A Stick-Figure Hamlet: Dramatis Personae

Shortly after I had started Good Tickle Brain, I drew up the Dramatis Personae of Hamlet. That was, incidentally, the very first thing I drew after settling on the “circle on top of a kind of triangle” stick figure template that now forms the very base and pillar of my art.

Now, six years later, I am revisiting that Dramatis Personae ahead of launching into a full scene-by-scene retelling of Hamlet! Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Consulting pocket dramaturg:  Kate Pitt

Consulting pocket dramaturg: Kate Pitt

A moment of silence for Voltemand and Cornelius, who didn’t make this cut.

….

OK, that’s enough silence. Nobody really misses them.

Q&A August: Kevin Condardo and Dan Beaulieu of No Holds Bard

It’s the final installment of Q&A August! I hope you’ve had fun meeting some of my Shakespeare friends. I know I’ve had a lot of fun asking them these questions, and I’m definitely going to do this again some time, as I have SO MANY MORE cool Shakespeare friends for you to meet. But for now, let’s turn to my closers, my last and least, Kevin Condardo and Dan Beaulieu, the bros behind one of my favorite Shakespeare podcasts: No Holds Bard!

I was skeptical about No Holds Bard at first. Launched in 2015, it appeared to be two white dudes yelling about Shakespeare at each other, which did not particularly appeal to me. I didn’t even start listening to it until I met Dan and his partner in crime, Christine Penney, in person at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in 2016. Tousled and bewhiskered like a pirate, Dan was overwhelmingly brash, loud, unruly, obnoxious, insufferable… and somehow inexplicably charming. After meeting him, I finally started listening to No Holds Bard and found that the podcast was also brash, loud, unruly, obnoxious, insufferable… and somehow inexplicably charming.

Two things are immediately apparent upon listening to No Holds Bard: Dan and Kevin (his slightly less unruly and obnoxious co-host and the brains of the operation) both know their Shakespeare and love their Shakespeare. Their highly entertaining arguments and bro-y banter are backed up with serious knowledge of Shakespearean text and performance, and, in spite of their best efforts to contrary, you can actually learn a lot from them. Also (and this is important) they regularly make me laugh out loud.

In 2017 Kevin and Dan invited me to be their first ever guest on No Holds Bard. With some trepidation, I agreed and discovered that Kevin and Dan in real life are EXACTLY THE SAME as they are on the podcast. Recording with them was a blast, and since then I have thoroughly enjoyed keeping up with the podcast (occasionally falling months behind and then frantically trying to catch up) and interacting with them and other No Holds Bard listeners (a.k.a. Bardflies) on Twitter.

And so, it gives me great pleasure to present that charmingly insufferable duo, the joint top bananas of No Holds Bard, Kevin and Dan!

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1. Who are you? Why Shakespeare?

KEVIN: I’m Kevin Condardo: host of the NO HOLDS BARD podcast (The Shakespeare Podcast Shakespeare Would Have Listened To*), performing arts administrator, Boston sports fan, and lover of all things theater. I’m the managing director of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company based out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and I work on the business end of the Off-Broadway theater industry in New York City. 

My first introduction to Shakespeare was a terrible production of Romeo and Juliet that I saw on a school field trip in eighth grade, most notable for everyone being in Elizabethan costumes and having Mercutio thrusting himself seemingly on every other word in a failing effort at convincing school kids that Shakespeare was making dirty jokes and is therefore relatable. I loathed Shx until my sophomore year of college, when I auditioned for Cymbeline in college because it was a shared audition for the play I really wanted to be in (Twelve Angry Men). I was required to prepare a Shakespearian monologue and so I memorized and performed it with a British accent (as a sophomore in college!!), and about ten seconds in my professor Deb Kinghorn stopped me and asked me what the hell I was doing, and I said Shakespeare, and she said no I wasn’t. Somehow I was cast as a boorish, fratty Cloten, and over the course of that production I fell in love with Shakespeare and never looked back. 

DAN: Hey! I’m Dan Beaulieu: I’m an avid Shakespeare lover, performer, director, student of the game. I am CO-host and top banana on the aforementioned No Holds Bard podcast with my fellow CO-host Kevin. I am the co-founder and Artistic Director of Seven Stages Shakespeare Company, a former Ambassador for the Shakespeare Society in NYC, member of the internationally renowned Passion in Practice and The Shakespeare Ensemble (both helmed by the incomparable Ben Crystal), and frequent collaborator with the New York City based company Rude Grooms (led by the always lovely Montgomery Sutton). 

Why Shagspeare? I deeply admire his sprawling exploration of the human condition, his probing of Magick and Witches, his Timelessness, and perhaps most importantly the fact that it IS in fact for everybody, if you let it be. 

