This page contains rehearsal notes and thoughts from a past production’s rehearsal process:

Rougher Magic: A Cubist Shakespeare

Rougher Magic:
A Cubist Shakespeare



In rehearsal with the following cast:

Director – Scott Shannon


Been pondering the last few months over the past couple of days – quite a time. I cannot thank the cast enough for subjecting themselves to the Nasty rehearsal process and for being so committed to that project. I am also extremely grateful to the audiences we had over the 4 Fridays in both cities, Fredericton and Saint John. It seems almost surreal that the process has come to an end … I keep thinking of things I might want/need to do for the show or what we might do with it next. I also wonder if we can now perhaps hold the production in our repertoire, so to speak, for resurrection at a later date without too much trouble … that can be a hard thing to do though … and there’s always another project on the horizon …

Rougher statue

Rougher statue

This past Friday @TNB’s Studio we had a smaller but attentive crowd – honestly, it was a little hard to read how much the audience was engaging the show. By the end of the first act the crowd had not been very vocal, but came out of their quietness a bit during the final scene of the first half(generally a crowd pleaser, with its comedy), which at least showed they were listening. The 2nd half of the show is fairly heavy though, and at intermission we were hoping that what we were reading was a muzzled attentiveness on the part of the single circle of witnesses (as opposed to our 1st show @TNB which saw some folks in a 2nd row of chairs, and last week’s SJ show had a sold out crowd with 2 full rows/circles of chairs – that’s all we could accommodate in terms of folks being able to see the show, what with a lot of stuff happening low or on the floor, etc.). And so the 2nd half, I think, found the crowd very engaged with us, and the comments after the show seemed to all share this sentiment (I generally feel folks don’t need to say much unless they do think it’s worth saying, so if it’s said, I take it at face value).

A stark difference in experiences between this last show in F’ton and our last SJ show the week prior. In SJ, with about 60 people in the room there was boisterous energy from the moment the audience entered. As they gathered around the circle filling the seats there was chatter, commotion, laughter, etc. – it wasn’t a quiet space. Contrast this with the F’ton entrance (each time) where the audience entered and quietly found their seats, with any chatter kept to a minimum and a whisper if at all. The SJ room was dimly lit. The F’ton space was bright with overhead working lights on. We, the actors, held our opening pose in each space and then launched into the show, and it was a radically different experience in each space with each crowd.

I think Julie/M2 put it best when I overheard her talking to some audience folks after the final F’ton show when she described the last SJ show as a lot of fun, for both crowd and performers, with an energy to match in the room; the F’ton, which had just finished, seemed heavier, more emotional, maybe because it was the last show, but that’s how it felt . I think she was right. That SJ crowd was our largest, and they were very open to expressing themselves. The F’ton crowd was small, a single row, and intimate, which created a much different connection and space for reacting to what you’re watching (sometimes it is hard to know where/when to laugh and what will others think if they hear/see me laughing at *that*?!, etc.). I know I felt a deeper connection that last night, which might have been aided by the thoughts of this being the possibly last time I ever say those words on stage like that. It was almost 15 years ago when I last played ‘Caliban’ and spoke those words, our final show in the Mini-theatre @SJHS and it was one of my favourite personal performances; this past Friday also sits now as one of my favourite performances. From a larger perspective, I think the show overall had a more intimate feel for everyone in the room on that last night – the circle felt tight and good with the crowd enveloping us that last time …



John Ball as 'Prospero' in ROUGHER MAGIC

John Ball as ‘Prospero’ in ROUGHER MAGIC

Last Friday @ the Sanctuary Theatre in Saint John was our best run to date, IMHO. Sure, there were still a few minor bumps, but that’s part of the fun. The show overall had an energy/pace/rhythm/vibe that just felt very good. I’m fond of claiming that I’m happy to perform for the smallest of audiences – and I am, with some of my own favourite performances being witnessed by handfuls of people – because what you can share in the room amoung a few witnesses is really something powerful. (I have religious sensibilities in relation to this thing called theatre and my participation therein.) However, I also understand that not everyone else feels the same way – actors like to be watched, I know that and I’m certainly sympathetic to that (I like to be watched too!). I have felt over the years sometimes that other actors have felt low or almost slighted by small attendance; I’ve gotten used to it. While our first F’ton show had a real solid sized crowd (c.30), the first SJ show had a small crowd (c.15) and I know it’s hard to feel you’re connecting, especially in a large room. Our circle is fairly tight, but the Sanctuary is cavernous in an upwards fashion making the sparsely populated circle of 32 chairs seem distant in a sense. It was also our first night in the space and I didn’t have us properly test-drive the sound and our spatial orientation. Live and learn. All that to say that our 2nd SJ performance with approximately 60 witnesses felt full and whole in a very good way. The crowd was very engaged and responsive, and you could feel how we were all sensing that and feeding off the energy in the room – very exciting feeling. A connection with a room full of people and everyone focused on the same thing, when that thing is worthy of focus, is exactly what I’m chasing in my performance of theatre and in my consumption of other live art – nothing else quite measures up.

