Good News from Good Shop

Thanks to everyone who has been using GoodShop to help support Monkeyhouse! We just got our check from this year from them and we raised $208. That's double the amount we raised last year and enough to cover 8 hours of rehearsal space rental.

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give! As we head into all the Black Friday sales this week, please think about going through GoodShop before you buy things online at Amazon (1.5% donation), 1-800-Flowers (7% donation), Crate&Barrel (2.5% donation), Danskin (4-5% donation) or hundreds of other stores. It doesn't cost you anything to use the site and it only takes a few extra seconds.

Oh, and if you are planning a trip during the holidays...remember that you can use GoodShop with Expedia (1% donation), Hotels.com (3% donation), Avis (1.5% donation) and lots of other travel sites.

As an added incentive, Karen has offered to double whatever Monkeyhouse earns through GoodShop during November and December this year. Thanks again to everyone who is already using this innovative service.


More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 3)

By Karen Krolak

continuing on with our discussion with Jason Ries, Production Manager for Actors' Shakespeare Project and Monkeyhouse about his set design for Taming of the Shrew...

karen Krolak: Ok so let's return to Taming of the Shrew. The "Wild Cat Club" is a fairly awkward performance space. How did it inspire you?
jason ries: I had the advantage of working in there on three previous Actor Shakespeare Project shows. As you know, I also designed lights for ASP's Loves Labours Lost in `07 in that space. However, walking into that basement space at the Garage, there are several elements that immediately look like challenges. Columns, low ceilings, weird angles and slants abound. There isn't a square corner or symmetric shape in that room. I'm fairly confident that Stonehenge was built with more digital considerations. Between overhead water pipes that travel at different angles than the rake of the concrete floor (which isn't consistent within 12" spans in some places) and pillars filled with re bar at unusual intervals (destroying more than our share of concrete drill bits), we certainly had a lot of fun in there trying to figure out a lot of the elements - which, of course, is what it's all about.

kK: Uff, how did you manage to juggle all of those elements?
jr: Having a sense for how we were going to stylistically frame Shrew before we walked in there, we immediately saw those as welcome additions to the barroom hijinks rather than obstacles. I want to make sure to credit Melia Bensussen, our director, for creating the framework, for seeing the potential of the room from the get-go and for her openness in going with me as I was sussing out how the awkwardness of the space could work for us. Her flexibility in working with the idiosyncrasies of that space always encouraged me to keep playing.

kK: With more productions in the Boston area embracing the concept of an ambient set, for example Sleep No More, how have audiences reacted to your design?
jr: Oh, they have booed and cursed me every night then threw walnuts at the center column ;) Seriously, I have heard a lot of favorable comments. People have said that they feel like they got the "inside jokes" which is always rewarding, as long as people are not distracted by the setting. I think that's success if they simply feel like they're in a world that allows them to access the story whether they consciously recognize it or not. That's the general sense I'm getting from audience response (that and some apparently genuine excitement about the "rough magic" at the end!) Some unattended kids were banging around on the jukebox at intermission when I was there last weekend. Made my eyes go watermelony at first - but then realized that how much of a genuine dive-bar moment that and was rather delighted by the verisimilitude. You may now go and look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.

kK: Thanks, as you know I think you did an amazing job but I am admittedly biased.
jr: You are very welcome. Keep these Monkeyhouse interviews coming as I have learned quite a bit by reading them.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady


Finding Out About Fight Choreography with Rob Najarian (part 2)

by Karen Krolak

Continuing my Facebook interview with Rob Najarian, fight choreographer for Actors' Shakespeare Project's Taming of the Shrew and a performer in Sleep No More, a site-specific, immersive theater experience by Punchdrunk presented by the American Repertory Theater.

karen Krolak: Can describe how you developed one of the fights in Taming of the Shrew?
Rob Najarian: Developing the fights for Shrew were in process, during rehearsal. I like to get a lot of actor input since I appreciate that myself when I'm working as an actor. Also, having Melia there when we were developing the fights was hugely helpful. It's nice to know that a director has care and interest in the moments of violence instead of just having us go off and work something and come back and show it. The moves, quite honestly, are incidental. I just tried to get maximum coverage of the space - on the floor, near a table, around the pillar.

