23 February 2009


In addition to his many performance talents, Angelo Crotti is also a gifted cartoonist. Here are sketches summarizing our production's life, from both on stage and off; just click one to get it full-sized...

And finally, our own Conor McGuigan is a pretty dang neat-o drawer, too...
Here's to love!

20 October 2008

Some Public Brainstorming

I just finished up writing a bit about our upcoming show over on my personal 'blog, Odin's Aviary. You can read the whole entry here. But in pertinent part, and purely in the interest of putting down some ideas and impressions:

"Things get out of hand." This sums up pretty nicely for me what I'm imagining as a central action of our play. Much of the action of the basic story reminds me of children at play (and I refer to every character here, except possibly the prince) who get a little out of control with their fussing and fighting. Before you know it, someone's heart's broken, someone's eye's poked out, and everyone's pointing fingers in order to avoid more hurt. This meshes well with clown theory as I understand it, because clowns are very much like babies, or alien visitors, experiencing everything for the first time. They still have to learn concepts like "hot," much less "love." As it stands, our version will have only Romeo and Juliet as clowns, and the rest of the world populated by masked commedia dell'arte characters. This stands to drive the action right along, as commedia characters are largely appetite-driven and selfish. It's exciting to think of our first -- in five+ years of making dell'arte-inspired theatre, mind you -- masked show in general. I hope we can help our audiences see the masks as they were intended; more caricature than disguise, more revealing than deceitful.

Regardless of style choices, it will I hope retain the sense of contemporary fun that has been in every Zuppa show through the years. In our workshops, as we explored the seeming despair over Rosaline that Romeo exhibits on his introduction, we thought of having him accidentally pulling out moves borrowed from Hamlet, dressed in black, contemplating a skull wearing a red nose. I'd love to have movie posters up for other Shakespeare plays, borrowing from Silent Lives the notion of characters who learn their behavior from popular culture. The humor should come from the moment and character, not necessarily the indications of a joke in the script. Heather and I are already discussing the possible humor of feigned (or frustrated) exits, a running joke about people trying to leave stage and continually being called back. The balcony scene is a great one for this and comes to mind immediately, but also on the way to the party Romeo keeps trying to leave. The topper is the "morning after" scene, probably. Great place for a fart joke there, too, I can't help but notice. (Hopefully someone will shoot me down on this; "that may be a great idea for
next year's show...") "It is the lark that sings so out of tune..."

17 October 2008


Some interesting tidbits about the play from Wikipedia (which, of course, means they should all be taken with a shaker of salt). I wonder -- should we get Kim W. to work on this with us soonish? She was a treasure for Prohibitive Standards. Tidbits:

  • Romeo and Juliet belongs to a tradition of tragic romances stretching back to Ancient Greece. Its plot is based on an Italian tale, translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562, and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1582.

  • The earliest known version of the Romeo and Juliet tale is the story of Mariotto and Gianozza by Masuccio Salernitano, in the 33rd novel of his Il Novellino published in 1476.[8] Salernitano sets the story in Siena [!!!] and insists its events took place in his own lifetime.

  • A few of the earlier versions of the story insist that it actually took place, and that the play is based on personal observance.

  • Shakespeare did not invent the characters of the nurse and Benvolio; Matteo Bandello did, in 1554.

  • Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander and Dido, Queen of Carthage, both similar stories written in Shakespeare's day, are thought to be less of a direct influence, although they may have created an atmosphere in which tragic love stories could thrive.[7]

  • Poet John Dryden wrote ... in praise of the play and its comic character Mercutio: "Shakespear show'd the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forc'd to kill him in the third Act, to prevent being killed by him."[22]

  • There are many moral interpretations of the play. Are their deaths the result of accident, tragic flaw, or in punishment of the feuding families?

