“Where’s the Cheese Board?” served up for the Little Falls Cheese Festival

The next installment of Angela Harris’ string of “cheese shows,” will be held on Saturday, July 8th at 11:30 AM at The Shop on East Main Street in Little Falls.

When a stage isn’t available for rehearsals, you improvise.

Join Mac Blac and the crew as the meet a new character, the formidable SantaFe Bennet, and solve a new problem. Unlike other cheese shows, this one-act play recalls old-time radio, and brings the audience into the studio for a mock recording session. True to our radio play roots, this play will hearken back to old style of sound creation. Characters will have their scripts in hand, stand in front of microphones, and there may even be a commercial or two.

Come join the fun and help us solve the mystery of “Where’s the Cheese Board?”!

Blocking for The Tempest 2017 Part 2

After knowing some background, this next installment on blocking will focus on how, particularly in Shakespeare, there are clues to blocking in the dialogue and situations characters find themselves in. Some of what I discuss is drawn from an excellent study on this very subject, Action is Eloquence: Shakespeare’s Language of Gesture, by David Bevington. It is a clear and fascinating study on character, movements, spatial relationships, and ritual ideas ingrained in the Elizabethans. Certainly worth the read!

Mark Rylance, responding to a fellow director of Shakespeare, once said, “I must come and hear one of your plays.” Not see. Tone informs attitude, and attitude informs action. Tone, Rylance knew, is what informs the entire production. I would even go as far to say that if one were blindfolded, one should be able to “see” the action of the show simply by hearing the language. So, examining Shakespeare’s dialogue is about hearing possibilities, and imagining how those possibilities communicate story and character to the audience.

Let’s start with a favorite of mine, Macbeth Act I, Scene VII, just after Macbeth’s opening monologue where he contemplates assassination and recognizes his ambition has its shortcomings – he has no “spur to prick the sides” of his intent – but Lady Macbeth begins to prod:

Macbeth: We will go no further in this business:
He hath honour’d me of late; and I have bought
Golden opinions of all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.

Lady Macbeth: Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
Like the poor cat i’ the adage?

The Macbeths still have guests in the castle, and they find a private moment to discuss ambition and regicide in a wonderful, hushed domestic scene. Much of the language should be said quietly, maybe some through a stage whisper, but this language would feel inappropriate if shouted or said loudly. That is not to say that there aren’t outbursts where the characters catch themselves, and change tone and volume to fit their situation, but the dominant mood should be secrecy with the characters close together.

Although Macbeth’s mind is already primed for murder, he insists on “going no further” and gives a few reasons for not proceeding. What must be conveyed here is that his insistence is false, or at least capable of being swayed. His tone should be insistent, but with distinct pauses at the punctuation to break up the flow of the sentence. If we scan the lines (to look for where the stresses fall in this pentameter), we gain more clues to tone. In the following line I’ll highlight the words that are stressed: “He hath honour’d me of late; and I have bought Golden opinions of all sorts of people.” Macbeth’s language isn’t confident, controlled iambic pentameter, but more of a loose string of words of someone searching for a way to convince himself. If we look at the words that receive more stress (honour’d, me, late, I, bought, gold, etc.) and those that are not stressed, we see the disparity: Macbeth truly is concerned about himself and his worth in the eyes of others, not with Duncan. Even if Macbeth’s tone is determined and insistent, his syntax betrays him.

Lady Macbeth, among other things, is an excellent listener, and she listens very closely to her husband. She hears Macbeth’s language better than he does, and is able to locate this disparity and exploit it. When Macbeth finishes his speech with “Not cast aside so soon,” Lady Macbeth is canny enough to finish the line of verse. At this moment we see a subtle shift in power registered in language. From this point forward, Lady Macbeth will have the upper hand, and she will use a variety of tones to make Macbeth squirm.

She begins with a barrage of rhetorical questions that all are said in snide accusation, also likely in a stage whisper:

Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely?

Once can easily hear all those “s” sounds in stage whisper, and when she has more punchy words like “hope drunk,” and “green and pale” we can almost hear her voice slipping into normal register, only to return with renewed, whispered, anger on “At what it did so freely?” Lady Macbeth’s verse, at this moment, is much more controlled and is nearly perfect pentameter. The force of her thought chugs forward, gaining momentum with each sentence, but her tone softens a bit on the sentence that begins with, “Art thou afeard.” Instead of outright anger, she tries a new tactic: irony. This false sincerity is an exaggeration, which carries through the rest of the speech, and is another way to cajole and demean Macbeth. This new tactic shows how quickly she adapts, and how she may not be getting the reaction she wants out of Macbeth.

