some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall

Measure for Measure photo (c) The Bacchanals

measure for measure
by william shakespeare
Tuesday 28 June 2005 - Tauranga Repertory Theatre
Thursday 30 June 2005 - Whangarei Theatre Company
Saturday 2 July 2005 - Telecom Playhouse, Hamilton
Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 November 2005 - Drama Christi Studio, Wellington

On the eve of a supposed war with Hungary, the Duke of Vienna mysteriously disappears, leaving his whiter-than-white deputy Angelo in charge of the city with a mandate for finally quelling the decadence and amorality that has typified the Duke's reign. The Duke goes undercover to find out what life on the streets is really like, while Angelo enforces strict and harsh moral rule. When sex before marriage becomes a capital crime, the young Claudio is sentenced to death for getting his girlfriend Juliet pregnant. The only hope for Claudio is his gentle and fair sister Isabella, about to be ordained as a nun. Isabella pleads for her brother to be spared — after all, how could the brother of a nun be an evil man? — but absolute power corrupts absolutely, and even the most pious, moral men cannot resist temptations of the flesh. Angelo agrees to spare Claudio's life — but the price will be Isabella's virginity ...

cast:
Erin Banks (Isabella), James Stewart (Angelo, Barnadine), Alex Greig (Claudio, Elbow), Hadleigh Walker (The Duke), Irene Flanagan (Pompey), Natasya Yusoff (Mrs Overdone, Mariana), Brylee Lamb (Julietta, Abhorson), Kate Fitzroy (Escalus), Joshua Judkins (The Provost), David Lawrence (Lucio, Froth)
Costume Design Erin Banks; Mask Natasya Yusoff; Music Walter J. Plinge & Evil M. Übercrave; Directed by David Lawrence

The sad thing about having this website and documenting everything The Bacchanals have done is that I can't pretend Measure For Measure never happened, however much I'd like to erase all memory of it from theatrical history. What was meant to be the first step toward a new model for the company ended up being what forced me to realise The Bacchanals in its present incarnation no longer functioned. What went wrong?

Like most things I do, a crazy plan was at the heart of it. Basically, when the Royal Shakespeare Company announced plans for their Complete Works season in 2006-7, I thought it would be wonderful to represent NZ and be a part of it, rather than have Circa or Downstage or Toi Whakaari send some specially commissioned piece of crap. I knew our Midsummer Night's Dream was going to be great and I'd designed it with a view toward keeping it in repertory - and also to be an earner that could be restaged with minimal fuss. We planned to finally get to the South Island in 2005 and aimed to have another play in rep by that stage. We knew too come summer 2006 we'd be doing another North Island tour. How could I make those things all link up?

As we had a beer after the last 2004 rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream a few days before Christmas, I outlined the plan: by mid-2006 we'd have FIVE PLAYS in repertory to take to the RSC's festival. All five plays would feature the same ensemble and require the same minimal staging, but they'd be different enough to warrant seeing individually. Across the five plays everyone would have an opportunity to be showcased. It seemed easy on paper: we'd get A Midsummer Night's Dream on the road at the start of 2005; we'd have a second play ready for winter 2005; we'd take those two plays and a revival of our Romeo and Juliet down south in November 2005; and then we'd rehearse a new play for the 2006 summer tour. This meant we'd have an arsenal of FOUR PLAYS by February 2006, and aim to rehearse a fifth in time for a July 2006 arrival in the UK.

Looking back now it seems ridiculous and impossible, but at the time I knew it was do-able if everyone was committed enough to want to make it happen - it meant making a commitment of agreeing to stay with The Bacchanals for the next 18 months, after which time I figured we'd have achieved more than enough to call it a day and go our separate ways. I did up doubling charts and schedules and had it all planned. As well as the current A Midsummer Night's Dream and the revived Romeo and Juliet (with Natasya taking over Julia's role), we'd do Richard III as the summer 2006 play (with James playing Richard), leaving Pericles (with Hadleigh or Alex in the title role) and Measure For Measure as the other in the mix.

So poor old Measure For Measure was supposed to be the second play in what would have been a repertory of five. I decided on it for a number of reasons - I wanted a showcase role for Erin and one that forced her into quite a different characterisation than her usual generous warm open style; I also wanted a play that wouldn't be as familiar as A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet so that audiences could see we weren't just into subverting the popular ones. And when it comes down to it, I love the play - it's so bizarre and bleak, and I adore the extremity of the moral arguments throughout. With Paul Rothwell's Hate Crimes also on the agenda for 2005 I really wanted to examine the lying face of hypocrisy that seemed to be rife in New Zealand, from Don Brash's smug speeches at Orewa through to Graham Capill being outed as a paedophile after preaching the moral high ground as leader of the Christian Heritage Party. I was determined to keep the happy ending despite the tradition of having Isabella reject the Duke's bizarre offer of marriage, and to find a way of making their love story real and apparent instead of just a tacked on surprise in the last scene.

