Meet Michael McKeogh from The Twentieth-Century Way

We are very excited to welcome a new face to Know Theatre’s stage for The Twentieth-Century Way! Michael McKeogh comes to Cincinnati from Chicago, Illinois where he has graced many area stages. We asked Michael a few questions. Enjoy!

michaelweb

Will you tell us a little bit about your background? From Detroit, went to undergrad with The Know Theatre’s Andrew Hungerford. Played Picasso to his Einstein in Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The irony is that I PLAYED an artist but Andrew actually IS a genius.

Can you tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be an actor? I never had that “moment.”just got involved in high school on a whim and started falling in love with telling stories.

How do you prepare for a role? That’s my dirty little secret but I’ll give you a hint: it’s more about questions, less about answers.

Tell us about your favorite role (besides your role in The Twentieth-Century Way of course). My most recent role was Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine of the American civil war. With a role like that there comes a larger sense of responsibility. You are playing a version of a person who really lived so you want to honor him but also bring yourself to the part. It was a wonderful gift.

Tell us just a little bit about your character in The Twentieth-Century Way. Mr. Brown is a complicated dude. Desperate and eager, but at the same time confident and grounded. He also struggles to self actualize, which is what really draws me to him.

What has been your strangest experience as an actor? Definitely when I carried a live lamb across the stage. Nude. Definitely the strangest. Especially for my in-laws.

If you were to be declared the ruler of your own country what would you name it and why? That sounds terrifying. Much harder than being an actor. I’ll pass.

The inquiring masses want to know, why should they come see The Twentieth-Century Way? Give them the hard sell! It’s like no other show that they will see this year. 2 actors 19 roles 1 indelible ink pen.

Thanks Michael!

Click here for more information about The Twentieth-Century Way! 

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Andrew Jackson’s Second Blog, or Filling the Space Between Profanities

Jackson here.

American presidents have to stick by a lot of tough goddamn decisions, and I’m often asked by my wife how I could force so much “back-asswards, xenophobic policy pigfuckery” on the Indians, the National Bank, various states and territories, the Legislative and Judicial branches of government and the American people in general. Conquering large swaths of continent ain’t always easy, folks, especially when you’re attempting to usher in a shiny new era of populism in direct opposition to a fully feckless Congress, fiscally manic Washington aristocrats and an entire race of people whose most enduring legacy to this country is leather fringe and fucking rain sticks.

Pictured here; a fucking rain stick.

Keeping America safe is about keeping America informed. Information is what puts food in our mouths, bullets in our guns and freedom in our mouths and our guns. Despite the media’s misinterpretation of the facts about me, I trust the public eye will see me for what I am. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone has a little blood on their hands, everyone feels a little guilty watching the commercial with the Indian crying because someone threw food on his moccasins.

Maybe I’ve been hasty in my decisions for the sake of this country, maybe the Trail of Tears amounts to genocide and a gross misappropriation of executive power, but the important thing is fuck youAndrew Jackson doesn’t just do the will of the people, he is the will of the people. Listen. I’m a flawed guy, admittedly, and that’s why I’m doing this whole Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson thing. Now, more than ever, the American people should understand the current politics of their nation, the politics that can be traced through the long colon of American history, all the way back to my ass, which is where I pulled them out of in the first goddamn place.

Entertainment is the key to reaching the masses, and though my usual way to the heart of a person is by shooting it with bullets, the way to the heart of a civilized people is through art, through the theatre. Because I’m also a person, a really sensitive person. Plus, Rachel is getting tired of my war stories and bedtime roleplay requests.

"Let's cut each other with my knife. Just the tip."

Really hope she doesn’t read this blog.

Essentially, the goal here is just to entertain the masses. Stuff got hella complicated when I tried to actually change this country and it looks like things aren’t getting any easier. Hate-mongering politishits have only gotten politishittier and there’s no room in the modern world for me, a man of ideas so old they predate the Democratic party. Example; I had some minor issues with the way the banking industry made its profits at the expense of the American people, so I shut it down. Really, honestly, does the idea of revamping a corrupt American banking system resonate with anyone anymore?

Thought not.

