Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” is currently open and running until May 13th! The lovely and talented Kristen Kollender talks about finding Portia, the challenges of doing Shakespeare, and giggling in rehearsal.
How did you first become involved with Theatre Banshee?
I had auditioned for a show prior to “Dolly West’s Kitchen” and “The Merchant of Venice” and although I didn’t get cast, I knew from my interaction with Sean and Leslie, the warmth and professionalism that they exuded, that there was something very special about Theatre Banshee. I hoped eventually to work with them and indeed, shortly thereafter I got so lucky. I contacted Leslie to invite her to a show I was currently doing around the same time “Dolly West’s Kitchen” auditions were being held, and auspiciously, I managed to snag an audition appointment. That appointment eventually led to my playing Dolly in the show.
Where are you in the rehearsal process right now?
A very wise, incredibly gifted, inspired, remarkable and one-of-a-kind actress, very dear to my heart (who just happened to play my Momma in “Dolly West’s Kitchen” and win the LA Drama Critics Circle Award–ever so deservedly!!–for her revelatory work–cough–cough–company member, Casey Kramer!!) said to me a phrase that will remain forever emblazoned in my memory, “I treat it all as rehearsals.” I think, from my observation, that this approach is in large part why her work is so brilliant, so alive, so in-the-moment, so true and unpredictable and full of life and soul. It is never fixed. As I continue to journey through this work I would like to cultivate this same outlook and so my answer really is, although we’re running, I am hoping to be very much in process, still in rehearsals…
What drew you to the role of Portia?
To answer this question honestly I’d have to say that it was more the challenge of working on a Shakespearean role and of finding the human– the woman– herself, in and beneath and because of the language that held the greatest appeal. I was tremendously curious about Portia and what the interiority of this woman could be who behaves in the ways that she does, doing the things that she does, but it was very mysterious to me and there were many question marks…
Have you ever seen a production of MERCHANT before?
I have seen quite a few productions of “Merchant.” I used to be very self-conscious about seeing other actresses play a role I was interested in and/or working on simultaneously but I’ve begun to loosen up in that regard and sometimes my curiosity simply gets the better of me– I want to see that role through another instrument. I have found as of late, that seeing varying interpretations of a role either brings me closer to my own personal interpretation, and/or stimulates or challenges my thinking in ways I wouldn’t have confronted had I not been exposed to another’s work. I may indeed come back around but for now that’s where my thinking lies…
Were there any challenges with this particular production?
The biggest challenge for me which I am still working on is how to interpret the courtroom scene. What is going on there? Why does Portia do what she does? What is her game-plan walking into that court? What does she know, what does she not know? Why does she choose to do it in the first place and risk so much (wouldn’t it have been easier for Bellario, her cousin and the real lawyer, to take care of things)? What is going on there psychologically? Who is Shylock to her? What surprises her? What is the turning point? What are the triggers and why? In what ways are her expectations met or dashed? What are the personal repercussions? What is the evolution?
What’s your take on the Shylock/Portia relationship? Is she his nemesis, his friend, or something in between?
An acting nugget that I love is to always find a character’s secret. I think the answer to this is my Portia’s…
Any funny moments from the rehearsal process?
There was a moment in “Dolly West’s Kitchen” where my friend and colleague Natalie Hope MacMillan could not look at all of us in the cast without breaking as she delivered this hilarious and out-of-the-blue line. There is a moment like that in “Merchant” that we fought uncontrollable laughter with all through rehearsals. We’d need only see a twinkle in our fellow actor’s eye and we’d be set off. Maybe if you come to the show, you can guess where it is!
Any dream roles you’d like to take on in the future?
Maggie the Cat, here I come… I can’t imagine being more passionate about a role than I am about Maggie…
Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” opened March 24th and runs through May 13th. Ticket reservations can be made by calling 818 – 846 – 5323 or by visiting www.theatrebanshee.org.
“The Merchant of Venice” finally opened last night…and we have the video to prove it!
Our production is directed by Sean Branney, who just won a Backstage Garland Award and an LADCC Award for his direction of “The Crucible” last season.
Make a reservation for “The Merchant of Venice” here: http://theatrebanshee.org/rezform.html!
It takes hours and hours of dedicated work by Banshee Company Members and a lot of imagination. Here are a few shots of Banshees working on creating the Italian setting in The Merchant of Venice, opening this Saturday!
