Composer/ Musician Tom Teasley, who received the 2010 and 2011 Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Sound Design for Crazyface and The Ramayana, joins Constellation again for Gilgamesh, adding a beautiful soundscape that is central to the show’s emotion and action. We talked to him about the creation of the music for Gilgamesh.
1. Your music is so tied to the action and emotion in this production – it really heightens every moment. Where did you find your inspiration for this show’s music?
Mostly in my travel to Iraq, from Basra in the south to the northern Kurdish area. At these extremes the music is a very different to the kind heard in Bagdad, which is known for traditional Middle Eastern music. In Basra, the Middle Eastern and West African influences mix, reflecting a population of Africans and Iraqis. The music uses a lot of drumming traditions and techniques only found there. In Erbil in the north there is a Kurdish influence from Persia. The bass clarinet and flute typical to Middle Eastern music is an influence of my collaborations with the Baghdad Symphony. [A three-time recipient of a Fulbright-Hayes grant for performances in the Middle East, Teasley collaborated with indigenous musicians and gave historic performances in Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Jerusalem.]
2. Were there particular challenges of this show?
The challenges of performing live for a theatrical production are generally the same from show to show – I’m trying to play 20 different instruments, run sound, keep the volume appropriate to each scene, call up the right electronic sounds and recorded patches, etc. Aesthetically the changes are minimal – it is always about finding music that fits the action themes or scenes that require a certain tone. [Teasley is variously referred to in reviews as a “the area’s most original one man band”, "musical wizard" and “world music guru”]
3. Tell us about the instruments you’ve chosen – there are some new sounds you’re incorporating.
Yes I’m having a good time incorporating some new sounds. I’ve been playing a Native American flute – the tone holes are larger and I can do half fingering (i.e. cover half the holes) and create quartertones, which are indigenous to Middle Eastern music. It is a nice contrast to drumming – it’s soft and mellow and goes nicely with the human voice.
I’m also playing an African thumb piano (a/k/a kalimba) – this instrument is a nice contrast to drumming – it is melodic and soft and a bit ethereal.
Also for the first time I’m using a xylophone/synthesizer – “the Mallet Kat” which lets me create African Balafon sounds while my other hand plays the Djembe drum. This also works well when there is male/female action going on and I can split the keyboard using bass clarinet and flute sounds.
Another great thing we’ve done is adding some acoustic surround sound. I thought this would be a good idea to take advantage of the small space at Source and accomplish acoustically what a larger theater might do with speakers. We have actors playing percussive instruments on and off stage- they play shakers, rain sticks, Maracas, ocean drums and others. It turns out they are very sensitive percussionists in addition to being great actors! It really makes for a nice extra layer of sound.
4. How did you create the soundscape?
This show came together in a really organic way – we collaboratively brought the sound to life during the technical rehearsals. I was on a relentless tour schedule prior to going into the tech rehearsals. It was a lot less pre-determined than in other shows and turned out to be a really nice way to work. It has allowed me to be more in the moment!
You can purchase his newest cd, All The World’s A Stage at Gilgamesh, or here
Tags: Allison Arkell Stockman, Constellation Theatre Company, Gilgamesh, Imagination Stage, Matthew McGee, Tom Teasley, Yusef Komunyakaa
Constellation Theatre spoke with Matthew McGee, who we first met on stage in Taking Steps, for which he won a Helen Hayes Award. This
May we find him in a puppeteer role for Gilgamesh.
First and foremost, congratulations on your Helen Hayes Award for Best Supporting Actor in our production of Taking Steps! It was a super performance and very much deserved.
Matthew McGee – Why thank you! I am still trying to find time here and there to actually let it sink in. It’s still hard to believe.
Tell us about your puppets! How did this job come to be and what does it entail?
After I started working on Taking Steps Allison became aware of my background in puppetry and contacted me to see if there could be any use for puppets in Gilgamesh. There were a few more puppets discussed in production meetings that were going to be built, but as rehearsals progressed it became apparent that certain elements were unnecessary. So now I have been responsible for one big, menacing bull puppet that the actors have to fight with. Keeping that in mind, my job entails not only building a large bull head that is light enough to be carried by an actor, but structurally sound enough to endure some physical stress from “actor encounters.” I’ve been working with a lot of cardboard, masking tape, aluminum foil, and paper mache. To some, these are pretty crude, inefficient materials, but I have a tendency to use stuff that is really easy to come by (and generally recyclable) because they are surprisingly versatile and get the job done!
