Great Books Conversation Part 2

Oct. 20, 2008
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In this, the second part of the rough transcrpts of the preview interview with the cast of In Tandem's production of All The Great Books (abridged), the jovial atmosphere settled down enough for the conversation to turn to some of the more conceptual elements of the production.


Me: And . . . it sounds like there’s actually, in spite of the format, it sounds like there’s a lot of character work going on.

R. Chis Reeder:

Doug Jarecki: . . . it would just be chaos otherwise . . .

R. Chris Reeder: Yeah, it’s definitely the centerpiece is: we’re doing this book . . . now we’re doing this book . . . now we’re doing this book, but al the stuff in between, y’know . . . the characters have to be interesting.

Chris Flieller: And there’s definite dynamics written into the script. We’ve just begun addressing . . . we’ve just got the thing blocked. And we’ve just started going back now and peeling the second layer off the onion.

Jarecki: The limp is more of a safety net.


Flieller: Unless we get to the center of the onion and there’s nothing there.

[laughter. Jarecki affects a contorted posture and “arrr”s meaningfully]

Flieller: We used to call that the GSA back in the Utah Shakespearian Festival. The Gargoyle School of Acting


Me: From the reading I’d done it looked like it was more of a sketch comedy group that came up with this.

Yeah, a couple of them actually have a connection to the clown college. The Ringling Bothers Clown College. They all have college degrees.

Reeder: They’re all really smart guys.

Flieller: They’re all really smart guys

Reeder: Their shows are all really silly, but there’s so much intelligence operating behind them.

Flieller: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And their background is all obviously in the performing arts. One of them has a directing degree . . .

Kevin Rich: I heard a rumor that they did the Ren Faire circuit.

Flieller: They did the Ren Faire Circuit. That’s how they got started.

Reeder: The original guys who did The Complete Works I’m not sure any of those guys are still in the company any more.

Flieller: I think Reed Martin has been with it since the beginning. He was one of the founding members . . . And they would just develop their material on foot basically. Y’know . . . a little song, a little dance, a little Shakespeare down your pants.

Me: And between the three of you [Jarecki, Reeder and Rich] YOU [Jarecki] seem more grounded in the sketch comedy style . . . or am I just completely off about your background?


Jarecki: It’s my first time onstage.

Me: ‘cause [to Rich] you’ve got the Shakespeare thing going on and [to Reeder] you’re obviously more traditional theatre, but thinking back over the times I’ve seen you [to to Jarecki] . . . apparently you were in Milwaukee Shakespeare recently. . .

Jarecki: Yeah, I was, I was in Cymbeline.

Me: but for some reason I remember you better as a Keebler Elf [in Combat Theatre Sketch Comedy.]


Jarecki: Right, okay, yeah. Yeah, I guess I would probably have a bit more experience with the sketch comedy and the improv. There just always seems to be more comedies around anyway. And I love it. And not to plug anything, but the December show here is [Jareck’s sketch comedy group] The Show, but I love it. I don’t think it’s any . . . I think it’s just as viable a medium as full length plays.

Absolutely. And because you’ve had experience with both [traditional theatre and sketch] is this more like rehearsing for sketch comedy, than it is traditional theatre?

Rich: Yeah, I mean—we’re talking about the character work and that’s there, but at the same time this is a celebration of comic timing . . . It’s about precision and that’s flexing your sketch comedy muscles.

Reeder: And we have to be able to act and react.

Rich: And there’s a lot of audience interaction and a fair amount of improv, so it’s about being able to think on your feet. ALL of that comes into play.

Me: [to Jarecki] and what was that like for you, ‘cause you’ve got that group tat you work with this type of material on and you’ve worked with them regularly over the years. And now you’re working with two guys you’ve never been onstage with before.

Oh, I love it. I hate those other bastards.


No, I love it, because I think to me it’s absolutely what keeps stuff like this fresh. I came in not having any idea of what either of you [Rich and Reeder] would bring to the table . . . y’know . . .how we play off each other. And for me that’s how I learn, y’know. I wasn’t trained in theatre and I’ve learned by doing it over the years, so I’m always looking for new challenges and new ways, ‘cause my worst fear is that I get stuck ding one thing for too long. Andso I love it, because I approach everything fresh and just develop the rapport. And the only way you can do that is being open to what other people are bringing to the table. I bring so little to the table anyway . . .


Flieller: Yeah, you brought the table.


Reeder: And that’s important. Someone has to bring the table.



Me: I would like to see something that would actually be a satire on the academic study of English, but this isn’t that. This is light comedy.Correct?

[dead silence. People are thinking.]

Jarecki: It is, yeah. It’s a satire on . . .

Rich: I don’t know that it satirizes it.

Flieller: It sodomizes it maybe


Rich: I don’t know . . . Idunno . . .

It’s hard to say that she who is one thing, ‘cause it does something else every turn . . .

Me: But you’re not discussing, “what does he really mean when he’s saying this?” Whe your presenting the material. Its all straightforward. You’re getting into character work, but you’re not . . .