At the start there is a pile of wood and a few cardboard columns (generously donated by Spiral Paper Tube and Core, see March 16th blog entry).
Under the direction of Leslie Baldwin and Sean Branney, the world of Venice slowly becomes real. The moving bridges are built, the columns become marble and the floor of the stage takes on the appearance of an ancient Italian road.
Of course it will only last for the run of the show, then it gets struck and the theatre turns back into a black box — a blank canvas waiting for the next production and a whole different look!
The Merchant of Venice opens March 24 and runs through May 13. Flagrant racism and anti-semitism mix uncomfortably with honor, friendship and love in a play that defies categorization. Funny, horrifying, charming and unsettling, Merchant’s got it all. See why The Merchant of Venice has remained one of Shakespeare’s most popular — and controversial — plays for more than four centuries. For more info and tickets: www.theatrebanshee.org.
Daniel Kaemon is no stranger to Shakespeare, having played Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar,” Hotspur in “Henry IV,” Malcolm in “Macbeth,” and Cassio in “Othello” among other notable classical roles. With Theatre Banshee’s newest production of “The Merchant of Venice” opening March 24th, he takes on Bassanio, a character at the center of two of the most interesting and important relationships in the play (Bassanio/Portia, and Antonio/Bassanio). Is Bassanio a callow youth, a greedy opportunist, a playboy, or something more complicated? Daniel talks about his work on the role:
Has “Merchant” and the role of Bassanio always been on your radar as a project you wanted to do?
Quite the contrary actually. It was a play I was unfamiliar with, and one that I perceived as anti-Semitic. And being Jewish, it was one I avoided.
What is the most interesting aspect of this role for you?
He’s flawed. He is, in the beginning at least, in a state of arrested development. The audience is by design on his side, and initially he’s easy to categorize as the romantic hero. But upon closer inspection, he puts the people closest to him in peril to advance his own interests. He puts a value and measurement on everything and everyone. He borrows and quickly blows through other people’s money without too much regard, literally almost has his best friend killed, and manages to jeopardize his new marriage along the way. And yet, he’s still likeable.
What is your take on the Bassanio/Antonio relationship?
Their relationship is perhaps one of the biggest question marks of the play. Why does Antonio go to such lengths and put his life on the line and attempt to help advance Bassanio’s quest for Portia and her fortune? As many times as you read through the text, there’s no singular justification. There are many people that conclude there must be some romantic relationship (realized or unrealized) between the two. In our production, and working with Time (Winters) who plays Antonio, we don’t see it that way…not that there’s anything wrong with that… or that it’s the wrong choice. For me, it’s very much a father/son mentor/apprentice relationship. Antonio’s selflessness is very much something you’d find a parent has for their child.
Can you describe the world of Venice created by this specific production?
Somewhere more in the 19th century with a few modern flares, not typical traditional Renaissance or Elizabethan.
Do you feel Bassanio is genuine in his feelings for Portia, or more of a fortune hunter at the beginning of the play?
It’s complicated, you know. Yes, unquestionably, he’s very much taken with Portia, and that’s supported in the text. But he’s also taken with everything she has to offer, and the idea of her. She’s the total package — beauty, brains, and billions. But I also think his infatuation and intrigue develop into a genuine love. You have to start somewhere before you get to love, so all in all, I think he’s coming from the right place, or at least a very real and human place.
What’s Bassanio’s journey over the course of the play?
In a nutshell, he grows-up. He gets over the hurdle of his arrested development. He learns there are both rewards and consequences that stem from his actions.
Do you have a specific method for approaching Shakespeare?
It’s all about text dissection for me. It’s figuring out exactly what the character is saying, what’s their intention, and how and why they’re using the words to both express themselves and go after what they want. The language is so heightened, that I try to interpret it for a modern audience, so it’s more grounded than lofty.
How is doing Shakespeare in a 99-seat theatre different from doing it in a larger space?
A smaller space allows you to be much (much) more subtle, and in many ways that compels you to be more specific in your actions and interpretation. You don’t have to worry about the guy 50 rows back.
What’s your biggest personal challenge in this role?
Creating the character arc. There are a lot of extremes thrown his way during the play (financial ruin, love, almost the loss of his friend, almost the loss of his wife), and those types of experiences stay with people and imprint themselves onto their being and psyche. He’s no different, those moments alter him, they make him grow up.