Though, when she accuses him of being a coward, she gets all the reaction she needs. Macbeth must do something on that line. Give her a look. Spin around. Shake his head. Something. How could he not? His honor and manhood are being attacked. This gives Lady Macbeth all the information she needs to manipulate her husband, which she does to stunning effect later in the scene. In this case, we see an example of how tone in one character’s speech actually affects the blocking of another character. This is done all throughout Shakespeare, oftentimes to great effect (like in Othello or Hamlet), but is easily overlooked when simply reading.

By careful manipulation of volume and tone, we understand how dynamic and palpable each character is, and understanding how they say their lines, gives us an array of options for gesture and movement. For Macbeth’s tones of false confidence and insistence, several hand gestures that would indicate “no” are plausible, and movements a few steps away from Lady Macbeth also seem fitting. Also, during Lady’s speech, Macbeth could be stationary, absorbing his wife’s words. Lady Macbeth has more range at this moment. Her varying tones of sarcasm, anger, insinuation, and accusation offer a world of gestures from finger pointing to throwing hands out in impatience. Her movements, though, would to be close to Macbeth, maybe turning him to look him in the eye, maybe talking in his ears from behind.

But those choices should be worked out with the actress and director, and that is where much of the creativity and liveliness of Shakespeare begins.


Blocking for The Tempest 2017 Part 1

By Matt Powers

In this multi-part post, I’d like to share some insider looks, tips, and ideas about blocking. “Blocking” is a term for movement on stage, and the term comes from the stage itself. If you were to take an aerial view of the stage, and draw lines to make nine equal blocks (as in the “rule of thirds”), you will have all the stage directions (upstage left, center, and right, and so on). So “blocking”, basically, referred to moving from one block to another. Now, though, it is a more encompassing term for movement, gestures, and stage business, and is greatly informed by cultural expectations and style of theater (like naturalism, realism, surrealism, etc.).

At its base, blocking is needed to tell story. Characters need locations to enter and exit, positions for disagreements, deep kisses, and rowdy brawls. Sometimes the audience needs to see characters split, so they need to exit in opposite directions. Sometimes the audience needs to see other characters spy on each other, as in Hamlet, so they need to be positioned in a way that makes that clear. Whatever the needs of the story are, blocking is needed to make it situations and conflicts clear to the audience.

Blocking provides a foundation from which to work. It provides the dominant lines for travel, speed, angle, arc, as well as a springboard for character. For instance, if a character is going to move diagonally across the stage from upstage right to downstage left, in a straight line, without stopping, and at a swift pace, that sets a clear trajectory and will shift not only the composition of the stage, but the dynamic between other characters and the audience. This character in the distance is suddenly thrust into prominence with bold movement. If our character needed to make an important speech, this blocking provides the architecture for other gestures, even volume and tone of speech.

Blocking is also tied to character. If it has just been revealed that our our character’s pants have fallen down, and is embarrassed, this movement is a clear exit strategy, and shows a need for the character to remove themselves from that part of the stage. Along the way, maybe the character looks back a few times nervously, or stops half way, tears in eyes, and then continues forward. So blocking must align, in some way, with a character’s internal or external motivation. Moving in a particular direction, at a particular time, in a particular way must make sense for the character, otherwise it will be very difficult to justify, or make believable, that movement.

There are thematic reasons for blocking too. In the first scene of Hamlet, guards are on patrol in the foggy evening. “Who’s there?” is the first line. This opening line and scene are the first inklings of the themes of suspicion, obfuscation, supernatural, and the difficulty in knowing exactly “who” is there. A director may choose to suggest these ideas through slow, careful movements, or even no movement at all. The guard could move around the stage in a circular fashion, or a “S” shape, both of which could suggest confusion. Or perhaps the guard is jumpy, and is so surprised that his movements are quick and jagged, waving his torch (or flashlight) wildly, and amplifying the suspicion angle. The possibilities are endless, and wonderful.

Ideological perspective is also a factor in blocking. If your play requires realism, like Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, then blocking must match the movements of real people closely. If your play is absurd, like Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, movements do not need to be grounded so much in reality. If you are Bertolt Brecht directing Mother Courage, stage movements are not intentionally beautiful and are to reveal the structure of human relationships. If you’re Elia Kazan, directing Death of Salesman or A Street Car Named Desire, blocking is made with the tension of competing forces in mind.