How did you work with Allison and the design team on the puppets? How are the puppets used in the production…i.e. is there a puppeteer behind the curtain?
We spent a lot of time figuring out how the bull puppet would be able to move through the space, which meant corresponding with Ethan, the set designer, to make sure there would be enough room to allow for that. We also had to figure out what additional actions would be required in the scene that the bull would need to perform so I would know how the puppet would need to be built. After a few design drafts the bull is now mainly a giant head with a fabric covering that two actors use to “suggest” a life-sized bull (much like Chinese dragon dancers).
Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be involved in puppet design.
I grew up with a background in puppetry since my father was (and still is) a storyteller/ventriloquist. As a child I would sometimes travel with my family and do shadow puppet shows at elementary schools throughout California. In the summers I went to festivals and saw many different kinds of puppet theatre and learned how to make different types of puppets from seasoned professionals. By the time I got into high school I had begun building my own puppets for various projects I was involved with. By college I had put together my own little business and performed professionally in California with a little puppet show that I took to libraries around the state. When I moved to DC I didn’t touch puppets for over a year, but seeing as there are not a lot of puppet designers out there I reached out and contacted some theaters to let them know I was around and what I had to offer. Eventually it opened some new doors.
You mentioned that you were doing puppets for a local children’s theatre company…tell us a bit about that.
That was one of those doors! I contacted Imagination Stage last summer and told them I was a puppeteer new to the area looking to see if I could be of assistance somehow. They eventually brought me in for an interview and I got hired to design and build puppets for their current Roald Dahl Rep. of James and the Giant Peach and The Magic Finger, playing now! So, needless to say, the last month or so has been nothing but PUPPETS!
What is on the horizon for you – where can we see you next on stage?
The next thing you will be able to see me in is Studio Theatre’s Rocky Horror Show this summer. [McGee will play the role of Riff Raff] After that? Who knows!
Have you ever made a puppet that looks like you?
Haha, I don’t think so, but I tried making a rag doll that looked like me once!
Check out Matthew’s puppets at Gilgamesh, opening Thursday, May 2 and running through June 2
Poetry by Pulitzer Prize Winner Yusef Komunyakaa
concept & dramaturgy by Chad Gracia
directed by Allison Arkell Stockman
with live music by Helen Hayes Award Winner Tom Teasley
May 2 – June 2
Part god and part man, King Gilgamesh races the sun & journeys to the ends of the earth on his epic quest for immortality.
Andrés Talero plays the role of Captain Ramon, Zorro’s foe in Constellation’s world premiere adventure. We got a chance to ask him about playing dark characters and the surprising similarities between heroes and villains.
1. Tell us about your experience of Captain Ramon – on the surface he is described as the villain, but there is obviously much more going on beneath the steely exterior.
Descriptions like that can be helpful to get a sense of the world of the play and how characters interact with one another, but to get to the nitty gritty of character, I used the crumbs [writers] Eleanor and Janet left in the script. Some of the crumbs I found tastiest were: I am an orphan, I am a Captain
(highest rank in this world before Governor), I have a clear idea of right and wrong and I usually feel the need to explain why I am upholding the law in the way that I do. If I forget everything I know about the story of Zorro and removed names from each character, I would have a hard time voting for Zorro over Ramon as the hero. The only real difference is how far Zorro and Ramon go to get what they want.
2. You have a wealth of experience in stage combat, and also served in the military. Tell us how these experiences inform your character development and fight style.
In the military I learned hand to hand and some close range knife fighting, which essentially comes down to finding the quickest and easiest way to get rid of a threat. Usually ends up on the floor and is over in about a second or two. Stage fighting is much different in that people have to actually see who is doing what and what that impact has on the other person. One of the many things [Fight Director] Casey Kaleba is really good at is breaking down a fight into several story beats.
