Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Backstage with Hero Stories

Rage - Last year, Rage Theatrics presented Love and Rage, an evening of action theatre centered around the theme of love. They're back at it again this year with Hero Stories. This evening of swordplay and stage combat features original plays and new adaptations of classic works based around the theme of heroism. As the press release states... from Dracula to D’Artagnan, this wild and humorous collection offers something for everyone. Or as Rage's publicity director Nancy Mayfield said last night, "Hero Stories: A higher body count than last year."

What follows is a conversation with Nancy, who is also co-directing one of the shows, and Scott Lewis, who is a sort of uber-director for the whole project. A few additional voices popped in as we talked.

Can you talk a little bit about the types of shows you've chosen. I know they all have a hero theme - are they funny, serious, some of each?

Nancy: Definitely some of each. Like so much great theatre, I think the audience will notice a theme of the unlikely hero - the noble pirate, the courageous nobody. There is also a fair share of the not-so-heroic icons who don't quite live up to the hype, often with very humorous results.

Scott: It was a very conscious decision for us to not narrow the theme too much in selecting work. I'm very happy with the variety we got, both in terms of funny/serious and in terms of setting, cast size, tone, etc.

Let's get into the specifics of the shows . Tell me about the pirate piece Captain Blood. What makes that show unique and interesting?

Scott: In some ways, Captain Blood represents the traditional swashbuckling roots of action theatre. Rapiers and witty reparte. Sabatini's work in general lends itself well to what we do. Also, we felt it was important to have a purely serious piece with a clear cut hero and villain.

The Robin Hood piece sounds like a Rashomon experience, where everyone remembers the same experience differently. What can you tell me about that show?

Nancy: After the success of 2007's Your Swash is Unbuckled: Three Pirate Plays by Jeff Goode, we knew that Jeff's work lends itself perfectly to the style of combative-comedy that Rage has been developing for years through our touring group, Shattock Schoole of Defence. Therefore it was only natural that we took a look to see what other plays Jeff had written that might work with the "heroes" theme. By breaking down the legendary first meeting of Robin Hood and Little John into three different viewpoints, this play not only embodies a couple of very enjoyable versions, but one that is completely new to our audience by adding the voice of Little John's wife, Fanny.

Scott: The piece was written originally for the Kansas City Ren Faire. It lets us take a break and appreciate the important things in life, namely exaggeration and blunt trauma.

Nothing like a little blunt trauma to start the day. The Fine Men of Ostermark is the Dracula piece. What makes this vampire story stand out from others?

Scott: The protagonists make the big difference. They are a step removed from the rough and tumble vampire hunters of yore with their roguish good looks and wizened companions. They champion a more material ethos, bent on profit as well as ridding the world of evil. Maybe Andrew, the director, can give a little more insight.

Andrew, what do you want people to know about this show?

Andrew Juhl: That it's funny. That it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a Mel Brooks-like take on the tradtional vampire story.

Can you tell me a little bit about the rehearsals?

Andrew: It was my first piece I've directed in a decade so it was interesting to get back into it. Also, I wrote it but I didn't write physical comedy into it. I let the actors write the physical comedy through the rehearsals. We had conversations like, "Can I fall on my butt here? Let's try it. It's funny, let's keep it."

Moving on to Pop Tart Hero, the story of Stan the everyman. Of all of them, it is the most contemporary. Could you tell us why you chose to include it?

Scott: That it was a contemporary piece was part of the appeal, as it provides a contrast to the historical (or ahistorical) settings of the other pieces. Also, it shows off some of the depth of action theatre, by using physicality in ways beyond just two people fighting. Also, pop tarts.

My favorite are the cherry frosted ones. But moving forward... The 8th Century Kid seems to have a comic book feel. What decisions did you make during the production to bring out the style you want to convey?

Scott: The 8th Century Kid was consciously Anime. We limited ourselves to the aspects of Anime that can be reasonably brought out. The characters are strongly one-dimensional, but changing. The loveable con-man, the heroic swordsman, the mad scientist. It takes place in a world of strong statements and little defenition. During production, we took out things that would lead the audience to question parts of the world they couldn't immediately see. Our goal was to present strong characters and big interactions. We also struggled a lot with the idea of being after an unspecified apocalypse. The characters have access to different levels of technology and that shows through in their interactions with one another.

Finally, The Siege of La Rochelle is the Three Musketeers piece. I understand this was an adapted work from the book by Alexandre Dumas. Are the fights in this piece taken directly from the text or were they created in the spirit of the story but without the specifics?

Scott: I'll let Jason, our fight choreographer and the director of La Rochelle, answer that question.

Jason Tipsword: The fights were created to fit the piece and the early hollywood feel that we have attempted to recreate. The choreography was written collaboratively. I came in with the grand scheme of it, but many of the individual parts were written by the ensemble.

Let's talk more generally now about the entire production. This is Rage's second production of this nature, after Love and Rage last year. Why do short plays or scenes like this instead of one full length production?

Nancy: We really enjoy productions like Hero Stories or last year's Love and Rage because they give several directors the opportunity to really develop a style of theatre they may not have been able to fully explore before. It's a great feeling to have so many directors and actors come from all over to try doing something new or different. Whether extremely serious or extremely silly, every scene in this shows gives the audience a look into different ways stage combat comes to life on stage. That's not to say we have ruled out doing a full-length production in the future, though.

Scott: To me, the primary advantage is in the number of people we get to work with and the ability it gives us to take chances with new (or new to us) directors and performers. Since we're asking people to work on 20 minutes instead of a full show, the time commitment for individuals is lessened, while the number of people who get to be involved to any given degree is increased when compared to a more traditional production. Originally, we also looked at this sort of project because the production demands were more distributed and overall somewhat lower. With where Rage is right now, I would feel much more comfortable taking on a full length show during our next season than I would have two years ago when we were planning for Love and Rage.

Why did you choose to perform in Old Creamery?

Nancy: This is a brand new partnership that we are thrilled about developing. We were looking for a venue at the same time that David Kilpatrick of the Old Creamery Theatre was looking for some fresh, exciting shows to offer during the winter months. What can I say? A match made in heaven. Hopefully this will pave the way for future collaborations between our organizations.

Scott: This really was incredibly serendipitous for both organizations. When we sat down for the initial what do we both need out of this meeting it was rapidly apparent that what we were having was a we're both really excited meeting instead. We're always looking for ways to put ourselves in front of new faces and working with an established venue like this is a great opportunity. At the same time, we represent a way for the Old Creamery to reach out.

Don't miss Rage's Hero Stories, opening this Saturday at the Old Creamery Theatre in Amana. Go here for more information.

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