overpowered any subtleness this dish could have produced. I’m all for bold, flavorful dishes, but when one of the main ingredients of the dish is not a highlight, then there are some problems.

The shrimp were plump and juicy, and they provided a good flavor and meatiness for the dish. Of the three restaurants so far, these shrimp were the best, by far. They were rich enough to cut through the gravy, if only for a fleeting second. Fresh tomatoes were strewn throughout the dish, and frankly it confused me. They provided no flavor or texture, and their presence was more of a nuisance than any kind of flavor enhancer.

Overall, the dish was lackluster and not deserving of it’s relatively steep price ($17.95). The flavors did not come together, and it was an extremely heavy dish with too many ingredients. For such a simple dish, it was made too complex, and that worked against it. This dish would have benefited from a more delicate, deft touch.

S&G SouthendB’s business: Charleston has definitely capitalized on shrimp and grits being smothered in gravy with tomatoes — cold tomatoes. Which to my dismay, left most the grits on the outside of the bowl cold.

Unappetizing as it is to chomp into cold contents for a meal that’s supposed to be savory and hot, again, I immediately shoved the tomatoes and the tough and overcooked shrimp to the outside of my bowl with the hopes that its lingering, overpowering flavor didn’t completely ruin the dish. But it was too late. I couldn’t even finish or enjoy what I was eating.

The best part of this dish was the Tasso ham, which also seems to be a Charleston shrimp and grits staple. Otherwise, for the steep price, the grits weren’t well-cooked, the cheese was almost non-existent, and the gravy was too heavy.

The highlight of my visit to Southend Brewery wasn’t even for the shrimp and grits at all; it was for the collard greens.  Every time I’ve eaten greens in Chareston, they were choppy and weren’t cooked long enough to be supple and mushy, not chewy. But these greens were cooked just right. They were surprisingly sweet, not savory, from being basked in brown sugar, which was a welcome surprise.  They had a hint of Old Bay hot sauce mixed with vinegar and real bacon bits, both of which if layered on too heavily could’ve overpowered the natural bitterness of the greens; but they didn’t. They were sprinkled with enough restraint to be enjoyed and not frowned on.

Finding Hope with “Mayday Mayday”

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“Mayday Mayday” recounts the miraculous and unbelievable story of Tristan Sturrock, the man who suffered a near fatal fall, which left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

But, not for long.

Sturrock, the writer, performer and co-director of the production was just 37 years old when he stumbled out of a bar on a mission. He found his way to his car and sped down the road in search for a bag of chips for his then five-month pregnant girlfriend, Katie. Unfortunately, instead of finding chips, he found himself with a broken C5, unable to move any limbs and faced with a life altering decision: to let his injury heal naturally with a halo brace or to endure an “intervention surgery,” which could either leave him healed or dead. So much for a happy medium.

“Mayday Mayday” is a one-man show, with Sturrock playing various characters (the

Tristan Sturrock in "Mayday Mayday"

Tristan Sturrock in “Mayday Mayday”

doctor, his sister, his mom and the surgeon). With each character he is able to perfect a convincing persona—his mother, nurturing and concerned, the doctors knowledgeable and direct and his whimsical sister, and even if she’s a bit absentminded.

The transitions between characters seem effortless, as Sturrock switches between professionals and family members with ease.

Though the play strikes a serious chord (the newly paralyzed man was expecting his first child, the story line had enough humor built in to make it feel more inspirational than heartbreaking.

A toy truck served as the ambulance and a toy helicopter transported him to the hospital, which gave the story a childlike element. His playful nature allowed audiences to laugh at his misfortunes rather than cry at his losses.

Perhaps the main reason why this production is such a success is because the audience is hearing it in first person; Sturrock wasn’t a person playing a character, he was telling his story.

His eyes burned with passion and hope, which the audience found enthralling—as he told his story. Sturrock has conquered the ability to look at the glass half full and he holds his glass while walking gracefully across various stages around the world.

Review: Noche Andaluza

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The outstanding premier of Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía fulfilled the expectations of the Spoleto Festival USA audience. The vitality and sensuality of the dancers made the “Noche Andaluza” (“Andalusian Night”) performance a delightful introduction into the secrets of Andalusian dancing.

Colorful dresses, clean dancing and live music harmonized in a show that had its strongest moments when the whole company danced together. Even though part of the essence of flamenco dancing is its spontaneity, the synchronization and elegantl interaction between female and male dancers gave energy and rhythm to the presentation.

The guest dancer (Pastora Galván) had an evident control of her body. Her power, security and attitude seemed to say that she could do anything she wanted to. She showed, in each step, why she has her own avant-garde style.

That is precisely why one of the finest moments of the show was the one in which Galván dances on one side of the stage, while the company is on the other. Traditional and avant-garde flamenco dancing were shown together to give the viewer a taste of the infinitive possibilities of the Spanish style of dancing.

The style of the show changed, though, when the choreographer and artistic director Rubén Olmo, appeared on the stage. His thin figure and his extremely versatile dancing capacity gave him the possibility to freely and delicately jump through the stage as if he were a bird in the act called “El Vuelo” (“The Flight”). Olmo’s solo pause the energetic rhythm experienced before and makes a good transition for the ending.

