What's it like to prepare, rehearse and perform two shows in repertory?
Repertory — where a theater presents one show on one day and an entirely different one the next — was once common practice in theaters. Connecticut audiences may recall the glory days of the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford or the early seasons at Yale Repertory Theatre, when it actually did repertory theater.
For its 50th anniversary, artististic director Darko Tresnjak wanted the theater to experience the joys of alternating productions, not seen on stage here since Tennessee Williams' "Eight By Tenn" in 2003 and Horton Foote's "The Orphans' Home Cycle" in 2009. Though the first four-show season at Hartford Stage was not technically in rep format, the resident company of actors found themselves continually rehearsing for one play while performing in another.
Tresnjak, who says he would like to do a couple of shows each season in rep if the response is positive, chose for this first outing William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and a French dark comedy, "La Dispute," to alternate.
"Each play is a palette cleanser for the other," says Tresnjak. "But inevitably the plays start to speak to each other and we discover things that are similar in both."
A French period social satire with spare language and the darkest of Shakespearean tales with some of the most famous of the Bard's speeches?
" 'La Dispute' is just as much about the abuse of power as 'Macbeth' is," says Tresnjak, whose previous Shakespearean shows at Hartford Stage were "The Tempest" and "Twelfth Night." "It's also about innocence and the loss of innocence."
Five of the actors in the 11-member Equity company (four additional local actors are in "Macbeth) gathered recently to talk about the experience. Three were veterans of repertory: Grant Goodman, Kate Forbes and Kaliswa Brewster but for Kate MacCluggage and Philippe Bowgen, working on two plays at the same time was a new experience. (Matthew Rauch who plays the title role in "Macbeth" is the only Equity actor not in both productions.)
"It's like being at a buffet," says MacCluggage who is playing Lady Macduff and a Witch in "Macbeth" and a leading role of Hermianne in "La Dispute" "Instead of just performing one thing. I get to play a witch and then I get to do this other lady in 'La Dispute.' But at first it felt a little bit disorienting to me."
"It tales a couple of days to get the hang of it," says Goodman, who has the leading role of the Prince in "La Dispute" and Banquo in "Macbeth."
"This feels like grad school in the best way possible, when you're bouncing every five seconds from thing to thing and you have to be present in each place," says Brewster, who plays a Witch in "Macbeth" and Egle in "La Dispute." "I'm half expecting to finish rehearsal and then go to a class."
"It's refreshing to not have to think about it and just dive into another world," says Bowgen who plays Malcolm in "Macbeth'' and Mesrin in "La Dispute." "I think its healthy."
"When we got to 'Macbeth' we couldn't believe we had an entirely different experience earlier in the day," says Forbes who plays Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth" and Carisse, the maid in "La Dispute." "They have such different temperatures and feelings. It's a gear shift."
"We have to find the quickest way to get into each world, each atmosphere, each character without overworking anything, says MacCluggage, who was also in Hartford Stage's "Bell, Book and Candle" and "Twelfth Night." "There's so much that actors can work themselves up about. I think 'Macbeth' is an easy play to overwork."
"You just don't have the time to stress out," says Brewster. "And sometimes you can redeem yourself. "You're thinking, 'Well, that didn't go well but I got another role in another rehearsal in another play coming.' "
"You can get a bit maniacal as an actor when you just have one thing to do," says Goodman. "We don't have that problem."
"The thing I like most is that we're supporting each other's work," says Forbes who was in Hartford Stage's "The Crucible." "In my dreams, that's how theater always is. I'm the queen in one play and a servant in the next. And here I love the old servant role but the physicality it could not more different than Lady Macbeth. It's a stretch for me. [If we weren't in rep] Darko would have cast someone else as the servant, someone older or whatever. But instead as an actor you find things in yourself you didn't know you could do."
"You can make a living as an actor just doing one thing really, really well," says MacCluggage. "But when you're in a rep, you have to break down your swing and start over. You have to go, 'OK, I can do that really well but this requires something else of me that is not exactly in my wheelhouse."
"Watching actors do something totally different, how cool is that," says Bowgen.
Quick Change Artists
"We've rehearsed both plays in the same day a few times," says Goodman, "I think in terms of the days of summer stock where you're doing everything fast and you've got to make a decision fast. I change my coat and now I'm this character. Bam bam bam bam bam! That's what's exciting to me; that quick change artist aspect of it."
"I think your subconscious takes care of you," says MacCluggage. "Your body gives you what it knows it has to give. I think in the back of our brain or somewhere it says, 'Pace yourself because you've got another one to do.' "
"I'm still learning how to calibrate,' says Brewster. "For me, sleep is important. I also exercise but I have to figure out how to work it into my day so it doesn't whack everything out."
"You also bond faster in a repertory company," says Goodman. "You get to know people better, too"
"Sometimes when we all sit down together," says Brewster, "I'm thinking aren't there six or seven other people in the company? There can also be like a hierarchy when you're in [single] shows, like when soemone is playing a large part — not that they're being divas — but you tend to respect their space because of the size of their role."
"If we were just playing Macbeth, especially as a younger actor," says Bowden, "I may have more hesitancy to be close and chummy with Matt and Kate, but the fact that we're all in a rep company, it's really kind of freeing and it allows for better work from everybody."
"Audiences just eat it up, too." says Goodman. "They love saying, 'Oh, we saw her the other night and she was in this part and now here I can't believe that's her.' "
"It makes them feel they're really participating in the experience, too," says MacCluggage.
"[When friends as what it's like], I say it's twice as much fun," says Forbes.
" 'Just say yes if you're asked,' I tell them," says Goodman.
"And it doesn't feel that it's twice as much work," says MacCluggage.
"Well, some days," says Forbes.
LA DISPUTE begins previews Thursday, Sept. 12, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St.. The show opens Sept. 21, and ends Nov. 10.
MACBETH begins previews Saturday, Sept. 14. The show opens Sept. 25 and ends Nov.10.
Marathon days where theatergoers can see both shows in one day are Oct. 5 and 26 and Nov. 2.Tickets are $25 to $85. Information: 860-527-5151 and www.hartfordstage.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now