I had, I thought, a great idea for the poster - in keeping with the parodies of other images, you couldn't go past a Sound of Music-style poster for a play with a young nun in it. As always, I liked the thought of a poster that suggested we weren't going to bash them over the head with Serious Theatre, even though I knew it would be as grim and austere a production as A Midsummer Night's Dream was bright and vivacious. We took photos of Erin up on the now-gone grassy knoll next to the waterfront and the brilliant Will Earl managed to make it look like The Sound of Music's poster. The design concept for the show itself would be grey and sterile - I wanted it to look like Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. We found lots of long coats and drab dresses, and Natasya made a series of blank white masks for all the chorus characters to make everyone look faceless and bereft.

I knew it would be a tricky one for everyone, because it wouldn't be until Romeo and Juliet was also up and running that this repertory idea made full sense - the casting of Measure For Measure was about thinking ahead to the repertory plan. Hence Alex and Natasya had tiny roles as Claudio and Mariana, because they'd need a lighter workload either side of playing Bottom and Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the title roles in Romeo and Juliet. Likewise I was playing high status figures as Oberon/Theseus in one play and Lord Capulet in the other, so I'd play Lucio as a contrast to those - my opportunity to do a comic role amidst the 'heavies'. James would play Angelo in order to show that he could be grounded and play a detailed character as opposed to his trademark high energy physical performances in the other plays. Irene is one of the funniest people in the world, so I wanted to see her play the Clown. To get the numbers up to 10, we'd have three newbies in Measure For Measure - Josh had already expected he'd be required onstage; Brylee had been brought in to take over Tina's roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream; and Kate Fitzroy was an actor with much experience in the university Summer Shakespeare and had been cast in Hate Crimes - I'd always thought Kate would make a great Bacchanal and the others were keen to have her on board. Both she and Josh had lousy roles in Measure For Measure - but again, once the repertory was up and running (they'd be much more prominent in Romeo and Juliet) it would all make sense.

The plan was to rehearse it across April, May and June of 2005 and then premiere it on the road before a proper Wellington season. We wanted to 'audition' some new places for the North Island touring circuit, since we didn't feel Cambridge warranted a return visit, or that two nights in Wanganui was sensible. Josh's family were based in Hamilton and were sure there'd be support for us there; I knew Tauranga had a strong amateur theatre community who might be receptive to us; and James had been told by a former actor now based in Whangarei that he could guarantee us schools audiences if we went up there. So we organised a week-long winter tour: we'd spend two nights in each town, doing A Midsummer Night's Dream and hoping it would encourage audiences to take a risk on Measure For Measure the next night. I wanted to prove we could tour more than one show in repertory, and that we could do two completely different styles of play.

We ended up with less rehearsal time than planned. The premiere of Hate Crimes, which Alex, Erin, Hadleigh and James were also in, took much more out of me than I'd expected; and we also had more performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream to deliver in April and May. Come beginning rehearsals with six weeks to go before the winter tour's dates, I was surprised to find that, aside from Erin, no one had even read the play despite knowing since February who they'd be playing, so none of the preparatory work I'd expected had been done. Furthermore, much of Measure For Measure's rehearsal time was given over to rehearsing Brylee into Tina's roles in the other play - I'd stupidly thought we could slot her in seamlessly without realising that both the brilliant thing and the curse about my concept was that everyone was onstage the whole time.

As a director, I was responsible for the failure of Measure For Measure on one significant front: much as I keep saying it would all make sense once the plays were in repertory together, it became clear far too late that no one got this; the actors in minor roles felt no responsibility since they were barely in it; and chiefly, no one really liked or understood the play or could see why we were doing it. Back in the early days I understood well that a large part of my job was convincing everyone of the virtues of obscure plays, and that's what made The Jew of Malta, Titus Andronicus and Volpone such fun. But with Measure For Measure no one was ever fully behind the play, and that's my fault.