For this production, we talked about the differences in how Ramon and Zorro fought. For those RPG nerds out there, Ramon is more of the natural fighter class, and Zorro is the multi-class (fighter/aristocrat). Ramon was brought up in the streets for part of his life and knows how to survive and adapt, whereas Zorro comes from structured academy training that also includes literature.
3. Are you/Were you a fan of the Zorro films, or superhero stories in general? Has playing Ramon given you a different view of the super-hero / villain relationship? Have you played the other side?
I saw the silent movie with Douglas Fairbanks about a month before we started rehearsing. I loved the playfulness of it. The archetypal villain and hero gave me enough space to turn off the analytical part of my brain and just enjoy the athleticism of it. I am also a huge fan of Batman, so being in anything that was an inspiration for that character really sparked the geek centers in my brain.
I actually got a chance to play a real-life superhero (Jack) in REALS, written by local playwright Gwydion Suilebhan. Like Ramon, Jack thinks he is doing the right thing and is driven by it. They also both have this intense need to be loved and accepted. Not to spoil anything, but there is a scene in Zorro where I (Ramon) am talking to Lolita and I say “I have the power here!” This is something that Jack also says in REALS. Different plays, different people, but you
know what? They are saying it from the exact same need – The need to be accounted for. This is what I love about the relationship between heroes and villains. They are both damaged in some way, and struggle to correct something in their world and themselves. At least the interesting ones do. I was never partial to Captain America. I like my heroes and villains to be half a step removed; I like not knowing who I should be rooting for.
4 . Where can we see you next?
You can find me cleaning up baby vomit and changing diapers. I am on to the next adventure of fatherhood. Wish me luck!
Good luck Andrés!
Tags: Academy for Classical Acting, Allison Arkell Stockman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Constellation Theatre Company, Danny Gavigan, Douglas Fairbanks, Eleanor Holdridge, Society of American Fight Directors, Source, Zorro
We got a chance to sit with Stephanie LaVardera, the gal that gets to the heart of the hero, as Lolita in Constellation Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Zorro.
Lolita is an iconic figure in the story of Zorro. Were you a fan of the story growing up, or did you have a favorite Zorro, a favorite Lolita?
Actually no, I didn’t really know the story of Zorro at all until I started working on this show! I hadn’t even seen the Antonio Banderas films (I’m so bad at seeing movies! So many classics I need to catch up on- Star Wars?…Admission: never seen any of them!). Anyway, I think Zorro is a very familiar character, very ingrained in pop culture, but a lot of people, like me before this show, don’t know the actual story of Zorro. And what’s so fantastic about this show is that Eleanor and Janet tell the story of how Zorro came to be, from the beginning.
Anyway, I did watch the Antonio Banderas version before we started rehearsals just to get the feeling of the world we were going to be in. And I guess Catherine Zeta-Jones is the Lolita-like figure in that story, but she’s not the same character. She is pretty fierce though, and knows how to swing a sword, so I really appreciated those elements of her character. Other than that, like Danny, I think, the only other Zorro film I’ve seen is the original silent film with Douglas Fairbanks, which is an incredibly well-made movie! If you haven’t seen it, I would definitely recommend checking it out! Probably one of the best silent films I’ve ever seen (but then again, I’m admittedly no movie-buff, so….hahaha). The Lolita in that film is a great character, but she’s definitely more the Lolita from the original pulp fiction, which is the stock-type, girl-who-needs-to-be-saved-by-the-man
sort of deal. She does get frustrated with the passive, wimpy Diego mask that he creates for himself, though, and longs for someone with the courage to do what’s right, like Zorro. So that part of the character comes right from the original pulp.
But the great thing about Eleanor and Janet’s script was that they gave Lolita a voice of her own. She’s not just that stock damsel in distress, but a person with her own insight and feelings, and she exercises her own free will. And not only does she long for someone to do right, she learns that she can take action herself and stand up for what she believes in. So I guess if I had to pick a favorite Lolita, it would be the Eleanor Holdridge/Janet Allard Lolita!! J
How do you go about developing a character? Where do you find your inspiration?