It seems like politicians have either pumped my ideas full of bovine steroids or forgot about them entirely. Every precedent I set has either been swept under the rug or expanded to the point of absolute cock-boggling absurdity. Even I didn’t see the Patriot Act coming, and I invented the idea of an uberpowered executive branch.

I’m just spitballing here, but when was the last time a new party asserted itself in this country? Come on, people. Kowtowing to the Washington elite isn’t only unpatriotic, it’s goddamn boring. Can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m starting to miss the frontier. Hell, at least you could smoke inside in 1828.

Everybody out there in cyberspace, listen up. Even if politics aren’t your thing, even if you don’t like music, even if you’re not a human, come see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Sex, rock n’ roll, war, leather, weasels; this show is everything you never knew you always wanted. Everything and more.

On Building Metaphor out of Bridges

On my first read of Collapse, I got really excited about the script. It’s funny, timely, heartbreaking, and weaves together metaphor and events that are just crazy enough to feel real in a way that’s both powerful and entertaining.

Plus it has a couple of “how the heck are we going to do that?” moments that make theatrical design in quirky spaces particularly exciting.

For the characters in Collapse, the I-35 Bridges (both the old one and its replacement) are a constant presence in their lives. In creating the world of the play, we wanted the structure of the bridge to be an omnipresent visual for the audience, physicalizing the psychological presence.

The design of the bridge structure that forms the set is a bit of a mashup between the old Bridge and the New.  The old bridge was quite complicated visually, with crisscrossing girders that affect the play of light and shadow.  It’s a twentieth century bridge, with all the hopes and dreams that carries.

The I-35 Bridge Before its Collapse

The New I-35 Bridge

The New Bridge, on the other hand, is sleek and contemporary, a bridge for the 21st century. With it’s pale colors, it’s a canvas for other light, and has a way of fitting in with the landscape rather than imposing itself.

With it’s elegant concrete arches, it would be extremely difficult for us to replicate the majesty of the new I-35 Bridge in our space with a 12 foot ceiling.

And the design of new bridge doesn’t really work for one of the scenes in the play.

So, rather than being slavish to either the old or new reality, the bridge that we put on stage draws elements from both structures (the design of the guardrail is, for example, based on drawings from the approval process for the new bridge).  Our bridge has complicated crisscrossing elements while maintaining a 21st century feel.

The elements of I-beams and girders also make our bridge multipurpose: it’s the exposed industrial beams of David and Hannah’s Loft Condo; it’s the pipes and girders of the basement where a support group meets; and it’s the bridge itself, whether illuminated and present or as a shadowy reminder.  We also kept the color story of the bridge in pale grays as a nod to the new I-35 Bridge, that way, as with the new bridge, we could wash the structure in colored light to give it a very different feel.

A rendering of the stage layout for a scene from Collapse.

Here you can see a rendering done in my drafting software, Vectorworks.  As a designer who’s continually travelling, I always use these kind of 3d renderings to communicate with the director and other members of the production team.  This way I could be working in California while sending drawings to Jason Bruffy in Florida.  We would talk, I would tweak some things, and then by the end of the day we could have updates to the rest of the Know team in Cincinnati.  Working with a traditional physical model, this process could take weeks.

Collapse Floor Treatment

The final overall visual element for the show is the floor, which you can get a sense of in the above rendering. I wanted the floor treatment to be evocative of light coming through the twisted girders of the wreckage of the old bridge, as though even though the structure we see is pristine, the shadow it casts is a continual reminder of the accident.  Here’s a quick view of my concept for the stage from above.

And here it is, when all of those elements come together.

Collapse, Onstage.

Meet Jason Podplesky

What role are you playing in the show?
Anton [They keep forgetting about Abe]

How long have you been acting?
All my life. My mother is also an actress so I grew up in a theatre.

Have you been in a show at Know Theatre before?
No, this is my first.

Who was the first politician you voted for?
Bill Clinton

What was the first play you ever saw?
Jesus Christ Superstar

If train A leaves Boston travelling south at 110mph against a prevailing wind with gusts upwards of 75mph and train B leaves Birmingham travelling northeast at 150mph with a steady breeze at its back, which train is more FABU-LOUS!?
I always believe in taking the A train.

