Friday, April 28, 2017

ANIMAL FARM: A Look Behind The Scenes

The third and final Young Company (YC) production of First Stage’s 2016-17 season is the George Orwell classic ANIMAL FARM, opening Friday, May 12. As rehearsals started for this production, we caught up with Director and Associate Director of the Young Company, Matt Daniels to get a behind-the-scenes look at this production of ANIMAL FARM, how the YC and Academy training influence the overall process, and a bit about Shakespeare.
An exercise utilized by the YC both on and off stage is viewpoints, a technique to study movement and improvisation through the concepts of space, shape and gesture, time, emotion and story. During the rehearsal process of Animal Farm, viewpoint exercises were used as warm-ups for the YC actors, allowing them to fully transition into character – in this case, the animals on Mr. Jones’s farm. According to Matt, deconstructing the individual elements of a character along with the work itself is an integral part of the process, and this collaboration begins with the students. Matt talked more about this open exchange of new ideas as the cast works together in defining the themes of the play and how best to communicate those, offering the students a unique opportunity by bridging the gap between classroom and stage.

The viewpoint exercises are also used more practically for scene changes and transition. In an earlier YC production, TXT U L8R, actors performed the scenes in slow-motion before speeding back to real time to contrast the fast-paced, tech dominated story. Matt discussed how making those transitions feel part of the world takes what could be mundane and makes it artful, ultimately the goal of acting.
As a classic piece and political satire, ANIMAL FARM provides some interesting challenges for the young actors, including only one human character in the entire play. To help the cast fully embody those animalistic traits, the group visited a local farm to study how each creature moves, and how they interact with each other. That interaction plays a crucial role as the story unfolds and we begin to see the similarities between these animals and our own society. ANIMAL FARM is a cautionary tale with themes that always seem relevant regardless of the current political climate. Not knowing the current state of affairs when the play was chosen a year ago, Matt was noting that this ultimately provides another teaching moment as the actors learn to distinguish their own political views from those of their character.

The Young Company serves as an excellent training tool to bring all the incredible skills of First Stage’s Theater Academy to the stage. Within the diverse mix of opportunities and areas of study throughout the Academy, there is an affinity for the classics among students, something for which Matt Daniels is very proud. This past weekend was the YC’s 7th Annual Bard-O-Thon, where students spent the day learning and memorizing as many Shakespeare monologues as possible, to later perform a selection before a public audience gathered at 88nine Radio Milwaukee. In addition to again having that classroom to stage experience, deconstructing such complex text has it’s applications in many different areas, though perhaps most directly during auditions when an impromptu monologue is required.

See the results of the Young Company’s hard work on stage in ANIMAL FARM!

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