Monthly Archives: August 2013

Spanish Tragedy Workshop Day 3

Day 3 of Spanish Tragedy workshops and today we were focusing on dividing the play into French Scenes and drawing out references to important themes and motifs such as Family, Death, Time, Love, and Power. Ricky, our Director, marked out a shape on the stage which we termed the “Text Square”, and we proceeded through the play with actors jumping into the square to perform their scenes. French Scenes divide plays at any point that a character enters or exits from the stage, so we marked these divides by playing music (which the actors physicalised, keeping energy and fun levels high!). Those not in the scene being performed supported the scene through soundscaping, physicalising and reacting to the dialogue. It was a fantastic way to really explore the play as an ensemble and begin to understand its structure. Meanwhile, in “Dictionary Corner” a group got out the coloured pens and noted down all references to our key themes. At the end of the session we noted some very interesting patterns: Love is a key theme at first but references to it suddenly disappear around halfway through the play… Death is mentioned in almost every scene… and although a ghost is a lead figure in the play, no one ever mentions ghosts or a ghostly presence… It was fascinating stuff, and as we continue our French Sceneing work next time I’m sure there’ll be many more interesting structural and thematic patterns that’ll emerge and inform our interpretation of the play. We’re all very excited to begin rehearsals!
EC

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Spanish Tragedy Workshop Day 2

DEATH was the theme of the day for our second workshop, and we started the day off with a round of “Chaos”: a game where the group creates patterns using sequences of words and actions that pass around the circle, adding level by level until several sequences are occurring at once. It takes a great deal of concentration and team work, and is rather mesmerising to observe! Next, we dove into an analysis of three plays which each present death and ghosts in different ways: Hamlet, Hecuba and The White Devil. We began to explore ideas for physically representing a ghost on stage and presented these to each other for discussion. The Blue Elephant Theatre had their open afternoon and we found that we had a rather sizeable audience for our experimental performances! Some very interesting ideas came to life onstage: the Hecuba group used choral delivery of their ghostly speech for extra emphasis and effect, the Hamlet group created tension through a soundscape and brought the ghost to life through character reactions to empty space, while the White Devil group had three actors create a very physical and menacing ghost which advances on Flamineo and throws dirt in his face. All in all a very exciting exploration which has whetted our appetites for staging Kyd’s ghostly scenes in September…
EC

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August 21st Photo of the Day

August 21st Photo of the Day

Tragedy of Mariam Production photo taken by Scott Rylander
Tristan Bates Theatre 12th – 17th August.

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August 21, 2013 · 11:03 pm

Spanish Tragedy Workshop Day 1

During the our process of building The Spanish Tragedy, Assistant Director Ellie Chadwick shall be sharing the processes, the trials and tribulations of all the goings on in the Lazarus rehearsal room.

Today was an exciting initial look at this fantastic and challenging play, diving straight in at the deep end and focusing on the theme of War. The company started off with a thorough warm up, using activities combining super focus and concentration with a nice sweaty physical workout! We then started to tackle the text by examining one of the opening speeches describing the events of the battle between Portugal and Spain. The piece depicts the heroism and skill present in war as well as conjuring images of the horrific, harsh reality in wonderfully evocative language. Through textual analysis, discussion and physical exercises – and some inspirational music thrown in for good measure – we picked apart, digested and began to really explore the text and the theme of War as an ensemble. A fun and productive first day… Catch up with us next week as we continue workshops and delve into the deaths and ghosts of Jacobean drama!
EC

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August 20th Photo of the Day

August 20th Photo of the Day

Tragedy of Mariam Production photo taken by Scott Rylander
Tristan Bates Theatre 12th – 17th August.

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August 20, 2013 · 11:01 pm

Discovering the First Female English Playwright; or, Why We Should Care About Cary

Tragedy of Mariam Assistant Director Sara Reimers, and actress Paula James speak about the process of bringing the first London production of the first play published by a woman to the stage.

It’s the kind of question you might find in a pub quiz: name the first original play in English known to have been written by a woman. Now name the playwright. Yet having spent the last few months working on said play, we have found that very few people have heard of The Tragedy of Mariam and its author, Elizabeth Cary. When we’ve been out publicising the show, people have responded with surprise that the woman occupying this unique place in English literature should be unknown to them. Yet Cary’s relative obscurity no doubt stems from the fact that in the four hundred years since its publication, there has never been a fully staged production of her work in the capital…until now.