Was Abraham Lincoln gay?
You betcha!

What is your favorite color (other than Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Green, Purple, and Pink)?
Black.

After a long day at work I like to…
go to rehearsal

What is your alcoholic beverage of choice?
Yuengling Beer

Do you enjoy big, gay dancing?
I do indeed.

You’re stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life. There’s plenty of food and water and, heck, maybe even satellite TV – BUT, you can only wear one of the following outfits for the entirety of your stay: A child’s Halloween cowboy costume, a wet-suit, a Santa Claus outfit, or your Birthday suit.
I would need a few clarifications before answering. Does the cowboy costume come with a gun? Would I have to wear the beard with the Santa outfit? Is this a tropical climate, as I chafe in very humid weather.

What’s your favorite kind of pie?
Free.

Corn: On the cob or off?
On. Definitely. Unless its creamed. I love me some cream corn.

What was the name of the play Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated?
Our American Cousin by Tom Taylor. (Thank you google.)

Have you ever stood in the middle of a field and looked up at the stars?
Yes. I was flat on my back at the time 😉

If you could say one thing to Abraham Lincoln, what would it be?
Beware of actors with guns.

How often do you sneeze?
Fairly regularly. Every day I suspect. I sneeze in 2’s.

2 + 2 = ?
5

Bringing Marionettes to Life

How do you translate acting to a puppet? How do you endow the puppet with expression? Does the puppet become an extension of your body?

Throughout the process of The Dragon, I have received varying forms of the basic question: How do we bring these puppets to life? And my answer has changed and evolved almost daily.

I, along with many others in the cast, consider myself an actor first. This is my very first time working on stage with puppets of any kind. And even those on stage who have significant puppetry experience, had never used marionettes before in a performance capacity, all save John Lewandowski. The rest of us were learning a new art form.

During the first workshops in September, it was just about learning how each puppet works. Every single marionette is built a little differently and has different functions. For example, my main character, Charlemagne, does not have hands. Many of the puppeteers use their character’s hands to gesticulate as one of their main forms of expression. I, however, have the ability to fluidly move Charlemagne’s head. This is a unique form of expression that is specific to this singular puppet. This is one of many examples of how the puppets are built differently and vary in function.

After we learned to adapt to each puppet and their individual “bodies,” the second thing that really came into play was the vocal work. I found myself having to dig even deeper into acting tools such as subtext and inner monologue to keep these puppets from becoming nothing more than objects on stage. We all were working hard to develop dialects, vocal patterns, and pitch ranges that were specific to one character alone. It sounds silly, but many times I also found myself, as the actor, over compensating with my own facial expression. This was something we really had to fight against.

Additionally, there is the problem of eye contact. As actors, one of the first things we are taught is to listen and connect with the eyes to one’s partner on stage. Dylan Shelton, who plays Lancelot, would comment on noticing actors trying to look at him from time to time and how bizarre that felt. We did not even realize we were doing this. It just comes naturally. We had to re-teach ourselves, in a way, to connect with the puppet and then let the puppet make the eye contact for us. Let me tell you, this was and is still one of the hardest things for me as a puppeteer on stage.

So, when it comes to bringing these puppets to life, it really comes down to those three things: learning each individual puppet, vocal work, and eye contact. But here is the real trick we have pulled on all of you…I don’t actually endow the puppet with expression, you do. After each show, when all the work is done, I never once made those papier-mâché faces move. My characters did not frown or smile and their eyes never once even blinked. So who actually brings them to life? I think the audience does. If you are a willing person and you come into the theatre to do nothing more than sit there and be present, you will in fact, bring these puppets to life on your own with your imagination. And that, to me, is the most beautiful thing about working with puppets.

The secret art of the puppeteer

Please welcome a guest post from Irina Niculescu who conceived and directed The Dragon.

