In Defense of Adaptation: A Director’s Notes

Toby Vera Bercovici

Toby Vera Bercovici

From RLT Governing Member Toby Vera Bercovici:

I want to speak a few words on the merits of adaptation; or, emendation; or, annotation. In the words of visual artist Titus Kaphar: “I paint and I sculpt, borrowing from the historical canon, and then altering the work in some way. I cut, crumple, shroud, shred, stitch, tar, twist, bind, erase, break, tear and turn the paintings and sculptures I create, reconfiguring them into works that nod to hidden narratives and begin to reveal unspoken truths about the nature of history.”

I first learned of Kaphar while driving through the winter woods of rural Maine and wrestling with the question of why I had chosen to mount The Taming of the Shrew (albeit a radical adaptation) with the students of Colby College, rather than some contemporary feminist text. Serendipitously, Kaphar’s TED talk came on NPR, and I heard what I am now titling his Defense of Adaptation. Kaphar says, “I want to make paintings that wrestle with the struggles of our past but speak to the diversity and the advances of our present, and we can't do that by taking an eraser and getting rid of stuff.” So he creates, out of his art, amendments, like in the constitution. “This is where we were, but this is where we are right now.”

Bercovici’s  The *Annotated* Taming: Or, Out of the Saddle, Into the Dirt  at Colby College, Fall 2017.  Photo by Melissa Blackall.

Bercovici’s The *Annotated* Taming: Or, Out of the Saddle, Into the Dirt at Colby College, Fall 2017.

Photo by Melissa Blackall.

I have always been drawn to the classics, in part because of their beauty and complexity, in part because of what they teach us (however troubling) about the past, and in part because they are in the public domain and thus up for legal re-interpretation. But for as long as I’ve been compelled by them, I’ve also wondered about the usefulness of returning time and again to these texts penned in antiquity by and for white men. Where do I fit into their narratives? Where does my beautifully diverse community of theater makers and audience members fit in?

When I first heard Kaphar speak, and investigated his work, it was during the debate about whether or not to tear down confederate statues. The first, obvious, and easy liberal answer to the question is to destroy the f***ers. But, has erasing evidence of our past ever done anything positive for humanity? In this article,

six artists, including Kaphar, imagine “monuments for a new era,” ways of marking the existence of the statues and thus acknowledging our egregious past.

RLT’s  The Life & Death of Queen Margaret , 2016 & 2017 (co-adapted by Bercovici and RLT co-founder Dan Morbyrne from Shakespeare’s  Henry VI parts I, II , III  and  Richard III ; directed by Bercovici)

RLT’s The Life & Death of Queen Margaret, 2016 & 2017 (co-adapted by Bercovici and RLT co-founder Dan Morbyrne from Shakespeare’s Henry VI parts I, II , III and Richard III; directed by Bercovici)

I believe it is our duty as theater makers to bring the fullness of ourselves and of our present moment to the stage, whether it be through contemporary writing, devised work, or a return to the classics. I also believe we must acknowledge the political and aesthetic history out of which this presence grows. Personally, I strive to weave a strong feminist counter-narrative into the array of gorgeous classic texts written by and for men, and what emerges is work that illuminates rather than glorifies, and juxtaposes historical snapshots with examples of our current flawed but beautifully diverse present. I strive to approach the classics with daring, imagination, and political relevance; to annotate and amend.

A link to the work of Titus Kaphar:

A Sense of Home...

Toby Vera Bercovici, author

Toby Vera Bercovici, author

...artistic or otherwise, can be a rarified concept. We (or at least I) all too often live somewhere, work somewhere, eat or drink out somewhere, without daily appreciation of its spectacularity. It is only the impending loss of something that sharpens its qualities. Our Town taught us that. Didn’t Our Town also teach us that we cannot recreate this sense of impending loss, no matter how much we might wish to do so? We cannot conjure up the feeling in order to saturate the colors of our somewhat faded existence. We have to wait, wait for the exquisite moment right before we leave someone or she leaves us, right before we leave a job or apartment or city, and in that moment, we are shown with great clarity what makes this woman, this job, this apartment, this city, extraordinary. 

And such it is with Real Live Theatre, a group I have been entangled with for better and for worse for the past two years. We are a family in many senses of that word, (one definition I found says ‘a group united in criminal activity’—we aren’t there yet). We have so carefully set up our organization (run by beautiful and frustrating consensus) that our tiny disagreements are projected constantly on the walls of our collective consciousness, to be inspected, digested, and explored. It is exhausting! As a director, I am used to being somewhat of an autocrat, although only in the most unassuming of ways. I am magnanimous! But I am able to be so only because of my deep sense of security in the fact that really, when it comes down to it, I am in charge. When it comes down to it, if anyone’s way is going to be had, it’s going to be my way. It so often does not come down to it, but there is safety in knowing. 

