Jim's Richard III Blog

What had started as a blog of Richard III rehearsal process at Cal Shakes has now evolved or devolved into a small novella. The author is petrified to change the name for fear it'll disappear, and wouldn't know what to call it anyway. Many stories are included and questions are even answered sometimes!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Hey Ya'll Josh Got A Job!


My heart is full. I swell with joy. You have made me a happy Sensei.

I've said my first professional was job was marginally Philadelphia Story but the first professional show I auditioned for and got cast in was also a Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor at Ashland, which was done after Philadelphia Story. I was one of the "buckbasket" carriers, Robert I believe his name was. Or John. We were pretty interchangeable.

For those of you not in the know, a buckbasket is essentially a hamper and as Falstaff had to hide in it, a necessarily large hamper--it was carried with 2 stout poles, one per side. The poles were passed through two large rings on each side. Robert and John (one of us was a baker and covered with flour and the other worked in the coal cellar and was covered with soot--funny, eh? Except I was the one covered in soot--it took 1/2 hr to get that stuff off) were called in to remove the basket that Falstaff was hiding in and remove it from the stage before the jealous Mr. Ford entered and discovered the lecherous fat man at home with his wife.

Our bit was this: We came in, received our instructions, walked to the baskets sides and picked up the poles slinging them over our shoulders and proceeded to stroll merrily away as though we were just carrying clothes. The audience's anticipation of what we would encounter poundage-wise was the trigger and it paid off -- the ropes went from slack to taut in an instant and we then did a huge pratfall as Falstaff's enormous weight hit us. For the uninitiated, a pratfall is defined as: "A backwards fall onto the buttocks, especially one executed deliberately for comic effect." We got quite good at it and with practice were able to loft our heels far into the air. It worked. We had maybe 2 lines and got the best laugh in the show.

So Josh, we both started out as 3rd geek on the left--an honorable position for one's first job, and a necessary one. Somebody's got to carry the spear after all! And Yale Rep, my friend, is a damn good first credit.

Richard II, eh? A beautiful, complex, and demanding play; I did Richard in the mid-90's at Cal Shakes; I'd been offered the role a year in advance by the then Artistic Director at Cal Shakes Michael Addison and read it often, memorized much of it (I'm not prone to pre-memorization and am loath to make decisions before I truly know what I'm saying and what other actors are doing--the rehearsal process informs so much choice-wise) and was able to make some good inroads on that problem play and character. I was blessed with a gifted supporting cast with Cal Shakes's own Associate Artists L. Peter Callendar and Dominique Lozano chief among them. We also had a wonderful director, Penny Metropulos, many years at Ashland who had a keen eye for the moments when she saw I was censoring myself, my choices.

"What were you thinking just then?!" she'd say to me when she saw the little pause I do when struck by a possibility during rehearsal. "No, it was nothing." I'd say, to which she'd reply "Do it. Just do it." And damned if it didn't work--sometimes we had to tweak it or polish it, but it worked. It was a little uncanny at times--we had a private note session after our last preview to which Penny brought a large legal pad filled with about 3-4 pages of extensive notes. We sat down at a bench in the upper grove and she said "So what did you think of the show last night?" I started at scene one and went through the entire play. When I was finished Penny flipped through the pages and saw she'd checked off every note. She closed the pad and said, "Well, I guess that's all I have to say to you." That's never happened to me before or since.

It was a bit scary at times; Dominique claimed I was channeling the man and indeed I found a physicality vastly different from my own but eerily familiar somehow, like slipping on another's long forgotten skin. I remember a totally calm and poised opening night, remember a surety, a total openness and a feeling that I was about to literally fly, but I don't remember the performance itself; when I came back to myself it was over.

I remember a closing night walking down the stairs very quietly and calmly after the show with L. Peter Callendar. Peter was passionate about the production and he and I had excellent chemistry between us and truly enjoyed working with each other. Now Peter is a strong man, but he started to cry very softly at first, his tears finally causing the dam of my own eyelids to break. I remember the two of us descending the stairs both weeping profusely by the time we got to the bottom, remember Peter asking if I would be Godfather to his son-to-be Brandon Marcus Callendar, causing me to start crying even more. It was a beautiful night, a treasured memory, and the spectacle of two sobbing middle-aged men probably a ridiculous sight, but I would not trade it for the World.

Listen to that play, Josh. Beautiful stuff.

Congratulations Grasshopper. Now you are a man.


Blogger Artfan said...

Hello Mr. Carpenter!

So happy to have found your blog. I've been having a great time over the last hour or two reading your past posts. Your advice to Josh has been of particular interest as I'm also trying to make my way in the 'biz.

I'm thrilled to be able to say that I believe I'll be meeting you in person on the 21st as I've just been cast as Burgundy in CalShakes' Lear. It'll be my first professional production and I'm excited beyond belief. I'll cherish my five lines as though they were my own newborn babes (though the idea of quintuplets is somewhat terrifying).

In anycase, just wanted to let you know how much I've been enjoying reading your posts, and how excited I am that I'm going to get the chance to be in the same cast as you. I last saw you in "Master Builder" at Aurora during my last year at Cal and was a fan right away. Thanks again!

Arthur Keng

August 8, 2007 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger James Carpenter said...


Welcome aboard the Lear Liner and congrats on the role of Burgundy. I'll see you on the 21st--then I can abuse you in person!


August 12, 2007 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger artlover48 said...

Dear Mr. Carpenter,

I saw King Lear last week and your performance affected me deeply. I actually caught my breath when you were blinded. You played the role with much dignity and feeling. I was touched by your performance.

Thank you. Keep up the great work!



September 28, 2007 at 7:07 PM  

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