Shakespeare enters through the back door

I was underdressed. Jeans and winter boots were no match for Anton Solomon’s get-up. In a black, Victorian cape, a puffy, white shirt and…

I was underdressed.

Jeans and winter boots were no match for Anton Solomon’s get-up.

In a black, Victorian cape, a puffy, white shirt and pressed vest, Moving Parts Theatre’s artistic director looked like he’d stepped through a time warp.

“I love capes,” said Solomon, taking a breather at Porter Creek Secondary’s Hemlock Café on Monday night.

“I wish they were back in fashion, although they’re not Gortex and they don’t have pockets and pouches.”

Despite his fondness for cloaks, Solomon isn’t always this well dressed.

The thespian was in the middle of rehearsal, putting the finishing touches on his upcoming production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

“It’s attached to Shakespeare, but it’s a modern piece,” said Solomon, who loves Stoppard’s writing.

“And you don’t have to know Hamlet to appreciate it. But if you do know Hamlet, you’ll appreciate it more.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor players in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, serving as eyes and ears for the king when he’s trying to discover why Hamlet is crazy.

And they’re totally ineffective at it, said Solomon.

Hamlet, faking madness, knows what’s going on. Yet, he trusts Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and confides in them.

But when he realizes they’re part of the king’s plot, Hamlet stops talking to them.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also get charged with taking Hamlet to England, where, although they don’t know it, he’ll be executed.

But Hamlet figures this out too and abandons them.

In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Stoppard imagines the characters have no existence outside Hamlet, said Solomon.

“But they don’t know that.

“They think they’re real human beings with pasts and futures. But they can’t remember their past, because they haven’t actually had one.

 “And they don’t know what to do when they’re not in the Hamlet scenes, because they don’t have a life outside those the scenes.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spend much of the play trying to figure out who they are, which introduces a lot of philosophical questioning.

But it’s a comedy, said Solomon.

“It’s not meant to be deep and heavy — at least not all the way through.”

And Stoppard didn’t intentionally wax philosophic when he wrote it.

“When people started telling him critically that his play contained all this deep philosophy and existential phenomena, his response was that he felt rather like a gentleman stopped at airport customs, who had his bags searched and 12 keys of coke are found,” said Solomon.

“So Stoppard says, ‘All I can do is say I admit that it’s there, but I didn’t put it there.’

“But obviously there was some philosophical angst in him at the time because it’s all over the play — the meaning of life, death, chance, fate and what it’s all about.”

Solomon, who’s already been in two different productions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, chose the play to challenge his company.

Most of the troupe is cast in more than one role, and Solomon’s introducing the use of half-masks, which he custom-cast in plaster to fit each actor.

“There’s that wonderful phrase — the eyes are windows to the soul,” he said.

“But put a mask on, and the eyes don’t tell you much.”

Behind a mask, it’s hard to tell if a person’s smiling or frowning, he said. So, to be emotive, actors have to be more physical.

 “We’re used to TV and movie environments, so we’re used to reading faces, but when you put a mask on, it doesn’t move,” said Solomon.

“It teaches you to use your body for some of the expression, and it stops you from acting from the shoulders up.”

Moving Parts, as its name suggests, is an action-based troupe that identifies theatre as movement.

“We treat acting much like athletes treat their sport,” said Solomon.

“It’s something you physically train to do and keep doing. So even if we’re not in a play, or rehearsing a play, we’re still meeting, we’re still working, we’re still training.”

Solomon, as master of the company, tries to place actors in parts they’re ready for, which often involves a bit of a push.

“Given the choice, most of us will do the easier thing and find the role we’re comfortable with,” said Solomon.

“But my job as director is to get people out of that mould, particularly in a small town, when you’re a company that’s always performing together.”

Whitehorse is too small to repeat the same stage gimmicks again and again, he said.

“If an audience comes to the show and you do one gesture they’ve seen before, they’ll start predicting the next five,” said Solomon.

“And they don’t look at it and think, ‘Oh, they’re doing the same thing,’ they just don’t get as involved because they’re ahead of the company.

“So the more varied we get with our stuff, the better we are.”

But Solomon is the first to admit he’s stuck in a design rut.

He just can’t get away from pillars.

Every production he’s held at the Hemlock Café has featured a pillar somewhere on stage.

In this case, the pillar will represent a tree in the forest scenes, will act as itself in the castle interiors and will be a mast during the ship voyage.

The set was still in production Monday evening and actors milled about in colourful masks, rehearsing, playing flute and chatting.

Solomon, sporting his cape with Napoleonic elegance, called the cast together and started to run the show.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opens Wednesday, January 24th and runs until February 2nd at Porter Creek’s Hemlock Café. The shows begin at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $14 and can be purchased at the door, or at Well-Read Books.

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