Our reading of Richard III last night was a great success, despite the rainy evening. You can find our Richard program here, which includes historical background and scene summaries courtesy of our director, Angeline Morris. Below, for your viewing pleasure, you can find alternate poster designs from UA art students we thought worthy of honorable mention.
It’s a busy semester, so Improbable Fictions is concentrating its efforts on two performances this spring.
First off, we’ll be presenting a collection of scenes of and about teaching in early modern drama as part of the 2020 Hudson Strode symposium “The Future of Teaching Shakespeare.” Registration is closed for the symposium (we capped out at seventy attendees!), but our performance is free and open to the public. We’ll be reading these scenes at 7:30 pm on Friday, February 21st, 2020 at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center. Pre-show music begins at 7:15 pm, and a Q&A will follow the approximately 50 minute performance.
Second, IF will present a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III, cut and directed by Angeline Morris, at 6:30 pm on Wed, Mar 4th, 2020, also at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center. Pre-show music begins at 6:00 pm. We’re partnering with Theatre Tuscaloosa’s SecondStage: Festival of One Acts, a collection of short plays that begins at 8:00 pm on March 4th and runs through the rest of the week. IF’s reading is free and open to the public. Tickets for the Festival can be purchased here.
On Wednesday, October 16th in 30 ten Hoor Hall, Improbable Fictions presents a staged reading of John Milton’s Paradise Regained.
7:30 pm show start, free and open to the public.
Sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, UA Dept. of English.
In Trevor Nunn’s 1996 “Twelfth Night,” possibly the best, or at least among the top, film adaptations of this comedy, Toby Stephens plays Orsino as a languid, distant melancholic.
So it took me a number of double-takes to recognize the same actor — now fiery red-headed, apparently his natural coloring — 20 years later, as bloody, devious Capt. Flint from the lush pirate epic “Black Sails,” a “Games of Thrones”-ish (heavily peopled, disturbingly graphic, reliant much like “Vikings” on period detail, lavishing bucks building actual working ships for ramming and wrecking) production, set in the Bahamas but filmed in South Africa.
It ran four years on Starz, 2014-2017, and you can get it on disc. I found the Blu rays worth the extra dollars; it’s a vivid, beautiful mess.
Stephens works heavily in theater, especially for the Royal Shakespeare Company, as did his parents — more on them in a bit — but he’s been in movies such as Sally Potter’s 1992 “Orlando,” from the Virginia Woolf novel, and Tilda Swinton’s breakthrough role; as the villain in the 2002 Bond movie “Die Another Day,” Gustav Graves; in a 2000 adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” as Jay Gatz: and on TV series and miniseries such as the 2006 “Jane Eyre,” playing Rochester. He’s currently John Robinson on the new “Lost in Space” series.
Stephens burned through “Black Sails” as Flint, a former naval officer leaving more than one twisted tale in his wake, a sort-of prequel to “Treasure Island” that mixes Robert Louis Stevenson’s characters (such as Flint, Long John Silver, and Billy Bones) with real-world pirates such as Anne Bonny, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, “Calico Jack” Rackham (who created the skull-and-crossbones Jolly Roger flag) and Israel Hands, one of the few who was both historical figure and “Treasure Island” character.
It’s a bloody fine time, if you can abide graphic realism in your sax and violins.
Wonderfully atmospheric music by Bear McCreary, who also composed/composes for “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Walking Dead,” “Outlander” (if you listen, you can hear the “Outlander” theme, “Skye Boat Song,” playing in a bar in “Black Sails”) and others.
McCreary’s one of the rare proteges taken on by film and theater legend Elmer Bernstein, composer for “The Magnificent Seven,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Great Escape,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Hud,” “Ghostbusters,” “Animal House”… on and on. Though he was NOT related to Leonard Bernstein; just pals, distinguished from one another in their field as Bernstein West and Bernstein East, because while both composed for theater and film, Elmer leaned more LA while Leonard worked more in NYC. Also pronounced differently: Elmer BERN-steen, and Leonard BERN-stine.
Now back to our regularly scheduled Brit-theatrical deep-dive.
Because he carries his father’s name, I didn’t know until imdbing, the day after the Improbable Fictions’ latest staged reading of “Twelfth Night,” that Toby Stephens is the son of Dame Maggie Smith.
The Dame Maggie Smith.
That Dame Maggie Smith. Violet Crawley, Minerva McGonagall, Miss Jean Brodie, and various goddesses, matriarchs and acid-tongued ladies of stage and screen for the past 60 years.
Stephens’ older brother, Smith’s other son, Chris Larkin, has one of those character-actor faces you’ll likely recognize, having been in “Master and Commander,” “Valkyrie,” “Jane Eyre,” and numerous others. Larkin also co-starred on “Black Sails” (as Captain Berringer), as did Stephens’ wife, Anna-Louise Plowman (as Mrs. Hudson), who you might remember from “Stargate SG-1,” or an Eccleston “Doctor Who” episode, or….The “Black Sails” actor who played Anne Bonny was born Lady Clara Elizabeth Iris Paget, daughter of the Marquess of Anglesey.
Aside from being born near-royalty himself as Maggie Smith’s son, Toby Stephens is also step-son to Patricia Quinn, who was the fourth wife of another RSC giant, Sir Robert Stephens, once thought to be the next Laurence Olivier, though heavy drinking dropped him into the gutter.
But after remarrying and sobering up (at least somewhat), then came a somewhat on-the-nose comeback: Robert Stephens won the ’93 Olivier Award for his Falstaff. The RSC also invited him back to play Lear and Julius Caesar. Stephens was knighted early in ’95; deceased in late ’95.