Hoping to have one last touch of that MAGIC on Friday night … our last show …


I am really loving the opportunity of sharing this work with an audience for one night, stepping away to reassess over the following week, and then coming back to a performance the following week (not sure, at this point, how much the entire cast is “loving” this as it means I keep coming to the rehearsal room with a new idea to try, or that the show is lasting this long, but I am appreciating this process immensely). It’s certainly a different feel than running a few nights in a row, and if we were using actual tech we couldn’t do this once-a-week model because of the extended hassles/expenses involved with that angle. I am far more interested in sharing our work with an audience, which means the growth and development as well, than I am in presenting a complete product which solidifies and then is presented each night, sold as an entertainment – that was the trap I had fallen into before we went on hiatus, and I much prefer the looser feel, in almost every aspect, of this production.

I actually tried to find free space where we would not have charged a ticket price at all bec ause I like the notion of “sharing” the work without the burden of a monetary exchange, especially since many in attendance are often friends or family, but nobody wants to let you use space for free – go figure, eh? So, I set up bookings at a couple of spaces that work well for our how we play and are also feasible, and we’re now doing original work, meaning we cut our ticket prices down by $5 from where we were before – no tech fees also helps reduce this cost. We are charging $$ in order to pay for the space in which we all gather, performers and audience together for rounding out the circle of play. And, I also need to anticipate that we are not going to draw big crowds, which is why I am ever grateful to those who come out and throwdown their $$ to see our show(s). I thank you for helping enable our playing and for participating in your angle of the exchange: being an audience.

Part of me wondered if we could simply work a play, invite anyone interested to our rehearsal space some night to see what we’ve done, and then that would be it. However, I think actors involved in such a process would feel slightly incomplete by not presenting the show as a “performance”, and I now believe there is some truth to that – I’m just trying to tweak what it means to see a “Nasty performance”. What is important is setting a date by which the work needs to reach a point of presentation because we’ve made an agreement to share it with folks on that date. It’s important to have that goal since that is the aim of the theatrical process, for performers and audience to share a space together in real-time , and without that goal the rehearsal process has no real focus and becomes too insular. Theatre needs an audience. While a big part of why I do this is to satisfy my own cravings for creation/performance, I also like to think Nasty Shadows offered something to the NB theatrical landscape that was not there when we began 15 years ago, and I still think our work fills a particular void. I try to offer the type of theatre I would enjoy, so hopefully that’s satisfying a few others’ cravings for the kind of work we perform.

And so, the other night at the Sanctuary Theatre in Saint John, we had a small but attentive crowd – turns out they were most likely all straining and concentrating on trying to hear what was being said! By many reports we lost considerable portions of text to the reverberation in the church’s ceiling. Happy we have this week to ponder the problem, have a rehearsal run where we can keep that issue in mind, and then return to the space on Friday night for another kick at this magical can.

We have made some considerable changes to various moments in the play since our 1st performance in Fredericton which for me have made the “story” we’re telling that much stronger. The relationship between Caliban and the 3 Mirandas has become more friendly and less biting, which in turn has adjusted the relationship between the 3 Mirandas and Prospero. Ferdinand got pretty nasty just before we opened, and now another slight adjustment has made his big scene with M3 more effective. This week Prospero will be making some tweaks, both physically and by extent to his “character”. Bob also provided me some notes about possibilities to explore with Caliban in light of the way we’ve established this closer relation with Caliban and the 3Ms, but also to remind me of the fact that Caliban is the one character for whom these actions and words really are a façade and that I should be fighting against that more, letting the more childish/animal side come out in moments to show how thin the veil really is and how unnatural this behaviour might be for Caliban.

It’s fun to play … it really is …


Just got home from a Shadow gathering which took place at Julie’s house. We were celebrating our current show, but also taking time as a Nasty group to remember our friend, Andrew Jones. We told some stories and raised a glass, and it was nice to remember his presence. I do miss the guy. It’s odd to play without him around …

Last night we opened our production of Rougher Magic. Not without its bumps, it was a highly energetic opener from a brave and responsive cast. I had given these folks a slew of nuanced notes during the 30min leading up to opening – and this was after we’d just reworked some new blocking for the song and tweaked the ending of the play. The night before, I’d introduced some vague suggestions I felt needed to be more solidified before we opened, so I created a chart with details for each scene about actor/character attitudes and responses to scenes when your character is “off”. We are essentially always “on”, even when we’re not in the scene that’s actually happening, and so some of the narrative around the scenes can be filled in by movements/reactions occurring with actors outside the playing space proper.

More so than usual, it’s become increasingly important to me that we keep exploring ways to shape the overall thrust of the show, which in turn means colouring particular moments in certain ways. I spent today compiling a list of those possibilities for us to try this week in our 2 rehearsals before we head to Saint John on Friday. Running the show once per week is enabling some further refinement of our explorations, and I’m liking that.