Not so, in Real Live Theatre! We are collectively run. And when someone has issue with someone else, that issue is, as aforementioned, projected on the wall to be dissected and discussed. It’s tricky sometimes, because there are fourteen of us, and we all grew up with different families, and we all developed our own particular set of insecurities, priorities, and passions.

But then I got a job at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and I left my home (artistic and otherwise), and I traveled 4 1/2 hours North to a sweet little nest of an apartment that is precisely 249.8 miles away from Real Live Theatre.

And it isn’t like I didn’t appreciate it when I was there. I so did. But from a distance, whew!, is it glittering and gorgeous. Foremost is the fact that we have all committed to spending our precious Sundays training together. Sundays! Even for the devout Atheists among us, Sundays are kind of deliciously sacrosanct. That particularly slow, sweet arousal from sleep, next to your lover or your dog; eggs cooked in olive oil, and sliced tomatoes from the farmer’s market (Summer Sundays are best); the New York Times crossword puzzle (not that I’ve ever been up to that challenge); long afternoon walks. We gave all this up! All of this! For the absolute hard work and pleasure of gathering together to stomp on the floors till they shake during Suzuki, to role ease-fully from one encounter to the next in Viewpoints, to engage in dirty little bouts of Contact Improvisation, Tango, Laban, Lecoq, Authentic Movement, Linklater Voice Work, Patsy Rodenburg Voice Work, or if there is something we want to explore and an exercise isn’t readily at our fingertips: well, make it up! We do this! I did this! And the rest of them still do this! Without me! (My heart is breaking.)

 I love Real Live Theatre for its commitment. For the pleasure it takes in the work that it does. For the group of like-minded individuals who would just as soon do the above-mentioned work as lie lazily in bed. I love it also for the challenges, the examinations (of priorities, choices, assumptions, desires), the disagreements, the growth. 

And I love it for being my Sense of Home, artistic and otherwise, even when I am 4 1/2 hours away.

— Toby Vera Bercovici

Music for Actors


Photo by  shankarmenon  via Flickr, used under a  Creative Commons license  (CC BY 2.0).

Photo by shankarmenon via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

I've been on a music kick recently. I think it's all the spring cleaning I've been doing. As I work, I listen to music to keep me going, and I have a lot of playlists to choose from: Emergency Dance Party playlists, Long Roadtrip playlists, Can't-Stop-Me-Now playlists, and 15 playlists (and counting) for different plays and films I've worked on.

I started making acting playlists several years ago while I was preparing for a particularly challenging role. When you get a new script, it can feel like an impenetrable block that you are somehow expected to transform into an exquisite statue. Where do you even start? How do you find your way in?

A lot of theatrical techniques have been created to answer these questions. Suzuki, Viewpoints, running around in trainings pretending to be animals. All these can help an actor release inhibitions, focus energy, and find a way into a role. So can Meisner or the Method. Some people cut their hair. Some change how they dress, or grow a beard. Fake accents can help, or figuring out your character's favorite type of tea. Collages, Pinterest boards, or playlists. Everyone has a way that works for them, and it can be any combination of things, so long as it gets the job done.

The first playlist I remember making was in 2011 for a Jacobean play I worked on—lots of blood and sex and metaphysical grappling. In other words, I had a lot of options. In the end, my playlist opened with XTC's "Dear God" which felt pretty much perfect.

On my way to rehearsals I would listen to it, and when I studied my lines, and at odd times of the day—because it kind of got under my skin. That playlist ended up anchoring me enough in the world of the play that getting back into it for a rehearsal was quick and easy, even when I was tired and it was the end of a long day.

Photo by  diloz  via Flickr, used under a  Creative Commons license  (CC BY 2.0).

Photo by diloz via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).


In 2013, when I was cast as Desdemona in Real Live Theatre's first show, The Tragedy of Othello, I got cracking on an epic collection of playlists: one for each character and one for the play as a whole.

One of the challenges when acting in any play with "Tragedy" built into the title is not endgaming your performance. Many plays with gory endings don't start out that way (thinkRomeo and Juliet). Things may be tough at the beginning, but they're not nearly as bad as they're going to be by the end.

In The Tragedy of Othello, the characters aren't feeling tragic when the play opens. Iago may be envious, Roderigo may be sad, and Desdemona's dad may not be happy about her marriage. But the main thing is we start off with lovers and a wedding and the promise of a jolly old war—which is usually written as quite good fun for Shakespearean characters, unless they're in a history play.