While still married, Stephens and Smith starred in the 1967 film of “Much Ado About Nothing,” as Benedick and Beatrice, built around a stage adaptation directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who you might know from every other Shakespeare film ever, but especially the beloved 1968 “Romeo and Juliet,” for which Stephens played The Prince, and Olivier (uncredited) narrated and played Lord Montague. Zeffirelli directed Larkin in a 1996 “Jane Eyre,” though not brother Stephens in the 2006 “Jane Eyre.”
The elder Stephens worked with Kenneth Branagh (who directed and starred in the 1993 “Much Ado” movie opposite HIS then-wife, Emma Thompson) on the 1989 film “Henry V,” as “Auncient” Pistol, while Smith of course worked with Branagh in the Harry Potter movies.
But then everyone’s worked with Branagh, the English Kevin Bacon.
Both Stephens and Smith worked with Olivier in productions of “Othello,” as Iago and Desdemona … though separately.
Oh yeah, and Stephens’ aforementioned fourth wife, Patricia Quinn? You’ll recognize her as Magenta from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Those are her lips at the beginning, mouthing “Science Fiction, Double Feature,” though the voice belongs to her old friend Richard O’Brien, aka Riff Raff, who wrote the musical “RHPS”‘s based on. Quinn’s nephew is the drummer for Snow Patrol.
My new favorite Toby Stephens quote: “Actors don’t listen to each other. You’re so obsessed with what you’re saying or doing that the other person could be talking in Swahili and you wouldn’t know.”
There’s really no point to all this meandering, except that theatrical life can be far more incestuous, twisted and intriguing than just about anyone’s, with the possible exception of perhaps actual royalty.
~Mark Hughes Cobb
And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges!
On Wednesday, Oct 2, Improbable Fictions will present Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the first staged reading we performed back in 2010. An excellent way to start out our ELEVENTH season! The details:
- Wednesday, Oct 2, 7:30-9:00 pm in Room 30 of ten Hoor Hall, UA’s Campus
- Free and open to the public, as always
- Sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies
Last night’s event was wonderfully acted and followed by a compelling discussion of the walls between us (physical and cultural). Here is a list of the scenes that were performed and some photos of the event, courtesy of MK Foster.
We’re hoping to soon be able to offer IF’s performances in a high quality audio format, and “Early Modern Strangers” will be our first foray into that space. We’ll keep you informed as we know more.
- American Shakespeare Center touring company performance of The Comedy of Errors, Friday, February 15, 7:30PM (pre-show music begins at 7:00PM). Brock Recital Hall, Samford University, Birmingham.
- American Shakespeare Center touring company performance of The Winter’s Tale, Saturday, February 16, 7:30PM (pre-show music begins at 7:00PM). Brock Recital Hall, Samford University, Birmingham.
- Resurgens Theatre Company touring performance of The Changeling, Tuesday, February 26, 7:30PM. Allen Bales Theater, UA.
- Brent Griffin, Artistic Director of the Resurgens Theater Company. Tuesday, February 26. Title TBA. 5PM in the Allen Bales Theatre (UA).
- Wendy Wall (Northwestern University). Thursday, March 28. Title TBA. 5PM in 301 Morgan Hall.
- Monday, January 28: Globe Production of The Duchess of Malfi. Morgan 301, 7:30PM.
- Monday, February 11. Warm Bodies. Bama Theatre, 7:30PM.
- Monday, March 25: Kozintsev’s King Lear. Morgan 301, 7:30PM.
- Monday, April 15: Shakespeare in Love. Bama Theatre, 7:30PM.
- Wed, Jan 16, 6:30pm in 301 Morgan Hall, a cold reading of Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure, dramaturged by Chris Koester (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Wed, Feb 6, 6:30pm in 301 Morgan Hall, a cold reading of John Lyly’s Gallathea, dramaturged by Mark Hulse (email@example.com).
- Wed, Mar 6, time TBA at the Strode House, a cold reading of Margherita Costa’s burlesque “ridiculous comedy” entitled The Buffoons (1641), translated by Jessica Goethals. The reading will be dramaturged by Deborah Parker (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Wed, Apr 3, 7:30pm at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (http://cac.tuscarts.org/contactus.php), a selection of staged readings we’re calling “Early Modern Strangers,” inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Stranger’s Case” from Sir Thomas More (check out Sir Ian McKellen’s reading). The event will include respondents and a Q&A about immigration and crossing borders in the early modern period. Dramaturged by Nic Helms and Cordelia Ross (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Last week’s Medieval Medley was a delight! We packed out Gorgas 205 with an audience of nearly eighty. I can’t decide whether my favorite moment was Steve Burch spouting ‘LATIN!’ or Mark Cobb making out with pots and pans. If you missed the event (or would like to relive it), check out the media below: the program, production photos, and audio from the event. (Listen with care: the audio quality is not the best.)
Improbable Fictions is hosting three events this fall:
· Wednesday, Sep 12, 7:30 pm, Medieval Medley, a staged reading of several Medieval plays, including works from Hrotsvitha and the Chester Cycle, at 205 Gorgas Library
· Wednesday, Oct 17, 7:30 pm, a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Othello at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (http://cac.tuscarts.org/contactus.php)
· Friday, November 2, 5:00 pm, Improbable Fictions will present an array of American Literature readings as part of First Friday Art Walk in Downtown Tuscaloosa and the Southern Literary Trail’s Exhibit of the Steve Soboroff Typewriter Collection. On display will be George Bernard Shaw’s typewriter along with others used by Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal, Ray Bradbury, Tom Hanks, Maya Angelou, and John Lennon. The readings and exhibit will be at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (http://cac.tuscarts.org/contactus.php).
As always, if you’re interested in getting involved, leave a comment or email me at email@example.com!