2. What moment(s) in Shakespeare always make you laugh?

KEVIN: It’s more of an incredulous cackle than a laugh, but...after the Richard / Lady Anne scene, after we think we’ve seen the bunch-back’d toad bare his soul in expressing his love for his lady, he tells us “I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long” - cueing the audience to hopefully boo and hiss - after which Shakespeare gives him “What?” to respond to the disgusted audience. What a joy for an actor! (And if you have a Richard that doesn’t elicit at least one gasp on that line and thus has no audience members to give that “What?” to, you know you’re in for a long evening of theater.)

DAN: I think Petruchio’s entrance to the wedding, when costumed properly, is pretty hilarious. I also get a good chuckle out of “That’s a shelled peascod” from King Lear. Something about the phrase “Shelled Peascod” just gets me. Hamlet’s sardonic humor in the scene leading up to The Mousetrap is also stacked up with great laugh lines.

KEVIN: Do you mean country matters?

3. What's a favorite Shakespearean performance anecdote?

DAN: As a raging egoist, I’ll share my favorite anecdote from a performance I was in. I was playing Titus and in the scene where I lose my hand I was given a messenger bag to carry around with me. They actually had me carry it for the whole first half of the play so it wouldn’t be weird when I had it in this scene. The dummy hand was stored in there so when the “theater magic” moment happened I’d dip the hand out of the bag and TADA! I’m handless! Well, one night the hand fell out of the bag several moments before it was supposed to be cut off. I jumped on the hand like a fumbled football and took my rant from the floor of the stage. (It was a three quarter thrust, 70 seat black box so there wasn’t anywhere to hide.) After the show, several members of the cast commented on how I was “really feeling that scene”, not realizing I was not feeling it at all...I was simply scattering to figure out a way to justify a random hand lying on the ground moments before the audience would see it again. 

KEVIN: When I was a company manager at Shakespeare in the Park in NYC, it was my responsibility to cancel or hold the show in case of inclement weather - which meant my “job” all summer was to sit in the back of the house and watch every performance while refreshing about five different weather apps and calculate if we were going to be able to get the show in. During The Merchant of Venice, we were flirting with a rainstorm all night - the sky looked very ominous from the start but nothing had fallen, even though I and the entire audience knew it was coming. The weather held all evening, up until Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strained / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…” at which point, the gentlest rain you ever felt began to droppeth from heaven, allowing Portia to turn her palm up to feel the rain fall and the entire crowd to “ooh” in unison. Goosebump city.

Mya interjects: I would 100% have gone “oooooh”. Magical.

4. What's one of the more unusual Shakespearean interpretations you've either seen or would like to see?

KEVIN: I’m no director, but I’d love to see an As You Like It set around 1910, where the music at the court is all Sousa marches and barber shop (basically The Music Man), and then when they go to the country you have the same musicians and instrumentations playing Jelly Roll Morton and the jazz and dixieland that was exploding at the same moment. (Artistic directors: I’ll be waiting by the phone for my call.)

DAN: I called you to do this several years ago, but...musicians.

I’d like to direct a production of Twelfth Night in a very large warehouse immersive experience where the central design conceit is a House of Mirrors….possibly around Halloween or in Coney Island during the winter. Full creep zone. Similarly, I think it’d be fun to do an As You Like It in a corn maze or a Jacobean influenced pageant production of Midsummer Night’s Dream as a haunted hayride that starts around 6pm and goes til midnight, getting scarier and scarier as the night goes on. Bring the little kids early for fun fairies and come back at 11pm for the weird ones. 

5. What's one of your favorite Shakespearean "hidden gems"?

DAN: I’m a sucker for the fact that when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time their exchange is a shared sonnet. It’s not necessarily “hidden” but I love when I see a production that is clearly “going there” with that moment. 

KEVIN: I talk about it all the time on the podcast but I LOVE the King of France in All’s Well that Ends Well. So deferential, kind, funny, but also strong and forceful when required - along with some endlessly quotable lines. Perhaps more “underrated” than “hidden gem?” 

DAN: I like that we both just couched our answers in “this isn’t exactly what you asked, but it’s the answer we’re going to give anyway”. If you enjoy this kind of response to questions, you’ll love our podcast! 

6. What passages from Shakespeare have stayed with you?

KEVIN: Ironically and annoyingly, the Shakespeare quote I use the most is actually a misquote that got locked into my brain during my only professional gig - a production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Theater at Monmouth. There’s a sequence where Antony is waiting for an update from the field, and when the messenger arrives the actor playing Antony would turn violently to him and spew out “The news from Sicyon, ho!”. I loved the way he delivered the line and started incorporating it into my life every time someone entered a room with information that the rest of us were waiting on. Unfortunately, that line doesn’t exist - either the actor learned it wrong, or the director inverted it - and the actual line, “From Sicyon, ho, the news!”, doesn’t quite have the same allure.