The arc of Othello works because the characters don't know what's going to happen. The suspense comes from the fact that, while the characters are totally ignorant of their fate, the audience knows that Othello, Desdemona, and everyone around them are in danger. Iago's soliloquies give the audience a glimpse of the lengths he is willing to go to, and they are forced to watch the tragedy unfold.

During rehearsals, we talked a lot about how to avoid emotional endgaming because, seriously, it's hard to jump from a romantic dance number, to being murdered by your husband, to the director clapping and saying, "Okay, everyone, let's start at the top of the show!" Suddenly you have to be happy and laughing and wildly in love all over again, not thinking how it's all going to end in tears.

For me, listening to my Desdemona playlist was invaluable in navigating my emotional journey. I listened to it so many times that in the end I knew it like a piece of choreography. I could bounce from being killed, to being kissed, to being kick-ass again. Each step of my journey became part of a dance that could be put back together in a completely different order, depending on how our rehearsal time was broken down. From waiting for Othello to come and kill me (Lenka's "Live Like You're Dying"), to hopping up from the pile of corpses to nestle in my husband's arms at the end of a long day (Nick Drake's "Northern Sky"), I might rewind yet again, all the way back to our wedding reception/victory party (Smashmouth's "Can't Get Enough Of You Baby").


If you want to integrate playlist-making into your own rehearsal process, here are 3 tips to get you started:

1. Be open. If you're having trouble shedding your initial perceptions of character or story, playlisting can shake things up and get you out of your head. Sure, you might be doing The Taming of the Shrew in full Elizabethan costume and period makeup, desperately trying to remember everything your dramaturg told you about how to pronounce your lines. But that doesn't mean you don't put some Rihanna on your playlist. That would just be crazy.

The most surprising connections between characters can occur to you when you figure out what songs they have in common. Take The Margaret Project: who'd have guessed that Queen Margaret and the Duke of York would share Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer"? And King Henry and the Duke of Suffolk both getting Marilyn Monroe's "I Wanna Be Loved By You"? So crazy it works!

2. Be alert. Inspiration strikes at the strangest times. You may be in the car, in a store, or at a rodeo. The perfect song might be released during rehearsals. Or maybe you'll hear some oldie and it will hit you in a new and perfect way. Make a note and add that sucker into the mix stat. (Too bad you can't travel forward in time for your playlist though, otherwise Labrinth's "Jealous" would have been in my Othello playlist. Obviously.)

3. Be yourself. If your playlist is to be of any use, choose songs you genuinely connect to. It's tempting to try to play it cool and shun those songs on your mp3 player that would cause you to shrivel up and die of embarrassment if anyone ever found them. But, guess what? Nobody has to hear your rehearsal playlist. Not ever. Go ahead and take your newfound vulnerability into the rehearsal room to share with your castmates. That's cool. That's the point. But no-one ever has to know that you got there by listening to Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" on repeat.

Image by  xkcd , used under a  Creative Commons license  (CC BY NC 2.5).

Image by xkcd, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY NC 2.5).

"Yes, but it won’t be the same will it?"

RLT has been in rehearsal mode for quite some time. Since closing our wonderful run of "The Lion & The Clown" in September, we have been alternating months with work on the brand new "Queen Margaret Project" (watch a rehearsal update here) and our new version of "The Lion & The Clown" (watch us develop our first tour here), as well as putting up two House Plays. The monthly change of gears has been very useful in keeping us on our toes. Our work feels new, born over and over again, knowing that soon we will throw ourselves right back into a familiar and yet completely different world, like revisiting an old dream.

In our exploration of these two alternating worlds, the most useful thing we can do for each other is watch the work. Some of us play the scene, while the rest of us "play" the audience. 

I came across this piece by Sarah Frankcom, Artistic Director of Manchester's Royal Exchange. Going beyond the idea of the audience as a scene partner, she calls on the audience as collaborator, informing not only the actors but the production as a whole. She believes that the audience has partial ownership of the performance, which is hard to contest, as it is, and should always be, for them.

In a list of memories of differing audience reactions to a production of As You Like It at the Exchange, Frankcom remembers "the group of young people visiting the Exchange for the first time, who agreed with their youth leader that if they weren’t enjoying As You Like It, they could leave at the interval. At the end of the second half, they asked me if the same show would be on tomorrow. When I said yes, one of them said very seriously: “Yes but it won’t be the same will it? Because we won’t be there.”

I hope that you will join us, collaborators, at our performances of The Lion & The Clown (August 1st, Gateway City Arts) and The Queen Margaret Project Staged Reading (September 25-27, also at Gateway City Arts). It will not be the same without you. Stay tuned for info on how to buy tickets.

