Macbeth to Midsummer: The Road to Hamlet
So there we were, Antioch Classical Theatre Company’s fifth summer season was not going up and was likely closing its doors for good. And here comes Sam to the rest of us saying we can do a show without ACTC. Most were ethusiastic at first, but eventually it became Sam and I…and the third often left out musketeer of our company, Mel Parazo.
You see Mel was a part of the whole ACTC experience as the stage manager for most of the shows, so she had a better understanding of the whole experience of how a sumer show and a theatre company runs. She came to us and became the wrangler of our little project, always there to put it back on the right track so we could get shit done.
Mel came in ready to do the Stage Manager/Assistant Director thing and for our first show and for Hamlet ended up being an integral part of the company and a key figure in accomplishing our goals and dreams.
So there we three were, ready to put up a show. And the show was The Scottish Play. After previously doing a comedy and before that doing Hamlet, it seemed that unless we were excited about doing Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth was the obvious choice for our next show.
Not only was this my first chance at doing anything with the Scottish Play, but it was my first real directing opportunity. I jotted down staging ideas, costume ideas, ideas on adapting the script down all the way to how to advertise it. I got locked in and ready. It was going to be tech heavy, with an emphasis on great acting moments, and moments of shear dread and terror. A real good first experience as director. All we needed was the right indoor space.
But space after space after space turned us down or gave us a price we were not able to pay for. All seemed lost. But then, Sam came through…sort of.
It was an outdoor amphitheater at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, California. Looking at it, hidden between some trees and next to the duck pond, it did not scream dark Sciottish tragedy of blood. It screamed light comedy.
All my ideas, all my hopes, all my dreams dashed because there was no way, NO WAY, that this space would work with my vision for Macbeth. And both Sam and I agreed that if we could not do it right, we’d do something else. And what play would work with a small cast? The answer was obvious and one we passed on way back when we chose Macbeth in the first place. But it was the play that we needed to do.
So I retired my notebook of Macbeth ideas and put away my copies of the play and picked up a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream instead. I will never forget the sting of having to put away a project I was truly excited and passionate about and had built up for months, only to have it put away for a comedy I really had not passion for.
But we paid for the space and I had just graduated and had no job, so what else was I going to do? So I read the script, pulled out my copy of Inventing the Human and dogeared the chapter on Midsummer and put together a concept I thought would be fun. Not artistically great, just fun and funny. That became our company mantra, “let’s have fun on stage”. A mantra lifted from Conan O’Brien’s goodbye speech from his final Tonight Show where he said “we’re going to have fun on television”.
That’s the attitude that kept us going. And we needed it too. Our first audition had people I cast drop before our first rehearsal. Luckily Mel stepped up and was interested in acting. She filled in a role and other actors in the show really stepped up. And not many people showed up to the first audition in the first place. Add to that we were rehearsing outdoors in the 100 degree summer heat about four times a week.
Then right around Tech week, I was heading out. You see long before we planned this thing, my parents planned a trip for me to New York City, my first time and a reward for graduating SFSU with honors. But the play was running good and at this point, since it was outdoors with little tech, it was just about the company running the show each time.
Then…we had someone drop. And not just anyone, our Oberon/Theseus (it was double cast). With the exception of Bottom and Puck, Oberon/Theseus was the biggest part. And shit…now what. Made a few calls and no one was available and I wasn’t going to be there to give blocking or directing notes, since this happened the day before I was about to leave.
And to be clear, the actor did turn out to have a good reason. You see he was being asked to start his new job sooner than expected. It was the Navy so…that’s more important.
So what to do? Well…I wasn’t acting in the show, I know the blocking, I know the other actors. Big task, memorize two parts of Shakespeare in one week while sightseeing in New York City and come back one day before first show day and be ready? I can do that. And I did. Just a piece of advice, memorizing your lines on the subway WILL get you stares so just go with it.
In the end we had a good show and it was a fun time like we had planned. And since my little cameo as one of the actors with Bottom was not going to happen, the acting company in the end turned out to be two people and TJ Spadini, our Bottom and the greatest actor a director could have, stepped up and memorized all the other parts in the play within a play at the end of Midsummer. He played Pyramus and used a sock puppet to play Thisbe while the other actor played the Wall and Lion using himself and another sock puppet. It was the highlight of the entire experience.
Overall, not the artistic experience I had wished but we put on a show and had a LOT of fun. Not an experience I would trade for the world. So we went our separate ways. I spent a year looking for work and finally found a job in Daly City, I was working, living with my girlfriend Kim (who also stepped up in Midsummer playing one hell of a Hermia), and working for the Playwrights Foundation of San Francisco, a real big time theatre organization. All was great, and whenever Sam and I got together we always ended up talking about one thing, Shakespeare and Hamlet and doing another show.
And then there was that fatal day, Sam asked me to meet him at Barnes and Noble. So I went. His purpose, he wanted to direct Hamlet and he wanted me to be his Hamlet. My answer, an instant yes. I thought, what’s the worse that could happen that could be more stressful than our Midsummer experience?
A. WHOLE. LOT.