‘King Lear’ production sparked by partnership

Dennis Krausnick portrayed King Lear last summer with Shakespeare & Company. He reprises the role at UWM’s Mainstage Theatre in November. (Photo courtesy of Shakespeare & Company, by Kevin Sprague/Studio Two, Lenox, Mass.)

The Department of Theatre in the Peck School of the Arts presents William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of King Lear” Nov. 14-18 as the next step in a groundbreaking partnership with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. This unique production also is part of UWM’s Year of the Arts celebration.

Associate Professor Rebecca Holderness directed “King Lear” for Shakespeare & Company’s mainstage 2012 summer season. Shakespeare & Company founding member Dennis Krausnick played Lear, while Associate Professor Bill Watson portrayed Cornwall. Several Theatre Department students understudied roles in the production, working alongside Shakespeare & Company’s professional actors.

That production is now being remounted at the UWM Mainstage Theatre. Krausnick is reprising the role of Lear, with the students playing the roles they understudied this summer. Watson plays the role of Gloucester, while lecturer and well-known actor Jim Tasse portrays Kent.

Students reap benefits of partnership

John Glowacki (left) and Mark Puchinsky rehearse. (Photo by Alan Magayne-Roshak)

Theatre student John Glowacki plays Edmund in UWM’s “King Lear.” After participating in an intensive Shakespeare & Company workshop held at UWM in spring 2011, he was invited to attend the company’s five-week Summer Training Institute in Lenox that summer.

“At this point in my life I’m still trying to figure out all sorts of things,” says Glowacki. But during his time with Shakespeare & Company, he discovered “who we are as people deeply affects our acting. As teachers, the members of the company used Shakespeare to help you work through the things you were encountering in your own life – almost like a working therapy session.”

Glowacki says he learned to tap into his emotions for his acting. “We all have defense mechanisms that keep our emotions in check. By releasing those feelings and using them in my acting, I’m adding to my emotive tool belt.”

Glowacki watched company artists contribute to Shakespeare & Company in multiple ways, building a sense of community and mutual support. “Then,” Glowacki says, “they would blow my mind with their evening performances. It all reinforced the drive that acting requires. Dennis Krausnick [King Lear] was one of my main teachers. He talks about ‘passion’ as the number one thing that an actor needs and how it drives the whole process.”

Mark Puchinsky, also a senior in the BFA theatre program, attended the same 2011 training program in Lenox and portrays Edgar in UWM’s “King Lear.” Puchinsky says he learned to “say yes” while in the training program. “Before, I would question what I was doing and I would hit a wall. I’ve learned to step out of my comfort zone, even if I think it might take me somewhere I don’t want to go. I’ve realized that I usually end up in a good place, as long as I stay open.”

Puchinsky says he has learned to listen to others – both in and out of a scene. “It’s important to truly engage with the feedback you receive.”

Observing the community created by the actors in Lenox opened Puchinsky’s eyes to new possibilities.

Dennis Krausnick portrayed King Lear last summer with Shakespeare & Company. He reprises the role at UWM’s Mainstage Theatre in November. (Photo courtesy of Shakespeare & Company, by Kevin Sprague/Studio Two, Lenox, Mass.)

Inspired to bring Shakespeare to all Milwaukeeans, Puchinsky founded Riotous Shakespeare Company. Composed (mainly) of UWM students, the troupe’s focus is presenting Shakespeare’s plays to the community in a fresh and affordable way. Riotous Shakespeare performed “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at several area parks during summer 2012.

“We’re getting our foothold in Milwaukee, showing people in the community what Shakespeare is and what it can do for people’s lives. My time with Shakespeare & Company showed me that acting doesn’t stop with the performance. It means a lot more. For me, the core of theater is using it as a tool to engage entire communities.”

Universal themes abound, attract

“King Lear” illustrates how the universal themes of Shakespeare’s work speak to audiences today. The play is described as Shakespeare’s profound tale of regret and the crowning masterpiece of the world’s greatest dramatist. The play details Lear’s regression into sickness and strife over his biggest mistake – unwittingly severing the unity within his family.

Holderness explained why setting this production in 1906 Russia is a good choice for King Lear: “The last monarchy left in Europe is crumbling, with the country verging on revolution and chaos, moving towards war. This setting helps support the audience’s understanding of the anachronisms that exist in the play.” Holderness adds that the time period also works well for the swordplay and fight scenes, and the costumes are “breathtaking.”

From costume to character

Student and show supervisor Levy Miles (right) assists Govane Lohbauer (red sweater), guest costume designer from Shakespeare & Company. They are fitting Jim Tasse (left), who portrays Kent in UWM’s production. (Photo by Troye Fox)

Shakespeare & Company Costume Designer Govane Lohbauer has been working at UWM with students in the costume production curriculum, describing the students as “incredibly hard workers doing incredible work.” Alongside her in the costume shop is Associate Professor Jeffrey Lieder and Professor Pamela Rehberg. Costumes from the Shakespeare & Company production are being used, and additional costumes are being constructed.

Krausnick has been at UWM for a monthlong residency, teaching and rehearsing with students. “The value of this experience for our students is obvious, but having Dennis here on campus is stimulating artistically for the faculty as well,” says Holderness.

Associate Professor Christopher Guse is doing scene and audio production. Los Angeles-based Peter Bayne composed music for the production.

The play will be presented on  campus at the UWM Mainstage Theatre, 2400 E. Kenwood Dr., at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, through Saturday, Nov. 17, with the final performance Sunday, Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available from the PSOA box office, 414-229-4308. Prices: $17/adults; $12/seniors (60 and over) and UWM faculty, staff and alumni; $10/PSOA faculty, staff and students (from other universities); $9/UWM students; $5/ages 13-18 and PSOA students; free/under 12 and UWM theatre and musical theatre majors.