The show rightly finished with a more spontaneous scene in which the musicians had the possibility to sing and dance at the center of the stage, while the company surrounded them keeping the rhythm with their claps. This act highlights the importance of music for flamenco and especially the role that this Spanish has as an art manifestation truly encrusted in Spanish culture.

Piccolo Poetry Walk

In addition to Piccolo Spoleto festival goers attending the Sundown Poetry Series, they may also take part in the Charleston Poetry Walk sponsored by the Poetry Society of South Carolina.

The walk takes festival goers on an hour-long journey through downtown Charleston to see historic places where poets were once inspired by. “We have such a rich heritage of poets from and/or influenced by their time in South Carolina,” said Mary H. Harris, coordinator of the walk. ” It is great fun to let visitors and locals know a little more about them and hear their words.”

The walk starts at 125 Meeting St. and has several times to join starting at 10 a.m. Admission is $12.

Southern Eats: Boone’s Bar

Boone'sSometimes the most fortuitous things come about because of a wrong turn or bad directions. Leaving a meeting, I got turned around and headed in the opposite direction of the restaurant I was supposed to be going to. Not wanting to backtrack, and trying to dodge an impending thunderstorm, I high-tailed it towards my apartment.

Walking down King Street, past all of the chain restaurants and boutiques, I came upon an interesting little place. Not knowing what to expect, I stopped in and looked at the menu. The place, Boone’s Bar (345 King Street) served typical bar food: fries, sandwiches, burgers, wings, etc.

It was noon and I was starving so I ordered the “Southern Cali Turkey” which consisted of turkey, Swiss cheese, bacon, avocado, tomato, and sprouts, all served hot on toasted sourdough bread with an herb aioli. Served with hand cut fries, the bill came to $11, not exactly dollar-menu, but not back-breaking either.

The sandwich was better than serviceable; it was flat out good. The bread was perfectly toasty; crusty on the outside but soft and supple with a good mouth feel. The turkey was juicy and warm, slightly smoky but not overly salty. The bacon provided a nice fattiness to offset the lean turkey, and the creamy avocado provided richness.

The sprouts were a nice departure from the standard lettuce, but the tomatoes were muddled. The aioli was a miss as well. A touch too oily and a bit too many herbs, it provided too strong a flavor to be paired with the subtleness of the turkey and avocado. The aioli provided a jolt of flavor; unfortunately the sandwich didn’t need it.

The hand-cut fries were excellent. Crisp on the outside but tender on the inside, keeping the peel on was a nice, nostalgic touch. Overall, the food was good, but not great. For a lunchtime spot, there are definitely worse places you could choose.

Boone’s Bar

LOCATION- 345 King Street

HOURS- Mon.-Sat. Noon-2 a.m.; Sun. Noon-Midnight

Natalia Khoma Presents Bach’s Solo Cello Suites (1-3)

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After last year’s presentation of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, Natalia Khoma brought it to Piccolo Spoleto again, this time at First Presbyterian Church.
For the concert on May 29, she played the first three suites of the six. Her interpretation was rich and colorful. Her skills allowed her to add layers, change volumes and vary tempos while performing. All these, integrated with her graceful appearance, made her even more charming.

Khoma, a native Ukrainian, is a renowned cellist and a cello professor at College of Charleston. Among her competition wins is the Budapest Pablo Casals Competition, named after the Spanish cellist who played a crucial role in popularizing the Bach cello suites.

These suites were largely unknown until Casals recorded a full version of all six in 1939. They then became a peak that seemingly every cello maestro tries to reach at some point in their career.

Unlike Casals’ deep interpretation of the Prelude of Suite No. 1, Khoma’s playing is brisk and absorbing. Her first note in Menuet—bright, quick and forte—was a potent contrast to the mournful Sarabande. Her refreshing articulation of the beginning was joined by an elastic and elegant reinvention of it in terms of melody and sound intensity. It enriched the acoustics and added layers to the suite.

The second suite in D minor, in contrast to the first one, is darker. The lines lingered in her strings, her fingers, the hall and the church. The mournful notes were like endless sadness and gloom. However, the pace in the Allemande was unexpected. In her interpretation, the lines and notes plunged forward in an incredibly fast tempo that still captured every nuance.

Yet the Courante was somehow even speedier. With greater contrast in volume and pitch in phrases, the emotion became so fierce that when the final crescendo came, you felt the agony and drama falling on the audience. During this suite, Khoma kept wiping the sweat off her head and fixing her hair between movements. Her dress strap also fell off her shoulder, which seemed to distract her. (The strap fell from time to time throughout the concert.)

After going backstage for a while, Khoma came back and played the third suite in C major. Her melodic short notes leaped over the fluid bass. While the strong resonance in the First Presbyterian Church sometimes blurred the piece’s echoes, the emotions were amplified. Khoma’s seamless playing then integrated the layers, the volumes and the richness of sound in the Gigue. With successive fortes near the end, she ended this journey with an intensified and prolonged coda.