On a personal note: Wow. Being on stage for the first time in over 2 years was more surprising than I’d realized and really showed me how unprepared I was in particular (thank god for the strong cast I’ve assembled!). I generally try not to dwell on the actual event of stepping in front of an audience because it quite honestly terrifies me to the point of paralysis at times and basically makes me never want to get on stage again. I go back and forth on this feeling throughout a process, and often by the end of a process/show run I am ready to pack it in and never been seen on stage again … on a personal level, that’s where Friday left me and yet I’ve got 3 more shows I must make happen and I have to make my performance work. So, this is a slightly different challenge than usual … normally I’ve got months to rebuild my nerve and confidence … not this time … so that’s a personal struggle, but luckily I’m also distracted by my directing duties which aren’t leaving me much time to wallow …

Friday is like another “opening” night … so, I can think of this as a fresh start in some sense …


We played in the TNB Studio today and really got to stretch our legs and voices – what a great room! That was a huge difference from the tiny room we’re playing in down by the river. However, I found that the cast did a great job of adjusting to the new space. There is still some issues to consider in that regard, but overall I was happy with that and we were all very playful and filler our “island” in the space with the rougher magic it needed. I think it will work very nicely in the simple honest presentation we have of playing in a plainly lit circle – this group of performers will be all the audience needs for focus. I enjoy the show more each time I watch, and just today Michael found a new read on Ariel’s first line (due to our low tech (i.e. lack thereof)) which was brilliant, I thought. The play is rich … I am finding that the exploration this time is far more intriguing than trying to settle on a final form for actual presentation … this process and play are in constant flux for me right now …

Friday is approaching swiftly …


Opening is approaching and we still have much to do in terms of fine tuning and tightening up moment to moment, but now is the stretch of our process where we see the most results because of everything we’ve built up to this point. Until recently, folks have been in for rehearsal sporadically and for different scenes, so while we’re all running lines at home we might not touch a scene for over a week because we’ve got other scenes that need working during our 2-3 sessions we meet per week. We’ve amped that up to 4 times the past couple weeks, and next week is going to be intensive with every night being busy as we lead to Friday’s opening. But what’s happening now is we’ve run the first half through a couple times over the weekend after working bits. Next we focused on running the 2nd half repeatedly and working moments, from the 1st or 2nd half, and we’re continuing that process until we put it altogether again. Now that I’ve had a chance to see the 1st and 2nd halves of our work in context, I’m looking to adjust some things accordingly to reflect the work we’re doing now or have done since we first discovered certain approaches to moments – for instance, I know I want some more movement in a few scenes after seeing some of the movement we’ve got going in others (and not because all scenes should be heavy with choreography, but that we missed some of those opportunities earlier which I think we could try to discover now – certainly some scenes require a form of stasis or lack of movement to reflect or resonate what’s happening.)

Mirandas - part 2

Mirandas – part 2

Tonight we actually had quite a shift in the direction Prospero’s been taking, which was a wonderful moment to see in the rehearsal room – I gave John a minor suggestion to toy with on one pass of his speech and he then took it and carved out something very nice to see (I think you’ll be taken by his Prospero!). Then Julie joined us, and it was almost the same sort of thing in terms of her Miranda 2: I once again made a suggestion, and Julie is now toying with it and bringing out a really authentic version of her “Dear Daddy” speech, which in turn feeds into M2’s encounter with Prospero on the heels of that monologue. The evening was then topped off by playing around, rarely loosely, with the Miranda 1 German Macbeth speech (yep!), whereby I carved out a rough sense of using the space for Liz to walk through and take away as she continues her work on the German text – hard stuff! Fantastic work tonight all around.

Mirandas - part 2 cont'd

Mirandas – part 2 cont’d

Because the narrative of the play, what narrative there is, is by no means linear, it means we can mess around with the beginning/ending of the play – Bob’s actually written two different endings to the play, so it’s almost like a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing. As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been holding off on choosing the ending but I made a choice, and then this opened up a different way to possibly open the show this time as well – I thought my idea (which I won’t mention here) was pretty cool, really. I wrote Bob to see what he thinks, and he likes it, likes what it does to the “story” of the play. I’m stoked. Although the new opening now opens up the possibility of flip-flopping on the choice of ending. It works either way for different reasons resulting in altered forms of possible closure … if one is looking for that, but this play kind of eludes that grasp and that’s part of its aim, I think. The play both wants and doesn’t want you to “understand” and follow a “story”, and it balances both of those extremes by tickling your interest, compassion, and sense of fun in a way that (I think) keeps you watching in hopes the “story” will unfold, but regardless the journey is well worth the experience.


Since our first run of the show, we have focused again on isolated scene work and have made some wonderful strides in some scenes, with others still requiring some considerable attention. We also began building in a few more group moments and some interactive playfulness with the audience – really hoping we can have a spread around the circle so that what we’ve been sort of planning will in fact play out/with the audience as we intend.