  • The play ascribes different poetic forms to different characters, sometimes changing the form as the character develops. Romeo, for example, grows more adept at the sonnet form over the course of the play. ... Shakespeare uses a variety of poetic forms throughout the play. ... For example, when Romeo talks about Rosaline earlier in the play, he attempts to use the Petrarchan sonnet form. Petrarchan sonnets were often used by men to exaggerate the beauty of women who were impossible for them to attain, as in Romeo's situation with Rosaline. This sonnet form is used by Lady Capulet to describe Count Paris to Juliet as a handsome man.[28] When Romeo and Juliet meet, the poetic form changes from the Petrarchan (which was becoming archaic in Shakespeare's day) to a then more contemporary sonnet form, using "pilgrims" and "saints" as metaphors.[28] Finally, when the two meet on the balcony, Romeo attempts to use the sonnet form to pledge his love, but Juliet breaks it by saying "Dost thou love me?"[29] By doing this, she searches for true expression, rather than a poetic exaggeration of their love.[28] Juliet uses monosyllabic words with Romeo, but uses formal language with Paris.[30] Other forms in the play include an epithalamium by Juliet, a rhapsody in Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, and an elegy by Paris.[28] Shakespeare saves his prose style most often for the common people in the play, though at times he uses it for other characters, such as Mercutio.[28] Humour, also, is important: scholar Molly Mahood identifies at least 175 puns and wordplays in the text.[31] Many of these jokes are sexual in nature, especially those involving Mercutio and the Nurse.[32]

  • On their first meeting, Romeo and Juliet use a form of communication recommended by many etiquette authors in Shakespeare's day: metaphor. By using metaphors of saints and sins, Romeo was able to test Juliet's feelings for him in a non-threatening way. This method was recommended by Baldassare Castiglione (whose works had been translated into English by this time). He pointed out that if a man used a metaphor as an invitation, the woman could pretend she did not understand him, and he could retreat without losing honour.

  • Friar Lawrence's plan for Juliet's salvation bears a resemblance to the story of Jesus Christ's martyrdom and resurrection.

  • Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet spans a period of four-to-six days, in contrast to Brooke's poem's spanning nine months.[54]

  • All in all, no fewer than 103 references to time are found in the play, adding to the illusion of its passage.[28][59]

  • Thomas Otway's The History and Fall of Caius Marius, one of the more extreme of the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare, debuted in 1680. The scene is shifted from Renaissance Verona to ancient Rome; Romeo is Marius, Juliet is Lavinia, the feud is between patricians and plebeians; Juliet/Lavinia wakes from her potion before Romeo/Marius dies. Otway's version was a hit, and was acted for the next seventy years.[75] His innovation in the closing scene was even more enduring, and was used in adaptations throughout the next 200 years...

  • The earliest known production in North America was an amateur one: on 23 March 1730, a physician named Joachimus Bertrand placed an advertisement in the Gazette newspaper in New York, promoting a production in which he would play the apothecary.[81] The first professional performances of the play in North America were those of the Hallam Company.[82]

  • Not until 1845 did Shakespeare's original [unadapted play] return to the stage in the United States with the sisters Susan and Charlotte Cushman as Juliet and Romeo, respectively[83] ... . Cushman adhered to Shakespeare's version, beginning a string of eighty-four performances. Her portrayal of Romeo was considered genius by many. The Times wrote: "For a long time Romeo has been a convention. Miss Cushman's Romeo is a creative, a living, breathing, animated, ardent human being."[85] Queen Victoria wrote in her journal that "no-one would ever have imagined she was a woman".[86] Cushman's success broke the Garrick tradition [of adaptation] and paved the way for later performances to return to the original storyline.[75]

  • Throughout the nineteenth century, Romeo and Juliet had been Shakespeare's most popular play, measured by the number of professional performances. In the twentieth century it would become the second most popular, behind Hamlet.[92]

  • Peter Brook's 1947 version was the beginning of a different style of Romeo and Juliet performances. Brook was less concerned with realism, and more concerned with translating the play into a form that could communicate with the modern world. He argued, "A production is only correct at the moment of its correctness, and only good at the moment of its success."[75] Brook excluded the final reconciliation of the families from his performance text.[95]

  • At least 24 operas have been based on Romeo and Juliet.[106]

  • The play influenced several jazz works, including Peggy Lee's Fever.[117] Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder contains a piece entitled "The Star-Crossed Lovers"[118] in which the pair are represented by blended alto saxophones: critics noted that Juliet's sax dominates the piece, rather than offering an image of equality.[119]

  • Romeo and Juliet had a profound influence on subsequent literature. Previously, romance had not even been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy.[125] In Harold Bloom's words, Shakespeare "invented the formula that the sexual becomes the erotic when crossed by the shadow of death."[126]

  • In 2006, Disney's High School Musical made use of Romeo and Juliet's plot, placing the two young lovers in rival high school cliques instead of feuding families.[159]
...Oh shit. You mean I'm gonna have to watch that movie?