“ …We build fragile castles of cardboard, of wood, and of light, where the actors will exchange words for the others, they will create poetical images and will transmit to their public the metaphor of the human existence, both in its glory and in its fragility; for the joy, the knowledge, the doubt, the love and even the anxiety of experiencing together the greatness of feeling human.” Giorgio Strehler

Many words have been said already about our new version of The Dragon by the press and by the patrons who have come to see the show. I am very touched by the surprise and the enthusiasm with which the public reacts during and after the show. It was a big adventure and a challenge for me to take a team formed by two theatres: designers, fine artists, actors, and musicians, and guide them through the complicated labyrinth of puppetry. I appreciated immensely their courage to take risks, the curiosity, and ambition with which they dove into the work.

This is why I decided to share with you what puppetry means to me, and why I chose to do puppet theatre.

Why puppets – Directing Puppet Theatre

Puppet theatre is for me an itinerary in the world of shadows, imagination and of fiction which re-creates reality. It is my life itinerary. I tell stories which talk about the fragility and the strength of our human condition. My shows express my thoughts about life, my joy, my questioning, my fears, and utopias. I created projects inspired by old myths like Gilgamesh, The Burning bush, The Firebird, by classic writers such as Cervantes, Horacio Quiroga, Dante, and composers such as Mozart, Rossini, De Falla, Stravinsky, and by contemporary writers in Romania, Norway, and Switzerland. I adhere completely to Giorgio Strehler’s words:  “directing means above all loving and understanding.”

I am often asked what drew me to puppet theatre and if I directed other kinds of theatre. I have directed other kinds of theatre and taught directing. But I mostly staged puppet theatre. World puppetry is currently experiencing an exuberant renaissance. I belong to that generation of artists who began this movement. We were the ground breakers who took the puppet out of its booth and placed it next to the actor. This gesture gave birth to a new conception of the space, a new use of proportions, and a new relation between the puppet and the puppeteer, bringing a new range of theatricality and meaning.  I was fascinated by object animation and the illusion of life that is given to the object. I explored the source of wonder and I discovered that for me, the magic relies on the capacity of the puppet to transmit emotions, which practically means the relation between the puppet and the puppeteer. It is the actor and puppeteer manipulating in view or hidden, who projects and invests oneself in the puppet. Without the actor, the puppet is just a sophisticated object.

I approach puppetry in its diversity of forms; I draw inspiration from traditional sources and I explore new forms which break the boundaries and bring together puppets, actors, singers, musicians, dancers, shadows, and sometimes virtual imagery. The choices I make are guided by the quest to create the best environment for the story to unfold. The puppets of The Dragon are inspired by German expressionism. I wanted their faces to express how they feel, rather than how they are. In my shows it is generally the puppet which bears the destiny of the hero. The puppet leads us into an imaginary world, which becomes for a moment, more real than reality itself.

The most difficult moment in my directing is when I choose my orientation in relation to the text, music, or another kind of dramatic material I stage. This choice will determine all the other choices. For it I associate my imagination and my critical rigor.

And the puppeteer in all that

For me, the puppet has a tragi-comedy essence, because it is always tied to the visible or invisible hands of the puppeteer because it is the metaphor of the human condition. The puppeteer has to master the technique of manipulation, which is their main tool; but the technique alone will never be enough to create the magic moments. Animating puppets has its mystery, but we sustained it with training and experimentation on how to extend oneself into the puppet. How do you make a puppet talk? How can one be present and invisible at the same time?  The relation between the puppet and the puppeteer is a permanent source of inspiration. It adds to the effect of innocence and irreverence, with which the puppet charms us.

The relation between the puppet and the puppeteers is essential for the puppet to transmit an emotion. The puppeteer works with the fragile border between animate and inanimate. They learn to project oneself into the puppet amd through a puppet. They work with movement and immobility, words and silence. In The Dragon, this relation is ambivalent. The act of manipulating in view, as well as the interdependence between the puppet and the puppeteer are a source of meaning. The visible presence of the puppeteer, as well as the relation between puppets and musicians, and between puppets and actors are sources of contrast and of tension. Working on The Dragon, we touched on the complementary relation between puppet and puppeteer, and we gave life to the expressive world the designer and I planned and built.

Who is who?

It is clear to everyone that Lancelot and the Dragon are actors and the citizens are puppets because the citizens are manipulated. The Dragon is a metaphor standing for all evils which determine our fears; in this play the social-political evils as well as our hidden ambitions for power. Fear is human and submission is human. But why are the citizens afraid? Why do they submit? Could they survive differently?