Rougher Magic rehearsal - Afraid of the dark

Rougher Magic rehearsal – Afraid of the dark

I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to decide on the ending of the play now as it will affect the show more than I may have realized before. Last time I left that decision until the last minute, and I wonder now if it created a bit of aimless direction for the actors through the play, and thus the result played out as such as well to an extent. At the time, this was partly my aim as well since I feel the show holds up as a series of scenes creating momentary experiences, which may result in your not being able to find a linear path through a tale told, but nonetheless the experience of it all cannot be denied and that one felt the experience regardless of post-articulation. I left it to the script to tell that story, for good reason, which in some sense left the actors a little too much out of the process. 10 years ago I think I believed the actors simply needed to speak and act, and all would be well. I’m not *too* far beyond that right now (HA!), but I do have more sympathy towards an actor’s process and I want to involve that input more in the shaping of the play. I still think actors ask wacky questions sometimes that really shouldn’t concern them in terms of their “action” on stage, but I digress.

This time around, I want the actors to affect the story more as well. I’m once again favouring a certain ending – Bob has given us two possible choices. I haven’t lost all interest in the other ending, but I think deciding on this certain final scene will/can in turn colour everything we all do throughout the show, and some of the action/business we are building into our telling.

I’m finding the play quite different this time around, and that’s a wonderful experience to have.



Rougher Magic Cast Selfie

Rougher Magic Cast Selfie

First run done. We ran the play top-to-bottom tonight, minus a couple of larger group moments we haven’t worked yet, and had a ball doing it, I’d say. Well, at least I did and it looked like fun was being had in that room! I’m glad to be on the other side of the first run-through as now we can begin really digging into the scenes in finer detail, moment to moment. From this point forward things get more intense for me and the work more concentrated. But, the fun remains. Up until now though, the process has been loose which is what I think I like at that stage as it allows us all a period of getting to know the script, our moments in that script, and then see the whole thing on a night like this where we run the show for the first time.

I can honestly say that everyone had wonderful moments throughout the run which just re-confirmed that I’ve made the right choices with the casting as everyone simply owned their respective roles. It was great to see a solid view of that at this point, even though I know some of them are still floating, as am I for *this* version of Caliban. Each actor really showed me something significant tonight so that was excellent. We must now dig in deeper.

The playing gets more involved and focused now, and I really like that. But we need that period of time of getting familiar with everything and everyone. Since we’re all doing this in our free time outside of regular work hours, it takes a few weeks for this to happen, working at the pace I like which is meeting just a couple times per week. We’ve now added a 3rd weekly rehearsal, and that will continue until we get closer with the week leading to opening being pretty busy for everyone balancing life and this theatrical commitment we’ve all made. Honestly, at times it’s not easy and it seems it would be much simpler to be relaxing at home rather than sitting here running lines, or having to “go” to rehearsal – for me, it’s the actual “going” where my lazy voice says, “Oh, don’t ya just wanna relax?”, but once I’m in the rehearsal room it’s just about my favourite place to be. I love it there.

And so, we carry forward with scene work on Thursday as we build towards our 2nd run-through in a couple of weeks.

Our show opens in one month from tonight. I think we’re in great shape, but have loads of work to still do and that’s the fun part for me.


What a week! We made our way through the entire play, and began working scenes again near the start of the play as we roll through on our 2nd pass of scene work. Due to a minor re-schedule we bumped our first run of the show from this past Thursday to this coming Tuesday – looking forward to the stumblefest that is a first run-through. It’s always a rough rehearsal when we make our first way from top to bottom of a show, and it’s the same with any group (in my experience). It’s a necessary hurdle that pulls the first leg of the process together, gives the performers a better sense of the whole, and allows for some confidence to build as you can say, “Well, got through that. It only gets better from here!”

Earlier this week, John and I met on Tuesday night to work a couple of Prospero/Caliban scenes. One was a short scene near the end, which has an alternate version as an appendix to the script. The other was the final scene of the play, and it too has an appendix which simply offers an alternate final moment of the show. With the short scene, we tried each version and then opted for the appendix – which I think we may have gravitated towards each time in the past. The appended alternate version is a little longer and offers a bit more playfulness with some of what the original version of the scene hints at, and John and I both preferred the way the longer version allowed more of a glimpse at the layers of play which the script is always toying with and where that finds these two “characters” at that moment. We then worked the final scene of the play, ignoring the very ending moment as I haven’t decided which way to go yet. Not sure which version I want to present, and I think I need a feel for more of the whole before I can make that call about the final moment, so I’m holding off for a while yet. Nonetheless, John and I worked the final (lengthy) scene quite thoroughly, with lots of different explorations, stops/starts, and generally just a great sense of play. We found a few really authentic “truthful” moments which, once again, seemingly carried more “weight” than in the past. Moments that held a theatrical truth and weight, which were very full moments for the stagings we were producing years ago. This time though, it’s just different. There was quite a different dynamic between John (P) and I (C) in some of these more emotional interchanges than there was when it was Len (C) and I (P), or Chris (P) and I (C); the former because I was not right as Prospero, and the latter because we were so close to one another and so young that the interaction was more performative than invested (but this one worked for me more than with Len and I – I really shouldn’t have been Prospero!). In summation: This rehearsal with John was fantastic and really opened up the relationship between Prospero and Caliban in exciting new ways for me – I left there with quite a high.