Did you have any preconceptions about the play before starting work on it? If so, how have they changed at all?
Yes, I thought the play was anti-Semitic, and as a member of the Jewish tribe, I had a bias against it. Now that I’ve been up close and personal with it, I’m starting to believe that Shakespeare used the play (in part) to reflect both the Venetian and Elizabethan cultures views of Jews, which was pretty awful. I’m torn because the intolerance is so prevalent throughout Merchant, and this production doesn’t shy away from it, but on the flipside, there’s nothing in the text that indicates its anti-Semitic themes are also shared and endorsed by the playwright. Some of the most memorable lines that really resonate on a human level come from Shylock.
Daniel Kaemon has previously appeared in War and Macbeth at Theatre Banshee. Tickets for Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” can be reserved at http://theatrebanshee.org/rezform.html.
Banshee first found out about the company a couple of years ago, when member Andrew Leman needed to build a lot of brain cylinders for the film “The Whisperer in Darkness.” A local family-owned business since 1949, Spiral Paper Tube & Core manufactures spiral paper tubes, cardboard tubes, fiber cans, poster tubes, cardboard cores, and other products. They make every kind and size of paper tube imaginable, from the little ones you’ll find at the center of every roll of tape right up to the huge round tubes used to form concrete pillars that hold up freeway overpasses.
Spiral Paper Tube sometimes has leftover tubes that customers don’t take, and it sets these aside for what it calls its “Community Overstock Program.” Rather than throw them away, Spiral Paper Tube offers them free for the asking to local schools, organizations, artists, and other non-profit entities to use in education, art projects, or in other creative ways. They very kindly donated three huge paper tubes from which we built the pillars you’ll see on set in The Merchant of Venice.
Donating overstock tubes to local groups isn’t the only way Spiral Paper Tube is contributing to the community. The company is committed to the environment and uses recycled paper to manufacture its kraft paper tubes and edge protectors, which results in green packaging products that are also completely recyclable. Each year, in a continued effort to preserve our natural resources, tons of their waste paper is recycled, allowing thousands of trees to remain untouched.
Towering thanks to Emily Hibard and the whole team at Spiral Paper Tube & Core company. Donations like theirs help make it possible for Theatre Banshee to do its work. If you need paper tubes of any size or shape for your school group, theatre production, alien brain cylinders, or some other enterprise, give them a call or visit online at www.spiralpaper.com!
Interested in supporting “The Merchant of Venice” or a future Banshee production? Check out our needs here: http://theatrebanshee.org/help.html. And thank you!
Reber Clark is a freelance composer, arranger, and performer currently working on the music composition for Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” opening March 24th in Burbank, California.
What was the first theatrical production you ever attended and what impact did it have on you?
The first time I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was when Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra came to town when I was in sixth grade. I was on a school field trip to hear them and I had no idea who they were or even if music was something I wanted to do. Then the orchestra started and I was blown away. I lost my heart to music right then and there – I remember it very clearly. It was not a gradual thing – it exploded into my life like love at first sight.
How did you first become involved with Theatre Banshee?
Through Mr. Sean Branney. About the same time I was discovering music I also was discovering science fiction writers. Among them were Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke among others, and later an obscure New Englander named Howard Phillips Lovecraft who was writing in the twenties and thirties. His stuff grabbed a hold of me and I’ve been hooked every since. I stumbled on something called the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society run by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman. We eventually met and I let them know that if they ever needed anything to please call. When their excellent composer Troy Sterling Nies had a previous commitment I got the call. I am thrilled to be doing this.
What is your background as a composer?
I’ve been writing music for concert band, wind ensemble and orchestra for thirty years. My stuff is published worldwide by C. Alan Publications, Columbia Pictures Publications, Warner Brothers Music, Southern Music Company and Wingert / Jones Music Company. I’ve done quite a bit of studio work, children’s theatre, a few small movies, variety show charts – whatever would pay. My teacher was James Perry but I am largely self-taught.
What drew you to this production of “Merchant”?
Sean Branney. I checked out The Banshee online when I heard of it and saw the awards given for “The Crucible” and other plays. I’ve recently seen Sean’s work on his movie “The Whisperer in Darkness” and had dinner with him when it was screened in Chicago. I liked him and knew it would be fun to work with him.
Is there a specific tone or mood you’re trying to capture?
