The Beard of Avon
Welcome to "Backstage" of the Publick Theatre's prduction of The Beard of Avon. Below you will find a window to the creative process via blog format. The director, designers, actors and artistic staff discuss their views and challenges they faced while working on The Beard of Avon. Be sure to check back for updates!
Diego Arciniegas ~ Director: Thoughts on Directing The Beard
How do you hold a mirror up to Shakespeare? For more than four hundred years Shakespeare’s immortal words have been speaking to generations of theatre-goers, revealing a reflection of themselves and their times. Amy Freed, audaciously grabs a mirror of her own, turns it upon the countenance of the Bard himself, and talks right back at him. The result is a more nuanced and subtle comedy than might at first viewing be appreciated. Throughout rehearsals, members of the company uncovered allusions to, and quotations from, a wealth of literary sources ranging from Sting to Henry Fielding, from “Oklahoma” and “I am the Walrus” to “Gammer Gurton’s Needle”. Ms. Freed’s command of Shakespearian devices to advance new arguments, and incorporate plot twists unthinkable in Elizabethan times, sets The Beard of Avon apart from other plays of its kind, and stems, I think, from her deep roots in academia as well as the theatre.
Eric Hamel ~ Henry Wriothesley:
Wriothesley has proven to be a real challenge for me in many ways, and I've really enjoyed exploring him. When I started working on him, I went to Diego with some concerns about playing a gay stereotype. Instead, Diego suggsted that I concentrate on the pride that Wriothesley has in being an effeminate. A rather, "I'm here, I'm queer . . . get used to it!" take. And I found that immensely helpful. I saw H.W. as being a privileged youth for whom life wasn't entertaining enough. And I liked the idea of manifesting that physically in an inability to stand up on his own. I thought of him as someone that leans a lot. So I chose to lean on furniture, other characters, or simply placing all my weight on one leg. And the only time that he stands on his own two feet, is when DeVere dies at the end of the play and he has no one to lean on.
Rafael's thoughts and costume designs were also a great help to me. His ideas supported my choices. He spoke of Wriothesley as lazy, and that he was a trendsetter in his careless attire: buttons are never all done, his sleeves just hang at his sides, instead of wearing a cape around his back he drapes it over one shoulder, etc.
There are still a number of things about Wriothesley that I have yet to discover. But that's one of the magical parts of performing. Every time you do it, you learn something new.
Thusfar my favorite note has been: "Eric, it's a Leggs commercial."
Ellen Adair ~ Lady Lettice: More than a name that goes well with (Sir Francis) Bacon:
I started doing my work on Lady Lettice with a bit of background research, and found that Amy Freed included her in the court scenes for far more interesting reasons than the fact that she has a somewhat silly name. Born Lettice Knollys, she was the first cousin once-removed of Queen Elizabeth; when Elizabeth was crowned, her father was made Treasurer of the Household, her mother became Lady-in-Waiting, and she became Maid-of-the-Court.
Lettice is most remarkable because of her relations, for good or ill, to various favourites of the Queen’s. Her first marriage was to Walter Devereux, who was made the first Earl of Essex about a decade after they had been married. Long before that, however, Lettice had tired of country life with her husband, returned to court, and started an affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Leicester was a favourite of the Queen’s, the first Master of her Horse, and almost certainly her lover; speculations fly about whether or not Leicester’s first wife died in an arranged accident so that he could marry Elizabeth. (Those of you who have seen Elizabeth may remember Leicester as the chap played by Joseph Fiennes.)
When the Earl of Essex died in Ireland, another decade after Lettice’s first affair with Leicester, Lettice and Leicester were married in a private and clandestine ceremony. Her father wished for something with a bit more propriety that he might officially witness. The result was a ceremony which Elizabeth was able to get wind of several months later, and culminated in Lady Lettice being banished from the court. The Queen termed her “that She-Wolf.”
When Leicester was made the Governor-General of the Netherlands six years later, the Queen likewise forbade Lettice to leave England so that the Countess of Leicester could not also take up her (rightful) position as Queen Consort of the Netherlands. Leicester eventually gave up this honour, and the two continued to live in London, where Lettice was often mistaken for the Queen because of her large retinue.
Meanwhile, Lettice’s son, Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex, was also amongst the succession of the Queen’s favourites, and serves as the classic Elizabethan example of the good-boy-gone-bad, falling out of favour ostensibly for botching up the Irish situation. When he was brought back in disgrace, he tried to mount an unsuccessful rebellion and was executed. Ironically, timelines suggest that the second Earl of Essex may have actually been fathered by the Earl of Leicester.
When Leicester died, Lady Lettice married Sir Christopher Blount, a man 25 years her junior, again arousing the Queen’s great disapprobation. Blount was involved in the identical botched Irish wars and botched rebellion as Lettice’s son. Lettice survived him by over thirty years, living to the ripe old age of 95.
Though Lettice has clearly not been banished as of yet in Freed’s version of the Elizabethan court, I took her history of amorous adventures as a cue towards her basic character. Lynda and I talked a bit about my history—essentially, that I have an affair with her former boyfriend—which has brought out some wonderful added tension in our court scenes, especially where the Queen obliquely discusses her wish for a boyfriend, which is a none-too-uncommon topic. And my own tendency to get rather hot-and-bothered by poetry is fun to weave in and has more than ample evidence in the script!