Communique: Make Trouble Shakespeare | "Romeo & Juliet" + "Love's Labour's Lost"

Jul 27, 2018

Make Trouble works at the intersection of three theatrical elements: ensemble-building, devising, and Shakespeare. The group presents the final performances of Romeo & Juliet and Love's Labour's Lost this weekend.

Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director Amanda McRaven spoke with us about how Make Trouble creates fresh Shakespeare with young actors. Listen above, and find our extended conversation below. Performances are free.

ROMEO & JULIET

  • Saturday, July 28 @ 2:00 pm. Cameron Art Museum

LOVES LABORS LOST

  • Friday July 27 @ 7:00 pm. Southport NC, Franklin Square Stage
  • Saturday July 28 @ 5:30 pm. UNCW Lumina Festival: SRO/Black Box Theatre (Cultural Arts Building)
  • Sunday July 29 @ 2:00 pm. Cameron Art Museum

Amanda McRaven: My name is Amanda McRaven, I'm the co-artistic director and co-founder of Make Trouble, which is a theater training program for college students and recent graduates in ensemble building, Shakespeare, and repertory performance.

Gina: You live in Los Angeles, you come out here to Wilmington to do some of this work?

Amanda McRaven
Credit WHQR/gg

Amanda: I do, yeah. The company was founded with my colleagues, Thadd McQuade and Colleen Sullivan, who are east coast people. So we meet each summer and we were looking for a home. We used to be in Connecticut and then we were in Virginia and then we had a lot of fantastic students that came from UNCW. And so we connected with their mentor Christopher Marino and told him we were looking for a new home and he opened the doors and we are here because of Chris and Alchemical Theater and it's an amazing place to be.

Gina: How do you connect with these students and recent graduates?

Amanda: A lot of it is alumni network, because it's such an intensive program. It's five weeks, four weeks of intense training and rehearsals, and then a week of repertory performance, which is pretty unique in the country. So we have a vast alumni network who puts the word out and so we have a lot of students who are here because they went to college with alumni. And then just your basic advertising to theater departments around the country, social media, etc. Lots of locals which we're really, really enjoying. There's not a lot of training programs in the southeast and we're really grateful to provide that niche. There's a lot in the northeast, there's a lot of opportunities if you live up there, but southern kids it can be cost prohibitive. And so we really like providing this opportunity for this part of the world.

Right now we have just finished our four weeks of training and they are right now finishing up rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet, which will open tonight at 7:00 in the Cultural Arts building. And so we are transitioning from training into performance week. They are doing, as I said, Romeo and Juliet and then Love's Labour's Lost is the other show that they're doing and so they alternate days. Tomorrow at 5:00 PM in the Cultural Arts building, SRO theater, they'll open Love's Labour's Lost. And so they spend this week using all the training, using all the work that we've done all summer, to perform the rigor of repertory performance because a big part of our program is to teach rigor. If you want to be a professional actor and you want to work in the theater, there's a lot more to it than just memorizing your lines and auditioning and part of that is performing two plays at once.

Gina: Are all these performances open to the public?

Amanda: Absolutely, yep. At maketrouble.org, there is a link that says "now playing" under 2018 and you'll see all the shows listed there. It's also on social media. Make Trouble on Facebook. We've got it there. And Alchemical theater on Facebook has the info as well.

Gina: How did you get interested in working with these young people?

Amanda: I started my career in Shakespeare at the American Shakespeare Center when I was a wee thing of 24 years old. And that's where I met Thadd McQuade. I'd actually known him from earlier in my life, but we both worked for the ASC and then while I was at ASC, that's when I also met Colleen Sullivan and our lives took....you know our careers, took all kinds of different paths. We've all worked internationally, worked all over the country and all kinds of theater. But it felt important to us to come back together to create something to pass on what we've learned. The theater landscape is changing right now. It's becoming...it's fighting for survival and I mean that in the best way. So when you've got Netflix and you've got youtube, theater has to reimagine itself, which is why you have Broadway during all these giant Disney musicals because they're trying to keep audiences coming to live theater. So one way is go huge spectacle. The other that we're seeing a trend is to create really imaginative work. Like if you've seen Peter and the Star Catcher or something like that, or Fun Home--these shows that recently have had a lot of popularity. They work in this space of imagination as opposed to realism, which is what you would have seen on the stages until most of the time until about 10 years ago. So  we wanted to train students in that because a lot of theater departments are still teaching older methods of theater or not training them for what's happening right now. Or they're just, they're focusing on film and TV. And we want our students to have a career in film and TV, but if they're interested in theater, we'd like to show them what it's like, what it means to create it yourself into invest your life in it. Because there's not only one way to make theater and we don't want students to think that you have to go to New York and audition for Broadway, otherwise you have to give up your life in the theater.  So we're trying to fill a niche that a lot of theater departments don't have by training ensemble and devising and using Shakespeare's source material. So it felt important for the three of us to create a space to pass on what we've learned at this point in our careers.

Gina: Why should people go to the theater nowadays?