DAN: I suppose I have to go with the two I have tattooed on my body, as they literally stay with me. They are “To Be” and “This above all, to thine own self be true”. I’m grateful that the verb in both lines is Be, which is deceptively simple. As an actor, it’s really what we’re asked to do---just be. 

7. What Shakespeare plays have changed for you?

DAN: I used to make Pericles the butt of all of my “Shakespeare made mistakes too you know?!” jokes. Admittedly that was before I ever read it or worked on it. Now it is easily one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and one that I expect to see more and more of in the future. Disney is sleeping on a gold mine, though I hope Pixar beats them to it.

KEVIN: I have to ask: which play is the punchline to that joke now?

DAN: Henry VIII or Measure (come at me Measure lovers!)

KEVIN: For me, it’s the histories. A few summers ago, Seven Stages Shakespeare Company (helmed by Dan, Christine Penney, and myself) did a one-day, fourteen-hour reading of all eight of the linked history plays one after the other. After seeing the way the storylines feed so deeply one into the other (most particularly Margaret’s arc), I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see any one of them individually the same way again.

Mya interjects: The Seven Stages history day is definitely on my list of “productions I’m kicking myself for missing”. If you do it again, boys, let me know. I am available for any bit parts that don’t require replicating actual human emotions.

8. What Shakespearean character or characters do you identify the most with?

KEVIN: I feel the deepest connection to the seconds-in-command, but to choose the one that encapsulates that the most I’ll say Gloucester from King Lear. Ever since childhood I’ve always considered myself a second rather than a first - I took pride in Little League being the catcher that served as the psychologist for the pitchers, I relate much more to Tom Hagen than to Michael Corleone, and in Shakespeare I’m much more connected to the person who holds the ear of the person everyone is looking at rather than being the center of attention myself.

DAN: I feel a deep connection to Jaques- especially his description of melancholy and the cynical way he sees the world around him, as witnessed in the Seven Ages speech. I fancy myself a fool and appreciate Jaques function in the play, both as a countervoice to the romanticized experience of Arden so many have, his dismay at the murder of the deer, and his departure from the rest of the group at the end. 

9. Where can we find out more about you? Are there any projects/events you would like us to check out?

KEVIN: I bare my soul weekly* on the NO HOLDS BARD podcast, which Dan frequently appears on as co-host / second banana. The show is available for download on iTunes and Stitcher, and also the full* archive is available on our website at noholdsbard.com. You should also follow us on Twitter @NoHoldsBardCast and on Facebook at Facebook.com SLAAAASSHHHH NoHoldsBardCast!

DAN: If you are the market for stuff about the top banana specifically check out my website at www.danbeauknows.com. Seven Stages has a ton of exciting projects coming up including season eight of ShakesBEERiences in NH and a full production of MacBeth this autumn near Halloween. If you want more luscious No Holds Bard Content, check out our Patreon at www.patreon.com slash noholdsbard. Also, I’ll be touring Japan with several dear friends, including Dylan Kammerer, Tim Jacobs, Andrew Codispoti, Ben Crystal and The Shakespeare Ensemble this September playing Hamlet in Hamlet, Banquo in MacBeth, and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. It’s a dream track with an incredible ensemble so if you are in Japan, come check it out!

Kevin, myself, and Dan. This was taken in 2017, and I believe ownership of the beard has changed since then. (I would not have it grow on MY chin.)

Kevin, myself, and Dan. This was taken in 2017, and I believe ownership of the beard has changed since then. (I would not have it grow on MY chin.)

(Back to Mya) Thanks so much to Kevin and Dan for answering my questions and helping me out this month! Confession: when I was scheduling my guests for this month, I deliberately penciled Kevin and Dan in for the last slot, not because I thought they’d be a particularly boffo ending (although, obviously, they are) but because I was sure they wouldn’t get their answers in until the very last second. To my shock, they send them in well over a week early, which, I can only assume, involved a great deal of personal sacrifice and discipline on their part. For that, and for constantly entertaining me as I drive around town, I am very grateful to them.

You can listen to me banter with Kevin and Dan on the following episodes of No Holds Bard:

Also, do consider chucking a couple bucks their way each month on Patreon, as I do.

Thanks once again to EVERYONE who helped me out this month: Austin Tichenor, Kate Powers, Sam White, David Prosser, Kate Pitt, Christy Burgess, Kevin Condardo and Dan Beaulieu! I am so lucky in my friends and in my Shakespeare community. My life is still kind of crazy at the moment so I’m taking next week off, but I’ll be back after that (hopefully, and at last) with some new comics!

Q&A August: Christy Burgess of the Robinson Shakespeare Company

It’s the final week of Q&A August! Let me take you back to 2016, to my first ever Shakespeare Theatre Association conference, hosted by Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. It was the last day, and the morning’s warm-up session was being conducted by Christy Burgess and the Robinson Shakespeare Company, a community Shakespeare program for school-aged kids. After several rounds of fun theatre games, Christy asked her students if any of them wanted to perform some Shakespeare for this objectively intimidating roomful of seasoned, experienced, and elite Shakespeare practitioners and educators.

