Monday, July 31, 2006

Lighting Designer

Another team member has come on board for Antony and Cleopatra: our lighting designer is none other than Roy Jackson, Walterdale's technical director and the guy who knows that venue better than anyone on earth. I think Alli's set and Roy's lights will make for an outstanding combo. Slowly but surely, the big picture comes into focus.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cleo the Goddess

Slowly reading Michael Grant's biography of Cleopatra. Early on, he describes the Ptolemaic dynasty of which Cleopatra was a part -- a Greek dynasty, descending from Alexander the Great, but having adopted many of the customs and beliefs of their Egyptian surroundings. One of these beliefs was that monarchs were the earthly manifestations of gods and goddesses -- both Greek gods, like Dionysus, and Eygptian ones, like Osiris and Isis (being the manifestation of more than one god sounds like a lot of work to me, but nobody said it was easy being queen!).

There are obvious political reasons for associating oneself with gods, but the practice had been ongoing for so long (inherited from the Pharoahs) that I can't help but wonder if the Ptolemies believed their own hype. Particularly someone like Cleopatra, who was born and raised to believe her father was the mortal embodiment of Dionysus, and that she would one day become queen, and therefore, a goddess also.

This seems relevant to the play, not because it feeds Cleopatra's ego (no need for help there), but because it reinforces the "immortal longings" which motivate her suicide. I keep coming back to that moment because -- well, partly because I'm afraid of it, but partly because it epitomizes the "larger-than-lifeness" that the play seems to demand. If Cleopatra has always believed that she was destined for godhead, then her decision to die may be misinformed, but it is far from cowardly.

What's more, I think her attitude constitutes a return to form. In the middle of the play, Cleo seems far from divinity, indeed -- capricious, jealous, unsure of herself and her love for Antony. But the ending must provide a restoration, in which Cleo can accept and embrace her love and all of the decisions she's made because of it, and incorporate all of that into her vision of herself as Isis.

(On another note, Grant comments on the Ptolemaic inclination towards incest, and speculates that "certain elements in her character may have been due to this persistent in-breeding -- notably her total absence of moral sense, and a tendency to murder her brothers and sisters which may have been partly an inherited family habit." Sounds like her gene pool had a crocodile problem!)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Purity Test Website Up

Hey, the first online sign of life for my Fringe show has arrived. Our producer, Michael Cowie, has designed a lovely, funky little site for Purity Test, which is running August 17-26, 2006. More information about Purity Test will follow here...but if you're impatient, you can visit the site at

And if you have no idea what a purity test is, you're in for a dirty treat!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A&C: First Set Meeting

I met with Alli Ross, the set designer, for the first of what I'm sure will be many fruitful design meetings.

We agreed that a nautical theme was a good place to start, although the set obviously needs flexibility or abstraction, to keep audiences from thinking that the whole play takes place on a ship. Alli is keen on using one or more broad white sheets to simulate sails; she described a process that could be used to fix them in a "billowing" shape, so that they wouldn't require wind to look full. We also talked about using the cyclorama, or cyc, to project various background lighting effects (warm sunset colours for Alexandria, cool blue skies for Rome). I've never done a show with the cyc before, so that will be neat.

As for the stage itself, we agreed that platforms are de rigeur. Alli suggested jutting wooden platforms that resemble gangplanks (or just plain planks). I agreed, adding that "as long as they're big enough to fit three or four actors standing close together," we should ideally have a number of them, set at different levels around the stage (this, again, is ship-like, and it can also simplify issues of rank and status when it comes to blocking).

I am picturing more and more of these tight clusters of people, now. My earlier neuroses about not having enough bodies to suggest armies has given way to a fairly basic principle of composition: three or four actors in a very tight cluster looks like a juggernaut, especially when contrasted to a solitary figure placed elsewhere on the stage.

Lots of possibilities emerge: when Antony is in Alexandria, his status is visually weakened because his soldiers tend to stand apart from him, whereas Cleo's retinue always sticks very close beside her (I'm even picturing them standing in a vertical line, waving their arms like Vishnu). In Rome, Antony and Octavius both have bodyguards who stick to them like glue, but gradually Antony's "mass" begins to shrink, while Octavius's only expands. At the climax, when Octavius captures Egypt, Cleo's maidens may be scattered...but when it comes time for her to kill herself, they reunite to create a living frame for Cleo's picture-perfect suicide.

Lots of good stuff to ponder, when I have the time...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Cleopatra the Junkie?!

I've been watching the excellent HBO television series "Rome," which traces the same history as Shakespeare's two high Roman plays, Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra. It's only one season old, and it's taking its time to arrive at the events which Shakespeare used as his focus -- but that's probably a good thing, since it's also telling a number of other stories amongst the lower ranks, all of which are just as interesting.

I've just seen Episode 8, "Caesarion," where Cleopatra is introduced. Julius Caesar has come to Alexandria in pursuit of his Roman enemy, Pompey Magnus, and ends up interceding in a family dispute amongst the Ptolemy dynasty. He sides with Cleopatra because, well, who wouldn't?

The first impression of Cleopatra is not a favourable one. She is disoriented, flighty, and when men come to assassinate her in her tent, she barely seems to care. She is, we quickly learn, an opium addict.

Now, I must admit to being a bit remiss on my history. For two months now, I've had a biography of Cleopatra by Michael Grant sitting on my shelf, but I haven't had the time to crack it open. I can't speculate (yet) whether this detail is historically accurate. I know the next one definitely isn't: at the urging of her slave woman, she has sex with a centurion so she will conceive a child, which she will later announce is Caesar's son.

I have absolutely no objection to the series playing fast and loose with historical details. In a lot of ways, it's part of the fun (especially since we know the centurion she picks). What I'm more concerned with is the way Cleopatra is portrayed here. "Rome" is full of scheming, conniving men and women, many of whom use sex for political ends. Cleopatra should, in that respect, be no exception. Why, then, have they made her an air-headed junkie? Why does she need her slave woman to tell her what would be politically expedient?

She's young, I guess -- another historical detail which many (including Shakespeare) overlook. But I must confess to being disappointed; I had hoped that, after 7 episodes of reptilian Roman politics, Cleo would slither in and out-snake them all. Maybe that will come.

In the meantime, James Purefoy's Mark Antony is a splendid bastard, more unscrupulous than a boatload of Cleopatras (Cleopatrae?), and revelling in his bastardy to boot. I look forward to seeing how the character evolves once Caesar gets the chop.