Amanda: That is such a good question. Because it's live. There's a live exchange of energy between people. Storytelling. Storytelling is our oldest art form and there's a primal thing that happens in the room when you're sharing space together and testifying and witnessing and the best theater does that. So ideally you want your audience to go, "Oh my God, I didn't even know that could happen in a room." nd you know, film and TV and the Internet in in some ways try to make us obsolete, but it also gave us a great gift because people now want that live thing. Like they want to experience things like Sleep No More or Carnival or Circus  or street performance. We are attracted to these things where there's other humans in front of us doing magical things that seem really mysterious to us. So absolutely. It's less what I'm saying. It's a revolution now. Really trying to figure out how to contact other human beings and alive way.

Gina: I really like you Amanda. Will you be my friend?

Amanda: Yesss!

Gina: Yeah, it's to me it's a lot like how special it is when you receive a handwritten piece of mail. There was a little space, there was a little bit of time where it was like, oh wow, email, cool, wow, I'm getting emails, whew, this is great. And now it's like I got a postcard from a friend who wrote on this paper and put a stamp on it and I have it now in my hand and it's real and it was touched in another place. And, and it's like that with theater I think, where I'm in this space and anything could happen and there's live breathing people and they are right now doing something and I'm here with that.

Amanda: I'm totally with you. I like that metaphor. We're like a postcard that you get.

Gina: You just said that you're focused on ensemble building and devising and Shakespearian text. Is this, is it always about Shakespeare?

Amanda: Yeah. So far it is, yeah.

Gina: And will you just tell me, what does that mean-for listeners who are not involved in theater at all?

Amanda: We are at the intersection of those three things. So teaching students how to create as an ensemble is feels like a very diaphanous concept and it is difficult to articulate, but what were, what we have trained and work our lives. I have a running ensemble in Los Angeles that I've been running for 10 years. There are methods that are strategies, their rehearsal techniques. There are ways of moving and working in the space that create a sense of unity. That create a sense of "we're in this together," which is not true of every theater experience a lot. You get hired and you have your part and you do the job. So we're trying to create students to really be an ensemble. Not just people together doing a play, but like, "okay, we've got each other's back. I'm listening. I know how to listen to you. I know how to be aware of everything that's happening in this space. I know how to be aware of the space that I'm in as well as my fellow ensemble mates."

I -and Thadd- are hugely influenced by Anne Bogart City Company, where we both trained. So a big basis is teaching viewpoints, which is just a system of letting actors become aware of their bodies and the space around them.  So we're teaching ensemble in that way. We're training in the room improvisationally to really know what it means to to be aware of each other. Devising is just the concept of walking to her room, going "what we're going to make, we're gonna make it together. I, as a director have not made any preconceived notions. I've done what I need to do as a director to understand the play. And of course I do have some ideas, but I am the guide. So everything that we're going to create is going to come from your own ideas." So the first thing we do is throw the students up on like the first or second night of the program, and they have to run the show off book, making choices, not just saying their lines, but making choices. So a lot of what you'll see if you come this week will be ideas that we saw on that first night that then we've developed together over the course of four weeks.

And then Shakespeare, we feel like it's also necessary in the 21st century to do something with Shakespeare.  If you know Shakespeare and you love Shakespeare and you've seen a lot of Shakespeare, you've probably seen the same play over and over and over again, or it's been fine, or you've gone, you've drank your wine on a picnic blanket, right? These are all great. But our culture has these conceptions of what Shakespeare is supposed to be. We actually think that there's a huge vibrancy to it that's been lost. And so when we put devising and Shakespeare together, we're allowing students the opportunity to open up the text to have it be exactly what they want it to be. So you're going to see gender bending way beyond what you'd see in another production. You're going to see pop. We have Kendrick Lamar music in ours and Janell Monaáe. So there's no, there is no clinging to anybody else's notions of what Shakespeare is supposed to be. It's using it as a live space for who these people are today and finding their way in. So it's just the beginning. It's not a reverency for the text of Shakespeare itself; it's a reverence for these awesome stories he created. And then what can we do with them?

Gina: And I'm going to look up the schedule so you don't need to worry about saying that right now, but what can audiences expect to see in these two productions?

Amanda: Well, Love's Labour's Lost, if you don't know it, I highly recommend you come, especially if you love Shakespeare. It's not a play you're going to get to see that often. It's a ridiculous comedy that Shakespeare wrote in order to make fun of the ideas of courtly love. So as the title suggests, everybody falls in love. They do what they think you're supposed to do when you're a lover, and then it doesn't work out the way you want it to. One of the greatest endings Shakespeare ever wrote, as far as I'm concerned. It's not a play that ends as a comedy or a tragedy--it's somewhere in the middle, which I love. So you're gonna see something unexpected just in the play itself and you're going to see, like I said, a lot of women on stage playing male characters or gender neutral characters. You're going to see lots of dance and music, contemporary costumes. 

You're going to see alley staging for Love's Labour's Lost. So the audience is going to be on both sides of the action. So part of the way we're trying to achieve liveness to get it as immersive as possible with the audience and to develop that intimacy. It's going to be highly physical. Both Romeo and Juliet and Love's Labour's Lost. So I direct Loves and Thad directs Romeo and Juliet. That's how we split it up each year with one of us taking a show. You're going to see live music. You'll see lots of singing in both shows. You're going to see really intense text work. It's not like you're going to see kids who you can't understand. These are really, really hard workers who've, who've done a really good job to make the text clear.

