Williston recently presented our second iteration of the Grum Project, which brings multi-disciplinary artists to campus, and is funded by a generous alumna.
Pitch Slapped, a co-ed a cappella group based at Berklee College of Music in Boston, performed at assembly and lead workshops with singers in the Middle School and Upper School on Feb. 10. See photos of the visit here.
Founded in 2006, the group enjoyed a rapid climb to fame, appearing on NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” twice winning the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella Championship at Lincoln Center in New York City, and appearing on “America’s Got Talent.” Their YouTube video has gotten more than two million views.
Named one of the Top 5 best a cappella groups in the country by USA Today College, Pitch Slapped has toured the U.S. multiple times and won numerous awards for their snappy singing style that combines unique arrangements and incredible vocal virtuosity. Their repertoire contains of a variety of styles ranging from pop, to rock, to R&B.
The team will perform during an assembly, work with the Middle School chorus in the morning, and lead a workshop with Upper School choral groups in the afternoon. For a sample of their tuneful style, check out this video.
At a recent assembly, Visual and Performing Arts Department Head Natania Hume presented this year’s third Williston Working Artist Award to Gabby Record ’17.
Visual and Performing Arts Teacher Steven Berlanga, who leads choral music at Williston, said this about Gabby in nominating her: “Obviously she is a good musician and singer, which she is able to demonstrate at concerts and in rehearsal.
“She deserves this award because of what she does for the ensembles and the community beyond the classroom. She is president of our newly formed (still forming) Williston Student Choir Board, where she oversees the planning and execution of student events and concerts, as well as takes a leadership role in the ensembles.
“She writes and arranges music for our concerts. She is the director of the Wildchords a cappella group, which she does with little to no help from me. She jumps at every opportunity that is even hinted upon to sing and perform. She continues to be a leader in the classroom. She understands the importance of music making so much, that it doesn’t matter what type of music it is. She will give it her full attention and support because she recognizes music, not just by style and popularity, but by quality.
“She deserves this award, not because of the quality of musician that she is, but because of the quality of person that she is and her willingness to support the music making of others.”
Award-winning wildlife photographer, writer, and conservationist Melissa Groo on January 19 will kick off Williston’s 2017 Photographers’ Lecture Series, which brings notable photographers to the Williston campus for a public lecture and in-depth classroom instruction for Williston students.
Groo began her career as a photographer after working in a number of diverse fields, including banking, education, modeling, and silversmithing. A passionate advocate for wildlife and an accomplished technical photographer, she quickly won prestigious assignments for leading photography magazines. She has completed three for Smithsonian Magazine, covering the great sandhill crane migration in Nebraska (March 2014), the rare spirit bear in Brittish Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest (September 2015), and the endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe in Uganda (forthcoming cover story, March 2017).
Her photographs have been published in many magazines, including Smithsonian, Audubon, Outdoor Photographer. Groo has received awards and honorable mentions in national and international photography competitions, including Audubon (Grand Prize winner 2015), Nature’s Best, NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association), Festival de L’Oiseau, Birds as Art, the HBW World Bird Photo Contest, and Nature Photographer Magazine. She shows regularly and her prints are in personal and corporate collections. Her winning Audubon photos were exhibited in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., from 2015-2016.
All of Groo’s photographs are taken in the wild, without any baiting. She feels strongly about the use of ethical practices in the photography of wildlife, and tries her best to disrupt her subjects as little as possible. She created Audubon’s Guide for Ethical Bird Photography with Kenn Kaufman, and she’s advised National Wildlife Magazine and NANPA, as well as the National Audubon Society, on guidelines for ethical photography. She is also a judge for the National Audubon Society and the BigPicture Natural World photo contests.
She writes for several nature photography magazines and teaches photography, as well as maintaining involvement in organizations that promote conservation and ethical photography.
Groo has recently been named recipient of Audubon Connecticut’s 2017 Katie O’Brien Lifetime Achievement Award, which annually recognizes a person who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and commitment to the conservation of birds, other wildlife, and their habitats. She will also receive North American Nature Photography Association’s 2017 Vision Award. This award is given to a photographer every two years in recognition of early career excellence, vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation and education.
Groo worked for years at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, on elephant communication in their Bioacoustics Research Program. She was a research assistant for scientist Katy Payne with The Elephant Listening Project, and spent field seasons in the rainforest of central Africa studying forest elephants in the wild.
