Understanding the Text

William Shakespeare is one of the most celebrated playwrights of all time, the most performed playwright of all time. Yet despite the beauty of his text, the words are difficult to understand.

In some Shakespeare productions, Meier said some actors convey the Elizabethan lines perfectly, while others are hard to understand. Pauses and inflection help convey meaning.

David Morden, one of Rogue Theatre’s Artistic Associates, will play Polixines. Morden teaches Acting and Shakespeare at Pima Community College. Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter is a rhythm similar to the beating of a heart; da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM. Changes to this rhythm are significant and can hint to where a character is psychologically.

Morden said, “450 years later Shakespeare left us clues in his text so we could better understand him.”

Meier mentioned one method of Morden’s they’ll use to understand Shakespeare’s words. It’s called “Tarzaning” where the actors look at the skeleton of the text. They pick the words that lift the essential meaning out of the text. “Me Tarzan. You Jane.” Meier demonstrated.

The rest of the cast tried this method, among others, to learn how to approach Shakespeare’s text so it’s more understandable. One of the very first steps in the rehearsal process was to have a text rehearsal.

In a conference room on the side of the theatre, Morden leads the cast through Sonnet 121.


‘Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,

When not to be receives reproach of being,

And the just pleasure lost which is so deemed

Not by our feeling but by others’ seeing.

For why should others’ false adulterate eyes

Give salutation to my sportive blood?

Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,

Which in their wills count bad what I think good?

No, I am that I am, and they that level

At my abuses reckon up their own;

I may be straight, though they themselves be bevel.

By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown,

  Unless this general evil they maintain:

  All men are bad, and in their badness reign.

Below are the basic steps the actors used gain a clearer understanding.
Step One: Look up all the words you don’t know.
Step Two: Figure out the different thoughts, the separate beats by putting in punctuation.
Step Three: Paraphrase.
Step Four: Look at the scancion, the rhythm.
Step Five: Find irregulars and exceptions to emphasize.
Step Six: Tarzan.
Throughout their crash course on Shakespearean verse, the cast didn’t allow themselves to become frusterated. They were laughing and smiling, making jokes despite the difficulty of the material before them. At the end, they had a better understanding of what it was they needed to do to prepare themselves for the production.
For Morden, one of his favorite parts is when the meaning finally comes together. “I love this moment, when it’s clear and makes sense.”

Tech: Part Five: Costumes

Cynthia Meier, the show’s director, also designed the costumes.

*click on an image to enlarge*

The Rehearsal Process


The cast stands in a circle on stage, balls flying through the air, quickly changing hands as names are called.

This is how rehearsal begins, with a little warm up game. It helps loosen everyone up, both physically and vocally while also challenging everyone to remember each other’s names.

“And we’re back!” Leah Taylor, the stage manager, yells. Responses of “thank you, back” come from all over the theatre as actors take their places.

Meier takes her seat in the audience, this time in the portion facing the stage head on. As she waits for the shuffle of feet to die down to indicate that the actors are all in place, she pulls out a yellow notepad and pen to take down notes.

“Lights up!” Taylor says, signaling the start of the play.

Dawn Sellers, one of the production’s musical directors begins to play the harpsichord as the actors file out onstage for the opening number.

This opening song is one of the few moments when the whole cast in together on stage. Sellers said it was important to include everyone in this piece because it helps being them together.

For most of the rehearsal, Meier sits quietly in the audience, taking down notes to give the actors later. She interrupts occasionally fix the blocking and staging.

When Meier does give critiques, they are given kindly. Generally soft spoken, Meier is approachable. Her lack of an intimidating presence invites the actors to experiment with new and different things. Even when they fail or don’t work, she simply brushes it off and suggests another approach.

One of the greatest examples of an actor’s experimentation is Patty Gallagher’s antics as Autolycus. Gallagher is one of the main sources of comic relief in the show and actress is doing her best to show that. Her songs are backed with Amiel’s music and together the pair elicit laughs from their fellow cast members as Gallagher struts around with a fake guitar, instructing Amiel to play for her.

During rehearsal, Gallagher made multiple over the top acting choices; tuning her “guitar,” berating Amiel for not listening, rocking out to the music which eventually ends in her doing the splits. Nearly everything she did had the cast bursting with laughter. Meier praised her work but stayed clear in her vision and shot down an idea to come air guitar a portion of the song.

“That’s not where the joke is.” Meier said.

At a previous rehearsal, Leah Taylor had called an end to the break by blowing into a small horn. Today, she’s upgraded. “Places everyone,” she says.