Thursday night found us jumping back near the start of the play – we’ll do a 2nd pass on the actual beginning when we meet later today (Sunday). So, we began with some monologue work for M2, and Julie is getting better each time (go figure?). This speech is gonna come out really nicely as it’s already showing that in some spots. Julie then left and we jumped back to Scene 3 where Ferdinand discovers Caliban on the island. I sat out of the scene and allowed Liz to stand-in as Caliban so I could get a better outside view of the scene and of Ian in particular. Again, this speech is coming along well with Ian getting a little more comfortable with Ferd each time we meet. Ferd isn’t really like Ian, as far as I know Ian, so it’s not a natural space for Ian to inhabit, but he’ll really make it work once we play with it more and more. We built in some nice moments where he’ll share directly with audience members, even sitting with them, and he was exploring all that exchange with a great sense of play. I think it will work and engage the audience in a way they won’t be able to avoid. I love that. The show is just out there in regular light, we’re playing in a small circle with the chairs right around us so the audience is always within reach, and Ian was toying with that space in good ways. Nice stuff.

After that, Liz and I just ran lines for the M1 vs. Caliban scene – haven’t solidified any real movement or approach for this scene yet. I remember it being my biggest challenge last time, not wanting to simply rehash what we’d done before. It took a while, but I think we found a wonderfully creative way to play the scene the last time I staged the show, so I’m just sitting patiently waiting for the right sense of play to come to me. We did try some stuff when we last met, some of which worked a little, and some of which didn’t. And so, on this night we just ran the lines because it is a lightening speed exchange of dialogue so having that nailed will really enable exploring how to play the scene.

And the night ended with Julie returning, John joining us, and we then played the scene that begins with the M2 monologue we’d worked earlier and moves into a confrontation between M2 and Prospero. I think I mentioned this before: It’s an ugly scene between the two of them. So, the monologue begins with M2 trying to convince us (and herself?) that she loves her father and he loves her. Then Prospero comes in and insults her beyond repair. The speech had changed since we last looked at this scene meaning Julie ends in a different place, so when John enters things were suddenly different in terms of stage locations. This led to a new blocking for the scene which worked beautifully with the text. Again, some real authentic interaction between the two that will only get more rich as we continue to work.

On Tuesday we do our first full run of the show, and we’ve already begun our 2nd pass on particular scene work, so I’d say we’re in very good shape for this point in the process.


This will be much easier when *I* am not having to look at my script. We’re still on our first pass on each scene after starting rehearsals at the top of the show and working through the play (pretty much) in order as the scenes unfold, so I think it’s all well and good (needed?) to have your script at this point. However, tonight we worked scenes involving Caliban, and it was hard to be on-book, acting in the scene, and trying to soak it up as the “director” as well. Losing one of those things, the script, will help immensely.

Rougher Magic rehearsal (Liz & John "not" posing)

Rougher Magic rehearsal (Liz & John “not” posing)

Directing while in the scene is certainly a (foolish?) challenge, but this is the way I want to be making theatre right now – I want to be *in* it too because that feeling of immersing yourself in the play is such a rush that being outside it drives me crazy. From a practical standpoint, as silly as this might sound, it’s also one less person to schedule – I’ll always be available for the rehearsal I’m scheduling, so that’s easy. And moving to this more basic mode of staging we’re using means there are less outside concerns and really only performance issues, which is where I like to be playing. This is not to say that I won’t want to do projects where I will only direct and/or that others won’t direct Nasty work again, but for this coming year of shows I’m leading us along this model where I will play and direct, with our spring show adding writing to my plate.

And so, tonight we took it a little easy and just marked some basic movements on some scenes that will require varying degrees and types of attention. We moved back in the play a bit to start rehearsal so Julie and I could work together a bit on M2’s monologue. She already has a great sense of it, so I just had her play some different approaches, which muddied waters more than helped afraid! So, I asked her to take the delivery back closer to where she was when we began the evening, but with a couple of more minor adjustments, and it came out nicely. I think I have a better sense now too of how to approach M2, which I was thinking of more in terms of a stereotype, but what’s most engaging was to see Julie’s humanity in there. Moments, phrases are weighing more heavily – I referred to this in my first rehearsal note for RM. I am finding myself thoroughly intrigued by the textures this group of actors are creating and pulling out of the text. It’s wonderful to hear fresh takes on lines and on how to even look at a scene, and it’s cool a scene simply has to read differently now – 17 years after my first encounter with this play. Go figure, eh?

We then moved back to where we are in the order of the play to work a quick scene which begins the 2nd half, an encounter between Caliban and the 3 Ms. It’s a fun playful moment of confusion which we marked in terms of movement, and then we’ll explore the scene more on our next run of rehearsals (as we will with all scenes). A couple of Ms left, and a Prospero arrived so with M1 and Caliban we worked the dream scene – this is one of my favourite moments in the play and I think I have a great way to stage it this time around, which I will not expound upon except to say I have plans to use the cast more as a whole this time around. We will get to some this work after we run scene work for one more go around through the play. At that point we will stitch the scenes together and begin working more of the group moments and playful ideas I have. We need a foundation first, and that’s what we are building now.

