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Playing an Icon

By Sharyn Beal

Cleopatra.  Egypt, Mark Antony, snakes, wigs, elaborate costumes, glamour and pageantry and death…. it seems everyone knows something about Cleopatra. I was so excited to be cast in this amazing role, but at first did not realize the full weight of stepping into a role that has become rather iconic in our culture. Challenging? Yes.  Exciting and amazing? YES! 

My initial preparation for this show consisted of spending time with the script…lots of time with the script.  I wanted to truly put all preconceived ideas out of my mind and hear what Shakespeare wrote with a fresh perspective.  I wanted to get to know Cleopatra as a “person” and not simply as the cultural symbol she has become.  Fortunately, the words written by Shakespeare are so incredibly rich and precise and exquisite that finding nuances of her character has been a joy.  

So who is Cleopatra? She is a strong, intelligent woman, a formidable leader, a passionate lover, a playful girl, a manipulator, a proud queen, a fierce protector, a force with whom to be reckoned.  Sometimes, she is several of these things within the span of a very few minutes!  Her emotions and thoughts are vivid and varied, and playing with those has been a breathtaking challenge. Once again, the richness of Shakespeare’s text has given me both direction and freedom (O heavenly mingle!) to dive into the unique characteristics of this amazing woman.

Much of the development of any role comes from the interaction of the characters and actors in the rehearsal process.  To me, there are so many choices that become apparent only through that interaction. I have enjoyed working with this truly talented cast and seeing relationships develop within the world of the play.  I have loved experimenting and collaborating to bring to life a story, this story.  At heart, this is a love story about so many types of love.  We are so excited to tell the story of Antony and Cleopatra, and to share the love with you.

Trial by Fire

By Hanna Lafko, Stage Wright

When I signed on for Romeo and JuliLIT at the end of August, I was jumping back into the theatre world after a decently long hiatus. For that show, the stage management was surprisingly simple, and I got to make fake Tinder profiles. How could I go wrong?! However, I knew that Antony and Cleopatra was going to be a completely different animal.

When we sat through the first read-through, you could clearly tell who had been involved with one of the prior Lit shows. There were plenty of learning curves to get used to: making sure I was communicating with everyone, knowing everyone’s schedules, and wearing as many hats as possible. (Also learning how to properly disarm an alarm system so the cops wouldn’t be called was a fun thing to learn.) Jeremy was super helpful throughout production and rehearsals.

The nights that I couldn’t sleep because of the level of stress paid off last week. Knowing that we sold out opening night was nerve-wracking. Being in WoCo in front of a sold out audience was the first time I had been on stage since high school. But the overwhelming love I have for this cast and crew pushed me to be daring enough to go through with it.

The joy this show has filled me with completely makes up for the stress that I endured through rehearsals. I look forward to what the rest of the season has in store for me. As Medina [Demeter, who plays Octavius Caesar] said about a month into rehearsals, this show has been “a trial by fire.” Here’s hoping that the rest of the season will be smooth sailing.

Antony is Lit

By Mary Lynn Bain, Dramaturgy Wright

Firstly, I would just like to say that I never expected to do this much Shakespeare and enjoy it so thoroughly. My junior year of college ended with Twelfth Night, which spilled into the 24 Shakespeare Marathon then Romeo and JuliLIT and finally Antony and Cleopatra. What a whirlwind it has been with the Bard and a group of people whom I now consider my family! The process of a mainstage production and a Lit show obviously differs; however, they are more similar than one would imagine, at least in my experience. Both [Antony and Cleopatra director] Jeremy and [Lit director] Marie ultimately stress the importance of authenticity. The way characters build from this foundation is what distinguishes a Lit show from a mainstage production . While Lit shows “knock the Bard of his pedestal,” Jeremy has striven to remind us that everything a character says is coming from a place of complete candor.

He has worked really hard on making sure the message of love is evident at all times. Even in the battle scenes! Tha’ts been something that I have really struggled with as an actress. Men are unapologetic in who they are at all times, especially in this show. Working on developing these characters reminded me of a workshop I did with the Women’s Theater Festival in Raleigh. We took scenes from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glenn Ross and did it with an all female cast. Despite the incredibly strong women we had in the room, the director had to stop us multiple times to point out how we apologize for literally everything we do. It’s just mind-blowing how even in 2017 women often tend to apologize for themselves onstage. Cleopatra is a strong character, for sure, but as a woman she has to resort to her arsenal of tactics, while Antony can just bust in and say anything. So just the dynamic of being a man and barreling through my speech without taking a “feminine detour” was something I grappled with.