“Melissa’s respect, love, and admiration for her animal subjects comes through in work that is stunningly beautiful,” said Williston Visual and Performing Arts Teacher Edward Hing ’77, who coordinates the series. “She brings passion and professionalism to her craft, with the goal of making a positive impact on our dwindling wild places.”
The Photographers’ Lecture series features internationally acclaimed photographers who present and discuss their work to the school and community. Advanced photography students will have the opportunity to participate in a class taught by the photographers preceding the public lecture. Past visiting photographers have included Steve McCurry, known for his National Geographic magazine cover of the girl from Afghanistan, and award-winning sports photographer Damian Strohmeyer.
The free public lecture will take place in the Dodge Room in the Reed Campus Center from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Question: In this interstitial season when the fall play and concerts are complete and spring shows are a long way off, what’s going on in the the arts at Williston?
Answer: The arts are bustling in this “off” season!
Visual and Performing Arts Department Head Natania Hume notes that there is a buzz of activity right now in the arts. Documentary photo students recently took a field trip to MAP Gallery to meet with photographer Tracey Eller. The Caterwaulers, Williston’s male concert chorus, now has a critical mass of 30 voices and with all those basses can hit the low notes (the New Grove Dictionary of Opera defines the bass range as the E below middle C to the E above middle C). Winter dance revs up with student choreographers creating compelling and relevant work, including one celebrating the legacy of Black dancers and choreographers. And visual artists are hard at work starting with compositions in black and white.
“This in-between season is a ripe one for making art at Williston,” said Ms. Hume. “I always think of winter as a time when artists go inward and hunker down to create in earnest.”
There’s no denying it– Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is pretty confusing. Two sets of twins lead to mistaken identities and everyone (characters and audience alike) ends up a little lost. Our production makes things more confusing because almost all of the actors play more than one role. And to add one more layer to the production…all of our actors are playing actors in a theatre troupe that is putting on The Comedy of Errors (anyone who can guess why we made this choice will earn my undying respect for all time). When the theatre opens before each performance, you will have the opportunity to see the troupe warm up, set the stage and may even get a chance to take a picture with them in The Comedy of Errors photo booth.
We want our audience to enjoy this production and have faith that any confusion will ultimately be cleared up. But if you are someone who likes to know what’s going on– we’ve got you covered! Read below to learn more about the characters!
ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE and ANTIPHOLUS OF EPHESUS
These two are twin brothers who were separated at birth by a sea-storm. Both are wealthy and high-status men. One day Antipholus of Syracuse comes to do business in Ephesus which, unbeknownst to him, is the hometown of his twin-brother. This leads to the central plot of the play– everyone mistaking Antipholus of Syracuse for his brother, Antipholus of Ephesus.
DROMIO OF SYRACUSE and DROMIO OF EPHESUS
These two (surprise!) twin brothers are each servant to their respective Antipholus. Their entire job is to do the bidding of their masters. The Dromios complicate the plot by each interacting with the wrong master, infuriating everyone. The Dromios are repeatedly beaten throughout the play. While the stage violence was played for laughs and set the stage for the slapstick comedy of Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges there were, in the original production, some subversive ideas about the complicated relationship between servant and master.
LUCIANA and ADRIANA
Adriana is Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife. She (rightly) suspects him of marital infidelity and is irate about the inequity between the sexes. At the start of the play she is waiting for her husband to come home to eat and ends up bringing the wrong man home to dinner. Luciana is Adriana’s sister and much more content to let power dynamics between the genders alone. Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with her, although Luciana is convinced her brother-in-law has made a pass at her. Scandal ensues!
EGEON and EMILIA
Egeon is the father of our Antipholi. He raised Antipholus of Syracuse and has been searching for his other son for seven years. We meet him upon his arrival in Ephesus, where the Duke (see below) threatens to put Egeon to death because the towns of Ephesus and Syracuse are mortal enemies. Emilia is the Abbes in the Priory we see during the last scene of the play. She has a secret that saves the day!