I would love to convey Venice in an approachable way, but without stepping on the production’s toes. This play is – what? – a comedy? a tragedy? I identify with most parties, including Shylock, in this play. I see Shylock’s point of view and I think I understand why he’s so pissed off. There is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law and the play of these two things generates musical possibilities that have been fun to explore.
Did you do any research on the music of the time period?
A bit. I didn’t want to over-emphasize the period instruments or period style too much. I’ve really enjoyed productions like Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and Al Pacino’s “The Merchant of Venice”, where the period strictures on music are relaxed a bit. Sean also requested an early twentieth-century approach which suits me just fine.
It’s different from concert writing in that it’s in a supporting role and not the featured thing. Incidental music for Shakespeare is usually for scene changes and dances and any music that is actually scripted. There is not much underscoring of emotional scenes. In my limited experience the challenge with movies is to bring out the unseen elements in what’s happening on the screen. Big slam-bang chases and dramatic title music is a lot of fun – more like concert work – but getting across the disappointments, the horror, or quiet joys of the heart, without words, is what music can contribute if done well.
Is composing for Shakespeare different than for other plays?
I’m constantly amazed at how from ancient Greek theater to modern Broadway storytelling is largely the same. I suppose it’s because humans are the same and desire the same things. “Please tell me a story!”
Are there specific moments that you wanted to heighten in the music?
Sean and I identified three themes to play off early on. There is some music for the ghetto, some for Belmont (the home of Portia), and music for the city of Venice. Most of the cues come from these three themes. The brightness and lightness of Belmont, Shylock’s dilemma and darkness, Venice’s hustle and bustle and partying – those are the things I’d like to emphasize.
Who is your favorite character in this play, and why?
I really identify with Shylock but I enjoy Portia’s lightness and humor and Antonio and Bassanio’s friendship. I think I identify with Shylock because Justice can be such a bitch and I’ve been on both sides of Justice. I enjoy Portia because she is light and breezy and confident. She can hold her own with anyone. The friendship between Antonio and Bassanio I really like because it is a hard thing to come by and when it does I think holding on to that is one of the greatest things in life. In my own it has been a rare thing.
Do you have a creative mantra you live by?
Yes, I have many but they are usually in rough language. Let’s just go with: “Some days it’s magic, some days it’s not.”
What are your favorite songs or artists of all time?
My all-time favorite composer for the movies is Bernard Herrmann. He gets to the heart of the matter, holds me there, and pulls every ounce of whatever emotion he is aiming at right out of me almost every single time. He could do cosmic wonder and intimate feeling and the entire spectrum in between and on either side. An amazing composer.
Mr. Clark’s movie, “Lovecraft Paragraphs,” was screened to acclaim at the 2009 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. He continues to score for film and has several projects in active development.
Tickets for Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” can be reserved at http://theatrebanshee.org/rezform.html.
BURBANK, CA—9 March 2012—Theatre Banshee presents Shakespeare’s disturbing comedy The Merchant of Venice at The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia, Burbank, for an eight week run, March 24 through May 13. March 22 & 23 are a special $7 preview performances.
In this tangled tale of friendship and romance, a merchant borrows money to help his friend woo a maiden and secures the loan with a pound of his own flesh as collateral. Will true love win out or will Shylock the Jew come, knife in hand, to claim is pound of flesh? Flagrant racism and anti-Semitism mix uncomfortably with honor, friendship and love in a play that defies categorization. Funny, horrifying, charming and unsettling, The Merchant of Venice has remained one of Shakespeare’s most popular —and controversial — plays for more than four centuries.
The Merchant of Venice features: Mark Anthony Barrow, Paul Bond, Joe Corgan, Andrew Graves, Ira Heinichen, Christine Joëlle, Daniel Kaemon, Maeve Kiely, Kirsten Kollender, Kerr Seth Lordygan, Barry Lynch, Brett Mack, David Reynolds, James Schendel, Tim Stafford, Sarah van der Pol, Ericka Winterrowd, Time Winters. The design team includes scenic design by Arthur MacBride, lighting by Bosco Flanagan, costumes by Christy Hauptman and an original score by Reber Clark. Sean Branney directs the production.
Theatre Banshee’s 2011 season was nominated for the LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award for Best Season. Those productions (The Crucible, The Walworth Farce and Dolly West’s Kitchen) are currently nominated for eight LA Weekly and LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. Banshee’s production of The Crucible won a Back Stage West Garland Award for Best Director (Sean Branney).