30 July 2008

We Were All Well Met

Well, not all of us. Not even remotely all of us. But yesterday David Zarko, Heather Stuart and myself (Jeff Wills) met deep in the heart of Scranton to discuss various Zuppa-related issues. Central to this was some discussion of our upcoming production of R&J, titled thus far in releases as The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo & Juliet. I believe this title comes about as a result of one of David's organizing principles behind the show, that the characters have a vested interest in keeping their story a comedy against the forces of tragedy that inevitably creep in. But you can answer to that, David. It's a departure in terms of Zuppa del Giorno titles. We've had a custom of naming our shows through a simple paradigm: [ADJECTIVE NOUN], or vice versa. This project is a departure in more ways than one, so I'm tickled by the title taking this turn.

All consonance aside, we have some more solid ideas of the show now, both from pragmatic and artistic standpoints. Everyone who has collaborated on the idea of a clown/commedia R&J thus far has been enormously generous and creative, and it would be wonderful if we could include everyone. Unfortunately, the theatre's budget and season being what they are, we are limited to a ratio of either 5:1 or 4:2, equity:non-equity actors. Those decisions are frustrating to have to make, and a variety of factors will go into them. Ultimately, ETC/David will have the final word on all that, and that time is not yet at hand. What is at hand is determining who will direct and lead, and who we will bring over from Italy to work with us on this show.

That makes it sound as though we've legions of Italian actors, directors and designers chomping at the bit to join us in this experiment, but really we have two friends we're aiming to collaborate with -- Andrea Brugnera and Angelo Crotti. This is not only because we love working with these two and they're talented artists in their own rights, but because it is our intention to take this show to Italy the summer after its inception and perform it there, in Aquapendente and Civita di Bagnoreggio. Ambitious? Yes. Essential therefore to have input from actual Italians on the show in its development stages? Yes yes yes. Plus, if one or both of these gentlemen end up being able to stay in America long enough to actually be in the show, it's one less person we have to sweat getting into Italy come summertime.

If our discussion of the show's artistic and aesthetic aspects is any indication, what we're moving toward is a production that portrays Romeo and Juliet as red-nose clowns in a world that is otherwise almost entirely populated by masked commedia dell'arte characters. There will be much doubling, and in some cases tripling, of roles amongst the projected 6 main performers. There will also be foley artists on stage who get involved in the action (which is a lovely return to a convention we used to great response in Noble Aspirations). Our specific approach to the story has yet to be defined, but some elements are already being considered as parameters:

  1. There will be a significant use of the original text; at present, people seem jazzed about Romeo and Juliet being the ones who are largely involved in that approach.

  2. There will be some Italian-language incorporation.

  3. The story will be tinkered with, expectations will be subverted, but the sequence of action will remain by-and-large the same and recognizable.

  4. The work will be informed by improvisation exploration as well as scene study. It is possible-to-likely that some sequences of the final product may be semi-improvised.

  5. We will have legitimate combat sequences.

That's about as much as we know, now. Just wanted to get it up on the 'blog so people can respond with their questions (don't know if we'll have answers), comments (we like "awesome," just as a for-example) and complaints (seriously: this is the venue in which to be heard). There will be periods of relative inactivity on this here 'blog, but feel free to check in any time and throw down any thoughts you may have. That's what it's here for.

08 April 2008

Re: Concept, Schmoncept

Okay. Reckon I'll get us started here on replying to my question of 2-April-2008.

I'm not one of those people who enjoys re-reading novels. In fact, I sometimes wonder why I own any at all; I should just use the library (right, Grey?). But Shakespeare I always enjoy re-reading. Probably mostly because I have both developed a bit of an "ear" for it, and could never hope to understand even a single play of his in its entirety. So there's a lot there for me to experience each time, a good balance of expectation and discovery. Hamlet and R&J are probably tied for first in the list of Shakespeare I've read the most times; Mac'ers at a narrow second place. So for the purposes of this exercise, I'm writing about what I got out of this last reading, with all the influences of the me of the now.