Every single hand flew up into the air.

After some negotiation, a tiny girl in a pink dress, probably not more than nine or ten years old, stood up. Awww, this is so cute. Is she going to do Puck’s “If we shadows have offended” epil— NOPE. She narrowed her eyes and spat out Cloten’s “meanest garment” speech from Cymbeline with all the vitriol of a rejected privileged white man. My jaw literally dropped. HOW was this possible?

The answer was Christy Burgess. I’d actually met Christy the year before, when I drove down to South Bend to see a couple shows at the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, and she immediately overwhelmed me (in a good way) with her energy, enthusiasm, and passion not just for teaching kids Shakespeare, but for giving them ownership of Shakespeare. Every single one of her students believes that Shakespeare is theirs. I’ll never forget Christy telling me what her students’ reaction was upon meeting a professional Shakespeare company: “Oh, you do Shakespeare too? That’s cute... WE do Shakespeare.”

On a more personal level, Christy helped shepherd me through the impostor syndrome I suffered from while attending my first conference, giving me the confidence to find my place in the Shakespeare community without constantly apologizing for being “just someone who draws stupid stick figures”. Christy builds people up, and the world is better for it.

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1. Who are you? Why Shakespeare?

My name is Christy Burgess and I am the director of the Robinson Shakespeare Company.  I am a teacher, director, and have most recently been christened “Shakespeare Maven” by my friend Julia. 

Why Shakespeare? There are so many reasons for “why Shakespeare”.  The Robinson Shakespeare Company starts in 3rd grade and the first day of our 3rd-6th grade class is one of my favorite all year.  Many of our young actors have waited since kindergarten watching their older siblings or young adults they admire go through the program.  The anticipation and excitement on that first day of class is palpable, because they finally get to do Shakespeare.  It’s also become something that is a little subversive.  There are times when our kids are told “you don’t really like Shakespeare” or “shouldn’t you be playing sports?”, which has the effect of “don’t tell me what I’m supposed to like!”

In a meeting, someone asked one of my students “Why Shakespeare?”  She told a story I hadn’t heard before. It was right after her father passed, before she went back to school.  She was walking around the track at her high school and passed an elderly white couple. The woman said to her “shouldn’t you be in school?” to which her husband responded “Mary, don’t you know that’s how people get shot?”

This young woman said “when people walk by me, they might think I’m a hood or a thug, but Shakespeare is mine, something no one can take away from me.”  

When we study plays from Eugene O’Neil or Arthur Miller, it’s the world through their eyes, but when we play Shakespeare, it’s the world through OUR eyes.

2. What moment(s) in Shakespeare always make you laugh?

Scene 3.4 in Twelfth Night always cracks me up!  There’s something about the most non-threatening duel letter from Sir Andrew to Cesario/Olivia and the forced fight that is always funny. 

Mya interjects: “Is’t so saucy?” is one of my favorite lines in Shakespeare. It’s such a stupid joke. I don’t care. I love it.

3. What's a favorite Shakespearean performance anecdote?

Every now and then there’s Shakespeare magic.

When I was teaching and directing in Alaska with the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, I had made a comment to my young actors about performing in the rain.  I’m pretty sure they prayed for rain, because our last performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor, it POURED.  The audience ran for cover, but nothing could erase the looks of glee on the actor’s faces.  Falstaff’s line, “let the sky rain potatoes”, pretty much said it all!

In 2017, the Robinson Shakespeare Company (RSC*) was invited, and traveled, to England to perform in Stratford-upon-Avon the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Shakespeare Garden.  The New Place recently opened and we discovered that we were the first group to perform there….if the weather held out. There were numerous sunshine dances (involving jazz hands), prayers, and wishes.  The day of the performance, there was a storm coming right for us. It was the closest thing to magic I’ve seen. It was as if the storm was around us.  In videos, you can see the wind whipping the costume and the slightest drizzle of rain, but we made it!

*I know, I know, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Reduced Shakespeare Company, etc. I like to think of us as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s distant (many times removed), scrappy cousins that will be revealed if we do a deep dive on our genealogy chart.

This memory might be tinged with jet lag, because during the same trip I sat in-between two 12 year olds, who only fell asleep 30 minutes before landing.  When we arrived in Stratford, we were met by the incredible Cait Fannin-Peel (my Shakespeare wife and hero). Our bed and breakfasts weren’t ready yet, so she took us on a tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.  They have an amazing little stage in-between the house and the giftshop where actors were performing bits of Shakespeare. Cait asked if we would like to perform something. Jet lagged, sleep deprived, and thrilled, it took about 30 seconds to plan out the opening to Cymbeline and start performing it.  Tourists surrounded us with their cameras and applauded when the scene was done.  It felt amazing as a director of young people to see them confident on stage in a setting that was incredibly different from what they were used to.  We have video evidence!