We have been working with Lazarus Theatre Company on their production of The Tragedy of Mariam which is the first known staging of the play in London since its publication in 1613. As practitioners we are both well versed in the work of Shakespeare and our knowledge of the time at which he was writing is shaped by its depiction in his plays.

Yet Mariam sheds new light on some of the preconceptions that we might have had about Jacobean England and particularly women’s role within society. Exploring issues such as female agency, divorce and abusive relationships, many of the themes of Mariam remain all too relevant today. Written by a woman at a time when women were banned from performing on the public stage, Cary’s text is remarkable not only for giving a voice to a host of varied and nuanced female protagonists, but also for waiting until the fifth scene before featuring a male character.

At first glance it might be easy to brand these wildly contrasting women with a sensational Hollywood tag-line to define them: Mariam the Chaste, Salome the Black Widow, Alexandra (Mariam’s mother) the Betrayer, Doris the Spurned Woman and Graphina the Naïve. Cary’s text however offers a much more in-depth consideration of femininity, exploring what success means for these women and the tactics they use to achieve it. Dying for their beliefs, fighting against the injustices of gender discrimination, and putting their own pain and suffering to one side for the sake of their children, these women are so much more than a tag-line. Using their intellect, connections and guile to gain influence and power, each one of them makes huge sacrifices along the way.

Lazarus are well-known for producing plays with strong female leads and all-female casts, such as their all-female production of Women Of Troy at the Blue Elephant Theatre last year. This is extremely exciting and wonderfully refreshing in an industry where (to quote Richard Schechner) “For every Ophelia and Gertrude there are Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Gravediggers [and] the Ghost”.

The casting practice adopted by Lazarus goes further than simply placing female actors in male roles, as the text is adapted to transform male protagonists into female characters. This was a key component in Lazarus’ recent production of Lear, which featured the brilliant Jennifer Shakesby in the title role, and in Gavin Harrington-Odedra’s adaptation of Mariam, a handful of male characters have been adapted into female characters and the remaining male roles stripped back to just one protagonist, Herod. This device gave us the space to create a world that had been freed from the oppressive rule of a tyrannical King, exploring how these women existed without the fear and weight of male domination, only to have that freedom taken away when Herod returned.

In contrast to the patriarchal society depicted in the drama, our rehearsal room was a female dominated space, comprised of two men (one of whom was the director Gavin Harrington-Odedra) and 10 women (one of whom was Sara, the assistant director). Some companies would have rehearsed by only calling in the actors required for a particular scene, which would have seen our Herod being called in pretty late in the day, but the ensemble nature of this production is uniquely cultivated in the rehearsal room; this means everyone has to be in attendance at each rehearsal as we work through the text, write the music and devise the action. This inclusive style of rehearsal, lead skilfully by Gavin, meant that every voice had the space to express itself while we as a company uncovered and developed these remarkable characters.

Classical drama’s 2:1 casting ratio in favour of male performers has been widely reported and it is refreshing to work with a company which is committed to addressing this inequality. Furthermore, choosing to stage Mariam, Lazarus is challenging the ongoing lack of recognition for female playwrights. Last year The Guardian reported that women writers accounted for only 35% of the new plays put on at England’s top ten most subsidised theatres and when combined with numerous revivals of canonical works by writers such as Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekov, it is clear that we still have a long way to go before women’s voices are equally heard in the theatre. That Mariam begins with a female character musing on her experience of speaking publically, ‘How oft have I with public voice run on’, demonstrates how many of the issues that Cary explores remain pertinent today.

It has been a humbling experience to work on this landmark production of Cary’s challenging and inspiring play and hopefully now, should the question of England’s first female playwright arise, a few more people will know the answer.

Paula James & Sara Reimers

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Goodbye Tragedy of Mariam

We here at Lazarus want to thank everyone for all their hard work in bringing the first London production of The Tragedy of Mariam to the stage at the Tristan Bates Theatre for the Camden Fringe. This was a milestone production for the play, and a milestone for us. It’s not often you can bring the London premier of a 400 year old play to the stage.

We are all very proud of the production and were very thankful for everyone’s warm reception of the production.

Thank you to all the cast, creative team and to everyone who came to watch The Tragedy of Mariam.

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