THE DUKE and THE COURTESAN
The Duke is the leader of Ephesus. Despite sympathy for Egeon, he has to carry out the order to kill him. Typical for Shakespeare’s comedies, The Duke also restores order and balance by the end of the play. The Courtesan is a wealthy, eccentric woman who is the object of Antipholus of Ephesus’ roving eye. She stumbles upon Antipholus of Syracuse and demands a ring he (actually, his brother) stole from her.
After Adriana comes to the conclusion (with help from the Courtesan) that the only excuse for her husband’s behavior is madness, she hires Dr. Pinch to perform an exorcism. It doesn’t work and Ephesus is arrested.
BALTHAZAR, ANGELO, SECOND MERCHANT
Balthazar is the owner of a tavern where Antipholus of Ephesus dines. After Ephesus is locked out of the house, Balthazar implores him to act calmly so he does not ruin his reputation. Angelo is a local merchant who owes money to the Second Merchant. He has made a chain for Antipholus of Ephesus which he accidentally gives to, you guessed it, Antipholus of Syracuse. This leads to more confusion, jealousy, and arrests.
While not written into Shakespeare’s play, we’ve added musicians to our production to enhance the wackiness of the story. Some characters have instruments closely connected to their characters, some instruments are used to help make the stage combat evenmore silly. Without a doubt, though, the musicians have grown into a critical part of our telling of the story.
I mentioned collaboration in my last post. This is, truly, one of my favorite parts about being a theatre person. Tech Week for The Comedy of Errors began on Saturday and the power of collaboration was on full display.
For weeks the actors have been rehearsing, the technicians have been building the set, and lighting designer Charles Raffetto and Costume Designer Ashley Tyler have been creating unique looks for the show. While we were working separately all of us had our eyes on the same prize: creating a cohesive, outlandish, ridiculous production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Our job was to stay true to Shakespeare and his influences, while bringing something new and fun to the table. Yesterday we got to see if our individual work came together in all the right ways. Needless to say, when I saw Ashley Tyler’s costume designs on the set Charles Raffeto designed, with the lights hung by tech theatre students, I did another happy dance.
As blog readers know, Shakespeare was influenced by the Italian Comedy which also heavily influenced our production. Charles Raffetto wanted to bring the “town square” feeling of a commedia performance to our theatre and created an open playing space ready for a modern-day commedia troupe.
We thought long and hard about what present-day actors would be in such a travelling troupe and came to one conclusion: hipsters. You will see that influence in the base costumes Ashley Tyler has given each actor. Prepare yourselves for vintage hair, lots of scarves, and at least two pairs of suspenders. Layered on top of our base costumes are character-specific pieces. Commedia was an art form of survival– troupes got by with very little. Ms. Tyler took this idea and ran with it, crafting her outlandish costumes with found items like coffee filters and post-office envelopes.
All of this is to say that we hope to bring the same energy to our production as there was the night Comedy was first performed. While we don’t want our audience to riot like that night in 1594, we hope you do have a riotous good time. This will be thanks, in large part, to the “theatre magic” created through the work of our designers.
Theatre is an inherently collaborative genre. There is, quite literally, no way to do theatre alone. It’s only natural that the author of this blog post, Emily Ditkovski, Director of the Williston Theatre, would seek collaborators wherever she can.
The source material for our fall play, The Comedy of Errors, comes from two comedies by the Roman humorist Plautus, primarily The Menaechmi (cue Latin teacher Ms. Cody). The play is also heavily influenced, as devoted blog readers know, by commedia dell’arte (cue AP European History teacher Mrs. Klumpp). I reached out to my colleagues last spring to see if we could work together. They agreed (cue Ms. D doing a happy dance.) Ms. Cody, an expert wordsmith, named this project The Ab Fab Collab(oration) and thus something truly exceptional was born.
After some great and entertaining conversation, Mrs. Klumpp, Ms. Cody, and I decided that it would be most powerful for our students to teach our community about commedia and Plautus. Ms. Cody’s Latin IV Honors students read The Menaechmi (parts of it in Latin, ladies and gentleman!) and planned a lesson to teach the cast of the play.