In the process to get out of the mindset of being a woman and how nuanced everything we say and do is, I often forgot to breathe love into the work I was doing. It could be love for a country, love for a fellow soldier or leader, love for a cause or for a change. This underlying motivation finally made everything start to lock into place. Additionally, it allowed me to find ways to differentiate my characters on a deeper level than body language and changing the pitch of my voice.

Oh! Learning from more seasoned Shakespearean actors, such as Aaron Alderman (Enobarbus) and Sharyn Beal (Cleopatra)  has been an absolute privelege.  Sharyn, the most prepared person in the room at all times, taught me the immeasurable value of working outside of a rehearsal. This should be common sense, but the intelligence she brought to her portrayal of Cleopatra could be entirely credited to the work she brought in before rehearsals even began. Its one thing to have that in the back of your mind, but to see it modeled daily was absolutely invaluable to me! AND AARON? HOLY MOLY! I always want to be scene partners with someone more experienced  than me so I’m not only motivated to do my best but to also rise to his level of performance after every rehearsal. I struggled the most with the Menas and Enobarbus scene, and with the comprehensive help of both Jeremy and Aaron, it has become my favorite scene I have! This show has hands down been one of the hardest I have ever had to do, because all of my Shakespeare work has been in comedy. Inevitably, the dramas are a completely different beast for the most unexpected reasons. I have had the most fun learning and working with this incredible company and I never want to leave!

Character Playlist: Mardian

By Gabe Terry, Costume Wright

Music has always been a passion of mine.  For as long as I can remember, I was either singing or playing musical instruments.  Every cherished memory of mine was always connected to a song.  I could listen to the radio and be transported to a place of fond memories of family, friends, good times, and sometimes even sorrowful moments that have helped me grow as a person.  With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that music has become a way to get into character for different roles.

For the current Sweet Tea Shakespeare play, Antony and Cleopatra, I am playing Mardian the Eunuch.  He is one of my favorite characters because, even though he does not speak much, what he says matters.  Mardian is a key player in the events that ultimately lead to the finale of the show.  Immersing myself completely in the role is much easier when I have the right music to listen to.
Mardian adores Cleopatra.  She is his queen, his world, his everything.  He loves her so much that he is willing to sacrifice a big part of himself just to be able to serve his queen.  The first song that helps me understand this is “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” by The Police.  Mardian does not love Cleopatra the way that the song dictates, but his adoration is mirrored in the lyrics.  He believes that Cleopatra can do no wrong and that, even through the worst times, she will always be magic to him.
The next song I listen to is “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel.  The chorus speaks for itself.  It talks about feeling complete around her and how all searches end with her.  Mardian sees Cleopatra as the type of person he wants to be.  There is a bit of discomfort when she is not around.  However, once she returns, all becomes right with the world.
Mardian is not all love and adoration.  He is often at the receiving end of the ladies’ jokes.  Most people would be upset about this and leave.  Mardian, in contrast, takes the jokes in stride and even throws the barbs back at them.  His intelligence shows in his often sarcastic, yet loving responses.  I would love to say the title of the song that helps me get into this part of his character, but unfortunately it is a bit on the inappropriate side.  Just know that it is hysterical and can bring out the joking side in anybody.
Mardian proves to be quite the trickster.  He will lie to somebody in an instant if his queen tells him to do it.  Even if it goes against his principles, he will make somebody hurt with his lies in order to please his queen.  “Don’t Lie” by the Black Eyed Peas and “You Lie” by The Band Perry help get me into the lying mood.  Both songs are perfect for that lying schemer in Mardian.
Mardian is a complex character.  He is a lover, passionate, sarcastic, and a bit of a schemer.  Without my Mardian playlist, those attributes would be difficult to portray in a short amount of time.  I encourage all actors to use music to help them get into these complex roles.  I look forward to sharing the joy of Mardian with everybody starting Thursday, January 5.