kK: Was it difficult to work around the posts in the center of the stage or did that just provide an exciting challenge?
RN: I won't lie, the posts were a bit of a pain, just because they had a lot of bolts that were protruding and we couldn't really "use" them in the violence because they had that fabric hanging there for the final scene. But usually, I dig pillars or any kind of odd architecture.

kK: How did you manage to juggle Shrew with rehearsals for Sleep No More?
RN: Juggling rehearsals were a it easier than I had though because Sleep No More rehearsals were just starting for me as tech week began for Shrew. There were some challenges and I must say that Tori and Melia were very understanding of my schedule. Also, the cast made things much easier on me because they were all physically capable and they picked up things a lot quicker than a lot of other casts I've worked with.

kK: How have you liked working with Punchdrunk?
RN: Working with Punchdrunk has been very rewarding artistically. It's been wreaking havoc on my sleep schedule just because they do expect people to be available pretty much all the time. It's the nature of the work really, because they figure out almost everything in process. It's one of the most truly collaborative experiences I've had during a show. Coriolanus was the other. It's also been great to be part of something that has generated so much buzz around town. We've met people who have come up from New York or even farther to see the show, which is a bit mind-boggling...

kK: How were rehearsals structured? Did you learn phrases or focus more on improvisations?
RN: Rehearsals always start with a group warm up (mostly a dance-like warm-up) which include an exercise on focus or a particular quality of movement they'd like to play with for the day. Then rehearsals are split between group time for the group scenes and solo work for individual moments. So it was a great combo of truly collaborative stuff, and intense individual work. I felt like I had a lot of freedom to mold my character which was really great.

kK: Although I haven't seen the production yet, I know that audience members are allowed to take their own path through the former school building where Sleep No More is set. Have you enjoyed being followed around by audience members?
RN: Being followed by audience was daunting in the abstract, but in practice I really like it. I dig it when they get close to me. I feel in a way that I can then experience my feelings as they happen and not have to worry about projecting them to make them read for a larger space. Also, I can concentrate on the intricacies of fine, subtle physicality for similar reasons.

kK: Have you had any noteworthy interactions with an audience member?
RN: No really noteworthy interactions. I usually connect individually with 2 or 3 people a night and it's different every time. It's strange and wonderful to feel how someone responds when I touch them after they've been ignored for an hour or two. It's one of the rare moments in my theatrical life when I've been able to connect with an audience member in such a personal way. It's hugely rewarding for me as an artist to see another human being respond to my performance in real time.

kK: Thanks Rob. I really appreciate hearing your observations on the creative process for both shows.
RN: Hope this is helpful Karen. Thanks so much for asking me this stuff and for your interest in what I do :)

More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 2)

by Karen Krolak

continuing on with our discussion with Jason Ries, Production Manager for Actors' Shakespeare Project and Monkeyhouse about his set design for Taming of the Shrew...

karen Krolak: Of course, you have designed set elements, e.g. painting the floor, striping the marley, hanging a myriad of mylar curtains, for Monkeyhouse pieces. Are there any major differences between designing for theater and dance projects?

jason ries: The most compelling difference to me between designing for theatre compared to dance is the timeline/lifetime of how work is built and pieces endure.

kK: Can you give me a specific example of what you mean?

jr: Even at the most basic professional levels, theater involves a couple weeks of intensive rehearsal (with concurrent design implementation), a week or so of tech (where all of the elements get fully integrated with the staging), and 4-6 weeks of multiple performances before it basically goes away forever. At least that is what I have experienced. Being mostly a dance novice until working with Monkeyhouse, I was completely caught off guard as to how ABSOLUTELY different this is from the dance process.

kK: And that surprised you?

jr: Yes, the two are so often lumped together as performative arts.

kK: So how would you describe the design process for dance?

jr: Dance pieces, as you know, are often built slowly over months, sometimes years. The rehearsal process requires more recuperation time and there isn't the same written document giving you words (and stage directions) to lean on. This gives plenty of opportunity to a designer who is integrated in the process to have a lot more time to mull over challenges and be part of the discussion on how a piece evolves and is build. Then, as performances tend to be one or two nights only and designed/expected to be able to move from venue to venue, it's assumed that the tech process only needs to be a couple hours (often the day of the performance). I expect that at the Boston Ballet or for any touring show with a trucked-in set, that the tech process expands out to something more akin to theatre, but most dance companies are charged with being able to go into any space easily and "make it happen" quickly. That, and the fact that a dance piece often has a repertory life of years once it's built, certainly puts a premium on making visual items light and incredibly mobile while, paradoxically, super-durable. Hence, the immense importance of achieving this through the personal (costuming) and transient (lighting).