4. What's one of the more unusual Shakespearean interpretations you've either seen or would like to see?

Bart Sher’s Cymbeline at Intiman changed me.  The set was simple; a red raked stage, but by being so, it didn’t need massive set changes, we were with the story the entire time.  The production was funny, moving, and stunning. 

I’m frustrated by Shakespeare that tries to distract you from thinking it is Shakespeare.  I’ve been in, or seen productions, where it’s like “look at these live animals” or “explosions” or “a fake ice rink that isn’t integral to the plot and is really slick in the rain, but look, people are ice skating for 30 seconds” that are unnecessary.  I believe you should be able to wear black clothes on a blank stage and get the story across; everything else is just icing. If not, it’s not good Shakespeare.

Mya interjects: I am broadly in agreement with Christy here, except that I desperately want MORE live animals on stage. Dogs. Goats. Rabbits. Gerbils. I don’t care if they’re not textually supported.

5. What's one of your favorite Shakespearean "hidden gems"?

I don’t know if it’s a hidden gem, but I love Henry IV, Part 1 and 2.  I think it’s such a loss when they’re combined, because they are both stellar plays for different reasons.  Yes, Henry IV, Part 1 has all the action, but Henry IV, Part 2 has phenomenal speeches and you get to see just how devious Falstaff is.  Food for powder, anyone?

6. What passages from Shakespeare have stayed with you?

This quote from Romeo and Juliet is how I feel about teaching.  During the school week, I am in 24 classes in the South Bend community, mostly in Title 1 schools.  Last year, Tuesdays were long days. I would teach six classes at a middle school, plus an after-school program, then direct the RSC.  That was approximately 190 kids and the day lasted from 9 am-9 pm. It wasn’t, however, so bad, because I work with really great kids. I feel what I give to them, they give back and the days don’t feel long. 

“the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”

Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, 2.2

Also “bless you fair shrew” which I say to my dog all the time when she sneezes.  

Mya interjects: BLESS YOU FAIR SHREW THAT’S THE BEST I LOVE IT

7. What Shakespeare plays have changed for you?

The first time I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, I was twelve and locked myself in the bathroom and cried.  Seriously though, who didn’t? Do you have a heart of stone???

Mya interjects: Yes. :P

During our 2017 trip, we took our RSC to see the REAL RSC’s Titus Andronicus.  Blanche McIntyre is a badass director. It’s easy to dismiss, Titus, but she found depth, and urgency. The show made our company better.  

My actors still refer to the performance when we talk about high stakes and urgency. 

8. What Shakespearean character or characters do you identify the most with?

I love Viola.  She goes on such a journey and her “make me a willow cabin at your gate” speech moves me every time.  We don’t get to pick who we love. I’m really lucky that I have a sweetheart who loves me, Shakespeare nerdiness and all.

If I could be a character?  Henry V. 

9. Where can we find out more about you? Are there any projects/events you would like us to check out?

You can find more about us on our Facebook page, Instagram, and our website.

Notre Dame Magazine put together a gorgeous website that chronicled the six months they had a reporter with us as well as our adventures to England!

Click through the photos above for a great look at the Robinson Shakespeare Company in action!

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(Back to Mya) Thanks so much to Christy for answering my questions, but, even more importantly, for raising the next generation of Shakespeareans. I, for one, welcome our new Shakespearean overlords.

COMING THURSDAY: It’s two-for-one day with the bard bros behind one of my favorite Shakespeare podcasts!

Q&A August: Kate Pitt, Pocket Dramaturg

I’m so very excited about today’s installment of Q&A August, because it means I get to formally introduce you to Kate Pitt, my pocket dramaturg and Shakespearean soulmate! I first met Kate when she saved my life by letting me crash on the couch in her hotel room before the closing banquet of the 2016 Shakespeare Theatre Association conference. It was my first conference and, by the last day, I was so sleep deprived that I could hardly function. Despite meeting me in such a ragged and incoherent condition, Kate, who was then working in Public Programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library, decided to invite me to the Folger for a public interview/talk event.

You can read up on my visit to the Folger here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. But, long story short, in Kate I found an absolutely kindred spirit. Within half an hour we were completing each others’ sentences, most because we were conversing almost entirely in Shakespeare quotes. Since then we have gone on several Shakespeare adventures together, including a long-overdue joint pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon earlier this year. Despite having spent extended periods of time in close proximity, we have remained friends, which is something of a minor miracle.

