Summers for me are a time of relaxation, travel, occasional acting work, and catching up. This year has turned out quite different; my son is starting to crawl, I’m serving as summer chair again, and I’ve been auditioning for quite a few TV & film projects. The last time I had headshots taken was in grad school four years ago, and I refuse to become one of those theatre professors who continues to use those antiquated black & white shots from when they were 22. My school has been fortunate over the past two years to have all of our production photos taken by one of our very talented students, Ben Meadors. (He is the one who took the amazing shots of Henry and the skull) He graduated this past spring, and he’s moving to NYC tomorrow, so I was lucky enough to squeeze in a quick session yesterday. Here are a few samples:
- Henry crashed our publicity photo shoot (Photo by the absurdly talented Ben Meadors*)
I’m currently directing Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It’s widely considered one of the greatest literary works in the history of human civilization. Most actors want to play the role, and many directors dream of staging it. Aside from the the high expectations, and eager scrutiny, it has been a great pleasure to work on it so far. The play just works. With enduring classics, such as this, my job is mostly to cast it well, make sure the text is heard, and get out of the way of the story. Every variation has been done; every gimmick, every approach, and every bizarre concept has been attempted. And documented.
Except our production. My cast has never been seen together onstage. My designers have never collaborated on this piece. We are wholly unique. This is our version. Our take. Our perspective. And that’s quite exciting.
When I chose to direct this play over 18 months ago, Henry was a mere notion; not even a concept or concrete plan. Why on earth would a new dad tackle second year review for promotion and tenure and this play? The workload has been enormous. The hours of research, preparation and rehearsals will ultimately number in the thousands. This is a project that can be taxing on families – whether it be late night rehearsals or residual stress. Fortunately, I am married to the most patient and compassionate woman in the history of the world. Shakespeare would really like her.
I have been studying this play for over 20 years, finding something new upon each reading. As I get older, different passages and characters take on new relevance. I identify with certain themes and ideas depending on what is happening in my life at the time. I have sought solace in Hamlet’s opening soliloquy. I have used the players’ scenes to teach acting technique. I have collapsed in many an existential panic over “To Be or Not to Be.” I have sobbed uncontrollably in my mentor’s arms while trying to perform the nunnery scene.
Henry’s birth has provided a delightful and invigorating burst of creative inspiration. My perspective has once again shifted. This time magnanimously.
Shakespeare and his wife had three children: Susanna, and the twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died of unknown causes in 1596 at the age of eleven. In 1602, William wrote Twelfth Night, a melancholy comedy about a girl who disguises herself as her lost-for-dead brother. It features a climactic reunion scene of the two siblings that would send nostalgic shivers down the spine of even the most cynical of viewers. Hamlet is also thought to have been written in that same year. I have always imagined that perhaps Twelfth Night was a gift for Judith, and that Hamlet was a eulogy for Hamnet.
The relationships between Hamlet and his parents (Queen Gertrude and the ghost of King Hamlet) are clearer to me and of greater interest. I have tremendous sympathy for the parents and the bond they hold with their son. The enormity of Gertrude’s arc is much more apparent, the dysfunction we find at the start of the play is all the more heartbreaking.
Two years ago, I directed Twelfth Night. This April my production of Hamlet bows before Cleveland audiences. I don’t know if Henry will get to see the play, but I am so grateful that he’s around during its creation.
We had our first read through of Hamlet this week. This is a play that I’ve wanted to direct for over 20 years, and it was a thrilling experience to hear my students speak that brilliant text. The cast has met once a week for the past month and we’ve played theatre games, reviewed scansion techniques, watched Slings and Arrows episodes, and had way too much fun getting to know one another. Next week we dig in and start rehearsing five nights a week. Excited is such a tiny word to describe how I’m feeling.
Next year I’ll be directing Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. It’s yet another dream play to cross off my to-do list. Each and every day I remind my self how lucky I am; this play and playwright contribute greatly to my contentment.
Speaking of sardonic Russian theatre… I’m teaching an acting class this semester Chekhov class – month. We have spent the first month getting reacquainted with the major plays (plus Turgenev’s A Month in the Country), and are gearing up for scene work. The last few weeks of the semester will involve monologues, followed by a mini-production of A Month…
The Department of Theatre & Dance has undergone a lot of changes these past two years. Last year Greg & Jeff revamped the Dance curriculum and this year we’ve completely overhauled Theatre. We divided the major up into track-systems, and I was in charge of the Acting/Directing track. We’ve done a great job at keeping aspects that were working intact, while adding & modifying courses that more accurately reflect the needs of our students. I’m really looking forward to our new Acting IV: Advanced Theatre Styles, a course covering 2,000 years of theatrical forms. While Acting II takes it’s time with covering Modern Realism (one scene and one monologue), Acting IV will be a rollercoaster of fun and variety. I’ll teach in the spring, while adjuncts will cover it in the fall (which allows for the course content to constantly change – we’ve got some exciting potential instructors interested…) For the full program description, visit here. You should also check out this amusing interview I did for the college admissions website:
Henry Heffernan has joined the blogosphere. For all things Baby Heff, please visit: henryheffernan.wordpress.com
The little joker already has more site views than his old man.
Henry Renfroe Heffernan was born on October 29, 2011 at 10:38am at MetroHealth Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. He weighed 7lbs 10oz, and was 20 3/4 inches. Mom was in labor for 23 hours and reenforced her status as the supreme champion of the family.
Henry is home and spending time quality with his family. Parenthood has proved that all the cliches are 100% accurate. I feel like I’m in college again; by which I mean lots of all-nighters, irregular eating schedule and chasing after babes…
Let’s catch up, shall we? I moved yesterday. I open a play on Wednesday. And baby Henry is due in less than 4 weeks.
The first two I am fully capable of comprehending and executing. Number 3 will get a lengthy post, with plenty of cute pictures and sleep-deprived recollections.
The new house is a short walk from campus – a charming little cottage in Berea, with more character than Snow White’s little pals. My 3-minute commute this morning was absolutely brilliant (and yes, weather permitting, I will be walking to school from now on…).
It’s currently a box and furniture depository waiting to be moved & arranged and re-moved & re-arranged at the whim of our creative director (a.k.a. my darling ninth-month pregnant wife). Highlights include: two bathrooms, a fully renovated basement and a basketball hoop.
We open the 3rd Annual New Play Festival this week.
I’m directing a one-act and two 10-minute plays. The one-act is The Last Satyr by Matt Greenfield, who I had way too much fun working with last year while directing his Book XII 1/2. He’s moved ahead several hundred years and sailed over to Rome to tackle organized theatre’s last gasp before the Dark Ages. It’s intelligent, hilarious and bordering on obscene. In other words, the antithesis of that Jane Austen play I directed last spring. The 10-minutes are written by Jamie Farkas, one of my absurdly talented students. She has a knack for zippy dialogue and created an imaginative world we all wish we could inhabit. More info here. Or here.
I continue to work on Hamlet, my second-year review, our curriculum revamp, and assembling various baby products. By which I mean, expect the next update to arrive around Christmas (with maybe a few quick baby pics in 4 weeks).