A few weeks back Ms. Klumpp generously invited Ms. Ditkovski to her AP European History classes to introduce commedia dell’arte and discuss it’s influence on Western comedy. Some of you might have noticed me crossing campus with a vintage suitcase and wooden sword wondering what I was up to. Well, you are about to find out! Inside said suitcase were various props relating to commedia: a slapstick, a pair of pants, Barbie and Ken (delightfully dressed for a day at the beach), a bucket full of coins, among a few other things. Acting as detectives, students needed to connect the objects to commedia. At the end of the class they were given the opportunity to try on the body language of a few stock characters. The point of this exercise was to entice them to learn more about commedia so they can, ultimately, teach the entire Williston community a thing or two about the famous art form. I don’t want to give away Mrs. Klumpp’s secrets, but I know she is planning an AP Euro takeover of the Willistonian’s Instagram and perhaps a commedia board game or two available at the dining hall. Judging by their enthusiasm during my visit, I think we’re in for a good time!
After tackling The Menaechmi in class, Latin Scholars planned a visit to a rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors . Last Friday the night of their visit arrived. After describing the characters and plot of The Menaechmi with gusto (and props!), the Latin students helped us played a little Kahoot to test our knowledge of the plot.
It was incredible to hear about how much Shakespeare was inspired by Plautus. Perhaps inspired is too generous a word…he essentially stole every major plot point from The Menaechmi. (Before we get upset and start calling Shakespeare a plagiarist, we need to understand that this kind of lifting from source material was a wide-spread practice back in the day.) In both plays we have twins separated at birth, a jealous wife, a husband accused of cheating, a man locked out of his house, and more. What Shakespeare adds to his play, however is all his own. In the scene-by-scene breakdown given to us by the fantastic Latin scholars, we see a that Plautus was playing exclusively for laughs. Shakespeare, never content with superficiality, endows The Comedy of Errors with existential questions of belonging, family, and identity. Shakespeare’s gift for storytelling was truly brought home by the visit with Ms. Cody’s students. (No offense, Plautus.)
Why all of this collaboration, you ask? Besides the fact that it is just fun for us teachers who usually work solo in the classroom, collaboration brings home how interconnected we are. Plautus wrote in Ancient Rome, commedia’s big moment was in the Renaissance, and here we are hundreds and thousands of years later thinking about these works of art and the themes they raise like class inequity and sexism. We stand to learn a lot by looking backwards in time from every angle that we can: theatre, Latin, history.
Dr. Adam Zucker, with his brown hair and long beard, is often mistaken for William Shakespeare himself. This is fitting, as he is Associate Professor in the English Department at UMass Amherst with a focus on Elizabethan Theatre. We were lucky enough to host Dr. Zucker in the Williston Theatre on Wednesday to discuss The Comedy of Errors with the cast of our production.
He shared some fascinating scholarship with us, most notably that even in this most light-hearted of Shakespeare’s plays, the Bard still manages to ask deep, philosophical questions about belonging and family. Dr. Zucker began by reading his favorite lines from the play, Antipholus of Syracuse’s speech in Act I, Scene II:
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself:
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy lose myself.
This marriage of light and dark is a huge presence in this play. We begin with Duke Solinus reminding Egeon that he will die by the end of the day, our Dromios (who are just trying to do their jobs) are repeatedly beaten, and Adriana is deeply wounded because her husband ignores her. Shakespeare is carrying on the very long tradition of using comedy to bring to light the darker sides of society.
Dr. Zucker also reminded us that this play from its very inception, despite the dark undertones, was meant to be festive. After its first performance, which was for an audience of lawyers, there were actual riots. These were not political riots, but a result of people having a bit too much fun. In Elizabethan times lawyers were not the upstanding citizens they are today. They were, in Dr. Zucker’s own words, rich hipsters who tended to have too much fun. Even thought a modern audience shares little in common with Elizabethan lawyers, we are supposed enjoy the experience of the play and let loose a little.
This marriage of light and dark, tension and release, makes good sense for our production. While we have embraced the legacy of The Comedy of Errors’ riotous past, the darker elements of the play have not disappeared. The cast and crew has often remarked how the experience of our Antipholi feels like a nightmare come to life. It is. Imagine a world where everyone recognizes you and you know no one. Or that your closest friends and family are convinced you have said things that never came out of your mouth.
Leave it up to the Bard to brings these two seemingly different worlds together miraculously in one place. We are grateful to Dr. Zucker for reminding us that Shakespeare, even in his shortest work, is a masterful playwright.
For the outside observer, comedy seems like a chaotic and rambunctious art form. Rambunctious, yes. Chaotic, no. There are meticulous rules to comedy, much more so than drama, that are in place so that our audiences believe in the chaos that the characters are living through.