Here is a link to the full article:

Until next time,

Kate Hare

Audience A-ha! Moments

A couple of weeks ago, Toby Vera Bercovici's Adult Acting Class culminated with a public "sharing" of the scenes they had been working on, and I was lucky enough to be able to go.  It was really exciting to watch a different group of actors, who I don't see every week, using the same tools and strategies RLT uses.  As an actor, one of the biggest challenges for me is not getting stuck in a rut. Once I think I understand something, it becomes hard for me to think about it in any other way.  So, as I was watching these new people exploring these common concepts, my brain was making all these connections about what they were doing and what we've been doing in training.  I call this an "Audience A-ha! Moment". I was understanding in new ways, and I was as excited to practice these new concepts in my own artistic work as I was excited to be watching the fantastic scenes the students were presenting.

The other cool thing about this sharing was that the scenes were all performed twice, but by different people.  Each scene partner pair had a different technique to focus on--objectives, voice, status, etc-- but since there were fewer techniques than pairs, some of these were doubled up as well.  This resulted in the audience getting to witness multiple interpretations of the text and of the strategies.  From the audience, I could see the ways different pairings had made different choices about the same scene, and how everyone responded to each others' work in their respective scenes. The second time I saw a scene or a technique, I would also think back and notice something from the previous scene I hadn't noticed before.

This is what Real Live Theatre is all about.  The whole point of being an ensemble-based company that trains year-round is to continually exchange ideas, techniques, and perspectives.  That's why we're so excited to expand our offerings into classes like this Adult Acting Class, and our upcoming Teen Acting Workshop this summer, and why we love making connections with local artists and arts organizations.  RLT believes that sharing ideas and stories makes our art richer and more inclusive, and we look forward to many more Audience A-ha! Moments in the future.


Lucy Gouvin
RLT Member

Confessions of a Classical Actor

Confessions of a Classical Actor: I hate Shakespeare, too.

(is now the best time to tell you that I’m playing Queen Margaret in Real Live Theatre’s new Shakespearean play about Queen Margaret?)

Monica Giordano in  Macbeth  with The Bay Colony Shakespeare Company photo by Jack Holder

Monica Giordano in Macbeth with The Bay Colony Shakespeare Company photo by Jack Holder

            I am a sympathetic non-breather, so basically, if you stop breathing, so do I. This makes it really hard to be around, for example, free divers (but only when they’re diving) and actors. Actors are the worst breathers. Which is odd, because characters are so full of breath.

            Most of the time, when people tell me Oh I hate Shakespeare, I say Oh, I do too.           

            Which is weird, right? Because as a professional classical actor, as a director, as a voice coach, as a human on this earth, it’s weird for me to hate Shakespeare. But I really do.

            Or rather, I hate the bullshit way we talk about him. Why do you love Shakespeare?
            I love him because of the beauty of his language.
            I love him because no one else has so captured the essence of humanity.
            I love him because of the power of his stories.


The language isn’t beautiful. My bounty is as boundless as the sea. My love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite. Ok, fine, that’s really, really beautiful. You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate, as reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize as the dead carcasses of unburied men that do corrupt my air, I banish you.

Ok, someone please tell me what about that is beautiful. Structurally, sure- but when spoken aloud, I can’t really find the beauty in the image and smell of dead rotting carcasses. The language is sometimes beautiful. Sometimes, when a character is talking about something beautiful (love) they do it in a beautiful way (my bounty is as boundless as the sea). But most other times, the language is not beautiful- it calls up images that are raw and base and ok, honestly gross.

Alright and really, no one else has captured the essence of humanity? Where did we go wrong? Why is a really old, white man the only one who has “captured” humanity. I am honestly not a huge fan of David Mamet, but are we saying that there is no semblance of humanity in any of his plays? Or in Sarah Ruhl’s, or Yazmina Reza/s, or Duncan MacMillian's? Did George Bernard Shaw really have no clue?

And on top of that, Shakespeare’s stories are not his. He stole them. He took existing work, and adapted it, and changed it, and sometimes, as with Richard III, really messed up historical perception. The Montagues and the Capulets were actual historical political parties in the 12th century that had become folklore by the time Shakespeare decided to commandeer them. It would be a bit like me deciding to write the story of Tristan and Isolde today, and 451 years from now, people giving me the credit for inventing the story (Sorry, Wagner).

I hate this idea we have of Shakespeare— this untouchable playwright, who wrote such beautiful stories about the human condition.