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Q & A: Dallas Thomas

How did you first get involved in theatre?

In high school, even thought I yearned to be on stage, I was too terrified to audition! I was on the stage crew for the all-school musical. One day before rehearsal, my friends and I were clowning around, acting out scenes from the show. The drama teacher pulled me aside and said, “You should be ON stage. That was really good.”

That same teacher talked me into auditioning for the next play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  I was terrified at the audition and was hoping that maybe I could be cast as a fairy — I figured I could handle a few lines. When I saw I had been cast as Hermia, one of the romantic leads, I felt both exhilarated and as though I might vomit. The show went well, and I’m happy that my first stage role was such a wonderful one.

Why acting?

I enjoy acting because, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not about showing off and being an extrovert. It’s about people, relationships with each other, with the world, and with ourselves. Good theatre should make you think and feel. I love the focus and thoughtfulness required to build a character just as much as I love performing.

Can you tell me an interesting or amusing theatre story?

In college, I was in a production of The Merchant of Venice. One night during the courtroom scene, the actor playing Shylock knelt and engaged in some impressively loud flatulence. Everyone on stage was trying so hard to stifle their laughter, which was made even harder when the front row got the giggles over Shylock’s gassiness. Suffice to say, it detracted from Portia’s Quality of Mercy speech that night.
Do you have any favorite actors or actresses you admire?
Several. A few favorites are Kevin Kline, Cate Blanchett, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Annette Benning, Rachel Griffiths… those are just a few off the top of my head.

Are there qualities in your character that you also see in yourself?

Picking a favorite previous is impossible. I’ve been lucky to have several wonderful, but very different roles. My top three:  Juliet in Immortal Longings, Catherine in Proof & Rita in Prelude to a Kiss

When I’m of the appropriate age, I’d love to play Maureen in The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Are there qualities in your character that you also see in yourself?

I’m in love. I think the similarities cease there though. Princessery is difficult to match in real life. Haha

Tech: Part Four: Choreography

Tech: Choreography


McKerrow and Gardner demonstrate a move described as “looking through the bushes.”

After giving the actors a final pointer, John Gardner moves across stage to get out of the way. But he doesn’t just walk; he leaps and twirls with the grace of a seasoned dancer.

Gardner and his wife, Amanda McKerrow, worked together to choreograph the four dances in The Winter’s Tale.

The couple met Joe McGrath, the Rogue Theatre’s artistic director, when he was Drosselmeyer in Ballet Tucson’s The Nutcracker. After becoming friends during their work at the Ballet, the pair saw a few shows at the Rogue.

“We really love what they’re doing here,” Gardner said.

They’d been wanting to collaborate with McGrath for a while when finally, about a year ago, Cynthia Meier and McGrath asked them to choreograph for the theatre. They’d worked before with a lot of ballet companies and some operas, but never for a production like this.

For The Winter’s Tale, “Cynthia had blocked out a lot of the beginning of the minuet and we just kind of filled it in,” McKerrow said. “The three other ones we did completely.”

The first dance is set in Sicilia while the other three occur in Bohemia. This distinction is evident in the style of the dances.

According to Gardner, “The minuet is very formal, period dance. They’re formal aristocratic dances.” McKerrow added that “it’s for people of higher stations; kings and queens. So there’s straight necks and upper bodies.”

The pastoral qualities of Bohemia reflect in the tone the dances set. “There is a certain ritualistic feeling to it,” McKerrow said. “Like a tradition.” But there’s much more fun to it. “They’re shepards,” McKerrow explained. “They get to be a little more free.”

Gardner described the first Bohemia dance as “more of a celebration, so it starts to be more free form.”

“It can be a little wild,” McKerrow said with a laugh. “And speaking of wild, the third dance is pretty wild.”

The satyr dance.

One of the most humorous parts of the play, it features most of the male cast prancing around on stage making comically suggestive poses and noises. “It’s men displaying their virility,” Gardner said. “So it’s suggestive to that. It should be funny without being explicit.”

The long-nosed masks used as props in this scene add to the humor. “It’s a celebration of male potency, McKerrow added. “Just men celebrating being men.”

The most challenging aspect of this experience was the time. They had conflicting schedules and the fact that Gardner and McKerrow don’t live in Tucson only complicated matters.

“But it’s been great collaborating with Paul,” Gardner said. “He likes to improvise a lot but we met in the middle to figure out a sort of structure.”

They were working against the deadline of an opening night. But the time factor wasn’t as significant as they’d feared. “They all take direction so well,” McKerrow said.