The first rule is “Yes, and…” For those readers not familiar with improv (a genre of performing where players make up a scene as they go along), this means that when your partner adds something to a scene you agree with them and add something new. This rule is critical because it communicates to all players that collaboration is essential to good improv. No one is more important than the other. This rule is followed by play the truth of the scene, play at the top of your intelligence, and, one of my personal favorites, keep the stakes high. This structure gives comedians a framework in which to create their best work.
While Comedy of Errors is far from traditional improv, the tools needed to create a strong production are the same. The second day of our workshop with Brianna Sloane was focused on mastering the rules of comedy. Exploring pace, rhythm, tempo, and direct and indirect movement, the cast of Comedy of Errors grew their comedic chops. Perhaps the most important lesson came when Ms. Sloane introduced us to takes. We all know what a take is, even if we haven’t called it by that name before. Below, you will find a brilliant one by actor George Clooney.
Takes provide actors with an opportunity to communicate to the audience and/or other characters their very strong feelings about what is happening. Under Ms. Sloane’s guidance we practiced our double takes, our triple takes, our slow-burns, our eye rolls. We did fast takes and slow takes. We did combination double eye roll, slow takes. There is not a kind of take that we didn’t experiment with. Our favorite, hands-down, was when we went outside, filled up our paper water cups, and did spit-takes. (For an excellent example of our own Harrison Winrow, who plays Antipholus of Ephesus, performing a spit-take, consult the @willistonarts Instagram!) At the end of our work we were a little wet, but ready to start bringing the absolutely chaotic Comedy of Errors off the page!
The Comedy of Errors was long thought to be Shakespeare’s first play. It is by far his shortest play with what, at first glance, seems like a very simple plot. All the evidence pointed to the fact that he was a new playwright who hadn’t developed fully as writer. However, scholars have since discovered that Comedy was first performed around 1594 (still early on in his career) at the hall of Gray’s Inn likely during Christmastime for an audience of nobleman and royalty. The play’s brevity is due to the fact that it was an after piece– a short, boisterous comedy that completed a night of fun and merry-making typical of the Elizabethan holiday season.
The play was inspired by the great Italian Comedy of the Renaissance (commedia dell’arte) and the Roman comedies of Plautus. Anyone who has spent any time in the Williston Theatre knows that I love commedia dell’arte, the professional theatre troupes that grew out of the Renaissance. Almost all of the comedy we see today is derived, in one way or another, from commedia. These troupes were well-organized and often had women in charge (something that, even now, is a rarity in professional theatre). They roamed the countryside of Europe, creatively subverting the status quo by using improvisation, familiar stock characters, gibberish and broad comedy. Like today’s best stand-up comedians and sketch comedy artists, commedia poked fun at all of the things that were wrong with society. Audiences loved it, the government and the Catholic church did not.
Because commedia is the basis for all Western comedy (especially Shakespeare’s comedies, which were heavily influenced by commedia), I invited local commedia expert Brianna Sloane to lead a physical comedy workshop with the cast of The Comedy of Errors. Ms. Sloane is the artistic director of Theatre Truck, which crafts “mobile and site-specific theatre sustainably and playfully.” Her current piece, The Water Project, is an interactive and immersive piece about the communities that were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir and will be performed at the Swift RIver Historical society later this month. She has studied commedia dell’arte at the Accedemia dell’Arte in Florence, Italy and holds an MFA in Directing from UMass Amherst. Her vibrant energy kept our actors engaged for the duration of the two-hour workshop!
After a terrific warm-up that involved lots of moving and shouting (like any good theatre warm up!), our actors got a chance to explore the major stock characters of commedia one at a time. Starting with the Zanni (the lowest of the servants who are struggling for basic survival) and all the way up to the Lovers, the cast could make connections between their characters and their commedia counterparts. The Comedy of Errors is incredibly physical. Without a basis to create the bodies of our characters, we would end up with a play that is boring and doesn’t stay true to Shakespeare’s intentions. We look forward to applying all of the wonderful and wacky things we learned in our workshop to the rehearsal process as we bring the show to life. When you come see the play, try and see which commedia character influenced each actor! See below to learn more about some of the stock characters of commedia.