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Actors Doing Double Duty

Performing 'Macbeth' One Day, 'La Dispute' The Next Gives A Company A Greater Bond

Rizzo, Frank

September 10, 2013

What's it like to prepare, rehearse and perform two shows in repertory?

Repertory -- where a theater presents one show on one day and an entirely different show the next -- once was common practice in theaters. Connecticut audiences may recall the glory days of the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford or the early seasons at Yale Repertory Theatre, when it actually did repertory theater.

For its 50th anniversary, artistic director Darko Tresnjak wanted the theater to experience the joys of alternating productions, not seen on stage here since Tennessee Williams' "Eight By Tenn" in 2003 and Horton Foote's "The Orphans' Home Cycle" in 2009. Though the first four-show season at Hartford Stage was not technically in rep format, the resident company of actors found themselves continually rehearsing for one play while performing in another.

Tresnjak, who says he would like to do a couple of shows each season in rep if the response is positive, chose for this first outing William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and a French dark comedy, "La Dispute," to alternate.

"Each play is a palette cleanser for the other," Tresnjak says. "But inevitably the plays start to speak to each other, and we discover things that are similar in both."

A French period social satire with spare language and the darkest of Shakespearean tales with some of the most famous of the Bard's speeches?

"'La Dispute' is just as much about the abuse of power as 'Macbeth' is," says Tresnjak, whose previous Shakespearean shows at Hartford Stage were "The Tempest" and "Twelfth Night." "It's also about innocence and the loss of innocence."


Five of the actors in the 11-member Equity company -- four additional local actors are in "Macbeth" -- gathered recently to talk about the experience. Three were veterans of repertory: Grant Goodman, Kate Forbes and Kaliswa Brewster, but for Kate MacCluggage and Philippe Bowgen, working on two plays at the same time was a new experience. (Matthew Rauch who plays the title role in "Macbeth," is the only Equity actor not in both productions.)

"It's like being at a buffet," says MacCluggage who is playing Lady Macduff and a witch in "Macbeth" and a leading role of Hermianne in "La Dispute"

"Instead of just performing one thing, I get to play a witch and then I get to do this other lady in 'La Dispute.' But at first it felt a little bit disorienting to me."

"It takes a couple of days to get the hang of it," says Goodman, who has the leading role of the Prince in "La Dispute" and Banquo in "Macbeth."

"This feels like grad school in the best way possible, when you're bouncing every five seconds from thing to thing and you have to be present in each place," says Brewster, who plays a witch in "Macbeth" and Egle in "La Dispute." "I'm half expecting to finish rehearsal and then go to a class."

"It's refreshing to not have to think about it and just dive into another world," says Bowgen, who plays Malcolm in "Macbeth" and Mesrin in "La Dispute." "I think its healthy."

"When we got to 'Macbeth,' we couldn't believe we had an entirely different experience earlier in the day," says Forbes, who plays Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth" and Carisse, the maid in "La Dispute." "They have such different temperatures and feelings. It's a gear shift."

"We have to find the quickest way to get into each world, each atmosphere, each character without overworking anything," says MacCluggage, who was also in Hartford Stage's "Bell, Book and Candle" and "Twelfth Night." "There's so much that actors can work themselves up about. I think 'Macbeth' is an easy play to overwork."

"You just don't have the time to stress out," Brewster says. "And sometimes you can redeem yourself. "You're thinking, 'Well, that didn't go well, but I got another role in another rehearsal in another play coming.'"

"You can get a bit maniacal as an actor when you just have one thing to do," Goodman says. "We don't have that problem."

"The thing I like most is that we're supporting each other's work," says Forbes, who was in Hartford Stage's "The Crucible." "In my dreams, that's how theater always is. I'm the queen in one play and a servant in the next. ... It's a stretch for me. [If we weren't in rep,] Darko would have cast someone else as the servant, someone older or whatever. But instead, as an actor, you find things in yourself you didn't know you could do."

"You can make a living as an actor just doing one thing really, really well," MacCluggage says. "But when you're in a rep, you have to break down your swing and start over. You have to go, 'OK, I can do that really well, but this requires something else of me that is not exactly in my wheelhouse."

"Watching actors do something totally different -- how cool is that?" Bowgen says.


"We've rehearsed both plays in the same day a few times," Goodman says. "I think in terms of the days of summer stock, where you're doing everything fast and you've got to make a decision fast. I change my coat, and now I'm this character. Bam bam bam bam bam! That's what's exciting to me; that quick-change artist aspect of it."

"I think your subconscious takes care of you," MacCluggage says. "Your body gives you what it knows it has to give. I think in the back of our brain or somewhere it says, 'Pace yourself because you've got another one to do.'"

"I'm still learning how to calibrate," Brewster says. "For me, sleep is important. I also exercise, but I have to figure out how to work it into my day so it doesn't whack everything out."

"You also bond faster in a repertory company," Goodman says. "You get to know people better, too."

"Sometimes when we all sit down together," says Brewster, "I'm thinking, 'Aren't there six or seven other people in the company?' There can also be like a hierarchy when you're in [single] shows, like when someone is playing a large part -- not that they're being divas -- but you tend to respect their space because of the size of their role."

"If we were just playing Macbeth, especially as a younger actor," Bowgen says, "I may have more hesitancy to be close and chummy with Matt and Kate, but the fact that we're all in a rep company, it's really kind of freeing and it allows for better work from everybody."

"Audiences just eat it up, too," Goodman says. "They love saying, 'Oh, we saw her the other night, and she was in this part, and now here I can't believe that's her.'"

"It makes them feel they're really participating in the experience, too," MacCluggage says.

"[When friends ask what it's like], I say it's twice as much fun," Forbes says.

"'Just say yes if you're asked,' I tell them," Goodman says.

"LA DISPUTE" begins previews Thursday, Sept. 12, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St. The show opens Sept. 21 and ends Nov. 10.

"MACBETH" begins previews Saturday, Sept. 14. The show opens Sept. 25 and ends Nov.10. Marathon days where theatergoers can see both shows in one day are Oct. 5, Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Tickets are $25 to $85. Information: 860-527-5151 and www.hartfordstage.org.

> Read my blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at www.courant.com/curtain . "Friend" me at Frank Rizzo on Facebook. And be the first to know by following me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/showriz.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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