Besides the choice of play, I made a number of other stupid production blunders that ended up costing us dearly. At the time they were production decisions that made perfect logistical and financial sense, because everyone was committed to the five-play-plan. The posters and postcards: rather than get just what we needed for the week-long winter tour, I thought it made better financial sense to do the printing for the South Island tour at the same time. So instead of getting a small run of posters and postcards, we got enough to see us through both tours. While expensive, I reasoned that we were effectively just spending money now that we'd be spending anyway in another six months. The return season of A Midsummer Night's Dream: we should never have undertaken this, and I should never have been stupid enough to agree to a venue with such a high rental. Before those foolish five nights to bugger all audience, no Bacchanals season had ever not made a profit; suddenly we had a loss of $2000 - not a huge sum, but it took care of the profit from the lucrative summer tour. The accommodation and venues: leaving aside our disastrous experience with the Expressions centre in Upper Hutt, before the return season of A Midsummer Night's Dream the most we'd ever paid to hire a performance space was $220. While that sum doesn't exactly buy you a state of the art theatre, it at least means you only need 22 paying customers to cover your basic overhead. For the winter 2005 tour, we'd booked theatre spaces and motels that were far too expensive. Don't get me wrong – the point of the winter tour wasn't to make money, but even if we'd had full houses both nights in Tauranga, we wouldn't have made enough money to cover our venue hire and accommodation bill for that town. If the return season of A Midsummer Night's Dream hadn't cost us that $2000, this wouldn't have been such an issue, but suddenly we didn't have funds to fall back on.

In the long term, none of these issues would have harmed us had everyone been having a good time and fully committed to the show. Trying to get it to come together in the week before we set out was hard, hard work, and I hoped the sheer adrenalin of being on tour would kick some much-needed life into it, as it had with Twelfth Night in 2003. But the epic, difficult final scene continually ground rehearsals to a halt, and even I was still trying to learn my Act V lines in the car driving to Tauranga on the Sunday night. Not since Volpone had a Bacchanals show ever been so un-ready – but at least the central actors in Volpone knew their lines.

Tauranga: we performed A Midsummer Night's Dream on Monday, and then Tuesday was given over to Measure For Measure. It became more than clear that we weren't going to make it, so that night's audience weren't charged admission on the understanding that the show wasn't ready and that one actor would be performing with the script in hand. The first half held together fairly well, but the second half was much more problematic, especially the Act IV prison scenes and the final stages of the play in which several actors still had no idea what they were doing. The sympathetic audience seemed to enjoy it though - they "Ohhh!"ed at the Claudio-Isabella reunion and the Duke's offer of marriage, and were very pleased to see Lucio get his comeuppance. The funniest moment for me was when Mariana pleaded for Angelo's life in the final scene and from the back row of the theatre, Josh's future mother-in-law called out "But he's so horrible!"

Whangarei: we performed A Midsummer Night's Dream to a jubilant crowd on the Wednesday night; Thursday was Measure For Measure. Due to a stuff-up in publicity (and the person who'd guaranteed James audiences in Whangarei was nowhere to be found) we had an audience of only 10, but this was a gift in what it did to the atmosphere of the play - we set the audience up onstage with us so that it became an intimate little chamber piece. The play became relaxed and casual and informal and highly exciting, from my perspective. Some scenes suffered at having to be scaled down but the change in the Isabella & Angelo plot was terrific. And we managed to perform the second half without any of the actors needing scripts. We were given a standing ovation at the end, but more out of appreciation at our effort than our brilliance, I think. It was a great indication of how well the play could actually work, and the style needed to crack it - Irene commented afterwards that she could see it becoming her favourite of the repertoire to perform once it was up and running properly.

Hamilton: again, after a huge turnout for A Midsummer Night's Dream on the Friday (and little did we know it'd be the last time we'd ever perform that play), we marshalled a small audience (30) on the Saturday into a similar formation as Whangarei's show. By this stage Measure For Measure had improved hugely and I wasn't even phased when the audience laughed at the Duke's proposal to Isabella.

We returned to Wellington optimistic that better things had come out of the week than making money - we'd proved that yes, we could tour more than one play at once with minimal effort, provided the actors knew their lines. But the week had cost us $8000 and no one had been paid, which was quite a departure from the lucrative summer tours. Fortunately we had a few last minute funding boosts from the Lion Foundation and Pub Charity Inc. which at least lessened the tour's deficit. I'd hoped to quickly get a couple of Wellington shows in to make some more cash while the show was fresh in our minds, but availabilities were tough. We parted with everyone enthusiastic that we'd nail it next time, but me apprehensive that there was suddenly huge pressure on the South Island tour to make money if we were to end 2005 debt-free. I'll admit too that I was shaken by what a bad time I'd had on the road - never before had I found myself not enjoying a Bacchanals show, and I resented being made to feel like everyone was doing me a favour by being in my crappy show for free instead of behaving like professional actors, which they all claimed/aspired to be. My resentments were cemented by the fantastic experience I had directing the first production of a new Albert Belz script for Hone Kouka's Tawata Productions, where the brilliant cast - of which the only Bacchanals involved were Erin and Alex - showed me just how proper, professional actors behave and work (we had even less time and resources than Measure For Measure but no one needed the script come opening night). And straight after that show we went into rehearsals for I.D.in which I found a similar thing to Measure For Measure happening - the people who'd come on board especially for that play were professional and committed, but some of the stalwarts made me feel again like they were doing me a favour being in my crappy play.