Well, most of the time I start with the more general research and then work at getting more specific. So, for instance, for this show, like I said, I
watched the Antonio Banderas movie before rehearsals started to just get a feel of the world of the play. I’ll also usually do some reading about the time period/place the play is set, which I did for this show. It’s also fantastic when you have a fabulous dramaturge like Taylor Hitaffer who gives you so much awesome info to work with! She even created a Pinterest page with Zorro-inspired images for us, which was particularly helpful. Once I’ve done that sort of preliminary stuff, which happens mostly before rehearsals start and at the beginning of the rehearsal period, then I guess for me the inspiration is really all in the text. I had an acting teacher say once, “Where your truth intersects with the text, that’s where the character is,” and I’ve always held on to that as a sort of touchstone. I think it’s very important to identify yourself in the text, let it have what affect it has on you, and the work from there….Wow, that sounds very esoteric and weird, hahaha, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that my inspiration really comes from within- how the text affects me.
Oh, and then I also really like to listen to music that I think speaks to something in the character, a part of their journey, and make a playlist of songs. But I don’t usually do that until later in the process.
Lolita is a swashbuckler! Was this typical of women in that time? And you do such a fantastic, acrobatic job onstage. Did you have some prior experience with swordplay?
Wow, thank you! It’s so much fun and definitely one of my favorite moments in the play! And you know, I don’t know how “typical” it would have been for a woman to know how to use a sword at this time. I didn’t come across anything specifically about women using swords, so actually, I do know that it probably was not typical. But Alta California was a rough, dangerous place, and there was such a military presence and influence that I’m sure there were some women who maybe took it upon themselves to learn, to be able to protect themselves. And yes, I do have some experience. Stage combat was a huge part of the training for my MFA, at the Academy for Classical Acting at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I actually became certified in several weapons by the Society of American Fight Directors. But women in theatre don’t have many opportunities to use those skills, especially the sword work, so getting to use that training in this show has been amazing!
How does it feel to be the love interest of a super hero?! But seriously, how do you think Lolita squares that in her mind – is Zorro an impossibility or do you think she dreams there might be a way to be together?
Hahahaha, that’s not really something I think about as Lolita. I don’t think she thinks of him as a “superhero.” He’s definitely a hero in her mind because he’s doing what she has believed someone needs to stand up and do, but there’s an element of fear there for her, because he starts to teeter on the line between defending the poor and turning into a bully himself. And she also knows that as long as he hides his true identity, there’s no way they can be together- so in that way, he is an impossibility. But she does also dream that they could one day really be together, and that’s why she keeps reminding him not to become too violent, and pushing him to unmask. She recognizes these things, so I think it’s particularly poignant at the end when he says to her, “Lolita, you have freed me from my mask.”
This is your first performance with Constellation (congratulations!) Tell us a bit about your experience working with [Director] Eleanor Holdridge and at Constellation.
Thank you! I’m so excited to have had the opportunity to work at Constellation and on this show! The experience has been absolutely wonderful! It is a very welcoming, warm company! And working with Eleanor has been a dream! She is so smart, and supportive and encouraging- exactly the kind of director an actor wishes for. She created a wonderful, playful rehearsal environment, and was so generous in allowing us to have so much creative input on her play!
What’s next for you?
Lot’s of auditioning! Hahaha….I don’t know what my next project is right now, but I am also really interested in teaching drama to kids, so that’s what I’m working on next!
The soundtrack of Zorro is rich with original music, composed by Mariano Vales with guitarist and sound designer Behzad Habibzai. Vales and Habibzai met last winter working on Constellation’s Blood Wedding, and this is now their fourth collaboration. We got a chance to talk to them about their work together.
Please tell us a little bit about both of your backgrounds
Behzad - I am a flamenco guitarist, drummer/percussionist working in the DC area. I worked as a professional musician in New England since my early teens until I moved to DC where I focused on flamenco. Though, I do consider myself musically well-traveled. I’ve done punk rock, musical theater, orchestral, jazz, Indian, psychobilly, you name it. Whatever musical project I find myself in, I’m sure to have a bag of tricks.
Mariano - I am a composer and orchestra/choir conductor born in Buenos Aires Argentina, educated in Argentina and the US. I always loved the theater and started writing for it since very early in my career. I’ve also written several musicals while still living in Argentina in the 90’s, and one recently here in the US for the Gala Theater (Off the record, yesterday I proposed Allison and AJ to have an original musical here at Constellation, I think it may happen…)
You met creating music for Constellation’s Blood Wedding (January 2012) and have since been collaborating. What other kind of projects have you been working on?
