Battle of the Bard

When asked last summer to perform in Monsterpiece Theatre Collective's Battle of the Bard, I was enthralled by and skeptical of the idea. I questioned whether or not I would be up to the challenge of acting in two of Shakespeare's most well­known works simultaneously, in the midst of the situation that Artistic Director Anthony Pound has created. On each night of the performance, the audience members vote on whether they would like to see Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night's Dream. Therefore, we walk into the theatre each night not knowing which play we will be performing. 

I have performed in both of the above­mentioned Shakespeare plays before, and each holds a special place in my heart. I have also performed with Monsterpiece Theatre Collective in the past, having appeared in their 2015 production of Hamlet. Therefore, I knew these artists to be intelligent and ambitious, with a desire to push boundaries and a keen interest in Shakespeare's plays. If any theatre company could approach this project with the energy and knowledge required, it would be Monsterpiece.

Hermia and the fairies.

Hermia and the fairies.

Anthony cast me as Hermia and Snug in Midsummer, and as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. During our first rehearsals, we gathered in our Astoria rehearsal space to explore the text, placing emphasis on physical relationship to one another and specificity to character. Character differentiation is particularly important in these productions, as many of us actors play two different parts in the shows. This provided a challenge for me in Midsummer. My relationship to Hermia developed very productively and quickly; Snug proved to be more difficult, as he possesses fewer qualities directly attributed to him in the text. Hermia is constantly described as short in stature (something easy for me to relate to), and prone to confrontation.­ Helena especially exposes these descriptions in one of the most famous scenes in the play. Snug, on the other hand, is only described by himself as "slow of study." While it would be easy to simply portray Snug as a dunce, I think I've discovered some active aspects of him that certainly were not present or apparent during our first run in Queens.

Playing Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet has definitely been an important exercise for me in simplicity. Early in the process, I was frustrated and somewhat annoyed that many of his lines seemed expositional in nature, serving little purpose other than to move the play along. This perceived lack of activity became internalized and, presented a surface­level Benvolio for a portion of the rehearsal process. This further frustrated me, and I went back to the script for more clues on how I could potentially access a more profound truth to Benvolio's being. At the time, I was doing some script work for The National Shakespeare Theatre of Brooklyn's production of Julius Caesar, to open next month (directed by ITW Artistic Director Jonathan Taylor and featuring Bacchic ensemble member, Kristian Sorensen as Cassius). Comparing the two plays, I found some fascinating parallels highlighting the power held on stage by one who has information to relay. The line with which Soothsayer warns Caesar to "Beware the ides of March" serves the same purpose as Benvolio's warning to Mercutio, "For now these hot days is the mad blood stirring." While the lines of text may seem expositional, they are in fact representative of events that affect the course of the play, adding not only to the plot but also to the dramatic tension of the piece as a whole.

Working with Monsterpiece Theatre Collective over the past few months has been a rewarding and beneficial expansion of my experience as an actor. It is quite different from my work with In the Water, and I have gained invaluable tools that I can utilize in future projects. In particular, I feel that maintaining a high level of text work has been immensely helpful to my vocal skills and stamina, as well as my writing. Being consistently exposed to infinitely minable source material (to borrow a phrase from ITW AD Jonathan Taylor) is an experience that is invaluable to artists across all mediums. Performing with Monsterpiece has been an amazing and challenging opportunity, and I will certainly be sad to say goodbye when we close. 

Charlie Coursey

Ensemble Member