Archive for August, 2009

Behind the scenes at SDP: The world’s a stage

By Deb Durkee

And the actors think that they have it tough – all they have to do is remember their lines.

Anyone visiting Delaware Park in the autumn, winter or spring seasons will see a very different skyline than the one that’s there in the summer. That’s because the stage that has been home to so many Shakespearean performances is taken down after every last show and put up again at the start of the next season.

And that’s no small task.

“I affectionately call it The Beast,” says Scott Richardson, crew leader in charge of the – on average – crew of between 12 and 14 that assemble the stage every year.

And a beast it is.

It takes the full stage crew 3 weeks to assemble the more than 1,000 pieces that make up the monstrous stage – and that’s not including whatever extra pieces that season’s productions might call for.

It’s a big job from the beginning – city workers deliver the stage to the build site, from where it’s stored in the off season at the sewer authority warehouse. It’s all done extremely carefully, as keeping the pieces in the right order can save a lot of moving around later on.

And as the whole thing sits on a heavy steel base that’s secured to blocks several feet below ground level, it’s important that the pieces don’t have to be moved around more than absolutely necessary.

And as they also have a limited amount of time to work with the city’s crane, it’s vital that everything is ready to go.

“By the time the actors are on stage, it all has to be actor safe,” says Richardson. [Safety] is one of the main concerns.”

In addition to the stage, they also have to set up light towers and sound booths; it’s everything that makes SDP possible.

The stage itself is 15 years old. While it’s been necessary to replace boards and planks on an individual basis to keep the structural integrity, there’s still plenty of life in the structure.

And it’s written clearly on the walls.

One 22-foot-high façade is in the familiar Tudor style, and the other side is black. If the two summer productions call for different backgrounds, the entire thing has to be flipped between shows. Even that is a process that takes two days.

And up close, both sides bear signs of shows past.

There’s paint from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, from Romeo and Juliet, even a garish pink section that was a background for Much Ado About Nothing and remnants of a staircase from King Lear. Those who have been with the company for many of its seasons need to do nothing more than look at the stage to remember the shows that have been performed on it.

“There have been a number of amazing shows on this stage,” says Richardson. “We remember them all.”

There’s something magical about the stage of a theatre production, especially when that stage has weathered not only year after year of productions but has also been the backdrop for introducing new faces and new friends to the wonderful, fantastic world of Shakespeare.

This piece marks the first in a series of three, that are designed to share a small piece of what goes on behind the scenes of one of Buffalo’s most treasured institutions – Shakespeare in Delaware Park. The series will give some unsung heroes of the backstage their own moments in the limelight.

‘Julius Caesar’ – Shakespeare in Delaware Park

By Augustine Warner

I like Tim Newell as an actor but I’m not sure Cassius is supposed to dominate “Julius Caesar” as Newell dominates Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s production. Director Steve Vaughan trimmed the relatively short play, eliminating some of Brutus’ (Doug Zschiegner) scenes. That leaves a feisty, angry, devious Cassius dominating center stage, a man Caesar (Dan Walker) never trusted. “Julius Caesar” is one of Shakespeare’s most simple plays, at least generally. A group of upper crust types decide they don’t like the power grab by Caesar and kill him. Then, they lose a bloody civil war and Cassius and Brutus commit suicide rather than be strangled in a cave under Rome, leaving the field to Mark Antony (Adriano Gatto) and Octavius (Kurt Erbb).

It’s actually about a lot more than that, of the clash between the old republican Rome of Brutus and the new imperial Rome of future Emperor Augustus. It’s also about a man, Brutus, known because a distant ancestor killed the last king of Rome who doesn’t realize how much times have changed. Cassius and his allies in the plot play up to Brutus’ ego and use him, making him the front man in the assassination and in the speech to the crowd for Caesar’s funeral.

This isn’t one of those play where someone not familiar with Shakespeare can get lost in what’s going on, trying to figure the duke of this and the earl of that and Sir Whomever. Basically, this is a power struggle like those in Washington or, especially Albany, on a steady basis. And, if you think we don’t use murder as a tool, you haven’t been listening to enough paranoid talk show hosts for enough years.

Vaughan is a pretty straight-on director, working with a pretty straight-on script and some fine work with his specialty of stage fighting. He keeps the show’s pace swift and never slows. The pivotal battle of Philippi is really well done, as is the actual assassination scene. Vaughan also has a really strong performance from Gatto as Antony, with a beautifully staged funeral scene, you know, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” There is also some really fine costume work from Ken Shaw, with his Roman military uniforms on a relatively bare set.

There is some weak casting, Cassie Gorniewicz’s Calpurnia and Erbb’s Octavius as examples.

“Julius Caesar” is worth the trip to Delaware Park and don’t be scared by the thunder in this summer of endless thunder, lighting and rain…it’s part of the show (fortunately). Take your dinner and perhaps a nice wine and “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”

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