The Merchant of Venice perform Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays and 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, March 24th through May 13th at The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia in Burbank. General admission tickets are $20; student and senior tickets are $16; and tickets for groups of 6 or more are $13 each. March 22 and 23 are Special Preview Performances where tickets are a mere $7. For information and tickets please call 818•846•5323 or visit http://www.theatrebanshee.org.
Press photos will be available at http://www.theatrebanshee.org/merchant/pressphotos.html
Sean Branney • Leslie Baldwin — Producers
3435 W. Magnolia Blvd. • Burbank, CA 91505 ✆ 818 846 5323 • www.theatrebanshee.org
How did you first become involved with Theatre Banshee?
When I crashed The Crucible auditions last year. It’s one of my favorite plays and I desperately wanted to be a part of the production. I was just so happy they let me read, being cast was icing on the cake!
What makes a Banshee production special?
I think it’s the company members. Theatre Banshee is like a family, so that element of trust and comfort is already there from the beginning of rehearsals. Even if you’re new to the gang, just the fact that others around you feel so at home really welcomes you and allows you to work in a space where you feel comfortable to take risks.
What interested you about the role of Nerissa?
I found it really interesting how spunky she is and yet totally devoted to the people she loves.
Do you feel The Merchant of Venice is an antisemitic play?
No, it’s a play about the perceptions of its time.
How is your approach to doing Shakespeare different from other playwrights?
I start with the language first. The text is this beautiful road map, and you’re kind of just along for the ride. I always feel like I’m peeling an onion with Shakespeare, there’s just layers upon layers of meaning and history to be researched. From there I scan out the verse and delve into the same character analysis I’d do with any other playwright.
What is the design of this particular production?
We are staging a pretty traditional version with a nod to the nineteenth century, but in a way that doesn’t distract from the timeless theme that is so relevant today. Oh, and there will be drawbridges!
If you could play any male role in the show, who would it be?
Antonio. I would love to explore his relationship with Bassanio.
Have you ever seen a production of Merchant? If so, what effect did it have on you?
You know, I actually haven’t, but I’ve heard of the RSC’s recent controversial production where they staged it as a Las Vegas Casino. I’m a big fan of reinventing Shakespeare.
Where are you in the rehearsal process currently?
We are all blocked and freshly off book. So we’re right at that point where the real fun starts to begin!
How have you been preparing for this role?
In one of our first rehearsals we spoke about this kind of “fairy tale” aspect of Portia and Nerissa’s life in Belmont. Portia’s father on his death bed setting up this elaborate will where men from all over the world seek out his daughter’s hand in marriage by choosing the right chest. Then there’s Nerissa’s undeniable love for Portia mixed with her sprite-like demeanor, and the fact that suitor after suitor continue to vie for her best friend. It can be very threatening for her I think, because as far as we know Portia is the closest thing to family Nerissa has. I couldn’t help but think about JM Barrie’s Tinker Bell and see a correlation between her jealousy out of devotion for Peter, and Nerissa’s for Portia. Because of this I’ve been looking a lot in to old fairie folklore. One of the best things I’ve read so far is “fairies hate being told ‘thank you’, as they see it as a sign of one forgetting the good deed done, and, instead, want something that will guarantee remembrance.” When I saw that I thought, oh that is so Nerissa!
Any specific challenges to this role/play for you personally?
I find it very unsettling that Shylock is forced into changing his religion. I can’t help but think he would kill himself before he’d let that happen. Every time we hit that part in the trial scene and he says, “I am content,” I picture that thought coming into his head and it’s hard for me to stomach. Also, I have to convincingly play a male at one point, so I’m working on that too.
How would you describe the Nerissa/ Portia relationship in the play?
Thelma and Louise.
What’s your favorite line or moment from the show?
Portia’s “the quality of mercy” speech.
What effect do you hope this production has on the audience?
I hope audiences really hear Portia’s mercy speech and see the absolute hypocrisy in her actions afterwards. I hope they realize we all have eyes, we all bleed, and most of the time when tickled, we all laugh.
What are your dream roles?
Ophelia from Hamlet and Babe from Crimes of the Heart.
If Nerissa was a flavor of ice cream, what would she be?
Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food because Nerissa means “sea sprite.”
Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” opens March 24th and runs through May 13th. Ticket reservations can be made by calling 818 – 846 – 5323 or by visiting www.theatrebanshee.org.