Apart from being a delightful human being, Kate is also a genuine Shakespearean powerhouse, with a vast amount of both scholarly and practical Shakespeare knowledge and experience. You might have noticed that many of my recent comics have included the note “Thanks to my pocket dramaturg, Kate Pitt, for consulting with me on this comic.” This is because I quickly fell into the habit of texting Kate with random Shakespeare-related questions, like “IN HOW MANY SHAKESPEARE PLAYS DO SHEEP REGULARLY APPEAR ON STAGE?” Kate, in her infinite patience and bottomless depth of knowledge, would always promptly text me back with answers, including sources. It was like having my own personal dramaturg in my pocket.

Since then I have often brainstormed comic ideas with her, run drafts past for her approval, and asked for her help when wrestling with particularly troublesome punchlines. (Among other things, she helped me finalize the list of questions I’ve been asking everybody this month!) Creating Good Tickle Brain is a very solitary occupation, and for most of the past five and a half years I’ve been essentially operating in a vacuum. It’s been fun, but it’s also been lonely and isolating at times. Being able to bounce ideas off of Kate, and occasionally commiserate with her on the challenges of being self-employed businesswomen in the Shakespeare world, has made both my job and my life immeasurably more enjoyable.

And so, it gives me GREAT pleasure to turn things over to my pocket dramatrug!

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1. Who are you? Why Shakespeare?

I’m Kate Pitt. I’m a dramaturg, writer, producer, and director. I grew up watching Shakespeare films with my parents and saw an outdoor Midsummer at the Edith Wharton house in Lenox when I was about seven. The Mechanicals drove up in a real Jeep, the fairies crept out of the actual woods (I was a city kid – trees were a big deal!), and I was hooked. I’ve also had many wonderful teachers. 

2. What moment(s) in Shakespeare always make you laugh?

Orlando forlornly waving his arm and saying “It is my arm”? I’M THERE. A really good (bad) Viola-Sir Andrew fight? SIGN ME UP. Benedict being terrible at hiding? THE BEST. Pyramus’ never-ending death? I LOVE IT. The physical comedy in the plays always makes me laugh. There are lines of text that I almost always laugh at, but I’ve been more delighted when those bits are reinterpreted in ways that sacrifice the laugh, but gain something more interesting in its place. Olivia’s wide-eyed “most wonderful!” is a war-horse, but I once heard it delivered with quiet awe rather than schtick and it was shockingly beautiful. “The dead can live again” rather than “another one!” 

Mya interjects: Ok, yes, I also love “It is my arm.”

3. What's a favorite Shakespearean performance anecdote? 

A Winter’s Tale where the bear was a puppet, and entered down the aisle sniffing at the audience as it slowly stalked Antigonus. The bear nosed at the handbag of an old lady in the front row and growled at her. She growled right back.

Mya interjects: Don’t mess with old ladies’ handbags.

4. What's one of the more unusual Shakespearean interpretations you've either seen or would like to see?

The opening speech of Richard III done as Bunraku puppet theater, but with a person as the puppet. It showed the pain of being “unfinished” so beautifully while also being horrifying and incredibly funny. This Richard was so close to being a person (“a real boy!”) but knew that he lacked some essential, animating humanity and made a conscious decision to hurt people because of it. 

5. What's one of your favorite Shakespearean "hidden gems"?

I love watching the characters on the sidelines – the ones who aren’t the center of attention but are telling incredibly rich stories with their silence. Margaret in Much Ado is a great example and I always watch her when the Prince explains why he thinks Hero is disloyal. Margaret knows in that moment that the ruined wedding is her fault but she says and does…nothing. Aufidius and Isabella also have whole histories in stillness.

6. What passages from Shakespeare have stayed with you?

I’ve had Henry V’s “upon the king” and the Scrivener from Richard III on my mind – the responsibility of leadership and the realization of its corruption – but my favorites are the ones I think as my own thoughts and it takes a minute to figure out where they came from. i.e. on a hiking trip in the pouring rain, carrying a heavy pack, and staring up at switchback #492, I thought, “Blow, wind! come, wrack! At least we'll die with harness on our back!” It took until the top of the mountain to figure that one out.

Mya interjects: If you’re not familiar with the Scrivener from Richard III (and there’s no reason why you should be, since his scene is almost always cut), his one speech goes as follows:

SCRIVENER
Here is the indictment of the good Lord Hastings,
Which in a set hand fairly is engrossed,
That it may be today read o’er in Paul’s.
And mark how well the sequel hangs together:
Eleven hours I have spent to write it over,
For yesternight by Catesby was it sent me;
The precedent was full as long a-doing,
And yet within these five hours Hastings lived,
Untainted, unexamined, free, at liberty.
Here’s a good world the while! Who is so gross
That cannot see this palpable device?
Yet who so bold but says he sees it not?
Bad is the world, and all will come to naught
When such ill dealing must be seen in thought.

I’ve never gotten over the beauty of this line from Pericles – silence may be the perfectest herald of joy, but if you must use words, these ones are pretty great:  

  • “Give me a gash, put me to present pain, lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me o’erbear the shores of my mortality and drown me with their sweetness.”