kK: You are right but it took me awhile to grasp that distinction with my costume designs. Was this difference immediately obvious to you?

jr: Not really. It feels silly saying it now, since "bodies moving through space" would necessarily have different needs than "words delivered through air," but I remember the challenge of conceptualizing Always and A Day with Monkeyhouse. I wondered why some of my suggestions seemed somewhat radical. As you know, I was very satisfied with big elements of what we came up with, but it certainly was a hybrid of sorts. The elaborate installation basically dictated that those two weeks in February `05 at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge would be the only life those pieces would likely have.

kK: Can you describe ideas or attitudes that unite your approach to designing for these disparate forms then?

jr: I love embracing and/or uncovering the architecture of a room. Using unconventional spaces to put patrons into situations or positions that almost force them to be observing and experiencing different things than, maybe, the person next to them and, certainly, the guy three rows down or on the other side of the room. That's my philosophy, and it certainly isn't one that everyone recognizes or appreciates and I guess that certainly is a challenge.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady
to be continued...


Finding Out About Fight Choreography with Rob Najarian (part 1)

by Karen Krolak

Working on Coriolanus earlier this year, I met several of Boston's Fight Directors who were mentored by Robert Walsh. For example, Rob Najarian and Ted Hewlett crafted a thrilling longstaff fight that was one of my favorite sections of the show. I am not surprised that several must see theatrical events of the fall season somehow involve Rob. He's the Fight Director for Taming of Shrew and a performing in Punchdrunk's Sleep No More at American Repertory Theater. I am very grateful that he was willing to carve out some time from his hectic rehearsal schedule to answer some questions for me via Facebook.

karen Krolak: When did you realize that you wanted to be a Fight Choreographer/Violence Designer?
Rob Najarian: I don't think I ever realized I wanted to be a fight choreographer. But when I was in grad school (I was 25) I realized that the only class I ever really looked forward to was combat. Also, whenever I went to see a movie then, I started to see the fights in a new way, technically and as a narrative, not just as bunch of cool moves.

kK: And, where did you train? Who were your mentors?
RN: I've had many teachers, but the ones I owe the most to are Brad Waller in DC who taught me in grad school at the Shakespeare Theatre, and Robert Walsh. I learned most of my historical weapons from Brad and he really piqued my interest - he's a bit of a mad genius. I owe probably 2/3 of my career to Bob. Don't tell him I said that, but he probably knows already ;) . He really took the time to help me develop my teaching and fight director sensibilities. He's got a fab aesthetic.

kK: Isn't there some kind of certification process that people need?
RN: There is a testing process for the Society of American Fight Directors to become an Actor/Combatant, which I took at the end of grad school. To become a teacher, I took a 3 week testing workshop, after which I was certified to teach by the Society. Nobody really trains teachers of this stuff. It's something that's more of a loose confederacy and relies on some strong individuals who come together at various points in the year to share ideas, techniques, and socialize.

kK: Are there particular weapons that you prefer to use?
RN: I've gotten pretty attracted to the knife, really by necessity than anything else. Most theatre companies don't have the budget for swords, but the usually have knives lying around. I've geeked out and done some research into knife fighting styles - Italian Stilleto and Spanish Navaja. The former I used in a Romeo & Juliet with David Wheeler at Shakespeare Now! and the latter I employed with Carmen at Boston Lyric Opera which is up now. (Both Ted Hewlett and I worked on that one.) I still love swords though ;)

kK: Did you ever study dance?
RN: I took a modern dance class with this great guy, Paul Sarvis, when I was 18 at Bowdoin. I totally went because of a girl. But I stayed because.... well, there were 22 other girls and I was the only guy, but I actually liked it too. I took some dance in grad school too - modern and flamenco. And I've taken a dance class here and there, but nothing formal.

