Folding Chair Classical Theatre Company is dedicated to performing classic drama with an emphasis on storytelling. To us, the most important aspects of telling a story are plot, character and language.
We define “classic drama” as anything written from the birth of theatre to plays written around the year 1900. This includes plays by Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov and the Greeks. (And occasional do contemporary plays — plays with strong, classically-structured stories or 20th-Century “classics,” by playwrights like Harold Pinter and Michael Frayn.)
We are not about concept. We’ll never do “Hamlet” as a multimedia piece or “Romeo and Juliet” set in the Middle East.
We are about communicating a clear and entertaining story to an audience, using the playwright’s words and the actors’ skills.
That’s our mission. And while we respect all those other companies’ conceptual ideas — some of which are brilliant — we’ve noticed that story details, like character and plot, often get lost when the play is reinvented as an allegory for contemporary politics or the set is festooned with video monitors.
When we see shows, we love thinking about why so-and-so does such-and-such and what’s-going-to-happen-next, and we believe the simple act of storytelling is infinitely valuable in its own right.
We work on plays, in rehearsal, by carefully considering the story elements that MUST be played the same way every night and, conversely, the story elements that can remain fluid.
For instance, Juliet MUST drink poison, or the story of “Romeo and Juliet” is no longer Shakespeare’s story. We think of moments like this as guideposts.
On the other hand, Juliet’s reaction, when she finds Romeo’s body, may be different at each performance. Her LINES will always be the same. She’ll always say…
What’s here? a cup, clos’d in my true love’s hand?
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end.
…but does she speak through tears? Or is she numb — too shocked to break down? Does she break into hysterical laughter? Does she whisper? When does she actually realize he’s been poisoned? Immediately, after “What’s here?” or at that point is she still wondering if he’s dead or alive? Perhaps she doesn’t get it until “Poison…”
Any of the above interpretations is valid, and the actress playing Juliet will be free to shift gears from performance to performance. This is just one moment open to improvisation. Plays are chock full of such moments. We’ll make the most of them.
Our Performance Style
The actors communicate the entire play to the audience. We minimize production value as much as possible. No one will ever leave the theatre saying, “Wow, what incredible sets and costumes.” We hope they’ll leave saying, “Wow! what extraordinary acting!” Or, better yet, “What a great story!”
People who return to see another performance will be amazed by how different the play is from the first time they saw it. They’ll realize how rich the play is and how many possibilities it contains.
Typically, our plays will be performed on an empty stage. If necessary, we’ll use a few simple pieces of furniture: chairs, tables, stools… Depending on the show, we use simple hand props or mine everything.
We almost never use lighting cues — just an illuminated state. Sometimes our actors announce scene changes or act breaks.
Our actors will wear contemporary clothes, from their own wardrobes, but they may don an accessory or two to suggest character or period: a hat, a scarf, a “rehearsal skirt.”
While we agree that “no style” is a style and “no concept” is a concept, it is our hope that none of this will seem “experimental” or avant-garde. It will merely set up the story as simply as possible. Then the actors will take over and act the hell out of the thing! Our goal is to make the set, costumes, props and lighting so uninteresting that the audience focuses on the acting, the playwright’s and the story of the play.
If this style seems new, odd, or inexplicable to you, go to your nearest video store and rent “Vanya on 42nd Street.” This production, directed by Andre Gregory, was a major influence on our company’s values. Gregory directed “Uncle Vanya” in rehearsal style, using rehearsal props and contemporary costumes. We were also influenced by Peter Brook’s “Cherry Orchard,” which was played on a rug using simple furniture.
Most shows rehearse for a month or six weeks, which is adequate because they don’t vary much from performance-to-performance. Folding Chair’s shows change constantly, so our actors need to understand their characters (and the play) better than they normally would. Longer rehearsal periods allow cast members to explore every subtle nuance of their roles. Also, the more time spent in rehearsal, the more the actor “owns” his role.
Folding Chair shows are largely improvised. We don’t alter lines, but emphasis (line readings) does change. And we don’t set blocking in two-character scenes.
If the actor playing Benedict in “Much Ado About Nothing” suddenly gets an impulse to sit on a divan — even if he’s never done this before — all the other actors must adjust their movements. In a split second, they must be able to change direction. they must be ready to improvise new line-readings and blocking each time the show is performed.