For me the play is kind of a love letter to the person we might have been the very first time we had the experience of really being in love. Romeo thinks he knows love, and that concept gets blown out of the water by this experience; Juliet never thought of love, yet knows it with incredible certainty the moment it happens. And the key is that this experience means everything in the world to them, whether that's a prudent idea or not. It is their everything and, in spite of their mutual demise at the end, I can't regard it as a cautionary tale. Their deaths seem to me to be the fault of those forces repressing their love. Teenagers think they're right about everything. In love, I tend to think they just might be.

I'm also impressed, whatever the cause, with just how "Italian" the play feels to me. (I readily admit to being biased on this front.) It reminds me of the towns I've visited and the people I've met there. Everyone seems to know everyone else somehow, and everyone seems to have a story they're eager to express their view on. It's awfully cliche to describe people from the southern parts of Europe as passionate -- particularly coming from an Anglo American -- but that don't necessarily make it untrue. Interestingly enough, with all that passionate love and hatred, I get the impression that the folk in R&J are generally pretty good at not killing one another. That's part of what makes Mercutio and Tybalt such events; someone got his eye poked out.

It's just a great story. It doesn't get old for me.

04 April 2008

More the merrier? Or less is more?

Is it possible that we might cast outside Zuppa? Or do we have so many people in Zuppa that we are trying to choose among us? I'm asking because I know people who would be screamingly excellent for this project.

Also, would we want non-Zuppa people to contribute to the blog? Or no?

Useless information: I have a copy of the play that has a picture of Juliet in a black shroud on the cover. Every time Peter sees it, he signs "gorilla." Perhaps we should have Juliet as an 800-pound-gorilla? No? Well, there's a joke in there somewhere...

02 April 2008

Concept, Schmoncept

This morning, I'm thinking about the play. It ocurred to me that one of the crucial steps in these early stages might be to discuss the play just as it is, to not assume anything about what we think we understand, or about what we perceive the play to be about. It's a play, and any good play is about any number of things; they leave space for personal reaction. That's part of the beauty of plays. Taking that into consideration, what is the play about for you? Feel free to discuss in the comments section below, or by your own entry. (If you make your own entry, please title it something like "Re: Concept Schmoncept," "Re: 4/2/08," etc.)

And of course, if you haven't read the play recently . . . well; do. Might be a good start. ;)

31 March 2008

reading accident

I was looking at the blog address and was seeing 'lamen table comedy.' I was thinking, what's that? Does it have to do with being a layman? Or being lame?

Reminds me of Deli Very Coffee and Deli Very Cold Drink.

30 March 2008

Ideas from the two weeks of work in March

Whew! Where to begin? I haven't had a moment to read the additions, so some of this may be redundant.

First some ideas that got tossed around after Jeff left on Sunday. We played with balcony scene and the longer we worked on it the more I feel that Romeo & Juliet seem to fit so naturally into clown.

We talked also about the idea of Romeo and Juliet being the only clowns in the piece and rest of the characters being commedia characters. I liked the idea of Romeo and Juliet finding each other and recognizing their need to be together because they've finally met someone that sees the world in a similar way.

Not sure if Mercutio is more a clown or commedia character. We spoke of possibility of him being a clown but older and world-weary. Idea came up of him wearing a grey nose instead of red. (As I write this, a clown with lost innocence seems to be contradictory and that Mercutio is probably more commedia.)

We talked of the idea of using parts of the texts in certain scenes, some specific lines here and there. Another idea that seemed pretty cool is the idea that the scenes with Romeo in Juliet be done with the text. So, their meeting, the balcony scene and the deaths be full text. I got really excited after this discussion because we had been reading the balcony scene a lot and I was thrilled about the thought of getting to say those words and work on some Shakespeare. (So, I may be a bit too giddy about that and need to let it go at this point.)