Looking forward to rehearsing the end of the play with John next week … another scene that will find more of the cast involved as we develop how to play it.


Big scene tonight for Miranda 3 and Ferdinand – their meeting interrupted by “Daddy”. This is a very funny scene, but also very creepy. M3 is the most childlike of the 3 Ms and in this scene Ferdinand swoops in and woos her, and in our staging the eligible bachelor is a grown man hitting on a grown woman, who is herself pretending to act like a child. There has always been something odd about this scene in terms of the more worldly Ferdinand pursuing the young M3, although RM’s Ferd is kind of more into himself than he is concerned with or noticing M3’s details beyond her appearance (which, as I mentioned, are those of a grown woman – and infinitely more attractive than the “woman” Ferd encounters earlier in the play).

Current home of Nasty Shadows rehearsals - Fredericton Small Craft Aquatic Centre

Current home of Nasty Shadows rehearsals – Fredericton Small Craft Aquatic Centre
(photo taken during 2008 spring flood)

Clarissa had a great sense of the playfulness of this scene right from our first read, and it’s just getting better (just emailed her another note I thought of with regards to playing the role even more childlike). We had some props in the room tonight which certainly helped with this scene, and there’s potential for so much more – but a danger of getting carried away, so gotta watch that. Ian began by playing the scene rather straightforward which works as a starting point, so I then prompted him to find more of Ferd’s ego as it’s found in the text, and this will balance nicely with Ian’s natural friendly-guy charm – it muddies the waters a bit more on who Ferd is. It was interesting to note the authenticity between the actors in some of the scene’s moments of intimacy, and playing with levels or moments of that will be part of what we need to work the next time we touch this scene.


We have hit some organizational hiccups, re-cast an actor, and had three weeks of rehearsals since my last note. It’s honestly felt longer as I wade through the business of arranging the venues and such for our performances – my least favourite thing to do. (Anyone interested in working that production angle? GET IN TOUCH!)

On a more positive note, rehearsals have gone very well from my perspective. We started with a very “rough” go through of the play from top to bottom. I like to do this after our initial read as it gives everyone a chance to feel the play on its feet all the way through before we begin the more tedious work of scene-by-scene, and eventually moment-by-moment within those scenes. I love that detailed work though, and I believe I’ve mapped out enough time for us to spend on fine tuning, which is something I lacked in our last production as I opted to rush the process to meet performance dates. This time I went back to booking later dates and ensuring we had the time to play and experiment.

We then began at the opening of the play and have had 6 rehearsals, covering the first third of the play or so, and working a scene from the end of the play due to its relation to a scene at the beginning. At this point we are firming up a bit of the movement of the scenes and giving everyone a chance to feel scenes through a few times. There’s only so much work to be done at this point while we are all still feeling our way into the script, getting the lines in our heads, and basically just allowing time to play together. There is something kinetic to the learning process which is important to allow. Of course, we’re chatting a bit as well about the text and how to approach it as a performer.

“How authentic are these “characters”?”

“Very much so, and not at all. You see, they’re performers ‘playing’ the ‘characters’, but those ‘characters’ are also very ‘real’. Does that help?”

“Very much so, and not at all.”

In the end, what goes through our heads/hearts as the actors on stage matters little when it is the *effect* that will live and connect with the audience. However, it is important for us to find a means of helping the play induce the *effect* and each of us are individuals who have a certain way of getting ourselves there. I love the challenge, as the director, of helping guide each actor through their process in relation to the text at hand. I am humbled by the trust of the actors as I take the lead on how the whole puzzle pieces together, and I’m also exhilarated by that!

Playing with John and Michael to begin the process was a great start. We ran the Prospero/Ariel opening, with Liz joining us later for M1’s letter to Prospero, and initiated a sense of the relationship between A & P, but I neglected to set aside some time for just John and I to delve into P’s opening speech which certainly helps any actor playing the role to get a feel for who/what this Prospero guy is all about. I found the part extremely challenging in the ’04 production, so I knew we needed this time of focusing on Prospero alone. We were still able to work the evening through fine for the purposes of where we were in the process (1st rehearsal), and then John and I met the following week to dig into that opening speech. The play is lost/won with that opening speech, and there’s a very fine line Prospero needs to walk between engagement/boredom. It’s hard as hell to hit, but I know I’ve got the right actor for this. (Our first Prospero, Chris Stacey nailed it. I did not.)