So when someone tells me Oh I hate Shakespeare, I say Oh me too. But I love his plays.

from  Romeo & Juliet,  directed by Monica Giordano, photo by Keith Toffling

from Romeo & Juliet, directed by Monica Giordano, photo by Keith Toffling

His plays are the easiest to perform, to direct, because they are simple, they are good. Characters say what they mean, and mean what they say. His characters don’t require backstory: the actor playing King Henry doesn’t need to know what King Henry had for breakfast, the actor needs to know the lines. Because Shakespeare didn’t write “characters.” He wrote real people, who sometimes speak beautifully, but who usually speak grossly. He didn’t write the “most real” real people- he wrote people who are simply real, who are so simply real that they don’t have to prove it. And because he didn’t write original stories, he could just follow the people, without using them as pawns in order to establish a world.

Please, please don’t tell me you hate Shakespeare unless you have seen a production where his writing isn’t regarded as sacred, where his words aren’t treated with reverence, where his characters are played as people, because otherwise you haven’t seen Shakespeare; you don’t know him.

Monica Giordano in  A Midsummer Night’s Dream  with UMass, photo by Jon Crispin

Monica Giordano in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with UMass, photo by Jon Crispin

I love Shakespeare’s plays because they are easy. You don’t have to play them: they play you.

And so, when we are in rehearsals for our new Shakespeare play, following Queen Margaret through the histories, I just have to let go. I just have to find the breath and breathe it.

Of course, this makes things very hard. I said earlier that actors make the worst breathers, and it’s true. We like to pull back, to keep our breath shallow, because if we give in, if we breath deeply and vulnerably, we get swept up; and if we get swept up, we might get swept away.

Shakespeare is limiting. Shakespeare’s plays are freeing.

Written by Monica Giordano, RLT Company Member 

How Improv Made Me A Better Stage Manager

I am not a performer. I am a stage manager, but I used to study acting with Dan and Ellen Morbyrne (also RLT company members) at The Drama Studio when I was in high school, and I joined The Drama Studio’s comedy improv troupe, The Natural Disasters.

We had a photoshoot. We're fancy.

We had a photoshoot. We're fancy.

Stage managing is all about planning things in advance.  In improv there is no time to plan, you just have to act.  A popular misconception is that improv is about being the funniest. It’s not. Improv is about being the best team player, no matter what. An improviser’s job is to make their scene partner look good.  When your scene partner needs help, you just have to jump on stage and trust that you will know what to do by the time you get there.   You have to be listening and present with the whole team the whole time. If you get too caught up in your own mind and forget to pay attention, you can’t contribute to what’s happening, because you missed it. You must always say “yes, and”, which means you take what your scene partner has set up and build on it.  And you have to be willing to make a complete fool out of yourself if the scene requires it.  Imagine how terrifying this would be for a stage manager who loves taking notes, scheduling, and sending emails.  It was terrifying.  But here’s the amazing part:  you learn to fake it until you make it, because you’re not alone. I remember the exhilarating feeling of looking at the rest of my troupe, thinking “okay, here goes nothing” and running onstage with no idea what I would do when I got there.  I remember the pure adrenaline, feeling like I was jumping off a cliff, but doing it while holding hands with my best friends.  And guess what?  Most of the time, once I got onstage, I did know what to do.  And if I didn’t, my teammates did.  I learned to believe in myself, and to trust my team. I realized that when I work together with a group and a “yes, and” attitude, there’s nothing I can’t handle. We can catch ourselves, even when we’re falling off a cliff.

Every good improv scene includes a mop.

Every good improv scene includes a mop.

Which is good, because sometimes when you’re stage managing, the lights will go out in the middle of a scene.  Or an actor will be too sick to perform.   Or the new performance space isn’t what you expected (this would never happen at RLT, of course).  And instead of shutting down and canceling the show, I know I can say “yes, and”, look around at my team, grab hands, and jump off the cliff together.

Lucy Gouvin
RLT Founding Member and Company Administrator

All about HOUSE PLAY (a play in a house)

As of right now RLT produces 1-2 mainstage shows per year. These projects take an immense amount of planning, rehearsal, resources, and focus. They are the cornerstone of our company. But around the New Year, we started getting anxious to see the faces of our friends, audience, and community more often. We brainstormed ways to bring people together on a smaller scale and after a lot of back and forth of "Have a party!" "Do a tiny play!" "Have a party!" "Do a tiny play!" we decided to combine them and create a recurring RLT event called a House Play (a play in a house).


Happening four times a year, a House Play is a house party featuring a rehearsed reading of a new play. We are lucky enough to have some wonderful playwrights in our company - our first two House Plays featured "The Great Adventures of Samson" and "From the Sea to Somewhere Else" by RLT Member Monica Shea Giordano. Our upcoming spring House Play (Saturday, April 11th) will feature RLT Member Trenda Loftin's "When the System Swallows You," a piece about how incarceration affects whole families.