7. What Shakespeare plays have changed for you?

All of the plays have changed as I’ve gotten older, but the ones that deal with grief have altered the most. A friend died suddenly when we were eighteen and I reached out for Cleopatra and Constance without consciously knowing why. My father died five years later, and by then I knew that I would find some kind of recognition in the plays and I deliberately went to them. The words were always beautiful, but now I knew what they meant. I must have heard Claudius’ “that father lost, lost his” speech a hundred times but never understood the obscenity of telling someone “the right way” to grieve until someone did it to me. Cordelia comforting the confused and frightened Lear sits close to my heart now, and Ophelia’s madness has method in’t. Hamlet’s “mirror up to nature” didn’t tell me what I’d see or how to respond, but it allowed me look at myself and observe both the shadow of my sorrow and the thing itself when I needed it most.

8. What Shakespearean character or characters do you identify the most with?

Beatrice. I love her wit, her walls and her willingness to climb over them, her delight in her friends’ happiness and her white-hot fury at their pain. 

Mya interjects: Can confirm, Kate is totally Beatrice.

9. Where can we find out more about you? Are there any projects/events you would like us to check out?

You can follow me on Twitter @katepitt and keep up with me on my website www.katepitt.com

(Back to Mya) Thanks so much to Kate not only for answering the questions she helped me come up with, but also for being an unfailingly helpful creative and emotional outlet. Get thee a Kate.

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COMING NEXT WEEK: A wonderful woman who is training small children to become the next generation of Shakespeare geeks, and two Shakespeare geeks who regularly act like small children!

Q&A August: David Prosser of the Stratford Festival

Remember back when I called Austin Tichenor my Comedy Fairy Godfather? Well, the subject of today’s Q&A August interview is my Shakespeare Fairy Godfather. David Prosser is the Literary and Editorial Director at the Stratford Festival of Canada, and is also indirectly responsible for much of Good Tickle Brain’s growth and success. (Also, if he’s reading this, I would like to sincerely apologize to him for all grammatical infelicities in today’s post, most likely related to misplaced punctuation, the correct disposition of which I have never properly mastered.)

I met David on Twitter a scant four months after I had started Good Tickle Brain. Fresh out of the gates, with few followers or readers, I was desperately trying to get my work in front of as many eyes as possible, so I went on Twitter and promptly followed everyone I could find who was remotely associated with the Stratford Festival. One of the people I stumbled upon was David, whose wonderfully dry and witty tweets immediately attracted my attention. On day, embroiled in a bit of an ongoing brouhaha with some Oxfordians, David tweeted a riff on “Duke of Earl”, rewriting the chorus as “dupes, dupes, dupes, dupes of Earl”. Never one to shy away from a song parody, I provided the rest of the lyrics. David was amused enough by my efforts that he followed me, and started retweeting my comics. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me at the time.

Later on that year, I was visiting the Stratford Festival with my family, and (of course) tweeting about it, when David slid into my DMs and invited me up to the Festival offices to have tea with him before that day’s matinee. I jumped at the chance, and we spent a wonderful half an hour or so chatting in the sunshine on the Festival Theatre balcony. It was like meeting my long-lost benevolent Scottish uncle. David was not only immediately supportive and encouraging of my work, but he also began actively brainstorming ways in which to help me reach a larger audience, specifically among the theatre community. To that end, he introduced me to the Shakespeare Theatre Association, which quickly became my Shakespeare family and has helped me grow and develop Good Tickle Brain into what it is today.

There is absolutely no reason why the Literary and Editorial Director of the largest classical repertory theatre in North America should have given the time of day to a random person on the internet who drew sub-par stick figures and routinely committed egregious spelling errors in her text. However, David did not hesitate to lift me up, and has been a constantly warm, supportive, and thoroughly entertaining presence in my life since then.

But I’ll let him talk now. He’s much better at it than I am.

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1. Who are you? Why Shakespeare?

Who am I indeed? Isn’t that the mystery that haunts us all? “Who’s there?” asks Barnardo in the opening words of Hamlet, and that same question echoes down through centuries of subsequent literature. Call me David. Or Prosser, David Prosser.

I was born and grew up in Scotland, where, in early childhood, I first encountered Shakespeare as the author of the “Scottish play” and didn’t realize till some time later that he’d written anything else. I came to Canada in my twenties; had a fourteen-year career at a small daily newspaper, where, among other things I was the theatre critic (boo, hiss) and editor of the TV listings (zzzzzz….); then quit in order to spend more time with my wife and cats and to pursue new opportunities for financial ruin; and finally washed up on the shores of the Stratford Festival, where, under various unconvincing job titles (most latterly that of Literary and Editorial Director), I have been an in-house wordsmith for the past quarter-century.