We played a bit more with just commedia characters and lazzi. David and Rich as Pantalone and Arlecchino were a hoot. Conor worked a bit on Tybalt and the duel scene with Mercutio. Rich was playing around with Mercutio as a Arlecchino charater and Conor was working with Tybalt as a Capitano. They did the duel as verbal sparing and then Conor kept pulling out more and more weapons. Rich countered each weapon with a food item (hungry Arlecchino). I stepped in as Romeo and tried to keep the peace (or at least refuse to fight Tybalt). With two such strong Zanni, I felt it more my job to build bridges between them. Assisting at whatever given "side" I felt I was on. Not sure if this is truly Romeo's inclination or my natural default to a two clown. It was fun to play.

We continually commented on how refreshing it was to have a ready scenario/story/reference to go back to when dry or lost.

These two weeks have just wetted my whistle to do more with everyone! This last week we only had Conor for one day and David for a couple. Realized it is just hard to do much with just two playing. Though improvising the balcony scene with Rich was great!

Ah, yes. We were really paying attention to the atmosphere in the balcony scene. Darkness, can't really see each other. We played it with an idea to discover comic bits. You know, tripping over shrubbery, benches, talking to someone who is actually behind you. Fun.

That's all I can remember tonight. Will add to this as sparks hit.

The Importance of Petrarch

Andrea was reading the play and some of Romeo and Juliet's verse reminded him of the poems of Petrarch. David helped him find the poems on the web and we printed some of them out. Andrea went through those and marked ones he felt were important or possibly helpful. I am jotting down the numbers of those sonnets and the title. If I can find the site David did I'll post that link here.

Laura is his Juliet. The pilgrim one reminds Andrea of Romeo's banishment from Verona.

Sonnet I - Voi, ch'ascoltate in rime sparse it suono. (He confesses the vanity of his passion)

Sonnet VI - Si traviato e 'l folle mio desio. (Of his foolish passion for Laura).

Sonnet IX - Quando 'lpianeta che distingue l'ore. (With a present of fruit in Spring.)

Sonnet XII - Quando fra l'altre donne ad ora ad ora. (The beauty of Laura leads him to the contemplation of the supreme good.)

Sonnet XIII - Io mi rivolgo indietro a ciascun passo. (On quitting Laura)

Sonnet XIV - Movesi 'l vecchierel canto e bianco (He compares himself to a pilgrim)

Sonnet XV - Piovonmi amare lagrime dal viso. (His state when Laura is present, and when she departs).

The R&J Cast with Commedia Parallels

Hello! So finally I am getting to putting the notes I've taken and remember from the two weeks of play. This is a list of the cast with specific commedia character possibilities as discussed with Andrea, Jeff, David and Rich last Sunday.

Romeo - Innamorato
Juliet - Innamorata
Nurse - Franchescina (please note my spelling is off)
Friar - Dottore, Covello, possible everyman
Montague - Dottore
Capulet - Pantalone, Cavello
Benvolio - Flavio (innamorato type)
Mercutio - Arlecchino
Tybalt - Capitano
Paris - Inamorato type, more formal
Lady Montague - Rosaura
Lady Capulet - Laura
Prince - Magnifico (sort of Pantalone without the vices)

What/who are these characters you may ask. Well, here are more specific descriptions of the commedia characters per Andrea's notes (with photos.) (To be added when I can figure out the best way to import that document....ummm, help..

How We Got This Idea


We, uh...

Okay. So in June 2007, David Z., Heather, Todd and I were sitting around discussing potential shows to collaborate with Italian artists on. For some reason, Shakespeare kept coming up in general discussions prior to that, with Italians and amongst ourselves. Romeo & Juliet in particular, actually. I wrote a little bit about why here.

I've been trying to remember who brought up a clown version, but I have no idea. No doubt it was related to the clown work Heather and I had been doing so much of late in some way. It tickled us, though. I remember David saying we should take a promo picture a la La Dolce Vita in Fontana di Trevi. We also got very excited about returning to that format, and tackling Shakespeare.

So essentially, the reasons we thought it was a perfect show to begin with had to do with the idea of finding something on which we collaborate with Italian theatre artists whilst in Italy. Someone told us Shakespeare productions were a very mixed bag there (as we saw in the contrast between productions of Othello [so bad] and Much Ado About Nothing [so good] there), and got to thinking about how language was going to be a constant issue in the collaboration. What better story than one set in Italy, to which we could add the original English language to at points, and one that pretty much everyone knows to one degree or another.