To prepare for this House Play, we will cast and rehearse the script tomorrow for a few hours, and spend next week wrangling chairs, programs, food from various local sources (Hungry Ghost bread...yup), tasty beverages, and review our performance. We will gather next Saturday at a private home in Northampton, set up, make the food, put out the drinks, and wait for your beautiful selves to come join us.

Also, the best part - House Plays are free. Just come and hang out with us. We will feed you and refresh you and if you're hot we'll bring you a fan and if you're cold we'll give you a group hug. We hope that you'll join the dozens of people in the area who have made attendance at our House Plays a seasonal tradition.

Saturday April 11th
5:30 - 8:30
At a private home in Northampton center
Featuring "When the System Swallows You" by Trenda Loftin
RSVP to with your name and how many people you are! Space is limited. We will email you back with a confirmation and address.
Donations are gratefully accepted.

See you there! Check back here and on our Facebook for updates on all RLT events and hangs.


-Kate Hare


Why Study Shakespeare?

For the month of March, RLT has been delving into four of Shakespeare’s histories (Henry VI parts 1-3 and Richard III) as we investigate the character of Queen Margaret of Anjou and develop our new play following her life.  Some of us at RLT have loved Shakespeare for decades; others are relatively new to the Bard’s work. That led us to ask the question, why should we study Shakespeare?

This question is certainly well known to anyone who has been forced to read Romeo and Juliet for an English class.  The language is confusing, the puns don’t make sense, and you’ve heard the story a million times elsewhere.  Is this required reading just a mindless, meritless attachment to the classics? As a student, I’ve certainly felt that way from time to time.  But I can’t overstate how, as an artist, I’ve found a deep, meaningful connection with these words written so long ago.  To me, the answer is clear: of course we should study Shakespeare.  Let me share with you a few of the reasons why I believe this.

Shakespeare’s work teaches us the power of words. What other author can boast inventing over 1700 words and phrases that we use every day? Shakespeare shows us that language is evolving, not stagnant, and a tool, not an obstacle.  I challenge anyone to read Shakespeare and not fall in love with the individual words, even if you can’t make sense of the narrative.  

Shakespeare’s plays are among the most performative texts.  The words demand to be spoken, and they actually show the actor how to say them right.  By following iambic pentameter, alliteration, and other rhetorical devices, Shakespeare’s words indicate which words should be stressed, when to pause, and how to feel as you’re saying them.  He gives his actors consonants to spit in rage, and long, descriptive paragraphs to put the actor in the exact right emotional state. Like any good artist, Shakespeare knew when to break his own rules, and sometimes violated iambic pentameter in order to shock the audience and the actors at the right moment.  Shakespeare understood that a play is not a novel, it is a performance and requires specific techniques in order to deliver its full power, which is something contemporary playwrights can still learn from.

Shakespeare’s stories and characters are timeless.  In RLT’s first production, The Tragedy of Othello, we brought this classic story into the modern day and set it in the United States military.  During this process, all of us were shocked to see how well the same themes Shakespeare was writing about then applied to our lives today. Of course, variants of Shakespeare’s stories and characters have appeared since then, maybe in more readily relatable ways.  But I don’t think this should mean that we ignore Shakespeare’s version. We need different perspectives on the same issues, and Shakespeare’s ideas might be very different from those of a modern writer, but both are valid in our quest to answer these universal questions.  Having these common stories that people can update and adapt enables artists around the world to have a conversation with each other spanning decades.  This couldn’t be done with a modern play, because the human race hasn’t had enough time to sit with them, think about them, and react to them. His plays are multilayered and complex, which allows you to come back to the same stories over and over, finding new discoveries each time.

I’m so excited that RLT has decided to pursue this innovative project about the life of Margaret, one of Shakespeare’s best-written female characters.  We’ll keep you posted on how the process goes!

Lucy Gouvin
RLT Founding Member    

Untitled Margaret Project

Hello friends & followers of RLT’s Blog!

It is very exciting for me to begin work on the Queen Margaret Project. I have long longed for some kind of relaxed, slow-cooking creative stew of collaboration, rather than the 20 minute meal type of process I’m so used to in the semi-professional and community theatres for which I usually work.* Even though the QMP does have a couple of clear deadlines (Fall 2015 for the reading of the adaptation, and Spring 2016 for the full production), all I feel is its spaciousness. To fill in our readers, company member Dan Morbyrne approached me several months ago with the idea to co-create a play about Queen Margaret, based on the four plays of Shakespeare’s in which she appears, (Henry VI Parts I, II, and III, and Richard III), which I would then direct.

Margaret of Anjou was one of history’s great female powerhouses, and Shakespeare certainly seems to have fallen in love with her.