Behzad - I’m very fortunate to have connected with Mariano during Blood Wedding, thanks to Constellation and the amazing Allison Stockman. Mariano and I hit it off. After the close of that play, we got working on The Bacchae with WSC Avant Bard which played during the summer, and then El Desden Con el Desden with Gala Hispanic Theatre. I’ve basically been consistently working with Mariano since December of 2011. So that’s 4 plays in just over a year.
Mariano - Like Behzad said, we owe our happy partnership to Allison and Constellation, hopefully we will find more projects to work together on.
For Zorro, how did you approach creating the new score? What were your influences?
Behzad - The following is based on what I encountered during the development of the music, as I can’t speak on behalf of the ultimate composer, Mariano.
There were many discussions and meetings on the direction of the music and the appropriateness of the pulp. We were initially listening to archive stuff of folk songs that originated during the Gold Rush. We wanted a more modern or nondenominational tinge – something you can’t immediately put your finger on. We discussed Hans Zimmer’s score to Sherlock Holmes, the theme music to Deadwood, and the epic western scores of Ennio Morricone. There was also a slight touch of flamenco with our “fight” music.
After hearing Deadwood and the hammer dulcimer in Sherlock Holmes, we realized that we needed an instrument to provide an ostinato that would really flavor everything – just totally galvanizing all of these ideas. We decided to go with a charango as an accompanying instrument. The charango is a coursed ukulele-like Peruvian instrument made from the shell of an armadillo. There is this guy who plays outside metro stations every morning around McPherson and Farrugut. You could say he was the source of inspiration for all of this, and he has no idea!
I having been speaking of the discussions we’ve been having, but really it was all up to how Mariano’s mind would perceive and interpret those things, and what he would produce. So, you may be sitting in the audience thinking that this sounds nothing like any of those things I mentioned or maybe it sounds exactly like all or some of those. The journey and the destination are two different things. And with that in mind, I know Mariano was able to take all of those influences and beautifully mold them into something original and –dare I say – nondenominational.
Mariano - There where several influences. I wanted a score with a ‘pulpy’ soul that reflected the dual Spanish-western background of the main character. I looked into Enio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, and I set myself the challenge to write something on that vein, with a touch of flamenco, that also incorporated some sounds used in modern westerns like Deadwood (whose score I personally like very much), especially Santaolalla’s use of the charango in Iguazú. It wasn’t the guy in the metro! (Shhh Behzad… I don’t want to have to share our juicy royalties with him) .
I certainly do have to credit Behzad, who composed the palmas music for the fight scenes, and David Garza, who wrote ‘Compassion,’ the song we use as Tavern music, beautifully interpreted by Carlos Saldaña, our amazing Sergeant Gonzalez.
How closely did you work with Director Eleanor Holdridge?
Behzad - We worked very close and had a discussion about pretty much every second of music that you will hear with several versions of each song meticulously critiqued. I even walked away with a bruise on my arm.
Mariano - I am sure you deserved it. Yes, we’ve been working very close to Eleanor. Not only because working with her has been inspiring and fun (she is a very candid and smart artist), but also because from the very beginning she could convey an extremely clear vision of the play. She has been always specific on the play’s needs, and her vision influenced considerably how the score ultimately sounds. Although at the beginning I would protest when for e.g. she wanted to cut out music that to her (and maybe to everyone else…) resembled ‘Who wants to be a millionaire,’ I finally decided to trust her judgment (Yeah…maybe it sounded a bit out of place for that moment… )
Is the score primarily guitar, or is there other instrumentation?
The acoustic instruments include a flamenco guitar, a charango, a cajon (box drum), a tambourine, and three clappers – all of which were recorded by me. All of the others are virtual orchestral instruments.
Mariano - Yeap, just like Behzad said.
Tell us a bit about the recording process.