We are in a variety of different spaces this year. We're at Southport, we're at SRO Theater, we're at Kenan Auditorium, we're at Cameron Art Museum. So we wanted to kind of reach a lot of different communities in Wilmington. I think Romeo and Juliet is staged more in a thrust not in an alley. And it's going to be similar. We try to, again, release students' conceptions of what it means to play a tragedy. Tragedies are tragedies because we didn't think it was going to be a tragedy. So it's been an interesting journey because Love's Labor's Lost is the students walk in going, "we have no idea what this play is about," but walking into Romeo and Juliet going, "oh my God, I know this place so well." And so it's actually similar battles. With Romeo and Juliet, you've got to take away all these preconceptions that we have. With Love's Labour's Lost, you get to invent, but also you've got to be crystal clear or the audience is like, "I don't have any context for this play, I don't understand what you're talking about." So it's been a really, really great journey and we realized the two plays are kind of like flip mirror versions of each other. If Romeo and Juliet got to be the love story it got to be, where it got to be silly and fun and delicious, it might be Love's Labour's Lost.

Gina: And will you tell me some of the music that's being used?

Amanda: The students have taught me a lot because I'm old and I'm so I'm like, "what's a good song here?" And they'll name these songs, and I'll just pull it up on spotify, like, "yeah, that's good." So I would never put a Kendrick Lamar  song in a show just because it's not my cultural knowledge, but it was really important to me as a director of Love's Labour's Lost with a play that has a lot of music and dancing it. Kenneth Branagh did a movie version several years ago that was very music heavy. It's not a great version, but you know, it's okay, you can check it out. But I do feel like music is important to the play and there was many moments where people just say "sing," which you'll often find in comedies. So I wanted it to be songs that would make the actors feel joyful and ecstatic and in love and celebratory. So there's Kendrick Lamar, there's Janell Monáe's song "Pynk." The play is so much about gender and how we navigate our presentation of gender. You have the women who were talking about all the gifts that they were given. The play doesn't pass the Bechdel test, if you know the Bechdel test. There's a whole scene where the women just talk about who the men are and how much they liked them. I cut that scene.  Because I just wanted the women to be able to speak for themselves. Love's Labors Lost - if you're a purist, you are not going to see the "loves" that you're used to seeing. Part of our imagining these plays for right now is to make cuts based on who our actors are and what we can reveal about the text. 

Janell Monáe's song "Pynk," which I love, is part of the show. There's Beyonce ... you put Beyonce on and millennials just open up and stars start shooting out of their head and they all start this beautiful vibrant dancing. It's great. I've been really enjoying them taking me through their musical tastes and then I've got some kids who are like, "let's do 'Pour Some Sugar On Me.'" Or Mr Postman, because there's so many letters in Love's Labour's Lost. I was like, "Mr Postman? Do you even know that song?" They were like, "yeah, that's a good one!" So it's been really, really fun.

We are really in love with being in Wilmington. It's so important to create a space of generosity and love and support and that's what we were looking for for a home, for this program. We're trying to teach the students that theater is a life philosophy. It's a way to live. It's a way to be together, to create, especially in today's world where people are trying to tell us that what's important is to hate each other and to divide each other. We're trying to teach them this really what it actually means to come together in love and to take care of each other. And so the community that you have around that is really important. And just from the moment we got to Wilmington, it was just an amazing outpouring of love.  We like to say, I can't say it on the radio, but "there's no A-holes in Wilmington" is the phrase that we have. There might be some, but we haven't met them yet. We just have constantly experienced this beautiful connection and that's just been really incredible. So we feel like it's an amazing space for what we're trying to do. This is only our second year. Last year we did a mini version of the Cameron Art Museum--just a week. And so this year we're back to our full version, which has been, you know, as it always is, getting something off the ground, again. It is growing pains, but it's been fabulous. It's really been fabulous and we're just looking forward two more years of expanding the program and building audiences because it's also a hard thing to know about. There's so much going on in Wilmington in the summer.

Gina: Amanda?

Amanda: Yeah?

Gina: What does "Make Trouble" mean?

Amanda: So Make Trouble refers to the philosophy that we believe that the most interesting things happen on stage and in life when you're willing to be vulnerable, when you're willing to take risks with each other, when you're willing to try something new, that may absolutely terrify you. So we use the phrase with the students all the time. "Get into more trouble. I see. What you're doing, but it feels a little bit safe. I've seen that before. Let me see you go deeper with each other, so it's interesting." Part of this liveliness we're talking about is making your audience go, "What was that??" and so if you can really get into trouble with each other and try to get out of it together, then the audience is seeing something actually happened on the stage, so that's why we're Make Trouble.

Gina: You gotta get in trouble to have a story.

Amanda: Yeah, absolutely.

Gina: Some people never get in trouble in their life and it's a terrible loss.

Amanda: And so much theater never gets in trouble and you just see what Brooke calls deadly theater, which we've all seen plenty of.