Flieller: It doesn’t go down that road. The reason I love this thing . . . is because it just knocks it down a peg . . .it takes that veneer of “if I don’t understand it, it must good,” and just rips it away. And says: this is accessible. This can be fun. If you go with us, we’ll take you on a journey and at the other end of it, you’re gonna . . . you may not have a deep understanding of the piece, but you might want to pick up the book and find out what it’s really about. “cause we have so much fun in the show. And that to me is worth all tea in China. Because everybody’s scared of this s#it. Everybody’s scared of Shakespeare, y’know? Because they think that they’re not going to understand it. They think they’re gonna feel stupid because they don’t understand it. And this explodes that whole mindset about it.

Reeder: Anything that’s on a pedestal, y’know . . . kick the pedestal out.

Flieller: Exactly

Rich: And also on thing that all of this [RSC] franchise . . . all of these plays are about . . y’know. . . they all take subject matter that . . . y’know most of the audience will NOT have read man of these books . . . will NOT have read all of Shakespeare’s cannon before . . . won’t know the entire Bible or the complete history of the world and there’s something appealing about [getting that information] in two hours.

Reeder: They’re things you’ve heard of, but probably don’t really know.


Rich: So there’s something satirical there. It kind of play’s off the . . . desire to get all o the information in a short amount of time.

Flieller: Because Americans, by God, y’know, they can’t sit still for anything. Anything over three minutes is long and boring. And long and boring always seem to go together. You never hear an American saying, “Wow, it was long and FASCINATING!”


Flieller: But this is not long and neither is it boring.

Me: And no intermission?

Flieller: There IS an intermission. Gotta sell drinks, man.


Flieller: Get your priorities [straight] dude. These guys’ll be getting tips serving drinks.



Me: What is the rehearsal dynamic like? How is that different in a show like this from a traditional, more straight-ahead play?

Reeder: I thin what’s great about these last few days is . . . at first we were like: okay, here’s what we’re working on, let’s throw out ideas. Because it’s so huge we’re [trying to figure out] “what makes this work? What works? What doesn’t work?” Everything’s throwing stuff into the mix.

Rich: and literally choreographing it.

Flieller: Yeah, it’s a dance. It’s an hour and . . . forty-five minute dance. It’ll take you an hour and a half just to plot two pages of this because al of the entrances and exits have to be written down. What we’re doing from the get-go is we’re taking kind of a long an tedious process: “okay Stop! Okay—where des the donkey head have to go?”


Flieller: Instead of like, getting into tech and trying to do that, which would be a catastrophe. We’re trying to get ahead of ourselves and all of that tedious crap of where this stuff has to live. So we just kind of laid it all in and got the whole thing blocked. So that, now is when we go in and start crafting the piece. And it’s been a great process oft these guys getting to know each other.

I think it lends itself to the playfulness of the show. Chris lets us try some stuff and if it doesn’t work, he tells us and we try something else. There’s no shortage of ideas here. And we do what comes naturally onstage, I mean, certain entrances and exits have to be choreographed, but he lets us play a little bit and if we have to get knocked back on track, he does. I think that’s the sign of a good director . . . is someone who ha no idea what he wants in the play.


Jarecki: No, I give so much credit to Chris for that, though . . . to foster that playfulness. He’s actually letting us playa little bit. We’re tossing out ideas and using them or he’ll say, ‘you’re full of it.’

Flieller: In a nice way.

Jarecki: In a nice way

Me: I’m picturing less of a rehearsal and more of a band practice with a director.


Me: But you’re talking about choreography, too.

Flieller: And as these rehearsals go along, what has been roughed-in will begin to will begin to get overlaid with more and more layers of precision and fine-tuning. To a point where it seems effortless.

Reeder: Because the conceit of the show is that it should really look like the whole thing’s being improvised in the performance, which means it takes much more rehearsal for a show that shouldn’t seem like it.

Me: Is there going to be any genuine imnprov?


Reeder: No, we will d exactly what the director says in every performance.

Flieller: . . . there is audience interaction . . .

Rich: . . . and you wouldn’t believe it. In the script it says, “the audience will laugh here.”


Rich: How do you know. “The audience will respond THIS way.”

Reeder: Yeah.

Rich: It says it over and over and over again. So obviously that’s not always going to happen. And so there’s going to be a certain amount of improv.

Jane Flieller: It says, “when the audience laughs, do this.” And if they don’t?


Chris Flieller:
But having sad that, getting back to that precision and comic timing: what we’re doing is giving ourselves areas in which to have some freedom. We’re like—scheduling freedom.

Jane Flieller: The show is very . . . organized chaos.

Reeder: And we’ve gotta hope tat it doesn’t happen, but with the show the way it is, y’know, 150 props and 50 . . . 60 costumes something may go wrong.


Reeder: Maybe we’ll be in the wrong place for ONE performance. And there may be a little . . .having to work around that.

Rich: That’s the magic of live theatre.

Jarecki: absolutely.

Flieller: Strive for perfection.

Rich: And so far, so good. I mean, we’ve already got the thing blocked.

Reeder: Perfectly.

Flieller: That was very encouraging. And I credit these guys. If nothing else, I’ve hired three guys that know what’s going on. And that really helps.

Jarecki: I completely agree with you.

Flieller: Yeah?


This Weekend: In Tandem's production of All The Great Books (abridged) closes.



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