Behzad - As mentioned, the whole band is me. So I knew that I was going to have to record guitar, charango, cajon, tambourine, and clapping. Some little vignettes of two guitars in a duet? Me as well. The charango was interesting, because I’m not a charango player. I had to learn the music and learn how to play the instrument on the spot at the studio.
As for the orchestra, those are all MIDI. The role required me to utilize my knowledge of orchestration to communicate with Mariano. For example, he’ll say, “we need the attack of the brass to be stronger, so just have the parts doubled by another set of brass doing a staccato articulation.”
Mariano - Yeah… that part got cut anyway…(love, Eleanor!). Basically I would write a symphony score with using a writing software, pass the info to Behzad (horribly sounding electronic midi sounds), and he would skillfully transform it in real music at the studio. I have to disagree with Behzad in one thing only; the greatest recording contribution wasn’t his. It was me singing Zorroooooo! for the main score.
Thanks you guys. We’re excited for all the beautiful music you are making together!
As Zorro began to became a reality, we were really excited to discover Zorro Dramaturg Taylor Hitaffer’s blog on the masked avenger. What a treasuretrove of information! We were again excited to talk to Taylor and hear all about her experience.
1. How did you get involved with Zorro and working with Eleanor? Have you worked with Eleanor before?
This is the first time that I’ve had the privilege of working with Eleanor, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity! She is an extremely talented and gracious woman, and I admire what she has accomplished as a director. When I heard that Constellation was putting on ZORRO, it seemed like a production that I had to be involved with. Even though I wasn’t a Zorro aficionado by any means, Zorro has always existed in the periphery of my upbringing. My grandmother used to watch the Disney TV series, as did my mother and aunt. We even had a mini-Australian shepherd named Zorro! So I took a leap of faith, and sent Eleanor an email. I introduced myself, explained how excited I was about the play, and humbly offered my services. After meeting with Eleanor at CUA, I was completely swept away by her enthusiasm and vision. I remember literally saying to myself “oh, please let me have the chance to work with this incredible person!”
2. Tell us a little bit about yourself – what other projects have you worked on…are you also a writer…
I’m the dramaturg! This usually means something different for each new situation. My job for ZORRO is to assist the production by bringing historical context to the script. This helps inform the choices being made by the actors as they try to make sense of the world of the play, while at the same time expounding upon the material’s significance. It was my intention to make the transition into Alta California’s history as accessible as possible, while also respecting the story that McCulley wrote in response to his own tumultuous time period. It’s been a very gratifying experience! Before this I served as dramaturg for The Inkwell, working with playwrights as they workshop their plays-in-progress. I participated in their Page-to-Stage showcase at the Kennedy Center back in September. And a few seasons back I was the dramaturg for the DC premiere of IN DARFUR at Theater J.
3. Were you a fan of the Zorro enterprise? Do you have a favorite Zorro of history?
I think that every generation has a Zorro, sort of like every generation has a James Bond. I enjoyed the 1998 Antonio Banderas/Anthony Hopkins film, and when I revisited the movie during my research, I liked how the writers also incorporated a bit of Joaquin Murieta into the Zorro legend. In the early 1850’s Murieta was a real life bandido who may have been inspiration for the creation of Zorro. Murieta is a legend in his own right; they say when he was captured, the authorities put his decapitated head in a pickle jar, and would display it in a museum of frontier relics in San Francisco. The head was allegedly lost during the 1906 earthquake. I’ve been meaning to watch Zorro, The Gay Blade because that was my grandmother’s favorite. And I’m dying to watch Zorro’s Black Whip, with a female Zorro!
4. You really did a huge amount of research and created a comprehensive document for the world of Zorro! What did you find that particularly surprised you?
I was so intrigued by California’s early history. A part of it is beautiful and romantic, but you also see this other side of Alta California that is really quite scary. It’s been an interesting take on colonialism in America. But I was particularly fascinated by the Californios, who grew into this population of native-born, Spanish-speaking descendants from the first Spanish colonies. After Mexico ceded California to America 1848, the displaced Californios faded from history entirely. You don’t often get to see that side of the American “melting pot.” It made me wonder what other fledgling cultures we have lost to Manifest Destiny.