Our first step was to do a close read of all of the plays, and then to engage in dramaturgical research to learn about the actual life of Queen Margaret. Our job now is to come up with prompts that engage our ensemble’s creativity, so that by the time we sit down to create our script in July, we have reams of excellent material from which to choose. Once we begin rehearsals for the full production in, say, October or November, the hope is that our ensemble so fully understands this play and its characters, and feels so much agency in its creation, that the process should be easy. (Well, ‘easy’ is a relative term. As ‘easy’ as it ever is.)

To give you the tiniest taste of our work: One day, actors brainstormed a list of words, themes, and ideas that recur throughout the plays. Dan and I then created a shortlist,


(It must be a comedy, huh?)

The actors, who have all been assigned one to three characters to champion and research and love throughout the exploration process, came up with gestures for each of these words for one of their characters. We shared them with one another, took some time to all learn the ones that really stood out to us, played with juxtaposing different sequences, and decided to have Warwick spend some time creating a puppet show about treason.

This is just one of many exercises we have engaged in and will continue to engage in over the next seven months, as we work toward creating this brand new play using only text from Shakespeare, (the four aforementioned plays, plus maybe some guest appearances from Romeo & Juliet, Antony & Cleopatra, and who knows what else), and our own imaginations.

Happy creating!

Most sincerely,

Toby and everyone at RLT

*Not to put down that type of work. A deadline, a time crunch, can be a very effective tool for creativity and problem-solving.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

At RLT meetings, trainings, and hangs, the topic of authenticity in performance comes up quite often. Stemming from the study of Authentic Movement, developed originally by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Authenticity as we discuss it deals with fearlessness of being seen.

Recently I revisited Anne Bogart's essay "Embarrassment," which appears in her famed book "A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre." In it she says that embarrassment is the greatest obstacle an actor must conquer in order to authentically connect with other humans. She describes performance as a great leap into a void, with no guarantees of success. Without the leap, though, the performance is tame and disconnected. My favorite quote from the essay, which I have written down on a scrap of paper in my room, is this: "The mind is always out to ambush the process. The discoveries and breakthroughs happen when you successfully manage to get out of your own way."

As we go forward in our exploration of Queen Margaret, I keep this concept of positive embarrassment in mind. To take great risks in order to tell the truth is frightening. But the reward is simple. Whether on stage or in day to day life, authenticity allows us to be truly seen. As storytellers, that is the best we can hope for.

Thanks to Brown University, you can read Anne Bogart's full essay here:

Keep it real,


Behind the Scenes: Compositions

At Real Live Theatre, we're big believers in revisiting our work.  This past week, we've been looking at last year's mainstage, The Lion & The Clown: A Rumi Lovesong for Beauty and the Beast. Specifically, we've been exploring scenes using the composition method, popularized by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau.

Compositions are devised pieces, meaning that a group of artists make them up together, instead of having a playwright and a director dictate what happens onstage.  Frequently, compositions are not literal performances of a scene, but abstract representations of the essence of that scene.  At Real Live Theatre, we give ourselves the extra challenge of making these compositions in under ten minutes, so that we share ideas quickly and make decisions efficiently.  It's better to see lots of ideas quickly instead of spending a lot of time on something that might not work.

Compositions are helpful for theatre artists because it is an exercise in breaking the scene down to its simplest parts.  What do you need in order to tell the story?  What's the most important moment to get across?  And how can you use the tools available to you as an actor (like voice, spatial relationship, timing, repetition, shape, stillness, motion) to get those ideas across to an audience?

A final composition may not look anything like the scene you started with, and that's okay.  The point is to change how you think about the scene.  Sometimes we like a some aspect of a composition so much, that we change the original scene in order to incorporate it.  That's why compositions are a great tool for an ensemble theatre company like Real Live Theatre. Based on the ideas of all the individuals, we can come up with a whole new way of approaching a scene!

Keep reading regularly for more behind the scenes stories!

Lucy Gouvin
Founding Member, Company Administrator

Moving and Shaking

This week we spent a little longer than usual on the training exercises of Tadashi Suzuki. His movement techniques are some of the most challenging for actors, and the most rewarding. We are currently planning a RLT Training Workshop with a segment on Suzuki. Stay in touch with us on our Classes page, our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find out when you can join us!

A Love Letter for RLT

As Company Administrator, from time to time I have to fill out forms and applications describing what makes our company unique.  And usually on these applications, I don’t have very much space to answer, so I have to write an abbreviated version. But I’d like to write my whole answer here.