Or sometimes blocking is there just to have fun, or because it looks beautiful, or because the audience would really enjoy it. Generally, though, blocking should efficient, compact, and suggestive. And once we have a deep understanding of the whole story, we realize that each movement on stage, no matter how small, can be used to purposely to convey as many things simultaneously as possible.

Where’s the Script?

In the city that goes to be early, there is only one man fit to solve problems: Mac Blac!

In the fourth installment of LiFT’s one-act, problem-solver plays, Mac Blac is on the hunt for a missing script, and so is everyone else. In this “existential interlude,” every previous character from the fictional Little Falls returns for…for something? No one is exactly sure, but one thing is for sure – Mac Blac is in the case!

For a recording of the performance please click the following links:



Unlocking LiFT 4 – What Art Should Do

By Matt Powers

“Declan, please pick up the meeples all over the floor.”


“Declan, please pick up the meeples.”


Meeples. Not actually my floor though.

“Declan, I’m pretty sure you threw them. Please pick them up and put them back in the box.”

He wanders over to Logan to play, and ignores me.

“Declan, you have until the count of five. One. Two,” my irritation level increasing, “Three.”


“That’s it! Time out!”

So I plunk him in the chill out chair, and ask him to apologize for being rude. He does not comply.

“I’m going to tell Mommy that you are not being nice.”

“No!” There are tears.

I go upstairs and tell my wife what has transpired. We come back down together to resolve the issue. She kneels in front of Declan, and, in her softest voice, asks, “Were you rude to Daddy?”

He nods.

“Is it fun to be rude?”


She pauses, looks over at the meeples, then back to Declan.

“Declan, did you throw the meeples?”

“No, Logan did.”

We share a look.

“Logan, did you throw the meeples?”


And just like that I’m apologizing to Declan for not getting the whole story, for over reacting, and he apologized to me too for being rude. We hugged, and departed. I can’t speak for Declan, but I felt a distinct sense of connection and closeness after that debacle. It was nice.

When we talked about the incident later, I confessed I should’ve handled it differently, gotten the whole story first. Then my wife said, “Well, he has to learn that when he behaves a certain way long enough he creates an expectation, and when he breaks pattern, sometimes people aren’t going to believe him when he’s telling the truth.”

Besides being right, combined with the events described, my wife unknowingly made a profound connection about art. Let me explain: Great art should break with held patterns, unsettle us (even confuse and anger us), should provoke dialogue, and, once explained, should offer new perspective, and give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relationships. I was fortunate to experience it in daily life, though the same experience can be had through engagement with art.

Matisse and the Fauvists were lambasted for their paintings, as was Picasso. Ulysses by James Joyce was banned in the United States for a time because it was considered obscene. Modernist poets like Eliot, Pound, H.D., Williams, Stevens, Moore, Bishop, and others all faced backlash (some more than others, I’m looking at you Pound). Bertolt Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Edward Albee, Paula Vogel, Eugene Ienesco, Samuel Beckett, Lynn Nottage, Ben Jonson, even Shakespeare (and this is by no means an exhaustive list), have all faced degrees controversy from their contemporaries for their work. Indeed part of the job of the artist is to find new ways to tell truth, particularly if its uncomfortable.

While much ink has been wasted in the name of “experimental” whatever (because some of it is drivel), the spirit of experimentation is crucial. We need artists to recognize patterns in their mediums, as well as society, and have the wit and wherewithal to break patterns to wake audiences out of their somnambulism. Like with Declan and I, he broke with his mischievous pattern for a moment, I misunderstood it, and a third party (my wife) was able to create dialogue and jostle me out of a lazy behavior. As a result Declan and I have a better relationship. Beyond that, I can rattle off a number of plays, films, poems, novels, and books that have changed me – I think we all can.

But we need it to happen more. There are so many things in our routine lives that dull our senses, that distract us from the beauty and challenge of truth. So many patterns that have become too common, tired, stereotypical, or cliche.  Some of these are artistic forms (like the sonnet), some are stories (who isn’t tired of the same boy meets girl narrative?), some are social, or economic, or religious, or a blend of all. But they need to be shaken up so we can be more present in life, to re-evaluate our life, and, hopefully, garner realizations about our life and how we live it.

But more art is only half an answer. We need to make our engagement with art stronger, more enriching. We need to be open to the ideas, and really be thoughtful about what it is we are taking in. If we don’t, we have zero chance of breaking with our own patterns and letting art change us.