5. How did you and Eleanor approach the work of creating this new story? Where was the project when you became involved?
The play was already in its third or fourth draft by the time I showed up. Eleanor conceived the idea of creating a stage version of The Curse of Capistrano, which was the original pulp series that Zorro made his first appearance in 1919. She took the dialog from the pulp and turned it into the first draft. Then she partnered up with Janet Allard and they created a wholly new adaptation together. I first became involved during a weekend workshop at CUA. The script was read aloud by some of the actors, and we all had a wonderfully constructive table discussion about how to structurally and thematically progress the script towards its next draft. We are very fortunate to have such an intelligent and compassionate group of artists who care so deeply about this production.
6. What’s next?
Swashbuckling, I think. Lots of it.
Tags: Allison Arkell Stockman, Antonio Banderas, Batman, BRuce WAyne, Cervantes, Constellation Theatre, Danny Gavigan, Don Quixote, Douglas Fairbanks, Eleanor Holdridge, Janet Allard, Johnston McCulley, Swashbuckling, Zorro
Danny Gavigan plays the title role in our upcoming production of Zorro. We got him talking about his experience thus far~
Are you a fan of the Zorro stories and films?
Before I got the role I had never read any of the original pulps or novels and the only Zorro I had ever seen on film was Antonio Banderas in the Martin Campbell flicks from a few years back, which I thought were fun in a fiery, swachbuckling, Antonio Banderas sort of way, but my only source of true reverence for Zorro came through Batman.
I always secretly wanted to be Batman. When I was 8 or 9 years old I remember taking my mom’s yellow dishwashing gloves, painting them black with a sharpie, cutting eye holes in a black winter hat, and taking my black cape and Batman t-shirt from an earlier Halloween costume, stuffing them in a backpack, and sneaking out of my window once it got dark with this idea that I would don this secret costume in the woods behind my house and maybe sneak up on evil doers. Although, once my adrenaline settled and I found myself in a small wood surrounded by nothing but a quiet suburb, there was really nowhere to go from there and as exciting as it was to play dress up, humility got the better of me, so I just hid the costume in the woods. When I went back to find it another day it had disappeared. I like to think that someone in Columbia, Maryland has been fighting crime in a little boy’s Batman costume all these years.
But the excitement of it all, of actually going outside and dressing up in the dark, as ridiculous and embarrassing as it is, was something that I remember as profoundly exhilarating and personally empowering. Bruce Wayne finding inspiration to become something greater by seeing Tyrone Power in “The Mark of Zorro” as a young man was something that I greatly identified with, especially as I began to find inspiration from watching actors in movies and later explored my impulses to put on masks in a more socially acceptable way on stage. But I had never seen “The Mark of Zorro” so it always existed as this mythical film to me. I always saw Zorro as the Batman of an earlier generation, the grandfather that I always loved and revered and respected, but never quite knew that well. I definitely plan to see the Tyrone Power film some day, but not until our show closes.
If so, who is your favorite Zorro?
While I didn’t want to influence my choices by going back and seeing the great Zorros of the past, I did watch the original silent film “The Mark of Zorro” with Douglas Fairbanks. I figured that as a silent film it wouldn’t be too much of an influence, and my curiosity, since it was the original, got the better of me. But Douglas Fairbanks’ influence was impossible to avoid. What he does physically, comically, and the stunts he pulls off in that film had me stunned and transfixed. He’s basically doing Parkour 70 years before it became known as Parkour, without the aid of safety nets or special effects. You can watch the entire film on YouTube. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it, it’s breathtaking to watch him. Obviously, in my limited experience, his only contender is Antonio Banderas, but my favorite at this point has to be Douglas Fairbanks. He captured the genuine sense of fun, mischief, athletic daring-do, humor, charm that we all associate with Zorro today.
How have you researched & developed your character?
This is a fresh and truly unique version of Zorro, mostly based on the original pulp, “The Curse of Capistrano” first published in 1919, but entirely reimagined and restructured by Eleanor Holdridge and Janet Allard as a coming of age, origin story. So I was very careful not to get caught up in the Zorro mythos developed by other incarnations. Our Don Diego (Zorro) is described as bookish, his heroes are Calderon and Cervantes. Aside from reading the original pulp by Johnston McCulley and as much as I could find about the Mexican War of Independence, I read Calderon’s “Life is a Dream” and am currently in the middle of Cervantes’ “The Siege of Numantia”. “Don Quixote” is also on my list.