The next 2 rehearsals were spent on the introduction of Caliban into the story and the integration of Act 2 Scene 2 from The Tempest, albeit pulled through the Rougher Magic filter. During this scene, RM’s Ariel and Ferdinand become Trinculo and Stephano from The Tempest. This is the only direct lift out of the original text of a long portion of text – it’s basically the entire scene. There are other lines throughout RM lifted out of the original, used in varying ways, along with lines from other works by The Bard. But this Caliban-meets-the-shipwrecked-losers scene throws us right into the world of The Tempest, but with a twist that then launches us into an oddly engaging scene which is kind of a furthering of what The Tempest scene created, by which I mean we’re taken further from RM and treated to strange “characters” which opens some thematic and character issues/resonances, but this then leads back to the island as it is in RM. This scene is a giant wild whirlwind involving lightening speed delivery, comic timing, Jamaican vibes, some song and dance, and general abuse of Caliban. I anticipate this scene to require the most time attention in terms of us just needing to run it, run it, run it, many muchos times. Our next of phase of work on the scene will take us leaps ahead as we’ll be off-book and able to drill the lines that way and play more freely. Nonetheless, we came up with some fresh new inventions and approaches to these scenes and various moments.

Scott Shannon as 'Caliban' during rehearsals c.February 2000

Scott Shannon as ‘Caliban’ during Rougher Magic rehearsals
c.February 2000

I am looking for that *new* discovery each time we meet. In some sense, I could possibly block the show and direct performances toward the way we’ve done it before and that would work beautifully. I’ve seen it. But, I’ve done that before, a few times now, so I am exploring other ways of opening the text and working the scenes. This play is incredibly rich in that regard, I think, so it would be a shame not to dig into it with a slightly different approach. I played a little last time, which had minimal rehearsal time, so we were limited and I did aim to basically remount the original production. Not this time. The casting for this production also means things are just, well, different. And that’s good.

The next night John and I met for an hour or so to work Prospero’s opener. We discussed the speech a bit, which always seems like chasing something I can’t catch. Attempts at “explanation” fail me to a certain extent, and in the end it’s when we’re playing on our feet that the play comes alive for me. And so, when John got up to run the speech for me – off-book, bless his soul – we were able to physically explore some of the things we were discussing, but we also discovered new moments and attitudes. Certainly some of my notes about John’s physicality and speed of movement helped him feel out Prospero a little more to marry some of the more cerebral part of the process with the body. I remember working with John in the past, and once he gets physical with the role wonderful things start to happen, as they did on this night. I’m stoked to see what he brings to the room the next time we tackle this scene.

Our next rehearsal involved everyone but Ariel (Michael), and we touched briefly on a few moments, jumping around the text a bit. We worked the meeting between Prospero and Miranda 2 – one of the uglier scenes in the play; harsh tones. It’s short, so we just touched on it briefly, marking some blocking. I (once again) neglected to set aside time at the start to work just with Julie on the monologue that precedes this scene with Prospero, but we’ve got that set aside for an upcoming session. Ian and I played briefly at the scene where Ferdinand “comes ashore” and discovers an “island maid” – much potential for hilarity in this scene. Again, need to set aside a time with just Ian to work that like a speech for a bit while incorporating Caliban’s presence, so we didn’t do much beyond basic shapes of movement. The evening ended running the Miranda encounters – some of my favourite moments in the play. There is a wonderfully surreal feeling to these meetings between the Mirandas, and with the 3 Ms I have cast this time there is already an underlying sentiment between them that will play out nicely.

Rougher Magic

The following rehearsal saw Liz and I tackling the Caliban vs. Miranda 1 scene – we, or I should say, *I* had a rough go of it. When I was Caliban we played this scene in the same basic way each time, and it worked. The last time, I had Caliban and M1 play a game of “afternoon tea”, suppressing the sexual undertones below this enforced civility. It worked well too. I’d like to find something new this time as well, which began with a game of teacher/student but fizzled a bit after about a page – the scene lasts 3-4 pages. Not sure that game is a keeper, but it helped break open the scene between Liz and I which was good. We began by just running the lines over and over – it’s a quick succession of various forms of greetings/salutations/sayings, but twisted up with that RM touch. Having these lines will be key to discovering our way of playing the scene. I know last time we didn’t find that “afternoon tea” set-up until about a week before opening, but I kept trying different approaches to the scene and wasn’t happy until we found that one. We have lots of time, so I know we’ll find something that is right for this time around.

And finally, last night (2 nights ago?), we worked the moment where Ariel meets M1, and is then engaged by M2 immediately afterwards – it’s a succession of high energy moments driven by the actor playing Ariel, and Michael was off to an impressive exploratory start, discovering lots of little reads on lines in ways I’d never heard (I just kept telling him to play around, try *anything*). The innovation of a physical counterpoint to a rather deflated M2 moment worked perfectly – I don’t recall Ariel really doing much at that moment before, but rather that the moment seemed to beg for something else but I missed it. Michael and Julie found it last night. Before all that, we worked the moment after Ariel’s monologue where M1 comes on a bit crazy in the head, or so it seems (ya know, like many key female Shakespearean characters do at some point in the rising action). This is a mish-mash of a bunch of The Bard’s key lines from different plays, spewed by M1 and inverted or toyed with by Ariel. It’s a super fun scene with huge opportunities for the actors to really engage and throw themselves into what’s happening. And there was plenty of that last night.

