Backstage: Some serious work goes into a farce

Liisa Ivary is directing David Ives’ version of Georges Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear,” opening Wednesday, May 3, at Ashland High School. There’s a cast of 20 student actors and a good deal of technical support from Ivary’s colleagues at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, including fight director U. Jonathan Toppo.

Ivary spent seven seasons in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s acting company. She has also performed in Shakespeare Festivals and regional repertory theaters all over the nation. She recently directed “Annapurna” for Oregon Stage Works. We met one afternoon at Noble Coffee Roasting in Ashland.

LI: This is something I wanted to do, because it’s important for these talented acting students to be mentored by OSF veterans, showing them style — and teaching them precision, timing and how to physically commit to a style that is split-second and dangerous.

It’s a large cast. It’s a lot of language and a lot of fight moves: kicks, punches, chases, slaps, rolls and jumps — every kind of slapstick; but it has to be timed perfectly, with intricate threading of props and costumes, because it’s a play of mistaken identity. It’s setting the style, the world and staying consistent. Continue reading Backstage: Some serious work goes into a farce

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Backstage: What makes a play good?

Cindy Im, who plays Hanna in “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” is in her second season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Last year, she was in “Great Expectations” and “The Winter’s Tale.” We met at RAW on Main Street in Ashland.

EH: Was “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” developed through the Ashland New Plays Festival?

CI: It had a development process through the Ashland New Plays Festival, but the process goes further back. This play has been in development for a number of years. In fact, I did one of the first readings of it, three or four years ago, in San Francisco. Just by happenstance, I got to do the world premier of it here.

EH: What is the process of developing plays with playwrights?

CI: It varies, depending on the chemistry in the room. Some playwrights just want to hear the words out loud; they have their own strong ideas about how it should go. It’s not so much about getting feedback from the actors, but about hearing it, and seeing how it bounces off the page. There are other playwrights that want feedback from actors: “What makes sense to you? What is more confusing?” Chemistry with the director will dictate how much feedback you give.

EH: How has “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” changed since you first read it?

CI: The bones of the play have largely remained the same. Phrasing and word choices have changed, but the meat and purpose of it has remained. Continue reading Backstage: What makes a play good?

What actors want: to tell stories

EH: Do you have a theory or method of acting?

AE: I had great teachers at Boston University. I had a fantastic physical acting teacher named Elaine Vaan Hogue who changed my view of what acting could be. Everyone has methods that work for them; a lot of times, we just take bits and pieces from here and there.

The Stanislavsky and Meisner techniques were fascinating to me, but they were very intellectual. I don’t think they actually work for me. I had a hard time applying them to my character. Whereas physical acting for me was, “Oh this, I can get.” It was eye-opening for me, that I didn’t have to write down every tactic and all my verbs: which is really cool; but it just doesn’t work for me. I need to have a very strong understanding of the language. Physicality helps me understand the characters, an understanding of who they are in their bodies. Continue reading What actors want: to tell stories