And why Shakespeare? As a nearly dead white male myself, I have a particular affinity for the work of dead white males in general—and Shakespeare in particular has intrigued me ever since childhood, when my father (an English teacher) showed me some black-and-white slides of scenes from a staging of that Scottish play referenced above. I’m sure if I could see them now, those images would prove cheesy; at the time, though, they haunted my imagination; it wasn’t till some time later that I realized there were words to go with them.

As I started to discover the actual plays, I found to my excitement that they had the mind-expanding power of dreams, in which human life is transformed into something rich and strange—an alternative universe of experience, if you like, but one that brilliantly illuminates the “real” one. 

2. What moment(s) in Shakespeare always make you laugh?

Sticking with the Scottish play, I generally laugh at Macbeth’s (oops, said it) “‘Twas a rough night,” and I always smile whenever an actor has to tackle the unsayable “O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart / Cannot conceive nor name thee!” Also, I’m afraid I can never suppress a schoolboy snigger when Montjoy, in Henry V, comes in and announces himself with the words “You know me by my habit.” I can’t remember where I heard it or read it, but someone, somewhere, made a joke about the entire English army responding with rude gestures suggestive of that habit, and I have never been able to get that out of my mind.

3. What’s a favorite Shakespearean performance anecdote?

See Montjoy above. Also this, one of the many stories from the late Richard Monette’s memoir This Rough Magic: an autobiography “as told to,” er, well, me. Peter Ustinov was playing King Lear at the Stratford Festival in 1979; Richard was playing Edmund.

“At one performance,” Richard recalled, “Peter began, ‘We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage. . . .’ and then he dried. ‘We’ll sing . . .’ he repeated, ‘and then we’ll sing some more. Oh, we’ll laugh. . . . We’ll dance. . . . And then . . . we’ll sing some more.’ Realizing what had happened, I tried to save him by coming in early with my line: ‘Take them away.’ He regarded me with mild curiosity, then waved me away with his hand—'Foof, foof, foof’—and began the whole speech over again, determined to say it all.”

4. What’s one of the more unusual Shakespearean interpretations you’ve either seen or would like to see?

In 1998, or thereabouts, at a theatre festival in Quebec City, I saw a production of The Tempest directed by Robert Lepage. More precisely, it was La Tempête, a translation into French by Normand Chaurette. What was novel about it were the settings, which were computer-created projections—but not just flat background images. The audience wore polarized 3D glasses throughout, which created the illusion of a three-dimensional landscape and objects (such as the royal ship) that seemed to come floating out into the auditorium. It was a stunning effect, perfectly suited to the magical powers referenced in the play, and it had a huge effect on me.

5. What’s one of your favorite Shakespearean “hidden gems”?

An obvious one, obviously, but it’s the “wretched strangers” speech from Sir Thomas More.

6. What passages from Shakespeare have stayed with you?

I am constantly on the alert for opportunities to work any of the following into my conversation:

“Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, / And there I see such black and grainèd spots / As will not leave their tinct.”

“I’ll no pullet sperm in my brewage.” (Have to be careful about that one when placing an order in a bar or restaurant, though, or the server might spit in my Sauvignon.)

“For this relief much thanks.” (Always apt in washrooms.)

More seriously, I always get a wave of nostalgia for the homeland when I hear Macbeth say, “Light thickens, and the crow / Makes wing to th’ rooky wood.” For some reason that line evokes Scotland so strongly for me that I feel sure Shakespeare must have toured there when the plague was on in London.

7. What Shakespeare plays have changed for you?

When I was an undergraduate, a professor told me that Titus Andronicus was an absolutely dreadful play, what could Shakespeare have been thinking; and for many years I believed her. Then I actually read it, and thought, wow.

8. What Shakespearean character or characters do you identify the most with?

Wow, that is a question, isn’t it? Erm, well…. Oh, I don’t know: it might be…. Or, no, maybe not. No, shoot, I just can’t make up my mind. Sorry, I know I’m procrastinating, but I’m going to have to set this aside for a while, while I think on it more precisely. Maybe get a bit of sea air to clear my mind….

Okay, that’s better. I’d like to think it maybe would be Benedick, but I’m very much afraid it might be Falstaff. Or King John.

Actually, a few years ago, I really identified with the King of France, but, lacking a Helena, I had surgery for it, and I’m fine now.

9. Where can we find out more about you? Are there any projects/events you would like us to check out?

I pop up from time to time on Facebook (though not Instagram, which I’ve never seen the point of). Occasionally I make snarky remarks on Twitter. Otherwise, I can sometimes be found in the lobby of the Festival Theatre, giving Lobby Talks before selected performances. C’mon down! They’re free!

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(Back to Mya) Thanks so much to David for taking the time to answer my questions! If you can, pick up a copy of former Stratford Festival artistic director Richard Monette’s memoir, This Rough Magic, which David worked on. It’s a wonderful read.

COMING THURSDAY: My other self, my counsel’s consistory, my pocket dramaturg!