So far rehearsals are going well and I’m settling back into the groove of things – I’ve been out of the rehearsal room for a while. Each session has felt better for me, and I look forward to the next. This is my favourite part of this “theatre” thing, playing in the rehearsal room with the cast and just trying what might or might not work. Next up: Playing with Barbies …


1st read-through (2 weeks ago) has made me even more excited for the possibilities of this production. I have a lengthy history with this play over my adult life, having been part of a few productions^, but this might be the first time I feel prepared to actually tackle what we are doing – by that I mean I’m confident in my lack of actual preparation because my willingness to just allow the play’s lead is stronger than it ever has been. This doesn’t mean I have nothing to do, but simply that I know the play works. I’ve seen it work in a handful of different ways. I have an outstanding cast who will all colour these “characters” very differently than I’ve seen before – I’m the only constant from my first experience with this play to this current project.

The big thing for me, which of course didn’t bother me so much when I was doing plays in younger years because *I* was younger and *I* wanted to do those plays, but the big thing for me is what an older actor brings to the stage — they have life experience, and they bring that to their performance. There is no getting around the richness this brings to a performance. To any performance. I think the depth John Ball can bring to ‘Prospero’ will out weigh what I was able to do with the role in the ’04 production at the ripe old age of 29 (which was a cheap imitation of the original portrayal by a 20+ year old Chris Stacey – his worked because of the strength of his performance; mine, not so much. But again, seeing Chris do that role 10-15 years from *now* would really be something else to see because it would just weigh more.) That depth that life experience brings to the stage seems nicely understood as something substantial, as something with weight. It’s like a value or feature an actor possesses outside/beyond talent.

The wonderful thing about Rougher Magic is that it does in fact work on both levels – young or older actors playing the parts – because the “characters” are themselves performers, and the truth of their situation or occasion for performing this play is ambiguous at best. Although I do hope to offer a slightly more defined framing for the story, it still will not satisfy those concerned with firm reasons about such things, and yet I hope what we do will suggest possibilities. Of course, some of these possibilities are only possible because of the cast I have. The story these performers/characters are telling will have more depth beyond the power of the performance itself – which has always been the strength of the play for me, the power/playfulness of the performances (while using younger actors). Now, the relationships between the characters will read with a longer possible history. The play has a cyclical nature to its story, which will create a different atmosphere with these older performers seeming more trapped in the story. For me, the younger cast read with an energy like they were tackling their time on the island with the boldness and naivety of youth. This older cast will read more like their characters have been trapped, worn out by their time together, on this island.

Looking forward to playing with Rougher Magic on this new version of the island …


^ I will be sharing some history about past productions of the play in the near future.

POSTED: TNT Edition #9 – A Rougher(er) History of Magic

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to post these thoughts, John — we all greatly appreciate reading something like this. Kinda makes it all worthwhile to have even one person feel this way, so thank you so much for sharing. I know I felt Friday night’s show had a certain energy about it and really felt good, so I’m glad you could be in the room for that one.

    Until next time …


  2. Hi Scott,

    The adrenaline may have worn off, but Friday night’s performance is still top of mind for me.

    You achieved your thought-provoking, intimate, and immediate objectives in spades.

    Right from the moment I took my place in the magic circle on the magic island, I had a sense that this was going to be something special.

    The means and consequences of exploitation of indigenous people are timeless themes, and a deconstruction of “The Tempest” is certainly an effective approach to exploring them.

    The emotional energy was stunning, as were the verbal and physical acrobatics. The many clever and funny moments were most entertaining.

    So many familiar lines from Shakespeare – it was fun to spot them and many were ingeniously integrated.

    As Ross Hunt pointed out, there’s a lot to get your head around on a first viewing, so I wish I could have attended an earlier performance as well.

    This was among the most gripping, pleasurable and challenging experiences I have had on the local theatre scene, and I’ve seen quite a few plays since beginning to follow it in 2007. What a group of talented actors you assembled! Several of them were also central to some of the other best productions I’ve enjoyed locally: “King Lear”, “The December Man” and “Oleanna”.

    I’m glad that nasty hiatus is over. Looking forward to next time,


  3. The SJ performance was, in its Tempest way, spell-binding. The actors were all on top of their game, and the play is just so energetic, so frenetic, so chock-a-block with variety. The word that comes to mind for my reaction was “wonder”–and not just “I wonder what the hell is going on,” but being full of wonderment. Thoroughly enjoyable. I hope you get a good, responsive crowd out this Friday.

  4. Thanks for your continued support of our work in SJ, Sandra! Always great to see you out there and we appreciate you spreading the word about the show … and for me the “nerves” issue is not something that overcomes me at the time of performance (knocking on wood right now), but more in contemplation afterwards … “I got up there, and did what? Oh, man … never again!” That feeling has kept me off stage for quite lengthy spells in the past … like years …

  5. Very much looking forward to the production in SJ (I’ll be there on the 28th). I’ve recommended that two of my classes see it. (I’m going to mention your ‘nerves’ issue to my performance class, who are having their own panics at present!)

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