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.

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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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.”


Tech: Part One: Lights

Part One: Lights

It is 10 p.m. Rehearsal is over, the actors are gone. But work for Clint Bryson is just beginning.

Though he designs and builds sets for the drama department at Catalina Foothills High School, Bryson is the lighting designer for The Winter’s Tale. He began in theatre as an actor, but he discovered a passion for working backstage in college.

Bryson admitted that he’s not adept in the graphic arts. “With painting, my hands just don’t work that way,” he said. Lighting is a good balance between the artistic and the technical. “It’s painting with light on a three dimensional black canvas.”

This evening, Bryson is hooking up the lights. The process takes about 8 hours, spread over a couple of days. “One of the fun challenges here is that every show is a different configuration,” Bryson said, referring to the theatre’s changing setup.

For Winter’s Tale, the stage is pushed back farther than normal, with two sections on either side for the musicians. There is a large section jutting out in the middle, the audience surrounding it on three sides. This means that Bryson must figure out how to treat all three sides equally.

There’s an old adage in the theatre that the lights are something that shouldn’t be noticed. They serve to enhance and support the play, not be the focus. The lights are essential in driving the emotion and energy people experience. “It’s a lot of fun to have that kind of manipulation of an audience,” he said.

He’s not the sole creative force behind the look of the lights. The process began with script consultation and style discussion with the director before he applied his knowledge. He typically watches one rehearsal near the end of the process to help make final lighting decisions.

The design process, according to Bryson is  “adding your artistic stamp and ideas to a collaborative group of people that have a vision for the show.”

As an example, he explained how music influences his decisions. Like lighting, it helps set the emotion in a scene. Hearing the music can help pinpoint the specific emotion underlying the moment.

He then turns to the small swatch books full of colors, searches through the subtleties for just the perfect color.

Though Bryson designed the lights, he won’t be running them for the show. The stage manager, Leah Taylor, will ensure the cues run smoothly during the performance.