As 2005 progressed it became apparent that the South Island tour wasn't going to happen. Despite everyone initially committing to it, the funding committee hadn't done anything and our Creative New Zealand application was, predictably, declined. Irene announced she wouldn't come unless we were being paid, which would mean rehearsing a new Titania/Hippolyta, a new Pompey and a new Nurse. Then Hadleigh, who'd had a miserable time of his own making doing Measure For Measure, decided he still wanted to do the South Island and the UK, but he wanted to do a Fringe play in February 2006 instead of that summer's tour - which meant Richard III couldn't be part of the five-play-plan since another actor would have to play his role in that one. For which the CNZ funding application was also, predictably, declined. In terms of the South Island, James had managed to find about $20,000 from local charities and trusts, which would pay for our venue hire, accommodation and advertising costs ... but we didn't have the wages, and even if we'd had them, I knew I couldn't stand another tour with the attitudes that had been on the Measure For Measure one. So in September the planned South Island tour collapsed, and with it the last chance for Measure For Measure to make sense in context of the two plays it would have been in between. We had a meeting to analyse the plans and the financial situation, at which it was agreed that there'd be no South Island tour in November 2005. If James could find the other $30,000 we needed by December 1st, we'd go to the South Island in 2006, in place of the usual North Island tour, with just A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet and potentially several new actors. If he couldn't find the money by December 1st, there'd be no tour at all and we'd repay the funding we'd received.

But the terrible dilemma - and that's why I'm explaining this all so thoroughly and pedantically - was that, thanks to the two losses we'd made (the return season of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the winter tour), we COULDN'T REPAY all of that funding - we'd already spent some of it, and had gone over-budget on Measure For Measurein the expectation we'd be able to recoup our over-spending in the South Island. And because the CNZ funding application for I.D. had also been, predictably, declined, I'd funded that show with my own money, meaning I did not have the $4000 we needed to get out of debt. The only solution, and the thought of it made me physically ill, was a short Pay Off Scary Debts season of Measure For Measure in Wellington, where we knew we'd be able to get enough people along to raise some cash. Everyone agreed (well, I didn't give them a choice, since their attitudes were in part to blame for the collapse of the intended South Island tour) to a couple of dates in November.

But come the start of re-rehearsals, we were back to square one. To my immense frustration, the people who hadn't known their lines last time around still didn't know them and had no intention of putting in more than minimal effort. The knowledge we were doing the show merely to pay off debts wasn't filling people with enthusiasm, and this was made even worse when the nominations for the 2005 Chapman Tripps were announced in the middle of the re-rehearsal process. Just as with Erica's nomination during Twelfth Night rehearsals, what I'd thought would unite and inspire everyone - THREE of the four shows we'd worked on that year were up for awards - instead provoked bitterness and resentment. The lack of support or enthusiasm for Erin, Alex and I was, sadly, the ultimate confirmation for me that The Bacchanals in its present incarnation had had its day. We also found out the weekend before our two Wellington performances of Measure For Measure that the last hope for South Island money, Pub Charity Inc., were not going to provide wages. James' funding avenues were exhausted and so was my optimism. The Bacchanals were set up so that I'd never have to be miserable at work, so that I could work in the way I wanted with people I liked; I'd never believed I'd see the day that a Bacchanals show would make me as miserable as Measure For Measure was.

We performed two passable Measure For Measures in the cosy wee Drama Christi studio to polite audiences - I'd refused to publicise it widely or to allow it to be reviewed as frankly, in a year in which I'd been nominated for Director of the Year and done work of the calibre of Hate Crimes, Yours Truly, I.D. and A Midsummer Night's Dream, I was deeply ashamed of Measure For Measure. So the audiences were made up of brave friends, family and our mailing list. I had a good time performing it that week - I found Lucio enormous fun to play and he was always popular with audiences, since his cynicism is one of the few things that makes sense in that bizarre play. We didn't make nearly enough money to cover the debt, but we reduced it significantly and my Chapman Tripp win the following weekend provided the rest of the cash needed to repay all the South Island funding, leaving about $100 in The Bacchanals' bank account. I don't know how well the others saw the writing on the wall at the time, but my amended programme notes - deliberately designed as an epitaph - were meant to spell it out: this was, as far as I was concerned, the end of The Bacchanals. I was sad and angry to be ending with a whimper rather than a bang (never mind leaving the five-play-plan unfulfilled), but I was determined never to have another experience like Measure For Measure.

As for whether The Bacchanals had seen their final end or not ... I'd left the question open-ended. For a long time the website gave no hints, and it was the first time a programme hadn't included a 'next time' teaser ... it would be a full year before The Bacchanals staged another work, by which stage I'd redefined what the company would/should be and what sort of work I wanted to use it for ... David

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