If the Dragon is the manipulator and Lancelot is the liberator and potential manipulator, who are the puppeteers? I left this question to the end because the answer is ambiguous. We wanted it this way: the people in black are serving the Dragon, taking the puppets to them, but they are also the shadows of their characters. They are hiding behind their little puppets, dissimulating their faces under the black hats. Who are they?

”Everybody should know freedom,” says Lancelot. Will they? Will Lancelot become a manipulator ? Will people’s compliance transform him into a Dragon? These are the questions that I hope my staging of The Dragon will raise.

How I First Met a Puppet

Roll back in time with me. It is early March 2010. I am in St. Louis attending the Midwest Theatre Auditions located on the campus of Webster College. This is not my first time at this audition conference, but I am still full of nervous excitement. However, this year was different than the past two. I knocked my audition out of the ballpark.  To change it up, I decided to do something ballsy and sing a song completely out of context. This has now has become my norm. Songs like Poker Face, Bibbidy Bobbidy Boo, Tik Tok, Total Eclipse of the Heart…you get the idea. So needless to say, I had a healthy plate of callbacks to attend. And I was planning on making it to them all. I wrote down all of my callback information, gathered my belongings, and was on my way…

So, I’m doing my little callback thing when the story really begins. I am sitting in the hallway reviewing some material when a couple of gentlemen walk by and recognize me. “Hello, MJ,” they say. “How are your callbacks this year? You had a great audition!” I greet them and thank them. These guys called me back last year for their company in Missouri. They peruse my list of callbacks as we briefly chat. Then, one of these dudes exclaims, “Oh! Madcap! Have you gone to that one yet?” I reply, “No, not yet, but I am planning on it.” The fellow continues, “The lady who is running that callback is crazy and such a good time. She sat behind us in the auditions. You will love her!!!” With my interest peaked, I headed straight for my callback with Madcap Puppets from Cincinnati, where I met the one and only, Mel Hatch Douglas.

Now for those of you who don’t know Mel very well, crazy might actually be the best singular word to describe her. But Mel is not crazy in the typical sense. She is crazy in the most endearing, lovable kind of way possible. Mel is passionately fond of all kinds of diet soda, has a huge mane of curly long hair usually found in perfectly crafted braids, she wears a watch on her ankle, and has a way of showing love and compassion to almost every single person she meets. None of this means that I had a good callback…

I sucked. Let me reiterate…I SUCKED! I walk in and immediately notice all of the hand-in-mouth puppets. They seemed to be everywhere. These are the puppets that we, as Americans, are most familiar with because of shows like Sesame Street and Avenue Q. We start the audition and I, quite frankly, could not get a damn thing right. I started with a voice that was too harsh. Mel stopped me and started laughing as I began to cough. Frequently, I would speak for the puppet without moving it’s mouth. Often, I would not even look at the puppet at all as I moved it around. Mel was gracious and kind…but let me be the first to say, I wasn’t ready for puppetry yet. Or so I thought.

I arrive in Cincinnati a mere six months later as the resident actor here at Know Theatre. Eric informs me that I will be working on a show called The Dragon. He explains that this will be the last show of our season and it will be a collaboration with another company in town, Madcap Puppets. Somehow or other, I did not make the connection right away. I knew we were going to be working with puppets and having virtually no experience in the field, I was wary.

The day of the first workshop arrived. I sit upstairs patiently awaiting the work. I see what appears to be a costume rack with long wooden figures hanging from it with strings. “These must be our little puppet guys,” I think to myself. We are just about to start the workshop when none other than the good ol’ Mel Douglas comes trudging up the stairs and into the theatre. Little did I know we would be working together after all!

I have to say that though my first experience with Mel and puppets was very poor, my second one, working on The Dragon, was quite the opposite. Though the style of puppetry is very different from that of hand-in-mouth puppets, I think I have come a long way since my days of callback misery. In earnest, it is being around trained puppeteers such as Mel and John that has informed everything I have done and everything I have learned. They are brilliant artists. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn a craft that I would have never tried otherwise.