“And Cynthia was so specific in what she wanted,” Gardner said. According to him, as long as you know what you want to say, coming up with the choreography is easier. “Cynthia was very clear.”

Though they’ve devoted their whole careers to dance, McKerrow said she would still like to learn about the more vocally focused profession of acting.

“I was too shy to use my voice. Dance appealed to me as a way to express myself without my voice,” she said. “It’s really been fun seeing not just the differences but the similarities in what we do,” McKerrow said. “It’s great, it’s always good to learn.”

Matt Walley leaps across the stage during a dance in Bohemia.

Q & A: Steve McKee and Dylan Page

How did you first get involved in theatre?

Page: I have been interested in acting for most of my life, but I didn’t get serious about theater until my Junior year of high school.  I was in a production of Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean at Tucson High School and I fell in love with the whole process.

Why acting?

McKee: It’s a great way to be creative.

Are there qualities in your character that you also see in yourself?

McKee: He’s good and noble and always sees the positive side of things.

Page: There are a lot of actors who I respect a great deal, but two that I really admire are Meryl Streep and Natalie Portman.

Do you have any actors or actresses you admire?

McKee: Christopher Guest, Hank Azzaria

What is your favorite previous role?
Page: This past year I played two roles that really solidified my passion for theater.  The first was Evelyn in The Shape of Things with the Arizona Repertory Theatre at the U of A  and the second was Dewey Dell in As I Lay Dying at The Rogue Theater.  The first because of the challenge it posed for me as an actor, and as a person, and the second because of the beauty and complexity of Faulkner’s characters and language.

What are you most excited about for in this play?

McKee: Rogue Theatre does great quality work.  You can tell everyone rises to the best of their abilities.

Page: This play is so epic, and so many things happen.  We get to dance, sing, and operate a massive puppet all in the course of a two hour production and I think I am most excited for those things.

Tech: Part Three: Puppets

Part Three: Puppets

Matt Cotten, of Puppets Amongus, designed the giant bear puppet that will unfortunately bring about Antigonus’s end.

The puppet is manned by four actors; Marissa Garcia, Dylan Page, Lee Rayment, and Christopher Johnson. Page and Garcia each handle a paw. Rayment is strapped into a structure that holds up the head while Johnson supports him.

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Q & A: David Morden

How did you first get involved in theatre?

My first introduction to theatre was doing church plays as a boy.  I took drama classes in junior high and and high school.  In college, I realized that I was spending all of my free time at the theatre department and decided to commit to acting as a career.

Why acting?

Why acting” is the big, big question.  I think I like that form of communication above all others:  acting out a story so that an audience gets a vicarious experience of something out of the ordinary.

Can you tell me an interesting or amusing theatre story?

I could tell you a million!  Most theatre stories revolve around something going wrong and how one got out of the situation.  I once did an avant-garde play in Seattle–a series of monologues with two other actors.  At one point during the show, an audience member stood up, walked out of the theatre, came back and announced from the front of the stage, “The is the worst show I have ever seen in my life” and then left!

Do you have any actors/actresses you admire?

I usually admire British actors over American actors, because they have better training in classical theatre in Britain.  My favorites include Simon Russell Beale, Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman.
What is your favorite previous role? Do you have a dream role?

My favorite role is the one I just did for The Rogue:  Louis De Rougemont in SHIPWRECKED.  My dream role used to be the title role in Shakespeare’s RICHARD II — but now I’m too old to play the part!  Anything in Shakespeare is a dream role for me, but I suppose Elyot in PRIVATE LIVES would be high on my list, too!

Are there qualities in your character that you also see in yourself?

Always – though I would state it differently.  I always find the qualities in myself that work for the character.  We all have qualities such as love, jealousy, caring, anger, etc. inside of us.  As actors, it is our job to call them forth and explore them.

What are you most excited about for in this play?

This play has one of the most beautiful reunion scenes at the end of the play, when everything that was lost is found again.  If we do our job correctly, our audiences will be deeply moved by it and will leave the theatre thinking about those people that they love and can’t afford to lose.

Tech: Part Two: Music

Part Two: Music

The Winter’s Tale is set in two different worlds. The Sicilian part of the play is courtly and structured. The Bohemian part is freeform, pastoral and pagan.

To emphasize this difference, Meier split the musical direction in two. Dawn Sellers will design the Sicilian portion, using harpsichord. Paul Amiel will employ harps and flutes for Bohemia.