Because we kept trying to figure out how to bring Silent Lives to Italy, too, the appeal of clown work and how it can be very effective when silent (thus transcending all language issues) was great as well. Since then, as we've incorporated the idea into TNT's season and continued our informal explorations of the show, I think the main thing that has kept us going on the idea is how effectively it has gathered Zuppa del Giorno alumni. That's another thing we've been craving since Silent Lives: a reunion show. We kept trying to make space for it in other productions, but Romeo & Juliet seems to lend itself to that better than any before.

Finally, there's a lot about the show that resonates with themes Zuppa naturally inclines toward. Innocence and its loss, re-appreciation of old forms, passionate motivations and appetite-driven scenarios, and the more operatic side of comedy. In many ways, it was impossible that, once the idea was raised, we could let it go. So here we are, asking, "Now what?" Which is a place we can get pretty excited about.

29 March 2008

What did I miss?

So, I'm curious how we got to the idea of clown R&J in the first place. Those who were there at conception, tell: how did the idea get hatched?

I had a great time working with Mark last week. Do we know if he is directing yet? Or will that not even be a possibility until David figures out which shows in the season he is directing? Did you all talk about this anymore last week?

My understanding of the commedia world is that it happens in a particular time & place.Did you start talking about what time and place that would be? If we are doing contemporary commedia, are we making any attempt to make this story relevant in a contemporary world?

28 March 2008

A Little Girl Dreams Of Taking The Veil

I was reading the Queen Mab speech again and it keeps making me think of a collage-novel by Max Ernst called "A Little Girl Dreams Of Taking The Veil." They aren't really related, but they deal with many of the same themes: nightmares, innocence/loss of innocence, sex with a very young girl, a priest of questionable character, a bridegroom who leaves, violence.

I have a copy somewhere. If we ever unpack, I'll bring it around. I found a website where someone scanned in a few of the images. It doesn't tell the whole story-- but you'll get the flavor.

What I like about it is how nightmarish it is. I hope while we are looking for the comedy in R&J we don't let go of the danger and terror and ugliness. I think these things are important.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

26 March 2008

Follow your nose

Jeff -- I wrote this before your mask post, but lost internet connection and couldn't post. So, don't read it as a reply or critique, so much as a parallel thought.

I was watching "Blues Clues" and the characters were playing at being pigs. Instead of dressing up as pigs, they had very simple pig noses tied on with string. I thought--- hmm--- all of our characters could have noses tied on with string, whether they are red noses or commedia-style noses. In other words, the commedia characters would not have the full mask, only noses. It would give a more consistent look-- like one world, rather than merging two.

I believe (and this is just my opinion) that noses should be assigned based on whether the character is innocent and "with the tao" (i.e. a red nose) or trapped by desire (or other worldly trap), and "away from the tao" (i.e. a commedia-style nose).

If it is not clear from the text whether the character is innocent or not (I do not believe age is really a gauge, unless you are talking about under 2-- even 2 as a cuttoff point is debatable) then, I think that we could play to find out if a red nose "is sustainable" or not. BTW, here are two things that I learned in clown school (maybe other clown-school students learned different) : clowns cannot be archetypes and not all people (characters) have a clown.

[Digressive story: On the first day of class we all got up, one by one, to present ourselves to the master. He asked us each to do a few things and then told us to go away. One guy got up and the master looked at him and told him he had no clown -- that perhaps he had some other place in the theater, maybe some kind of romantic or action hero, he didn't know. He didn't throw the guy out (that was a different guy and a different story) but he basically said that, for him, clown school was a waste of time.]

That being said, what would it mean for Father Laurence to have no nose? That he is outside the world (e.g. the devil)? That he is spiritually deformed or maimed? Please discuss.

If we went with Dave's meta-route, I perhaps everyone starts in red-nose to tell the story and put commedia-style noses on top of the red nose to become characters. Maybe some of the clowns get trapped in their commedia-style nose? Like when we try-on things in our lives that, without our intending to, change us forever.