Diego’s father prematurely calls him home from University in Spain back to Alta, California, so his life away from home and discovering himself is cut short, which I feel personally is my strongest connection to the character. I never finished college and that feeling that I missed out on all the independence and discovery that college offers has always haunted me. So I draw from that a great deal.
There’s an undeniable passion and romance to the Spanish language that Eleanor wanted to capture not only with the text, but also with our voices. As I worked on what could be, at the very least, passable as a Spanish dialect I saw as many Spanish-speaking actors in film and television as I could, not only for dialect but for all aspects of performance. Javier Bardem and Edgar Ramirez particularly inspired me, I highly recommend seeing Edgar Ramirez in the miniseries “Carlos”.
Don Diego develops a sort of dual mask, one as Zorro, and the other as the son of a wealthy landowner, which he presents as a weak-willed, arrogant, foppish appearance to those that may suspect him as Zorro, so I also took a look at Richard E. Grant in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” miniseries.
Tell us a little about the rehearsal process for a show with such a new script?
Eleanor and Janet have written something very special, a new take on a beloved character with an ensemble of characters that are as equally fleshed out and complex. It’s one of those stories that has such fertile ground for discovery that the ideas have never stopped coming from all of us involved and Eleanor has created such an encouraging rehearsal room and open mind for us to truly explore those ideas. I cannot credit her enough for juggling the dual mask as director and writer, having an open mind, inviting everyone into the creation of something I know has been near and dear to her for many years, all the while maintaining the integrity of the story and the characters and having the good taste to change her mind if something wasn’t working.
We are now over a month into the process and the script is still changing, but with something so new and unexplored, that’s expected. The changes have been more like epiphanies than nuisances. There were several times where certain moments were just not working either because an action may not have fit a character’s objective or we needed more time to transition or whatever and it would ultimately bring about a true collaborative discussion amongst everyone in the room and when we tried an idea, regardless of who suggested it, and if it worked, man, it was like the clouds parted and sunshine radiated this clairvoyant moment of truth. It really was. When it worked, it worked, and we all knew it, and we all owned it.
To give you an example without giving too much away, early in the play, during one of Zorro’s first appearances, he visits Sergeant Gonzalez in a tavern to seek vengeance for his wrongdoing. As it was initially written, Zorro enters the scene with a pistol drawn on the Sergeant and has all the power in the scene and accuses the Sergeant of being a bully, of doing only what he’s told, of not thinking for himself. Every time we did it, it just wasn’t working. There is a past relationship that Diego had with Gonzalez when they were growing up in which Gonzalez always saved Diego from bullies, so the layer of personal betrayal that is in the text for Zorro was overshadowed by the fact that he was the aggressor in the scene. We talked about it in terms of that relationship between Diego and Gonzalez and Michael Kramer who plays Fray Felipe happened to be in the room and was part of the conversation and offered his opinion that the pistol, which I was having frustrations with practically as a prop in the scene, made me the bully in that moment. So we got rid of the pistol and let my cape and mask and speech do all the work and it was just so much more powerful. It was a profoundly welcome relief to me and has become one of my favorite moments of the play.
Thank you Danny!
Learn more about Danny Gavigan on his website.
What were your favorites? Here are some of ours:
10. Over 9,500 patrons attended Season 5! Thank You!
9. Lorca’s haunting tale, Blood Wedding, garners rave reviews.
8. Constellation recognized as “One of the Best” by the Catalogue for Philanthropy.
7. Taking Steps is Helen Hayes Recommended.
6. Tom Teasley performs his magical original score to The Tales of Prince Achmed.
5. Metamorphoses is Helen Hayes Recommended.
4. Kendra Rai wins the 2012 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Costume Design for her work on The Green Bird.
3. Zorro, our first world premiere, went into production.
2. Metamorphoses, complete with 5,000 gallons of water, is Constellation’s highest attended show.
1. With over 30 associate artists, a growing board of directors, and an ever expanding number of patrons, donors and subscribers, Constellation’s family of supporters continues to grow at an exponential rate!