“I thought it was a very good artistic decision,” Amiel said. “We’re two different people with two different backgrounds so there’s no way the two different places are going to sound the same.”

Amiel is a full time teacher at the University of Arizona’s Center for English as a Second Language. Though he has a strong passion for music, he hasn’t made it his profession. Having it as just a hobby gives him some flexibility to explore and experiment. Currently, he’s learning to play the accordion.

“I’m mainly interested in instruments that have a bigger meaning or purpose than entertaining. Music that functions as something other than making you tap your foot,” Amiel said.

After studying the text, he decided to base his sound on Bulgarian music. Then came the research; becoming familiar with the arrangements, rhythms, and patterns in Bulgarian music.

It’s like learning a language,” Amiel said.

Next, he’ll study the script again, picking out places that need music. Some are obvious; when Shakespeare calls for a song. Some are technical; long set changes or transitions. Some are artistic; Meier wants a monologue by Time to be sung.

Amiel says that the requirements form “a mental grid that you poor into your head and then you just wait for some inspiration.”

Flexibility is a key factor for theatre musicians. “I get to be a co-creator,” Amiel said. “Just the same way that actors don’t say the lines the same way every night, I get to play it differently every night. We start to listen to each other and we start to have a relationship.”

Though Amiel spends entire performances on stage in the face of the audience, afterwards, they rarely recognize him. For him, success is when he’s not noticeable. “It’s like oxygen. You don’t think about it when you’re breathing but if it were gone it’d be a problem. I want the music to be like that.”

Click To Listen To Music Samples

Dawn Sellers first met Cynthia Meier when she was writing a play. Meier discovered that Sellers had an extensive musical background that began when she was a young child playing for her church. Sellers has been working with the Rogue for three years.

“I love images with music. I love words and the combination of using those together is like my dream situation. I love the fact that they use acoustic music all the way through.” Sellers said.

For Sellers, the first step is so sit down with the director to learn about her concept of the play. Sometimes she gets a description of a feeling, sometimes an image, sometimes a particular sound. Sellers works off that and comes back to present the director with ideas to choose from.

I sit down with the director and ask her what her concept of the piece is, of the play. She’ll give me general comments of the feel or some kind of image or a particular kind of sound bu nothing really specific . then I’ll come back and present some ideas and she choses from them. So that’s always the key. Kinf od unserdatning what they want with what they say and bringing something that fits the mood and character off the piece.

“The key is understanding what they want with what they say,” Sellers said. “It’s bringing something that fits the mood and character of the piece.”


Q & A: Matt Waley, Philip Bennet

How did you first get involved in theatre?

Bennet: I have always wanted to be an actor.  At four years old I made a little puppet theatre and cut out photos from the newspaper to use as marionettes.  At six I had my first experience on the stage which was inspiring and transformative.

Waley: I had just quit the football team in HS because my knee was bothering me. My mom thought I should try out for the play because I was outgoing. I finally decided to audition and got the lead role of Joe Ferone in Up The Down Staircase.

Can you tell me an interesting or amusing theatre story?

Waley: I missed a cue in my first play at Live Theatre Workshop in 2002. I was playing Silvius in As You Like It. I missed that cue because I was telling people backstage what my favorite karaoke song was… Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen. I was absolutely mortified. Luckily my ensemble covered well. But, I have never missed a cue since (I refuse to talk backstage) and I have not karaoked since either.

Bennet: I had been acting for about 4 years on Broadway in American Stanislavski Theatre Repertory Company.  We did about 6 plays a season and alternated the plays, sometimes twice daily:  I was so confused one evening that I went on stage at the opening of the play and couldn’t remember which play I was in.  I stood blank and completely lost for what seemed an eternity.  If it hadn’t of been for the maid in the scene who said my opening lines, perhaps I’d still be standing there.

Do you have any actors/actresses you admire?
Bennet: Yes, many.  I deeply admire actors who are true artists, who take the time it takes to develop their technique and who build solid characters, not just play themselves:
Merryl Streep, Glen Close, Johnny Depp, Derick Jacoby, Ian McKellen, etc.

Are there qualities in your character that you also see in yourself?

Waley: When I looked up academic studies on the character I am playing- clown- the only description I could find was “A country booby.” So, besides the fact that I live in the desert, yes.

Bennet:  I believe I would behave just as he does in trying to save the life of Perdita; although, I hope to get back home safely before any bear could eat me!

What are you most excited about for in this play?

Waley: Always- the people I get to work with.

Bennet: I think the acting is outstanding. The music, singing and dances are exhilarating and beautiful.