More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 1)

by Karen Krolak

Shakespeare and dance seem to be snuggling up more than ever these days. Already this year, we've covered choreographing Coriolanus and chatted with Ashley Wheater about the Joffrey Ballet's production of Lar Lubovich's Othello. Over the next few days we are going to have a smattering of posts related to the subject so stay tuned.

First, we are going to pick the brain of Monkeyhouse's Production Manager and Resident Lighting Designer, Jason Ries. For the last few years he has also been the Production Manager for Boston's critically acclaimed Actors' Shakespeare Project (ASP). After seeing his immersive set design for ASP's Taming of the Shrew, I thought Monkeyhouse's supporters might be curious to know more about his creative process.

Given the length of our email conversation, I have chosen to break it into two parts. If you are curious to see Taming of the Shrew, there are only four performances left so snag your tickets now.

karen Krolak: People have been a bit surprised to hear that you were designing the sets for Taming of the Shrew. Even after all of our collaborations, I associate you more with lighting design. Can you tell us about some of your other set design projects?

jason ries: Most of my previous set design work was, surprise, surprise, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. My first significant design was in `98 for Charles Marowitz' absurdist, deconstructed Hamlet (basically a mash-up with MacBeth), shortly after I fell into the theater life.

kK: Hmm..I am having a difficult time picturing that. Can you describe your design for it?

jr: Lots of draped red and white stretch fabric (with which I had no previous working experience), paper mache skulls borrowed from a South Asian mask artist that Christina Augello happened to know, and about 15 layers of pink and red paint sponged floor to ceiling. With the luxury of a lot of time and the ability/stupidity of being able to stay up for days in a row, it seemed surprisingly easy to make EXIT Stage Left look appropriately like the inside of a crazy brain.

kK: How do feel that early project relates to your concept for Taming of the Shrew?

jr: While directing smaller works as part of the annual Absurdist seasons, I actually did quite a bit of smaller scenic design there. A lot of the love I have now for blurring the lines between "viewers" and "viewed" came from my explorations in those smaller, safe (because how can you really do anything wrong in an absurd setting?) environs without anyone giving me any idea of what was "expected."

kK: What were some of your favorite elements of your earlier design work?

jr: Designing a huge pile of swaying detritus as the centerpiece for the basement space in our production of The Caretaker and then, with a ton more budget at University High, working with the students building a whole world out of opaque plexi-glass.

If folks are interested in any of this, they may be delighted to know that I actually first tried my hand at SOUND design. I was able to take advantage of Bill Swan's access to band's practice room/recording studio until he got sick of shifting director whims keeping us in the studio all night, every night during the tech week of a vanity-production of Caligula, and I had to find something else to do.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady

Actor Shakespeare Project
Taming of the Shrew
NOW extended through November 15th!
Four Shows Added!

11/12, 11/13 & 11/14 at 8pm and 11/15 at 2pm

Directed by Melia Bensussen**
Downstairs at The Garage
38 JFK Street, Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA

Tix by phone: 866-811-4111


Kicking off a Month of Dance in Boston

by Karen Krolak

Mercy me, Boston is just bursting with dance this November. Already there are oodles of interesting concerts all over. I dropped by the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge to see Shelley Neill today. She was revving up for a month of dance that kicks off tomorrow with Prometheus' The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship.

On the other side of the river, you can catch a diverse spectrum of companies at the inaugural concert of the Massachusetts Dance Festival at the Boston University Dance Theater. Local television anchorwomen, Susan Wornick and Joyce Kulhawik, will take turns emceeing between performances by BoSoma, Chaos Theory Dance, Collage Dance Ensemble, Flamenco Dance Project, Josh Hilberman and Thelma Goldberg Ensemble, Rainbow Tribe, Snake Dance Theatre, Sokolow Now!, and Triveni Dance Company.

Back in Central Square, DancEdge presents another cross pollinating concert at the Dance Complex. An Evening of Tap, Jazz, and Hip Hop will feature DancEdge, Dance'n Feet, Hip Hop Ballerinas, Hip Hop Mamas, RapAtaPtap and all that, and Stonehill College Dancers in its lineup.

So put your plans to hibernate on hold for a few more weeks and indulge in a smorgasbord of concerts.


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