Real Live Theatre is unique because first and foremost, we are a collection of people.  We are people who care about each other, who make a safe space for each other to grow emotionally and artistically, who do the hard work even though it’s hard.  We often joke that we’re married to each other, and it’s kind of true.  RLT members have to support each other on our worst days.  We’re in it for the long haul, and so we work on our relationships every day.  We make our decisions by consensus, because every person is an important part of our company.  We believe that people can’t make art if they don’t feel safe and supported, so we create an environment to ensure that happens.

RLT has a unique training regimen designed to strengthen and support each other.   The first hour is always the same, a combination of yoga, Suzuki method, and Viewpoints exercises. We believe that this repetition strengthens our bodies and skills.  The next 3 hours of training vary in content week to week, and we try to explore a new concept deeply over the course of several weeks.  This time can also be used to work on our new work (stay tuned for future blogs about this!).  This weekly group meeting is paramount for fostering trust, as well as honing our skills.

Real Live Theatre also does a wide variety performances, from semi-staged readings at our House Plays (a Play in a House), to fully staged shows like The Lion & The Clown, to world premieres like the upcoming Margaret Project, to established classics like The Tragedy of  Othello, to shows at festivals like Hand Grenades.  All these shows have one thing in common: none could have been done the same way with any other group of people. Our supportive community and dedicated training regimen fosters a company that makes work that’s brave, relevant, and unapologetically honest.  I can’t imagine being happier than I am with this group of people.  I can’t imagine making more satisfying work than the work RLT does.  And I can’t imagine another company that works like we do.

Happy Valentine’s Day, RLT.  So glad we got married.

Lucy Gouvin
Founding Member, Company Administrator

Rethinking Voice

Here’s one thing we love: training. We gather once a week to train, meaning we stretch, do some yoga, get warm, and devote three hours to our favorite performance techniques and developing new work. Last year we focused very much on the physical side of performance, regularly visiting the practices of Tadashi Suzuki, Anne Bogart, Jacques Lecoq, and others.

Monica Giordano

Monica Giordano

RLT company member Monica Giordano spent last summer in Plymouth performing with Bay Colony Shakespeare Company in two productions. Upon her return to training (we were also in production for The Lion & The Clown), she noticed “you are all brilliant with your bodies, but can I lead some voice work for us?”

Thus began a great integration of voice work into our routine, and it has helped each of us tremendously. Having studied with both Kristin Linklater and Patsy Rodenberg, the great masters of voice for actors, Monica has become an invaluable resource for our company. She favors Rodenberg’s technique, and is on her way to becoming a certified voice coach.

Monica using voice technique in "From the Sea to Somewhere Else", which she also wrote.

Monica using voice technique in "From the Sea to Somewhere Else", which she also wrote.

Monica offers private voice coaching for actors, or anyone who likes to communicate with their voice. I can honestly say that working with her over the past few months has improved how I communicate on and off stage. For more information on booking, visit or go to the TRAINING tab above.

I probably should have let Monica write this herself, but I wanted to make sure her praises were adequately sung. Monica – you are a star!

Until next time,


Financing Theatre

We came across an article this week about a theatre in England that is taking creative ticket pricing to the next level: by letting audiences decide their ticket price after they see the show. This is a first for a major theatre company and could be the next trend in ticketing, especially for companies trying to grow their audience or attract new theatregoers.

Here's the article:

Do you think this is a good idea? How would you respond to this kind of incentive? Let us know in the comments.

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Welcome to our blog!

2014 was a very exciting year for RLT. Here are just a few reasons why:

~ In February we added three new company members!
~ In April we produced the world premiere of 
Hand Grenades by RLT member Monica Shea Giordano at the Ithaca Fringe Festival, which won the Audience Favorite Award!
~ In September we produced our second mainstage and another world premiere,
The Lion & The Clown: A Rumi Lovesong for Beauty & the Beast by RLT member Ellen Morbyrne, at the Northampton Community Arts Trust Building and at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke!
~ In November we hosted our first House Play featuring Monica Shea Giordano's
The Great Adventures of Samson!

 2015 is looking very bright for us. We are beginning our nine month exploration of Shakespeare’s Queen Margaret this week, along with two wonderful Artists-in-Residence, Megan McGrath and Julianne McGourty. We are also hosting our second House Play on Saturday, teaching a Real Live Workshop on January 31st, presenting a Spring Acting Workshop starting February 9 taught by acting coach and RLT member Toby Bercovici, and continuing to develop The Lion & The Clown throughout the year in preparation for touring.

You can get a sneak peek into our process and upcoming events by checking back here! We’ll be posting updates every Friday from company members, stories, pictures, secrets, and more.

This cannot be said enough – THANK YOU to everyone who supported us in 2014. Without you, RLT would still just be a wonderful “what if” in our founding members’ heads.

Until next time,

Kate Hare
RLT member